When It Pours
by Bamboo Dong,
1 (-) Kids on the Slope
2 (-) Space Brothers
3 (-) Tsuritama
4 (-) Fate/Zero
5 (-) Lupin III - A Woman Called Fujiko Mine
6 (-) Polar Bear Cafe
7 (-) Kuroko's Basketball
8 (-) Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
9 (-) Hunter x Hunter
10 (-) Medaka Box
11 (-) Jormungand
12 (-) Zetman
13 (-) Upotte!!
14 (-) Mysterious Girlfriend X
15 (-) Accel World
16 (-) Folktales from Japan
17 (-) Saint Seiya Omega
18 (-) Hiiro no Kakera
Spring 2012 is already four weeks upon us, and it has brought with it a torrential downpour of new anime. Needless to say, I already feel my blood pressure creeping up, and my vodka finger itching. In order to handle the large volume of simulcasts, what will likely happen is that the top 10 series will still get the normal-length reviews, but those below will likely have shorter reviews. Obviously, when there is a shakeup in the ranking system and a #11 title moves up to #10, then it will get longer reviews as well, but whatever got bumped will likely be accompanied by a shorter review. Unless I'm in a rant spiral. Then all the horses in the Midwest couldn't drag me back down to Earth.
Let's dive in.
The smash hit of the season, Kids on the Slope reunites Cowboy Bebop producer Shinichiro Watanabe with acclaimed composer Yoko Kanno, which in anime fandom is not unlike the brouhaha of seeing Guns ‘n’ Roses do a reunion tour. A love sonnet to jazz music, Kids on the Slope is all at once nostalgic and exhilarating. For those who haven't had a chance to watch it yet, the series follows three friends—sweet class president Ritsuko, hoodlum-with-a-heart-of-gold and drummer Sentaro, and the shy transfer student Kaoru. The latter inadvertently becomes friends with Sentaro, who introduces him to jazz, a thrilling departure from the strict confines of classical piano that Kaoru grew up with. As the two cement their friendship, Kaoru finds himself crushing on Ritsuko and dealing with the pains of high school romance.
What's immediately noticeable about Kids on the Slope is the painstakingly beautiful and detailed animation. The animators have gone to great lengths to make sure that everything is lifelike and realistic—Sentaro's drumming matches the incidental music perfectly; when Kaoru plays Debussy, he plays the right notes. No corners have been cut, and it pays off. It's a breathtaking piece of art, and it carries with it an indescribable air—whether it's the subdued color palette or the folksy character designs, the series carries an atmosphere of mid-century nostalgia.
At its core, Kids on the Slope is also a wonderfully feel-good story about friendship. Kaoru and Sentaro are an odd couple, but it's heart-warming to see their relationship grow. There's a priceless scene in which the two are angry at each other, but through a jam session, warm up to each other and end in laughter. It's male camaraderie at its rosiest, and it's hard not to smile when the two begrudgingly fall into friendship.
It's hard to sell Kids on the Slope. It's a slice of life show, which already puts it at a disadvantage amongst the crowd who crave either laughter or action, but it's also hard to succinctly describe why this series is so enjoyable. There's something pleasurable and comforting about watching this series, like drinking Coca-Cola from a glass bottle on a hot summer day; it's not the actual event or action, but the connotation of good memories in years past. Still, Kids on the Slope deserves to be lauded, and I can only hope that Watanabe's name is enough to convince fans to give the series a shot. It's beautiful to watch and easy on the heart, and if you're a music lover, it'll definitely bring a smile to your face.
Status: This is the show to keep an eye on. It's remarkably well done, and has a solid future ahead of it.
Space Brothers is definitely one of my favorite series of the season. The human element is so realistic and refreshing that it's easy to support the characters. Mutta and his younger brother Hibito made a promise to each other as children that they would become astronauts—flash forward to the present, and Hibito is about to become the first Japanese national to go to the moon. Mutta, meanwhile, has gotten fired from his job for throwing a tantrum, and the odds are stacked against him finding future employment in his field. An answer comes when his mother secretly sends in an application for him to become a JAXA astronaut.
What follows is a grueling application and interview process, where Mutta must prove himself more worthy than the other applicants. He has some advantages—he's very handy, given his previous engineering work, and he has a high lung capacity, given his background as a trumpet player, but he's wary of the implication that he's only there because of his brother. It's really interesting to see the way he compares himself to his brother. Even when he's not actively thinking about it, there's something in his demeanor that gives the impression that he feels lost in his shadow, even though he doesn't resent it or dwell on it. When the brothers do get a chance to interact via phone calls, it's tender and hopeful.
