by Bamboo Dong,
Last Exile -Fam, the Silver Wing-
Hunter x Hunter
Persona 4: The Animation
Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere
See those arrows on the side of the page and below each title? They don't mean too much this week, since it's the first column, but over the weeks, you'll see those change. They simply represent the movement of titles in the list. If a title moves up in the rankings, it'll get a green arrow. If it moves down (even if it's just from first to second), it'll get a down arrow. Since this week every title made the list for the first time, they all get an up—except two titles. One of them gets a big red “down” because it really fouled my first impression from the Fall Preview, and the other one… well, that one gets a big, fat X. Because time is money, and that title just isn't bringing home the bacon.
Totally agree or disagree? Hop on over to the forums to let your voice be heard.
Hands down, Chihayafuru is the best show currently simulcasting this season. I cried like a little baby at the end of the third episode and the fourth made me shake my fist at the unfairness of life and the universe. If you only have the time to follow one show this season, I'll do my best to convince you to make it this one.
The Wikipedia entry for karuta makes the game sound so dull that I would've done a spit-take had anyone told me there was a manga and anime about it. The manga is actually so popular that according to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, competitive karuta is sweeping through high schools in Japan. It's not the game itself that makes Chihayafuru so irresistible though—it's the title character Chihaya. Beautifully drawn first by mangaka Yuki Suetsugu, she's gorgeous and kind and impossible not to love. Here's a taste of just how darned nice she is: for the longest time, her dream in life was to watch her sister succeed as a famous model. Even when her sister was a jerk back. Rarely does one encounter such a pure, sweet character and not roll their eyes with cynicism, but with Chihaya, it just works. Now her dream is to be a nationally ranked karuta player, so she can reunite with her childhood friends and play with them again.
Her goals are bittersweet. It's hard to shake the niggling feeling that something's amiss with her life's ambition, given that she didn't care for karuta before she befriended a bullied transfer student in middle school. But in the second and third episodes, everything becomes a little more clear. In an extended flashback worthy of being its own standalone series, we see a friendship between three kids cemented through this card game. After her two friends announce that they're both moving, there's a heartbreaking scene where Chihaya plays her last game of karuta with them, fervently wishing the moment would never end. It's a poignant moment, one that is so relatable to people of all ages. It's a desperate attempt to hold onto something intangible that will inevitably be wrenched away. It's enough to make someone cry.
With the fourth episode, things shift back to the present again. We're re-introduced to the knock-out gorgeous high school-aged Chihaya, who's still obsessed with karuta. She's finally reunited with one of her childhood friends, but after working so hard to attain one of her goals, she finds out that her dreams of getting the whole band back together again might be forever dashed. And yet... still that niggling feeling. Maybe it's just me, but there's still something about Chihaya's do-or-die attitude that chews at the back of the mind. As sunny and lovable as Chihaya is, her possessive attachment to her childhood guy pals is, to put it bluntly, a little weird. But if anything, it makes her a much more interesting character because I want to see if my feelings are resolved.
Slice of life shows are often hit or miss with people, but Chihayafuru manages to be engaging and exciting while it follows these characters' lives. It also doesn't focus on the game so much as it focuses on what the game means to these characters. So if either of those reasons are deterrents to anyone giving this show a chance, I really urge you to reconsider. This is one of the most promising shows this season, and everyone should watch it.
Status: One show that I look forward to every single week. One can only hope that its acquisition is already in negotiation.
I will be the first to admit that I absolutely hated the first episode of Fate/Zero. I hated the endless exposition that felt like it dragged on for hours and hours on end, and I hated the limited animation. Famously, the first episode includes a scene where two characters just walk around in a circle, because there is literally nothing else for them to do except talk. Someone in the forums mentioned during the Fall Preview that, “they should've just started with episode two and put all of this exposition in a PDF.” I couldn't have agreed more.
But those feelings are in the past, and I don't want to dredge up that argument again. Because right now, Fate/Zero is pretty freaking cool. Understandably, the series is a little hard to get into if you haven't played or watched Fate/stay night (even with all that exposition), but for those you have, it's a lot of fun seeing the Servants in another setting, as well as some of the characters you've grown to love like Rin. And for those who haven't, it's an easy learning curve. Taking place a decade before the events of Fate/stay night, we see the start of a new Holy Grail War, a battle between several powerful families over the possession of the Grail, which grants the winner any wish they desire. To help them fight, participants can summon Servants, reincarnations of past heroes, like King Arthur and Gilgamesh. It's a unique concept and it's exciting to watch the battles unfold.
