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The Stream
Papa Don't Creep

by Bamboo Dong,

Aaaaaaaaaaaand we're back! I hope everyone's had a chance to check out some of this season's new simulcasts, or at least browse through the Winter preview. I'm feeling a little skittish about this season's prospects, but maybe we just have a giant batch of “it gets better” shows. One thing I should point out is that this season has a ton of sequels. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the originals, so I don't feel it would be fair to review the sequels. As this column ages, though, more and more sequels will be covered, as more and more first seasons are consumed.

Let's dive in!


#1 - Chihayafuru [ep. 13-15]

Blessedly, Chihayafuru has returned for the winter, making it a high point in an overall, mostly drab season of new anime. The last we saw our karuta champions, they were at Omi Jingu for the national high school karuta tournament. In this set of episodes, Chihaya faces her toughest opponent yet—the reigning queen of karuta. We already know she's not going to win—after all, there's still half the series left. But, what does transpire is awe-inspiring, motivating, and just like so many episodes that have come before it, leaves you fist-pumping like your team just won the Super Bowl.

I've commented about this in the column and on Twitter before, but Chihayafuru is unique in that every single episode is really damned good. Every week, I wonder if maybe we're due for a sub-par episode, but every week, the series delivers a consistent, emotional high. I've tried to break down why that is, but I'm stuck for answers. Maybe it's because the characters are so insanely likeable and easy to root for. Maybe it's because every episode is liking watching the local underdogs win. Or maybe it's because the characters' passions for this silly card game translate so well off the screen. Maybe it's just because everything is really pretty; I don't know. I do know that at this point, we've seen maybe two dozen games of karuta, and each time, I still cheer every time Chihaya nabs a card.

I'm a little curious what happens after this point. Obviously, now that Arata is back from his personal abyss, we'll be seeing more of him. And now that Nationals is over, the team will have another year to prepare. Whatever lies between is up in the air. I'm deathly curious what will happen in the year in between, and I'm eager to see Chihaya develop her skills and begin the journey of becoming the next Queen. I've thought about reading ahead in the manga, but the excitement that I feel every Tuesday is worth waiting for.

Status: If you want to see Chihayafuru, I'd watch it now. As Zac and I talked about in last week's ANNCast, this series might never be licensed. After all, it is a show about the least Westernizable game in the world. What's the US equivalent? Slapjack? Competitive Guess Who? I don't know.


#2 - Bodacious Space Pirates [ep. 1-3]

Never underestimate the power of a well-written story. That's what sets Bodacious Space Pirates apart from a lot of the other series this season. Unlike the other mecha series this season (I'm staring right at you, Lagrange), it takes the time to set up the story and develop the characters. It doesn't throw teenage girls into impossible situations. There's a great scene in the second episode where protagonist Marika confesses to her mother that she doesn't know if she's ready to captain the pirate ship Bentenmaru. Refreshingly, her mother reassures her and tells her to think about it, and the subject is put to rest. That's how things should be. It's more natural.

Bodacious Space Pirates also stops to do what many other space shows don't—and that's truly appreciate the majesty of space. So often do characters pooh-pooh the idea of space that I began to wonder if people even found it wondrous anymore. In this series, we get to see space through the eyes of girls who experience it for the first time, both through spaceship voyages and the first tentative steps of a space walk. Even from the safety of their planet, space is something to be marveled—the swirls of a galaxy are always prominent in the night sky. Even as a viewer, it's beautiful.

At this point in the series, I'm not sure how long it will take until Marika steps into the captain role. Quite frankly, I don't really care. I'm enjoying the journey. I love watching her and her classmates cheer at launching into space for the first time. I love watching them solve problems through the patient tutelage of pirate-turned-instructor mentor. I'm learning and seeing everything for the first time, just like the girls, and it's refreshing. Sure, I'm curious about who the bad guys are that are monitoring Marika, and I want to see where her new job offer takes her, but I can wait. I'd rather enjoy the moment.

