The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Review: Lord is this going to sound terrible. But bear with me. It isn't as soul-sucking bad as it first appears. The set-up goes thus: Shogo is a happy-go-lucky teenager. He has his violent elder sister, a childhood friend who is an occult fanatic, and some tough midterms coming up. And then—oh here's the killer—he finds an alien super-duper power suit under a rock in his friend's backyard. Turns out he has great chemistry with the suit (we know this because some mysterious watchers mention how amazed they are by his special chemistry with it) and must use it to fight puppy-beating baddies with similar suits.
Calm those dry heaves guys. Because this particular lump of vacuous shonen slop is under the sure hand of a bon-a-fide shonen master. Specifically, former One Piece helmsman Kônosuke Uda. Uda delivers a show whose easygoing charms are all out of proportion to its meager supply of imagination. Some of what he does is obscure—the show's breezy pace, the detail and timing that somehow allow him to milk tension from developments that are as predictable as sunrise and sunset—but mostly he rescues the show with two very simple tools: humor and color. He makes sure the series never takes itself too seriously, throwing pratfalls even into the episode's one life-or-death battle, and stacks the cast with fun, interesting people. Shogo is a good guy with truly terrible porn timing; his sister is a thoroughly awesome force of nature; his childhood friend blindsides us with the hilarious intensity of her occult obsession.
The non-mech animation has an appealing CG simplicity to it, but unfortunately—and surprisingly, given Uda's experience—the 3D action is unbearably lame. You also know cards are going to come into play at some point. Still, it's a far more diverting experience than you'd expect.
Review: There's a real charm to Majin Bone's staunch refusal to collapse through the featherweight floor of its teensy budget. From the super-minimalist opening (and ending) animation to the clunky, shortcutty CG sentai-armor at the show's center, it's clear this show created to market a children's card game is at the broke end of the bank.
However, rather than resort to strictly detailed talking heads that will start going off-model 2/3 of the way through any given episode like in most cheap kids' shows, Toei has opted for a more playful method of simple character models and minimal, student-filmy animation scenes that slush and slide around with an organic playfulness that makes the show look much nicer than it should. The effect is reminiscent of Mamoru Hosoda's work on Digimon, or for a more timely example, a sort of dollar store Kyousogiga.
The economical charm of Majin Bone's visuals is certainly the most interesting thing about it, though. Story-wise, not much has happened in this first episode, but it's pretty easy to see where it's going. Young and sprangly everykid Shogo Ryujin just wants to goof off and enjoy his adolescence, but he's been hearing alien noises in his brain, and just when it's really beginning to bug him, a robot warrior from space crashes down and attacks his family (and his beloved puppy, Momotaro!) After rescuing his dog in the only truly entertaining scene of the episode, he discovers what the alien-bot was after: a power suit that has now adopted Shogo as its new master!
Needless to say, all of this robo-action is in cel-shaded CG, though it's certainly not the worst case of it seen in anime. When they're not zooming around in computer-built voids made just for them, the suits are composited into most 2-D shots just fine by being partially hand-animated, as you can see in the screenshot above. Also of note is the weirdly naturalistic approach to the voice acting in this show. Kids' shows, especially ones created to sell cards, typically have more shrill and archetypal casting than other anime, but not so here, where the acting is more restrained and natural than in 90% of anime on the whole. There are simple, organic voices here to complement the simple, organic character designs, and the result is both refreshing and easy to watch.
So if there's so many tiny admirable details about Majin Bone, why the lower score? Well, on a macro level, it's just not really interesting. This is a boilerplate kids' show, less noxiously commercial than its peers maybe, but still slow-paced, low-end animation made to sell a product to wee ones. There's sincerity and charm here, and plenty of room for it to join those few treasured kids' anime properties all ages can enjoy, but it's starting out on pretty weak ankles. It'll need a few more episodes under its belt to make any kind of impression.