Fate/Zero is also packed with a lot of atmosphere. There were scenes that had me close to throwing up, like one in the first episode where insects crawled inside of people, and others that had me clinging to my desk, like the scene where one of the servants just up and slays a kidnapped child. Not to mention the fight scenes! I'm not one to fret when a fictional character is getting injured on screen, but I have to say, my fingernails took a beating when my beloved Saber was on deck. The series also looks super cool. With all the money that was saved in the first episode, the animation in the subsequent episodes has been a joy to watch. If there are any cost-cutting techniques, I haven't really been noticing, because I've been too busy gaping at what's happening on screen. For me, Fate/Zero has been a rollercoaster. I thought nothing could rescue me from my negativity after the first episode, but I'm glad I stuck with it.
Status: I know I hated on the first episode and I still take every chance I get to fling mud at it, but Fate/Zero has been a blast since then. I also have a giant lady crush on Saber.
Funimation recently announced a partnership with Nico Nico to stream a selection of their new acquisitions (which can also be found on their own website). Amongst these is Last Exile -Fam, The Silver Wing-, which ought to be good news for fans of the first series. It's not a sequel of the first, but the style is the same and it already shows promise.
Unlike the first Last Exile, this new series takes place on an alternate Earth with eight moons in the sky. Or… at least they look like moons, until they're explained in the subsequent episodes. What they end up being throws an early punch, leaving readers to realize that it's not so easy to pick sides in this series. The Ades Federation has declared war on the Kingdom of Turan, and they want the two princesses of Turan dead. However, the kidnapping attempt gets foiled when our chipper protagonists stumble onto the scene. The heroines are Fam and Giselle, two sky pirates who make a living harpooning airships like whalers, trapping them with nets until they breach cloud cover. They agree to save the princesses in exchange for their ship, but the war quickly catches up to everyone involved.
What I loved so much about the first Last Exile was its art direction. I'll admit upfront that I loathe steampunk with the anger of a thousand crows, but Last Exile made it look cool and sleek. It had the retro feel of the 1940s with the fancy doo-dads of a far-away future, and with the then state-of-the-art animation, it was a pleasure to watch. Silver Wing takes that bar and matches it for a new decade, with innovative ship designs that give old viewers that tingly feeling of watching Last Exile for the first time. There's a breathtaking scene in the second episode where the girls take their ship deep into the bowels of an enemy airship. It's an exciting scene, and the animators took great pains to make sure it looked real. I don't know how much of this excitement is nostalgia, but I'm looking forward to what this show has in store.
Status: There's only been one episode, but I'm already hooked. I can't wait to see what happens next week.
A resurrection of the wildly popular manga series (and a reboot, essentially, of the old Hunter x Hunter anime series), Hunter x Hunter 2011 is sweet, buttery popcorn. It is fun to watch, and rarely is there a dull moment in the series—especially for those who are experiencing the franchise for the first time. Veteran fans may already anticipate the twists and turns of this show, but if you're tuning in with fresh eyes, every episode is a puzzle waiting to be cracked. How will our heroes get to the next stage of the Hunter Exam? How will they foil the bad guys all around them? I don't know, and I am waiting on pins and needles to find out.
For those coming in late, Hunter x Hunter stars a young boy named Gon who dreams of one day becoming a Hunter. His shaky reasoning is that his father abandoned him to be a Hunter, so being a Hunter must be the coolest thing in the world. Yikes. But in order to get there, he needs to pass the Hunter Exam, a grueling test with tricks around every corner. Accompanying him are two buddies he met on a boat, and together, they use their skills to sniff out traps and prove their worthiness. What's so fun about this show is that the characters are always one jump ahead of the audience. If there's a trap, the characters have already sensed it, and it's not until they explain it that it becomes clear. It's unpredictable, and it makes for good TV.