Also intriguing is the series' offbeat and quirky humor. Rather than going for straight laughs, Space Brothers finds the humor in awkward situations. They're the kinds of moments where you think your day can't get any worse, but then something unexpectedly terrible happens that makes you laugh from the sheer irony, like when Mutta drops his phone down the toilet. Scenes like that do a lot to humanize the characters and make them more relate-able, and it helps ground the series in reality.
Space Brothers has settled on the perfect pace. I appreciate it for taking the appropriate amount of time to shuffle Mutta through the interview process, letting viewers in on his thought processes and the gravitas of the situation. Everything about this series is done deliberately, and it pays off with how well the characters are unfolding in front of us.
Status: Space Brothers is definitely worth following. It's laidback, but interesting, and one can't help but root for Mutta.
Perhaps the surprise gem of the season, Tsuritama is a magnificent series about friendship, self-confidence… and fishing. It pairs an unlikely trio of soon-to-be-friends—shy Yuki, a high school boy whose fear of public speaking and constant relocation makes him a perpetual loner; rambunctious Haru, an alien who somehow communicates with fish; and Natsuki, the gruff classmate who excels at sport fishing. Already within three episodes, this series is stupendous. The characters are interesting and colorful, the animation is vibrant and sometimes quirky, and the attention to detail is mind-boggling. Every time the characters cast their line, the reels come to life, and it made me desperately want to go fishing again.
Below the show's obsessive attention to detail and love for fishing, though, is a really engaging story of a boy (maybe two?) who learns to shed his nervous exterior and learn to interact with others. Yuki, the red-headed protagonist, tries desperately to make a good impression at every school he goes to, but finds that when he gets nervous, a drowning sensation brings out a facial expression that others only describe as “demon face.” It's funny to watch animated—but sad when you parlay that into real life, and one can only root for Yuki. Through fishing, he finds a means of opening himself up, and along the way, the audience gets some really great lessons on fishing. Really, it's a win-win situation, and viewers can add “sport fishing” to the list of esoteric sports that anime fans have an unnatural stockpile of knowledge about, like karuta and go.
Even just on the surface, Tsuritama is a joy to watch. The animation style makes use of a lot of mixed patterns and bright colors at certain moments, and some of the sequences remind one of playing Katamari Damacy. It really grabs your attention. I mean, who would've guessed that a fishing show could be this fun?
It's maybe a little disingenuous to just paint this as a fishing and self-discovery story, though—there's also a subplot about an alien boy who takes an instant shine to Yuki, and an Indian boy with a pet duck. I think my reluctance to talk about it mirrors my confusion on where that story is going, but it provides enough smiles along the way, especially with the duck. But for now, the highlights of the series lay elsewhere.
Status: Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
It's easy to see why Fate/Zero is so popular. Visually, it's spectacular. The fights are eerily beautiful and lovingly choreographed, and it's obvious that the production team wasn't willing to fall back on standard sword clashes. The battles are so unique and interesting that one can't help but sit back and gawk every episode, whether it's between two weapon wielders, two flying machines, or a bevy of monsters. Combined with impeccable sound design and a swelling soundtrack, these action scenes take Fate/Zero to the next level.
The second season picks up right where the first season left off, continuing the Holy Grail War and the events around it. There's a conflict between Saber and Lancer that's been a long time in the making, and even though it's a little nerve-wracking to watch, it good to see the series heading toward the finish line. While it was at times frustrating in the first season that none of the characters were being disposed of, things are definitely getting more serious and I'm more than ready for the show to start crescendoing. It looks like this season is off to a good start.
Status: Fate/Zero isn't in the number one spot that it held when it premiered, but it's still a solid series, and definitely worth holding onto until the end.
Dripping with sex and sensuality, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine harkens to an earlier era of Lupin, where Lupin himself was a little more menacing and a little less goofy, and Fujiko was a seductress who brazenly used her body to get what she wanted. Taking place before the entire gang officially meets, the episodes follow Fujiko on various escapades as she bats her eyes and disrobes her way to a myriad of treasures. Within a few episodes, though, the band's “back” together, and fans can enjoy a fresh take on an old classic.
There's something much edgier about the new Lupin III than in the movies that were licensed for distribution that American fans are accustomed to watching. It's immediately darker and a little bit more sinister—the series doesn't shy away from Fujiko using her body as bait, nor does it shy away from possible consequence, like putting our heroes' necks under a guillotine early on (naturally, our wily protagonists escape). Granted, the Fujiko was always seductive, but this time around, her sexuality is more raw and devious, and more of a weapon than ever before.