Status: Bodacious Space Pirates is this season's surprise hit. It's interesting enough to be compelling, but laid-back enough to feel like everything is unfolding organically. I'm looking forward to the rest of their practice cruise.


#3 - Hunter x Hunter [13-16]

I'm glad this show is still on. I was worried that we'd have to wait until the Spring to see the further adventures of Gon and Friends. Hunter x Hunter is one of those shows that I look forward to every week because each episode feels like it's only ten minutes long. Without fail, every time the episode ends, I think to myself, “That was 20 minutes??” and I'm bitterly disappointed.

The Hunter Exam has led our lovable band of heroes to an island where they're sent off on a manhunt. Each examinee is given the number of another examiner, and they must hunt down their targets—or find three replacements. They can either steal the tag, or get it the old-fashioned way—by killing their targets in their tracks. Naturally, Gon isn't about to kill anyone, but when he ends up with clown-face Hisoka's number, he develops a plan to steal his badge by snatching it up with his fishing pole. What follows is a set of episodes that's perhaps more fascinating for all the scenes that don't involve Gon or his friends.

Back during the Trick Tower arc, I hated on Hisoka pretty hard. I didn't find him compelling, nor did I really want to see him eating up Gon's screen time, but this time around, I'm finding him to be one of the most interesting characters on the show. Unlike some of the other villains, whose blind bloodlust leads them to kill anyone and everything that gets in the way, Hisoka has a unique system of… respect? I hesitate to use that word to describe the way he picks and chooses his victims, but the times he doesn't kill people is almost more fascinating than the times he does. I'm dying to know his backstory, and I hope that gets developed in the near future.

The island adventures aren't over yet, I'm sure, but I'm having a really good time with this arc. Seeing this extended game of cat-and-mouse / Battle Royale is really fun, if in a somewhat sick way, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else the series has in store for us.

Status: Thank you, Hunter x Hunter, for keeping my Winter 2012 awesome. This arc is even better than the ones before it, so I'm 100% on board.


#4 - The Knight in the Area [ep. 1-3]

I'm a huge fan of soccer. I think it's a great game and I think the matches are tense and exciting. I'm aware that a large chunk of Americans don't feel the same way. Luckily, you don't have to like soccer, or even know anything about soccer, to enjoy The Knight in the Area. Like any good sports anime, it's not really about the sport. It's about the people who play and it's about their love for the game. That having been said, this series really fluctuates in terms of my enjoyment for it. I wasn't wild about the first episode, I liked the second, and found the third to be strangely sinister.

The lead protagonist of the series is Kakeru, a middle-schooler who absolutely loves soccer, but because of certain insecurities stemming from a negative experience in his childhood, has stopped playing. Instead, he manages his school's team from the sidelines, rooting for his brother, whose talent has landed him on the Japanese national U-15 team. However, his brother sees a latent talent inside Kakeru and forces him back on the team.

If you've gotten to the end of the second episode, you know that tragedy strikes. It's not even really a spoiler, because the events that transpire are essentially foretold at the beginning of the first episode. Needless to say, it's a pretty heartbreaking ending. At the same time, it comes at exactly the right moment. Two episodes doesn't seem like a lot of time, but within that span, the writers were able to craft the brother's arc in such a way that he becomes sympathetic by the end. He's the only person who believes in Kakeru, and he dreams of someday playing with his brother in the World Cup, assisting him in a goal with a hard pass up the center. It's then that you realize that he's not the cocky ass that he was written as. Anyone who can embrace being a team player is inherently a good person, and that's the brotherly dynamic that sets up the rest of the series post-tragedy.