When the first episode first premiered, one complaint that was tumbling through the message boards was that the new Hunter x Hunter doesn't hold up to the original anime series. The pacing's a bit faster, thus leaving less room for character building. But personally, I don't mind it. Sure, the pacing is a little quicker for a new generation of fans, but it doesn't leave anything out. We still get to learn more about the characters as time goes on. There's a great scene during the first Hunter Test where the characters just have to run for 60 kilometers (37 miles for us Americans). Done improperly, it could've been deathly boring and repetitive, but the series used the time to introduce some new characters and give us more insight into those we already know. If anything, Gon is the biggest mystery left, but for right now, it's okay living with the knowledge that yeah, he's just a plucky kid who's destined for greatness. It's hard for fans (me included) to distance themselves from nostalgia and reverence for their favorite shows, but remakes are a good way to relive the old love without having to watch the same thing again. For now, I'm loving the tar out of Hunter x Hunter.
Status: Hunter x Hunter is a big yes, yes, yes. It's brainlessly fun and addictive, and Saturdays are all the better for having new episodes.
Video game adaptations are tough. They have to be faithful to the original source material without being blatantly obvious that someone's just hitting the X button to get to the next dialogue bubble. So far, Persona 4 The Animation is managing to hang in there. For video game veterans, it's still pretty apparent when something is a game contrivance, like when items are unlocked or NPCs pledge their undying loyalty to your cause, but at least Persona 4 is focused on advancing the story, instead of just leveling up.
Based on the video game of the same name and number, Persona 4 follows a high school student named Yu who's just moved to a small town with his uncle. He makes friends fairly quickly, but soon discovers that something's going on in the town. People are dying, and their bodies are being strewn on rooftop antennae. Even more eerily, Yu and his friends have discovered that they can jump into TV sets, re-emerging in a drab world inhabited by a weird bear creature. In this world, there are monsters called Shadows, who can only be defeated by Personas, avatars conveniently summoned by Yu and his buddies. For whatever reason, aside from their terror at being chased by Shadows, the trio is oddly nonplussed at discovering a world inside TVs, and they don't feel the need to alert either their parental or the authorities. That's kind of weird, because calling the cops seems like the first thing someone would do in that situation, but this is anime, where kids get to do whatever they want without the annoying intrusion of parents.
For the time being, the story is pretty straightforward. It's still in that phase of a video game where players are still learning to control their characters for the first time, and figuring out what buttons they have to push in order to pull off some special attack. As such, the pacing is a little awkward, since the timing of everything seems a little too convenient and they're handing out Personas like parade candy. Luckily, the series doesn't waste any time having the characters fight meaningless bad guys. Hopefully now that everyone has their own Persona, the story will shift back to the mystery of the dead people.
Status: So far, so good. The pacing on Persona 4 is a little jumpy, and it's obvious they just want to get all of the backstory out of the way so the characters can focus on the fights, but if that means more time on the main story, the better. For now, I'm sticking with it.
Bless my eyes, this is one gorgeous show. Between the sleek mecha designs, the fluid animation, and the disturbingly meticulous ass bounces, Guilty Crown is a visual feast for the nerd in everyone. It's the kind of series that's so good looking, it can get away with sweeping plot points under the rug because everyone's so distracted with the shininess on screen. And yes, there are plenty of plot contrivances that seem to exist solely for the advancement of the storyline. The action follows a terrorist group that's trying to free Japan from the evil clutches of a global consortium that stepped in to fix the country after it was ransacked by a deadly virus. In the center is Shu Ouma, a twitchy little high schooler who's elevated to hero status when he gains the ability to pull objects out of people's bodies. But alas, he decides he doesn't want this heavy responsibility, so we're left with the ultimate plot twist—the terrorist fighter girl who gave him the power joins his class as a transfer student! And then moves in with him!
It's good to know that even in the aftermath of a national catastrophe, Japan still swears by the ol' transfer student bait ‘n’ switch shtick. It's an oldie, but a goodie, and in the episodes to come, I'm sure our hero will learn to embrace his ridiculous new gift. Until then, Guilty Crown is one big mecha explosion, complete with a Tachikoma-like mascot and enough missile launching devices to annihilate a small island. It seems like it has a complex enough backstory to make some deep statements about Big Government, but for now, it's a little all over the place. We have Good Guys and Bad Guys, but it's not clear yet if the protagonists really have a detailed agenda. There are too many characters, and not enough of them are clearly defined, but hopefully as the season goes on, we'll get more substance with our flash.