Artistically, there's also something rough around the edges that gives this reboot flair. Every frame looks like it's shaded in around the edges with a thick marker, and all the shadowing is done with similar ink strokes. It's gritty and unrefined, and matches with the series' new vibe perfectly. Even the character design is gruffer, with more gnarled facial expressions, and Fujiko's sometimes haphazardly-drawn figure. It's more avant garde than previous iterations of the franchise, which, compounded with the goofiness of the characters, made everything more cartoonish.
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine doesn't necessarily have better writing or better stories than its predecessors—those are still similar. They're not even particularly captivating. But what this series brings to the table is its panache, and that tips it over the edge.
Status: I'm not leaping out of my seat with any of the stories, but it's a joy to watch and I'm still having a lot of fun.
I have sometimes spent up to an hour clicking on animal videos on Youtube. With a good glass of cabernet, that can sometimes stretch to one and a half hours. It starts slow and then it sneaks up on you. First you click on a video of a red panda digging in the snow. Before you know it, you've wasted an entire evening, and you've clicked your way through a dozen endangered species.
Polar Bear Cafe is the ultimate Youtube spiral.
It's basically just 25 minutes of cute animals being cute, and acknowledging that they're cute. There's a phenomenal line in one of the episodes where Panda smiles and says, “I'm so cute!” and Penguin retorts, “You can't say that about yourself.” Briefly, the series is set at a cafe, but mostly stars a panda cub named Panda. His talents are eating bamboo, rolling around, and being lazy, but he enjoys spending his time at this particular cafe and shooting the breeze with Polar Bear, Penguin, Llama, and the sole human allowed to have a speaking role.
There are so many amazing things about Polar Bear Cafe that it's hard to pick a place to start. Visually, it's incredible. All of the animals are drawn realistically, all the way down to the bears' black gums, their fangs, and the shape of their ears. It's what makes the animal lover in people freak out, because it's like being whisked into a magical world where humans can actually enjoy a latte with llamas. If the animals were drawn in a more cartoonish fashion, it easily could've missed the mark and been too silly.
The humor is also incredibly offbeat. One of my dear friends' husband has always referred to lame puns as “daddy jokes,” and that describes the humor in Polar Bear Cafe to the T. Every joke is a “daddy joke”—the kind of eye-rollers that all dads tell, but are only appreciable after a certain age. Polar Bear, the proprietor of the Polar Bear Cafe, is a pun enthusiast, and nary an episode goes by without a string of groan-inducing puns. They're hardly knee-slappers, but they're great in that cheesy, whimsical way.
In fact, Polar Bear Cafe is just that—cheesy and whimsical. It doesn't go out of its way to be outwardly funny, not does it go out of its way to pander to audiences by being too saccharine cute. It delivers with its dry humor (Panda, for instance, has a part time job at the zoo as a panda) and its tongue-in-cheek gag that pandas are irritatingly cute and they damned well know it. Animal lovers will especially enjoy Polar Bear Cafe, but I may go out on a limb and say that it can be enjoyed by all.
Status: Polar Bear Cafe is a strange creature. It comes off as a cutesy show, but it doesn't carry itself that way. It's remarkably dry for what it is, but it's absolutely delightful, and it's a good diversion every week.
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but there is pretty much nothing in the world that sounds goofier than “Generation of Miracles,” especially in reference to a middle school basketball team. Am I right? Just about every time someone on screen referenced “Generation of Miracles,” my jaw dropped and my eyes rolled towards the ceiling.
There was once a legendary middle school basketball team (no, it's okay, go ahead and laugh) known as the Generation of Miracles. The five players all went to separate high schools… but there's a sixth player, who was also part of the Generation of Miracles. He's going to Seiren High School, which doesn't much of a basketball team, and along with some kid who used to play in America, wants to take their school all the way to the top. But until then, they need to recruit new players, learn how to work together, play some practice games with other schools, and learn how to be the scrappy underdogs that they are.
It's everything you could want from a sports anime. The first couple of episodes focus mostly on the players and the recruitment process, but once things move on to the practice match, there's plenty of basketball. Blessedly, the characters are all fairly strong, and even within the few episodes that we get to know them, their personalities shine through brightly and uniquely.
As far as sports shows go, Kuroko's Basketball is off to a good start. It doesn't seem too gimmicky and seems intent on showcasing the sport, and while the characters haven't really had a lot of screen time to interact off the court, it's looking like a solid cast worth following.
Status: Incidentally, basketball is the one sport that I find impossibly dull, but I'm having a good time with Kuroko's Basketball. He was, after all, part of the Generation of Miracles.