Whatever feelings of good will I had toward the series after the second episode dissipated by the time I finished the third. The music choices in the series are really strange. I'm not sure what kind of response the director was trying to get out of the music cues, but it ends up making the series feel really sinister and evil. I'll try not to reveal any spoilers until anyone who wants to see the series has gotten a fair chance to catch up, but in one scene, when Seven hears the nurse talking about Kakeru, it's accompanied with an eerie swell of music that would've been more appropriate had she said, “Nope, we checked. He's a demon.” Later in the episode, when Seven sees Kakeru(??) staring into the distance, we're treated with another freakishly creepy music cue. It reminded me of all those re-cut movie trailers on Youtube where people turn horror movies into romantic comedies, and comedies into slasher films. I think The Knight in the Area is supposed to be inspiring and uplifting. Why the third episode feels like someone just dug up a mass grave, I don't know. It's really unsettling.

So, I don't know. I didn't like how rushed the first episode was. I did like the second episode, and the way that it zeroed in on the relationships with the brothers. The third… yeah, those music cues really took the series in a direction I wasn't okay with. Hopefully things will get better in the next couple of episodes.

Status: Well, it's interesting. That's one thing I can say about this show. I'm not loving it, but I'm not wholly hating it either, so maybe the next few episodes will tell.


#5 - Future Diary [ep. 13-14]

Is it just me, or did this show totally spin off the rails? We already knew the show didn't have all its marbles in the same jar, considering it's a show about rampant murdering and psychopathic children, but even with that giant caveat, Future Diary is getting out of control. I've never approved of Yukki's silly high school relationship with the nutbag Yuno, but things really dove off the deep end. Or rather, jumped from an already deep end to a bottomless pit. Remember, this is the girl who buries people in her backyard (but wait until you learn who they are!!!).

After the events of the hospital explosion, Yuno decides it's time for a nice little vacation with her beau Yukki. Things are pretty good, until, oh, she drugs the hell out of him, kidnaps him and drags him to an abandoned town. Naturally, all their friends show up, because they realize that Yuno is a basket of crazy, but find themselves in a highly unlikely situation where she's a) set up a gas chamber killing room that's b) rigged with a fairly sophisticated surveillance system and has c) organized an elaborate trap for everyone. I don't know how long these two kids have been on vacation, but I don't think she had the time to get all that together on a meager high school student budget. But maybe she's been saving up all her paper route money.

Just to make things more fun/convenient for the writers, almost everyone has a future diary now. They're pretty much handing these things out like prizes on Oprah. I think the rule is, as long as you have a cell phone or any type of object that can display words, you can have a future diary. This makes it even easier for these wily murderers to out-trick and triple-cross each other with a few bloops of their phones.

Like I said, Future Diary is out of control.

There was a point where this series was fun because it was so outrageous. It's kind of gotten to the point where it feels like the writers know they can get away with just about anything, so they're just throwing crap into a pot and seeing what happens. If the next episode introduced a guy who can see the future via an extensive network of carrier pigeons, I'd consider it well within the bounds of what this show is capable of. That having been said, I'm still watching this show. That might say way more about me than it says about this loony bin of a series.

Status: Is this what Stockholm Syndrome feels like? Am I the hostage in this situation? Every week, I just yell at my computer and squeak feebly, “This show is madness!!!” but every week, I still tune in to see if it can get any weirder. If that's the effect this show is going for, then I tip my hat.


#6 - Inu X Boku SS [ep. 1-2]

People like shows that have butlers in them because secretly, everyone wishes they had their own butler. It's easy to forget the downsides of a class society when faced with the fantasy of having a loyal servant that only has your best interests in mind. It's hard to watch Inu X Boku SS without thinking that there's something delightfully escapist about the set-up for this story. Unfortunately, I think in order to live in this ultra-exclusive condo that all the characters live in, and have your own secret service agent, you need to be a human-demon hybrid.

Ririchiyo is a (secretly) sweet girl who's desperately lonely and has a really hard time fitting in. Because of this, she tries her hardest to be mean to everyone. In order to escape society, she moves into Ayakashi Mansion, a private community for the uber rich—who also happen to be part demon. Unfortunately for her, her plans for solitude are foiled when she's greeted by Soushi, a secret service agent who instantly professes his undying loyalty for her. He's so pained by the thought of not serving her every whim, that he literally waits outside her door for the chance to be useful. He's also the first one to refer to himself as a dog, but seeing as how he's some kind of multi-tailed fox demon, it's more endearing than demeaning.