Status: Shiny and loud, Guilty Crown has all the trappings of a breezy blockbuster. It's a little light on the substance right now, but it's worth hanging around.
There's a saying that goes, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Except with Un-Go, there are too many damned detectives in the… wherever it is detectives hang out. It's like the Hardy Boys decided to form a super group with the Scooby Doo gang, and they invited Detective Conan to the pizza after-party. I thought the first episode was just an poorly written fluke, but no, Un-Go seems to really be running with its formula. Here's how every episode goes: a murder is committed, some weird Justice Department technology guru fiddles with his security cameras and offers a suspect, his daughter gasps, the scrappy freelance detective Shinjuro offers an alternate suspect, then his creepy child sidekick Inga turns into a hot demon and magics a confession out of the real suspect. And then the technology guy pulls some strings so the murderer goes free. Or, in the case of the third episode, things are just settled.
The series is so formulaic thus far that it even uses the same footage every time the demon lady turns into a Scream-esque monster before her head explodes into sparkles. Shinjuro even uses the same exact dialogue every time to explain how anyone questioned by Inga has to answer one question. Granted, we're only three episodes in, but already I feel like I've been watching this series for years. Un-Go has the potential to be really interesting, given the backstory about the war and the pact that Shinjuro made with Sparkle Demon, but right now, it's too episodic and too repetitive. And like I said, there are too many detectives. There is zero point in having all the false leads if the same supernatural trick is always going to solve the case. In fact, there is zero point in solving the case at all if the criminal is just going to be forgiven. The whole show is a big GOTCHA! that doesn't matter at the end of the day. Still, the series is young, and perhaps after it gets all its supernatural bedazzling out of its system, Un-Go will settle on a more satisfying story arc.
Status: Un-Go is already feeling stale after two episodes. My patience is wearing thin, but I'm going to give it another week. Maybe this is one of those infamous “it gets betters” shows.
Call me old-fashioned, but I was under the impression that unwanted sexual advances were a huge no-no in our society. Whether you are a male or a female, no means no. So hey, maybe Miss Miyako shouldn't be so awkward and creepy and illegal with her blatant advances, even though her moans sound like a thousand fanboys jerking off to a freeze frame. She is but one of the many fierce ladies enrolled at Kawakami High School, a school that advocates fighting as a form of conflict resolution. She is also one of the many ladies who live in intimate quarters with Yamato, the Player 1 of the eroge that this series is based on. He has no laudable qualities, but he does have a penis, so all the ladies fight over him like cats in a cream factory. Together, they take missions from their teachers to… do whatever what stupid task is required to advance the game play, like catching dogs and uncovering smuggling rings.
As much as I would love to trash on every last aspect of this show… I have to admit that it does have its clever moments. Granted, for every one clever moment, there are two dozen clichéd ones (like the girls who beat up Yamato for accidentally looking at their unclothed bodies), but the ones that resonated made me laugh out loud. In the heinous episode where Miyako tries really hard to rape Yamato, their popcorn-making robot sidekick uses Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics to distance himself from an argument. And earlier, one of their guy friends goes through lengthy efforts to use the crook of his index finger to imagine girls bottomless. It's scenes like that that make me appreciate minute aspects of the show and make me think that maybe it's not all terrible. The bottomless index finger…that's pretty inspired.
For the most part, though, Majikoi is really, really hard to watch. The fanservice itself is fine—it serves a clearly defined purpose, even though most of it is censored—but it's still painful to see these women toss themselves so cavalierly at this empty shell of a man. Any one of them could beat him up without trying. Surely they could get by without sneaking into his bed in the middle of the night. But that's an issue for their mothers to sort out, or their therapists. For viewers, it's a matter of your tolerance for trashy harem flicks. I'm weary to the bones of seeing women punch men for tripping on them, and I question the future of a nation where the most eligible bachelor is some doofus like Yamato. But I can see why people like this kind of erotic, escapist fluff. It's just not for me.
Status: Majikoi is walking a very, very fine line here. It's yet another take on a clichéd premise, but every now and again, it has some moments that make me laugh. One more strike and it's out.