With a name like Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, you wouldn't expect the series to be a comedy as quirky as it is. We're introduced to the members of a high school's Paranormal Investigation Club, but only hapless secretary Momoe can't see the ghost that lurks within the club walls—president Yuuko, a mischievous girl who's lost her memories and isn't sure how she came to be a ghost. The other members of the club, Teichii, whom Yuuko is always flirting with, and Kirie, who seems to dislike Yuuko, can all see her. This leads to plenty of hijinks in which Momoe is the only one not in on the joke. Objects will float in front of her face, clubmates will get physically hauled around, and out-of-context conversations take place in which she only hears the responses of the living. The series handles it deftly by letting viewers in on the joke, and it gives the show an extra layer of humor.
Of course, even in ghost stories, everyone needs a pool party, so male viewers can have plenty of eye candy mixed in with their supernatural. Even with the comedy and light fanservice, though, it feels like there's something constantly lurking underneath the surface. Obviously, there are spooky elements to every ghost tale, but aside from the creepy setting of the school and the other cursed locales that the club goes to, one wonders about Yuuko and exactly what her backstory is. It sometimes puts a damper on her pranks, and makes the series more intriguing.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is surprisingly entertaining, and it strikes a good balance between serious and light-hearted. My guess is that the series will darken as it goes on, but for now, I'm enjoying the tone.
Status: Amusing for now. I'm generally wary of shows about paranormal investigation clubs, considering the huge amount of shows that seem to revolve around such things, but Dusk Maiden of Amnesia offers a unique take on an old premise.
I'll be honest with you guys. I've already hit the point where I've decided that Hunter x Hunter is worth watching for the long haul. I will probably never drop it. As such, I'm going to decrease these reviews down to paragraphs just reminding you how much I'm still enjoying this show. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly this Heaven's Arena arc blew through, considering I was quaking in terror that we'd be stuck in a tournament arc until I reached my mid-30s. We still don't get to see Gon fight Hisoka yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing some more of the fights now that Gon has learned some new techniques.
Status: I mean, I've already been watching this thing for 20-some episodes. I'm not going to stop now. But when things take a sour turn, you all will be the first to know.
There is a curious trope in anime of the female student body president (or at least just female) who has a strange obsession with helping people. Such females are so drawn to helping people that they are inevitably the presidents of clubs that blindly run errands for other students. These typically range from moving things for the school festival, to tracking down ghosts in spooky wings of their school, or whatever other shenanigan is required in the context of a particular anime.
Medaka Box is named for the suggestion box of Medaka, a busty gal who, among being the student body president, also excels at just about everything in life. Her childhood friend might even argue that her obsession with wanting to help others is a power play to show off her superiority. But, regardless of the reason, she backs down at no challenge. Thus, we have a series in which episode after episode is a task-of-the-week bonanza, although there's a mission along the way for her childhood friend to stop by the judo club and win a match.
It's… silly. But it has its fun moments too, mostly revolving around Medaka's mercurial personality. She's tough and serious, but she can glimmer like a schoolgirl when she wants to, melting all the men around her. Aside from that, it's difficult to really find anything about Medaka Box to champion. Not much really happens, aside from a checklist of goofy activities, but once the suggestion box really starts flowing, maybe the series might find itself with more interesting dilemmas and missions. For now, it's not much more than a casual diversion.
Status: Medaka Box is okay for now. It's hard to say anything about it besides just shrugging and saying, “Yeah, this is fun,” but if you're pulled towards schoolyard comedy hijinks about spunky girls that like to solve problems… well, this series is for you, I guess.
I want to like Jormungand, because it has things that I would normally consider “cool”—anti-aircraft missiles, high speed car chases, arms dealers, and women who climb out of cars clutching knives. It even has some quasi political messages. But somewhere between having cool toys to play with and a large ensemble cast, it loses itself. It tries to do so much that the selling points become gimmicks, and everything bleeds together into one gray smudge.
The first character we're introduced to is Jonah, a former child soldier who lost his family to war. Because of this, he has a deep-rooted hatred for weaponry, but finds himself working for an eccentric arms dealer, in the hopes of tracking down those responsible for the deaths of his family. The arms dealer is a white-haired, tantrum-throwing gal named Koko Hekmatyar. You know she's kooky because the series goes out of its way to show her doing kooky things, like rolling around on a conference table, or throwing childish fits. Because, see, she's not like those other evil arms dealers—even though she dabbles in the same murky trade, this one's quirky and loveable, because didn't you just see her rolling around on that table?