Understandably, some viewers might feel a little uncomfortable at watching a show whose secondary main character is constantly referred to as a dog, who only lives to serve, but it's surprisingly innocent. We're led to believe that at some point in the past, perhaps in a previous life, Ririchiyo saved Soushi's life in some way, so now he feels indebted to her. It helps that she's so sweet and genuine, and really has no interest in taking advantage of him.

Part of what makes this series enjoyable is the amusing cast of characters. They're all goofy in their own way, from the flying-scroll/disheveled-bro character, to the woman-who-thinks-girls-are-a-little-too-cute. The latter archetype has a propensity to get iffy, but in this case, it's all innocent and played for laughs. Inu X Boku SS hasn't really dived too deep into a main storyline yet, so it's anyone's guess as to how the series will pan out once it gets into the meat of things, but right now, I'm having a good time just getting to know everyone. Soushi is delightful, and my heart melts a little bit every time Ririchiyo's facade cracks. I could see this show getting old later, but right now, while it's still fresh, it's pretty fun.

Status: For the time being, I'm enjoying this series. I'm not really sure what this show is going to end up being about, but right now, I'm satisfied just watching the characters interact.


#7 - Another [ep. 1-2]

I think what we can infer from horror anime is that small Japanese towns are filled with evil. We can also infer that personality is not as important as one thinks. For whatever reason, main character Koichi is strongly drawn towards a quiet girl in his class, who has the personality of a Kleenex. She's standoffish, boring, and oh, she's dead. Just gonna toss that one out there. Even after Koichi finds out that she's dead, I think he's still really fascinated by this ghost, which is weird, because she's putting the viewers to sleep.

After I watched the first episode, I asked the Twitterverse why Japanese girls had a thing with eyepatches. I was shocked to learn that it's actually a legitimate fashion statement amongst high school girls, to the point where some girls bedazzle theirs. Up until then, I thought it was just some weird fetish, but I guess this is an actual “look.” Kids these days. But hey, if you're into eyepatches, the dead girl wears one.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Another is that visually, it's quite stunning. It embraces the bleakness of its surroundings, and everything is splashed in shades of gray. Even the character designs are somber. No one in the show ever smiles, and everything is drawn very minimalistically. The resulting effect is absolutely gorgeous, but the side effect is that you've got a show that's mostly style and no substance.

If you're looking for a horror series that's mostly atmosphere, then Another actually fits the bill. Regardless of its somewhat clichéd big-city-kid-moves-to-creepy-small-town-with-a-secret-and-hangs-out-with-a-dead-girl premise, it's a creepy show. The combined effect of the somber artwork and the dissonant music is anxiety and nervousness. Thankfully, there are no loud noises or sudden movements, because I'd probably pee my pants.

Although the first episode struck my list of pet peeves with its, “I know what the secret is, but I'm not telling” writing, the second episode already seems ready to fess up—at least a little. It may just be a trap, but I'm in it, hook, line, and sinker. I'll stick around for a couple more episodes, just to see if anything interesting happens.

Status: If you liked Higurashi: When They Cry, then you might like Another. There hasn't been any scenes yet of kids hacking each other apart with hatchets, but I wouldn't put it past them.


#8 - Ano Natsu de Matteru [ep. 1-2]

One could make a surface comparison between Ano Natsu de Matteru and Onegai Teacher. They both have a busty red-headed alien who wears glasses. They both have love triangles. And they both share staff members—namely original character designer Taraku Uon and screenwriter Yousuke Kuroda, who both worked on the Onegai franchise. However, the comparisons really end there. What Ano Natsu de Matteru has in looks (sadly, it even looks dated), it lacks in heart. Onegai Teacher got a bad rap for fanservice and shonen romance hijinks, but the characters had compelling arcs. The lead from Onegai Teachers suffered physically and emotionally from his sister's suicide—the lead in Ano Natsu de Matteru is just a weird kid who really digs his 8mm camera.