I don't know what this show's about. I can't figure it out. The characters have tried to explain a few times, but every time they open their mouths, pure gibberish falls out. As far as I can tell, everybody is trying to recreate history so that they can go back to a time where they had floating islands. Except… there are still flying towns, and… at one point, there were two copies of Earth, except one was in the sky… and then… it wasn't. And now there's some rich people who want to blow up a reactor..? Yeah, it's still a little fuzzy in my brain. In the second episode, they even had one of the students explain the history of their neo-Japan in class, but I swear her explanation was different from the explanation they gave in the first episode. If I had to guess, I'd bet that if every writer on that staff was cornered in the cafeteria, each one would give a different rendition of what's going on in the show.
Here's what I do know—Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is the ultimate fan panderpalooza. It exists for the simple reason of cramming every possible type of over-fetishized, DeviantArt-able creature into one cast, so that everyone can latch onto a character. And for that, I have to give the show credit. It knows exactly what the audience wants, and it delivers. There are big breasts, there are small breasts, there are pretty boys, and there are pretty girls. There are even angels and demons and robot maids and a eunuch incubus. There is almost no way to go wrong. Unfortunately, as a result, the storyline seems tacked on, like the producers felt guilty for green-lighting a show that served no purpose except to titillate. It's times like this when I wish they would've just embraced the hollowness of their show. At least that way, you couldn't blame them for trying too hard, and then failing.
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is the kind of show that would greatly benefit from liner notes. There is just too much calamity to sort out who's who, and who wants what. In the people's efforts to reenact history, there's some mumbo-jumbo about royal families and their line of succession, but it's not very clearly explained. It doesn't help that a lot of the characters look the same, half of them with names that start with "M," and the cast is simply too large to remember without a cheat sheet. I ragged on Fate/Zero for having too much exposition in the first episode, but Horizon could've actually benefited from a long expository monologue. It is too convoluted to be enjoyable.
Status:: I hate watching shows where I feel lost, episode after episode. I feel like I'm wasting my time, and I feel like I'm being duped into sticking around. If things don't clear up soon, this show's a goner.
Not everyone is a special snowflake. Not everyone is interesting. Some people are boring and they lead boring lives. No editing in the world could make the boys of Kimi to Boku interesting, short of adding an alien invasion. Or, here's a revolutionary thought, just personality. Because try as the writers might, the characters have next to no personality, nor do they do anything interesting with their time. There are even two characters whose primary traits are that they are aloof and uncaring. Their holiday parties must just be hours of awkward staring, punctuated by the crunch of chips.
Based on a comic published in Gangan Comics, Kimi to Boku follows a group of four (soon five) guys who do absolutely nothing with their time. The bulk of their adventures seems to be sitting on the roof at lunch. Occasionally, they'll stare at a cherry blossom, or have a dull flashback to another period in their lives in which nothing happened. The meat of the first episode was devoted to helping one of the guys find a club he could join, but in the end, he decided it was too much effort. That's the overall sense one gets from watching Kimi to Boku. The characters could all be doing something interesting, but it would really cut into their sitting-around time. It's like watching someone's home video of themselves playing solitaire. The characters are so painfully unmemorable that the writers actually re-introduce them in the fourth episode, and write it off as a "mixer." Yes, a mixer. No, not with other people. Just themselves. The only highlight of this show is all the cutaways to pleasantly plump cats, which could all have their own show and still be way more entertaining than this gaggle of dullards.
This is true of all four episodes that have aired thus far. The only interesting thing that's happened so far is the addition of a half-Japanese exchange student, who once spent a day with Yukki at the playground when they were young. But Yukki is so determined to not show any emotions or give a damn, he refuses to acknowledge this memory. Once again, a situation that could've been interesting or entertaining is shelved because the characters are too cool for school. I don't know how the manga fares, but if it's even half as dull as the anime, I can only assume that it's being stockpiled as toilet paper by people too lazy to go to the supermarket. Who are the people watching this show? Surely not men. The manga ran in a shonen mag, but I don't know too many guys who are yearning for the sweet days of brushing their dude friends' hair over a carton of juice. And surely not women, because they, like men, need more substance than what is being offered in Kimi to Boku. So whoever it is, I salute you, because you have succeeded in squeezing water from a very boring stone.
Status: Dropped. All the money in the world couldn't convince me to waste another precious minute of my life on watching these boys stare at the wall.
What do you think? What's your favorite simulcasting right now? I want to hear your thoughts, so hit that "Talkback" forum and chime in.
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