If Jormungand had to be lumped into genre specifiers, it would probably be listed as “action” or “adventure,” but it doesn't really encompass any of those qualities in spirit. It gets dragged down in its own devices, trying too hard to make a fuss of Jonah's past, but never really using it to make a statement. It tries to show the evilness of arms dealing, but the line between Good Guy and Bad Guy are so definitively drawn that everything blurs together into a generic mush. Watching people gun down bad guys loses its flair when every single episode is about different bodyguards gunning down different foreigners.
Despite all my bad-mouthing, I'm not willing to give up on it. Maybe because I'm intrigued by why such a large cast is necessary, or because I can't help but crack a cheesy grin when I see someone loading a grenade launcher. Still, I'm feeling much more lukewarm having watched the series than I first did when I only read descriptions. Perhaps once we get to know the characters better, the series will warm up.
Status: Shockingly boring and a little aimless, but worth hanging onto for just a few more clicks.
It pains me to watch something like Zetman, because there's a lot of raw potential there that is horribly mismanaged. Undoubtedly, the manga harnesses that potential and is able to craft a fantastic story, but the anime adaptation is so rushed that it's just spurts of glory that are horribly mangled along the way. The story first takes place in Jin's youth, in a time where genetically engineered mutants are terrorizing the streets. After coming home to his slum to his grandfather's murdered corpse, something inside him awakens and he swears vengeance on those responsible. Time jump a few years, and now Jin is able to transform into ZET, some kind of superhuman fighting machine. He still tries to dole out vigilante justice when he can, but now there are people after him who want to fully unlock his powers. Then there's another time skip, and more ZET-related things zet.
I think. I'm giving everyone a basic gist of what's going on here, because truthfully, the condensation of the manga material is making Zetman fairly convoluted. The story can be followed, but it's jarring and uncomfortable to watch, like reading a book with pages missing. Not only are the constant time skips frustrating, but each chunk of time isn't paced effectively. Something interesting will be revealed, or there will be an epic and gruesome fight, but just when you get into the swing of things, the story lurches on without you.
What makes it more maddening is that Zetman could be really great. It has all the trappings of an old school action series made for adults, maybe slightly along the lines of Go Nagai, except with less perversion. The fight scenes are gripping and tense, and don't pull away from the sight of bodies being torn open and otherwise mutilated. Even the character designs are dirty, like everyone's spent a lifetime smoking cigarettes and rolling in the mud. In short, it's an eruption of testosterone in every scene, bolstered by what could be a really solid sci-fi backstory. It's just not given enough time to develop. Even much of the fighter-for-social-justice side of things are buried under the rubble of convoluted storytelling, to the point where I feel like Jin is getting diluted in his own story.
Ideally, a series like Zetman should play out over at least 26 episodes. Even then, I wonder if that would give the story enough room to flex its muscles. But anything would be better than now, which is just a twisted heap of gore, time jumps, and women screaming.
Status: A victim of poor execution, Zetman is not nearly the series it could be, which is disappointing. I may stick it out for just a while longer, but it's been let down so far.
I really think Upotte!! got a bad rap right from the start. Yes, there is a lot of fanservice in the show (what else would you expect from a show that features assault rifles anthropomorphized as little girls?), but admittedly, it's the series' fault for starting with that clitoris = trigger nonsense. It's a heavy thing to move past from, and I don't blame anyone who isn't willing to.
That having been said, the series has been entertaining—and educational. I mentioned in the preview guide and on ANNCast that I found Upotte!! fascinating from a gun enthusiast point of view. This series is chock full of facts, and it goes beyond creepy things like whether or not the girls are wearing thongs because their guns of skeleton stocks. There are also side tangents about dot sights and how they work, the histories of rifle models and why certain modifications were made, and did you know that the Swiss SG 550 has a see-through chamber? They also have remarkable mid-range accuracy.
After the admittedly bizarre introduction that the first episode gave, Upotte!! has veered more into standard girls-with-guns-who-fire-at-each-other territory. The girls are about to enter a team battle, and amongst the smack talk and the glares, there's much to be learned about some of the various guns.
I'm also enjoying the sense of humor that the series has. Most of the humor has veered away from the Haha Clits zone, and has settled back down on national stereotypes. It's a bit like Hetalia, without the historical significance, but who doesn't love to laugh at good ol' fashioned European stereotypes? There's also an amazing exchange in the fourth episode where two of the girls wander into a gun shop run by a sketchy-looking guy with a chest (and head) full of curly hair. After he introduces himself as Curly, one of the girls asks, “Curly?” And right on cue, her friend quips, “Don't ask. If you ask, everybody loses.”