Still, with only two episodes under its belt, Ano Natsu de Matteru has room for growth. There isn't anything abjectly wrong with it quite yet, except for maybe lack of heart and depth, but… maybe it will get better. After all, the series is called “Waiting in the Summer,” and the summer has yet to begin. Admittedly, I am overly soft on these types of shows, too. I was, after all, a huge fan of Onegai Twins, so I want to give this show another few episodes to breathe. I'm a little curious to see how this alien story will pan out, and I don't want to dismiss it outright.

Unfortunately, the visuals in this series are a big strike against it. The character designs really do make this series look old. When I was watching the opening scene of the second episode, where we see a flashback of alien girl Ichika careening to Earth in her spaceship, I thought for a brief moment that I was watching Dirty Pair again. The thick, clumpy hairstyles do the characters a huge disservice, and it just doesn't hold the same appeal that it did ten years ago. Kaito's hair looks like it was carved from a lump of clay. It's just not visually pleasing, and unfortunately, this is the kind of show that really needs to have that going for it.

Right now, I'm not super excited about where this show's going—if it's going anywhere at all—but I'm willing to stick it out for just a while longer. I like the laid back pace of it, and I'm already counting down the minutes until they go to the beach. Or a hot springs.

Status: Ano Natsu de Matteru is… fine. It's cute. It has nice music. Sadly, it's a little too mediocre for the time being, but maybe it'll get better.


#9 - Listen To Me, Girls, I'm Your Father [ep. 1-2]

I want to like this show based solely on the last few minutes of the second episode. I want to review this show based solely on those last few minutes. But then I would be ignoring how uncomfortable I was with all those scenes in which a middle-school-aged girl blushed at her (admittedly, non-biological) uncle, ran around in sheer garments, and fussed over how many times she showered before seeing him. I can't just talk about how heart-wrenching and dreadful those last few minutes were without remember the opening theme with its shiny, nubby girls posing suggestively on rumpled bedsheets.

If this show wants my heart to break for these orphaned girls, so be it. But don't creep me out at the same time. It's not fair. I can handle one or the other, but not both at the same time. If I want a show about a college boy who's thrust into a tragic situation by being put in charge of three orphaned girls, then I want a show that will break my heart with its scenes of grief and despair, and uplift me with its scattered scenes of life's little moments. I don't want to live in terror that some girl's going to want to bang her uncle.

It's mostly the art style. Everyone's joints are really shiny. I think it's supposed to make the girls look cherubic, but mostly it's just creepy. Part of that has to do with the way the opening theme is shot. The actual episodes themselves just have scattered panty shots and bountiful blushing, but the opening shots from the intro theme look like a softcore porno. It's only four seconds, but it's disturbing. Give me ice cream, or steak, but don't put ice cream on my steak, is all I'm saying. Seriously, everyone looks wet. I don't like that.

That having been said, I am willing to be open-minded about the next few episodes. I had a lot of misgivings about the first two episodes, but the setup for the rest of the series has to be good, right? I mean, the writers would feel really dirty about themselves if they didn't dial things down a few notches. Or at least I hope so.

Status: Why is everyone so shiny? It really makes things creepier than they have to be. I really want to like this show, but I keep being repulsed by it. Hopefully all of the shudderific elements will be taken out, and we'll be left with a heartwarming story of a family that's just trying to stick together.