Majin Bone is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
Shougo is just your average anime boy – he likes pin-ups, he oversleeps, he's got a cute female childhood friend, and his older sister enjoys beating him up. Also, he can hear a weird noise emanating from a mossy rock in the aforementioned friend's garden. Her puppy, Momotaro, can hear it too, and he's afraid of it. It turns out that Momotaro is a bright little dog, because when Shougo touches the rock it explodes, and the next thing anyone knows a mysterious mech with a scorpion's tale on its head is trying to kill the dog. (That's how you know it's evil.) By the end of the episode, Shougo has touched a mystical tablet buried underneath the remnants of the rock and has his very own mecha. See, just an average anime boy.
So if Majin Bone isn't doing anything new with its premise, why bother with it? That would be because it does its thing pretty well. Shougo isn't any kind of extreme, which feels like a nice change, and his relationship with friend Saho feels (at this point) like just a nice friendship. We haven't had tons of wacky characters thrown at us all at once, and if there are three mysterious(ly dressed) men hovering in the background making cryptic comments, at least they aren't taking up a lot of time. Most of the episode focuses solely on Shougo and the dog, which makes it easy to get into. The animal attributes on some of the mechs we've seen are interesting (clearly more thought went into them than the people) and will probably influence their movements, and we know we're being set up for something more, possibly involving Saho's father being in Guatemala. Voices feel stronger than the art that accompanies them, although no one is a real stand out, and animation is adequate. Backgrounds show much more detail than the people who inhabit them, which is an interesting conceit, and does ground the actions firmly in reality, with the continued and sporadic dropping of rocks after an explosion being an especially nice touch. The show also makes the decision to have no dialogue until four minutes in; it doesn't have a major impact, but is certainly an interesting move.
To put it simply, Majin Bone's intro feels like a very Goldilocks kind of episode – it's not too this, and it's not too that, which makes it easy to watch, even if it doesn't blow you away.
Plus Shougo keeps saving the dog. For me, that kind of makes it all worth it.
Majin Bone is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: Mysterious armored figures hit ground in a modern-day residential area with the force of a meteorite. They are almost immediately confronted by an opposing group of armored warrior and retreat after a brief duel in a virtual-looking environment. Seemingly typical high school student Shougo is, of course, completely unaware of this beyond new reports about the supposed meteorite strike, although he does throughout the next day occasionally hear a curious ringing that his friend (cousin?) Saho cannot – and when he brings it up to her, she instantly thinks it has something to do with aliens, which she insists that they saw when they were little kids and has been passionate about ever since. Saho's dog seems aware of it, too, and efforts to calm him down are interrupted when an armored warrior arrives on the scene just after Shougo exhibits an unexpected rock-shattering ability. The newcomer seems to be after a buried tablet that was the source of the ringing sound, but when Shougo accidentally comes into with it he transforms into an armored warrior himself. That certainly gets the attention of a trio of mysterious figures who have been observing him from the shadows all day and refer to Shougo's armored form as the revival of Earth's defender.
Majin Bone is based on a virtual card game (get used to this as an anime source – more examples are coming later this year), but its first episode shows no hint of any kind of card game mechanics, so director Kōnosuke Uda (One Piece) and his Toei Animation team seem to be playing the concept straight. The result is a fairly typical set-up for an action-oriented series aimed at teens. Nothing much gets revealed in about the nature of the armored warriors or their affiliations or goals, as the first episode beyond the initial fight scene focuses on character establishment for Shougo and Saho, but everything indicates that Shougo will eventually be teaming up with the mysterious trio to fight off threats to Earth.
Sound very run-of-the-mill? It is in most respects, and yet it does have some promise. Shougo is shown to have a somewhat offbeat imagination, the first episode is actually well-planned and well-paced in its execution, and the soundtrack does a wonderful job of lending a creepy feel to what Shougo is experiencing. The artistry isn't the sharpest but does well enough, especially when depicting the armored warriors. Too early to tell about the story, but this one looks to have a chance to not be entirely forgettable.
Majin Bone is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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