I'm not going to lie and pretend for a second that Upotte!! is somehow deeper than it looks—it's not. It's everything you think it is—a show about girls with guns, and who have a penchant for standing in windy areas. But I think it's fairly entertaining for what it is, and I'm honestly enjoying learning factoids about the rifles along the way. It helps that the creep factor has gone done immensely as the series has progressed.
Status: I still really enjoy Upotte!! I'm willing to stay on the defensive about this one, but I think if readers have a spare half hour some day, it's worth sticking your head back in the door. The series is surprisingly funny, and surprisingly not creepy.
Well, look. By now, we all know that this is the spit show. It doesn't really get better or worse from there. Each episode is still laden with saliva, only now Urabe has Tsubaki convinced that her drool has magical romance properties. Even though they've been going out for a month, she refuses to hold his hand, which is kind of like when prostitutes will do everything except kiss. For whatever reason, but most likely because he's a high school boy, Tsubaki accepts this term, but becomes even more forlorn when she refuses to kiss him, too. Instead, she constantly reassures him with a spit-covered finger, inducing nosebleeds from him with the power of her love spit.
Whereas I was incredibly grossed out in the first episode, I think now I'm just bewildered. Urabe is so confident in the magical powers of her own spit, that I'm beginning to wonder if there's something going on there. Or it could just be the idiocy of teenage relationships, in which you'd walk to the moon and back if it meant getting a prom date. Either way, I'm finding myself oddly intrigued by this show. It's a bit like going to a freak show. You feel bad for looking, but you kind of can't stop peering from the corner of your eye when no one's looking.
What tips the scales on Mysterious Girlfriend X from Creepy to Disturbingly Intriguing for me is Urabe. Had she been portrayed as a giggly, bouncy schoolgirl, this series would've been a dozen shades of creepy. As it is, Urabe is this bizarre girl with a husky voice and a Screw You attitude, and you can't help but kind of love her. Minus her spit, of course. I don't know if I could love her the same way that Tsubaki does without just vomiting myself to sleep every night.
Color me caught, but now I'm a little curious to see if this magic spit angle will go anywhere. Is it really just the raging hormones of young love? Or is it something more supernatural? The fact that I'm thinking this much about a spit show tells me that I might be in for an interesting ride.
Status: No matter what anyone says, no matter how many times I see Urabe's gooey, viscous spit, I will still be grossed out. Now I've just come to far, and need to know how far that spit trail goes.
This season of anime seems like it has a common thread amongst some of the shows, and it's the idea of being picked on or bullied or otherwise outcast. It makes sense that people who feel that way in real life would turn to anime and manga as their escape mechanism, but Accel World takes that even a little bit further. In the series, dumpy and invisible Haru finds solace only in a virtual world called Accel World, where he can retreat to a game room and play countless games of squash. On day, he's hand-picked by the beautiful school president Kuroyuki, whose game avatar reflects how others perceive her even in real life—slim, gorgeous, and with an unmistakable calm around her. She tells him that she can help him unlock his brain and become a Burst Linker, a power that would let him alter the real world by processing his thoughts faster than real time.
What ensues is a bit of a mish mash, as the story struggles to find its footing. We're pushed into some fights, as it turns out the Burst Linker world isn't as peaceful as one might hope—even the very next day, Haru is thrust into a fight with a motorcycle-riding avatar. Luckily(?), the series tries to mitigate the “whaaaaat?” that viewers feel by offering explanations in the next couple of episodes about Accel World logistics, like how players level up or how they move up in the ranking systems.
Unfortunately, that appeals to me far less than what the first episode hinted at. Truthfully, I don't really care about the battle and ranking system of a virtual game that doesn't exist in real life. I'm much more interested in Haru and how his own feelings of irrelevance lead him to dive into virtual reality for escape. That he even agrees to allow the president to download a hacked program into his brain to alter reality tells me far more than how someone can go up in the leaderboards.
I feel like what Accel World is in reality is completely different from what I wish it was. As I was watching these episodes, I was acutely aware of wishing that the series was more like Tsuritama, in which the insecure hero finds himself opening up through his hobbies—not just thrown into a convoluted world of cyber attacks and e-squash.
Status: I'm really on the fence about Accel World. I was kind of looking forward to the series after the first episode, but it's gone in a different direction than I was expecting. Maybe once we figure out Kuroyuki's motivations, things will become a little more clear.
Folktales from Japan are just born to folk. There's that one folktale about the guy with the morals, and then that other one with the shrine maiden and the morals, and then that really crazy one where there's this old lady who does this goofy thing, but also has some morals.