#10 - Lagrange ~The Flower of Rin-Ne~ [ep. 1-3]

Listen, if I was any more bored watching this show, I'd probably volunteer to babysit someone's lawn. You'd think that a show packed with ROBOT FIGHTS! and ALIENS! and MORE ROBOT FIGHTS! wouldn't be dull, but you would be wrong. Lagrange is like the polar opposite of Bodacious Space Pirates. It's lazily written, it's haphazardly thrown together from scraps of other anime, and it seems to mostly be running down a checklist of Things That Should Be In A Robot Show. In a nutshell, Lagrange stars a super bubbly heroine who punctuates her sentences with a trademark hand gesture, who's suddenly thrust into the cockpit of a robot that she suddenly knows how to pilot, and is now trapped on endless missions to fight mysterious neon-haired aliens. I think at the point where most normal teenagers would ask, “When do I get to go home?” or “Can I call my dad?”, our chipper Madoka just sighs and thinks, “OH WELL! Better jump back into the cockpit to fight another alien robot!!!” I bet she dots her “I”s with smiley faces.

It's insulting as a viewer to be fed a series in which crap is just tossed at you, and because you're the poor lonely anime nerd, you're expected to lap it up. Look, I get that sometimes characters just have to be good at piloting robots. That's fine. That's a staple of mech shows, which is a genre I personally love, but I ask that they have some kind of emotional reaction towards it. Characters don't have to spiral into a crippling depression like Evangelion's Shinji Ikari, but they should at least be upset with their change in circumstances, and least want to know if they're allowed to go home for dinner. The fact that Madoka is hunky-dory with being kidnapped and forced into fight after fight speaks ill of her brain cells.

But mostly, it speaks ill of the writing. I get that sometimes at the end of the day, you just want to see some stuff explode, and maybe some girl straddle a scooter, but if there's no effort to write any motivations into either the good guys or the bad guys, then it ends up just being boring. Even the Harlem Globetrotters have a motivation for playing basketball. The least Lagrange could do is back up its robot fights with some “why?”s.

Status: It's only been three episodes, and I am rapidly losing patience with this show. That's hard for me to recognize, because I love robot shows! I have a whole shelf full of snap kits! But a good mech show needs to be backed up with a good story—or else it's just empty fanservice.


Brave 10 [ep. 1-2]

Brave 10 is little more than an excuse to parade around a collection of flamboyant character designs, and serve up some pointless action sequences. Set in the Warring States era of Japan, the series first and foremostly follows the plight of a priestess whose angst over watching her village be ransacked is eclipsed by her need to be bubbly, and her desire to throw herself at the wandering samurai/ninja Saizo. Together, they visit Lord Sanada, who decides they need to gather together ten brave warriors, thus setting up a story reminiscent of the Sanada Ten Braves of folkore. The difference is that in Brave 10, that story is little more than a launching point for ridiculous entries in a Design Your Own Ninja contest.

By the end of the second episode, we're introduced also to a corset-wearing, pleather chaps-donning lady warrior who can fire ice daggers off her legs, some guy who can control forest creatures, some masked ninja with electric kunai, and Tits McGee Snake Charmer, who can control exploding snakes the size of mountains. If there's a coherent storyline, I mostly missed it. Not because it takes a genius to figure out this simpleton Good Guy vs. Bad Guy story, but because it's poorly cobbled-together slop built around ninja fights.

Perhaps if there were some good characters. But alas, all of the characters can be shoehorned into stereotypes, which would be fine, if the writers didn't just those preexisting archetypes in lieu of actual character introduction and development. Instead, all we're left with is a melting pot of generic ninjas and an irritating girl whose codependence on the aloof samurai/ninja protagonist is more mystifying than endearing.

Fortunately, for those viewers who just can't get enough of Warring States era pieces, there are no lack of titles to choose from. There is also a plethora of better ninja/samurai/priestess/Tits McGee Snake Charmer shows out there. Personally, I can't wait to never have to sit through an episode of this again. If any of you stick with this, let me know how it goes.

Status: Dropped, like a skillet of hot grease. I kind of dug the fights at first, but the mess of a second episode completely ruined things for me. I'll have to get my snake killing elsewhere. Harumph.

So there you have it. Thoughts? Agreements? Total disagreements? Hop on over to the Talkback forums and let your voice be heard.

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