If you've ever been to kindergarten, then you will perhaps get some kind of warm, fuzzy glow when watching Folktales from Japan. It's like the days everyone sat around cross-legged, listening to the teacher read Aesop's Fables out loud. The only difference is that now those stories are accompanied with whimsical cartoon drawings, and you can watch these stories play out every single week.
What captivates me about folktales is that even though every country has its own, they are all remarkably similar. The same goes for idioms—almost every country has a saying identical to, say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” So even though I didn't grow up listening to or reading Japanese folktales, a lot of the stories felt familiar, either through the Chinese folktales my parents told me, or the American/European ones read by my teachers.
Needless to say, Folktales from Japan can be interesting, and if for some reason you are babysitting a child with an alarming talent for reading subtitles, it would be a good edutainment aid. But by and large, you will probably never, ever be in the mood to sit down and watch a slew of folktales.
Status: I'm going to keep poking at this every now and again, but I've largely written it off. Seems to me there's not much there to captivate anyone over the age of 10.
Saint Seiya is insanely popular throughout the world. I have also never met anyone in my entire life who claims to be a Saint Seiya fan. So, either I'm just not hanging out with the right crowd, or the entirety of Saint Seiya fans are sequestered in some far-off island nation somewhere.
Saint Seiya Omega can be summed up in about two sentences. Evil is about to dominate the world again, so we need new Saints. Oh, actually that was only one sentence. Saint Seiya Omega is a new story for a new generation of fans. The characters are mostly all new (with some flashbacks to ye olden heroes) and we get to meet them from the beginning. Our primary hero is Koga, a scrappy kid who has memories of the Golden Saint from his childhood. He eventually gets accepted to some kind of Charles Xaverian school for Saints-in-training, where he gets to learn how to unleash his powers, alongside some other characters who will surely be important in the future.
I'm pretty sure Saint Seiya Omega is one of those shonen action shows where you can just watch an episode here or there whenever you feel like it, and you'd get the same amount of enjoyment as you would if you took the time to watch it every week. It's generically fun and action-packed, and admittedly, I don't really think I'm getting anything out of it, other than being generically entertained. Sure, you might miss some backstory here and there (including the tough-as-nails chick Yuno, who doesn't like the No Girls Allowed rule), but once they start fighting things, I'm sure it'll all smooth out.
I'm not sure I have the enthusiasm to really follow this series for more than another episode or two, but crazier things have happened.
Status: Boy, these heroes sure are heroic.
Close your eyes and imagine this, ladies. You're getting off the bus in an idyllic Japanese countryside (as you do), scampering up to the temple (as you would), when suddenly, you're accosted by a blob! But no matter, a hot man is here to protect you and pledge his undying devotion to you. In case you'd prefer a shyer man, though, or perhaps a more aloof one, they will also profess their eternal dedication to you. That is because you are the heroine of a generic reverse harem show, where your gumption and brothel of men will save the day from whatever fanciful thing needs saving.
Hiiro no Kakera is not particularly good, nor is it particularly bad. It embraces its role as a cookie-cutter reverse harem show, trotting out eligible bachelors like bulls at auction. If you're into that kind of thing, then you will be in heaven. There are five men ripe for picking, and all are sworn to protect Tamaki, a tough but bland high school girl who learns that she must inherit her family burden as a protector of some Artifact. Naturally, other people want the Artifact too, and soon our group runs into an evil German group, bent on snatching away this mystical object. You can tell they're all evil because they go by German numbers, which is almost always menacing.
For a while, I was mulling over what exactly it was that rubbed me the wrong way about Hiiro no Kakera, but then I finally realized what it was. It may come as no surprise to anyone that the anime is adapted from a video game. Unfortunately, the anime also comes off as a video game. The dialogue is so stilted that it perpetually feels like the viewer is pressing a button to move to the next speech bubble. Even casual questions like, “Where's the meat?!” are met with a mechanical, “Yes. Tonight, we are eating whitefish and squid.” Somewhere in episode four, Tamaki even goes the route of asking the boys what their hobbies are, to the delights of Japanese teenage girls everywhere. It's just hopelessly choppy, like the conversations were culled from some kind of AI speech generator.
Other than that, the series is really nothing to write home about. It's not bad enough to drop—and in fact, there are a handful of entertaining scenes in every episode—but it feels a bit like treading water in a pool of syrup. It tries to break the mold by being a little more sinister than some of its reverse harem counterparts, but without any substance to back up its style, it's just more of the same with a darker color palette.
For now, it's worth hanging onto, but I don't expect it to really pick up anytime soon.
Status: I guess if you're really into hot men with long hair, this show is right up your alley. Or maybe if you have daydreams of being a shrine maiden, but can't squeeze it in between volleyball practice and yearbook committee.
Japan has a huge hard-on for the Sengoku Era, which is why every season seems to yield a series featuring Nobunaga Oda and Ieyasu Tokugawa and a smattering of others, only sometimes they are drawn as chiseled men with wackadoodle hair, or women with enormous tits. This season, we have Sengoku Collection, whose inspiration was drawn from a mobile game, where users battle each other on their smart phones for the dubious honor of becoming Shogun generals. As you might surmise, the premise of the anime adaptation is about as deep. Also, the characters belong to the “women with enormous tits” category.
Sengoku Collection is literally, “Hey, what would happen if all these historical people time-traveled to modern Japan?” only the only thing the characters have in common with their namesakes is, well, their names. The one we're supposed to root for is Nobunaga Oda, who after discovering the craaaaaazy world of fast food hamburgers, learns that in order to go back to her world, she needs to gather “special treasures” from legendary warriors. What this amounts to is standalone episode after standalone episode of women with big tits (BUT WHO ARE ACTUALLY LEGENDARY WARRIORS, SEE?) doing menial tasks in modern-day Tokyo. Sometimes they are idols in training. Sometimes they are models. Sometimes they are yakuza. Always, they are insipid and tedious.
What burns me about this series the most is that there is absolutely zero reason for the Historical Figures! contrivance to be present. None of the characters act like their historic counterparts, nor do they talk about their pasts. They don't even dress like them, unless Nobunaga Oda secretly wore pirate wench outfits on sabbatical. So what it boils down to is the creators wanted license to write whatever the hell standalone episodes they wanted, with the name recognition of a mobile game.
I hate to be the raincloud that soaks everyone's sandwich, but if I was a samurai circa 1600s, and suddenly I'm wandering around in Tokyo, I would lose my shit. My first reaction would not be, “Say, what is this crazy Starbucks you've got?” or “Bullet trains! How whimsical!” but “I have seen Hell, and this is it.” It's such a flimsy excuse for half-assed storytelling, that I would rather eat all the hats in the world than watch another episode of this drivel. Count me out.
Status: If I were guarding national secrets, the only thing my captors would need is the threat of watching yet more shenanigans of ye olden samurai marveling at modern technology. I will bet real money that an Angry Birds adaptation would be infinitely more interesting, but only if Jaakko Iisalo is drawn as a chick with huge tits.
When I was a child, I distinctly remember an incident where I drank so much cherry-flavored Icee that I spent an entire night vomiting red, sugary misery. Truthfully, I hadn't thought about that memory in almost two decades, but somehow Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals resurrected it. In this analogy, Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals is the Icee, and the vomit is the feeling I get while I'm watching it, which is a fuzzy transition area between anguish and nausea.
Simply put, it's not funny. Nor is it cute, despite the SD appearance of all the characters. It is, however, very taxing to watch. The series is a collection of roughly ten minute shorts, in which Rock Lee (and his various ninja pals) go on various missions. The gimmick is that they're all in SD all the time, which is supposed to inherently add to the humor. Unfortunately, most of the jokes revolve around cheap gags, like men wearing tutus or jokes about excrement. That is to say, most of the jokes will fall flat for anyone who isn't in second grade.
What baffles is that the series is written in such a way that it seems like it's targeting newcomers, with explanations of character-based jokes, yet still relies on a bevy of standards that only one would know if they had seen the series. Then again, if someone isn't a rabid, die-hard fan of Naruto, why they would subject themselves to Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals is a mystery.
I'm willing to give the spinoff manga the benefit of the doubt and assume that something was lost in translation, but this series just isn't fun to watch. The gags are old and repetitive, the SD isn't flattering, nor is it necessary beyond a few obligatory DeviantArt drawings, and each episode feels like it's an hour long. Considering how painful the filler episodes of Naruto were, it boggles that anyone would think it was a good idea to create yet even more fillers. Especially ones as poorly written as these.
Status: Good riddance, I say. Why taint the popularity of Naruto with this half-assed nonsense? I'm all for creators milking out more merchandising dollars here and there, but this is not the way to go.
Whew! What do you think? Any huge disagreements? Any disagreements that don't revolve around spit? Head on over to the forums to discuss to your hearts' content, and butt heads over whether Rock Lee really deserves the ol' kickaroo. If you're keen on following me on Twitter, I can be found at @ANN_Bamboo.
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