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The Stream
Water World

by Bamboo Dong,

I still haven't quite figured out a succinct way to wrap up shows that ended the previous season, that had their finale episodes air after the column went up. I thought about putting in some final thoughts from Winter 2013 into this column, but since this beast already rings in at almost 8,500 words, I didn't want to lengthen it even further. That having been said, this is the first Stream of the season, so it's insanely long. My apologies. But not really.

Let's dive in.

#1 - Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet [ep. 1-4]

There is a romanticism about Earth, as both the birthplace of humanity, and as our home planet. Centuries or millennia from now, when we've colonized the outer reaches of space, there will be legends about Mother Earth, a mythical place where we freely breathed air, and downloaded gobs of anime from the internet. As such, I have a soft spot in my heart for any and all stories that borrow this theme, where future humans accidentally tumble onto a strange and beautiful planet, only to realize it's Earth.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet enraptured me from the very beginning. The series opens with a stark and eerily beautiful space battle, one that is so precisely orchestrated that it's lost all of its excitement. Its coldness is emphasized by its lack of pounding soundtrack, and it's shot from so far away that rather than seeing spaceships zipping around and pilots screaming in their cockpits, all we see is coordinated units silently drifting into predetermined formations. The only pilot whose point of view we're privy to is a teenager named Ledo, his calmness matching the unfolding battle. When he's informed by his AI unit that he'll be able to spend some time on Avalon, a place where he can have fun and procreate, he regards it with disinterest. Personality is not Ledo's strong suit, but we realize this is not a fault with him, but of future humans.

After an accident that sends his mech spiraling into the deep corners of space, he wakes up on a strange planet, which we realize is Earth. Once thought to be deserted, it's been repopulated by small floating colonies that follow patches of electricity in the ocean. By comparison, Earthlings (or in reference to that specific colony, Gargantians) are wild and rambunctious, with a wide palette of emotions to match. In watching them, we realize again how different they are with future humans—they don't euthanize the handicapped, they don't murder senselessly, and their actions are often driven by irrational emotions. In short, they're flawed and difficult to understand, which makes them more human than Ledo's mechanical people.

It's within the boundaries of this contrast that Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet shines. The more we learn about either the Gargantians or Ledo, the more we appreciate and understand humanity, even if their actions sometimes don't make sense. When Ledo annihilates a group of invading pirates, he can't understand why the Gargantians are upset, even though he saved them from their own deaths. Pacifism is something he can't comprehend, and the moral greyness of justice, even less so. But as viewers, we get to see both sides of the spectrum, and it's fascinating. As individuals, we might not understand either position, but we have the option and capacity to choose, which in a meta way, makes us different from the future humans.

At the present, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is perhaps the show that I look the most forward to every week. I never quite know what will happen next in the series, and I relish the opportunity to learn more about both strokes of humanity. I hope that as the series goes forward, it's able to sustain this sense of wonderment that Ledo feels, as it's closely tied to our captivation as well.

#2- Chihayafuru 2 [ep. 12-16]

My love for Chihayafuru burns as strongly as ever, but I can't help but be a little disappointed by the past few episodes. It doesn't help that we were saddled with a recap episode so soon. What is there to even recap? I feel like we've been at Omi Jingu forever. Considering how tired I already am of seeing endless group match after endless group match, I can't even imagine how the characters feel, going into their fourth (or is it fifth? sixth? I lost count two weeks ago.) match of the day—and that isn't even taking into consideration that they'll be back the next day for the individual tournament. Karuta is an endurance sport.

Even so, there are little things here and there, nestled amongst the seemingly endless karuta matches, that make me remember why I fell so passionately in love with this show. As mundane as karuta looks to outsiders, the many characters of Chihayafuru burn for it. When we're introduced to players from other schools, however briefly, we see glimpses of their own karuta dreams; they break down sobbing when they're taken out of the lineup, they cry when they realize they've played their last team match. In a way, it helps us understand Chihaya and her friends better as well. Even Sumire, who's always thought she was too cool for the sport, gets sucked in when she sees how deeply her teammates care.

Still, these set of episodes haven't been my favorite. It's been kind of interesting peering into the characters' minds as they face off with endless opponents, but I'm eager for the group tournament to be over. Karuta is great and all, but there's a limit to how many games you can watch in a row and not wonder when it will end. Plus, it's about time we got to see Arata play again.

#3 - Flowers of Evil [ep. 1-4]

Much fuss has been made over Flowers of Evil, largely regarding its controversial animation style. I say, if you don't like it, then you're missing out on a wonderful thing, because the series would be vastly different if it were animated like your typical slice-of-life show. The entire thing is rotoscoped with very scant character details, meaning that from far away, all you see are featureless, ambling figures that move eerily like real humans, and close up, you're met with toothy, slightly hideous faces. The overall effect is one of discomfort, creating tension simply by existing. I've seen lots of scary stuff in my lifetime, but few things create suspense as effortlessly like Flowers of Evil. From its minimalistic music cues, to its long, slow shots of characters staring at objects or walking down the hallway, it fills me with dread and fear. I fear for the characters in the same way you fear for movie characters peering into a dark room. Only in Flowers of Evil, that dark room is adolescence.

Main character Takao is a little weird; he's quiet and reserved and is currently reading Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. One day, he has to go back to the classroom to pick up something he forgot, and notices his crush Nanako's gym bag on the floor. Consumed by what he interprets as evil thoughts (though what I would chalk up to as hormones and poor decisions), he removes her gym clothes and smells them. Then, about to be caught, he panics and dashes out the door, clothes under his shirt. We learn later that he was spied by class delinquent Sawa, a girl who shares his disdain for people, but who bullies him and blackmails him over his actions. As a “villain,” she is top notch—she borders on mania, making audiences squirm with her demands and her stalking, and it's with her that it becomes clear that Flowers of Evil simply would not work if it were traditionally animated.

Having not read the manga, I can't speak to what the reading experience is like. I do think, however, that the series is perfect the way it is. There's something frightful about the way it plays out, a cross between awkward and terrifying. Not in a bogeyman sort of way, but in a society-fearing, “please God, don't put me in a situation I can't run away from” kind of way. It helps that the series looks and feels disturbingly real. For a show that doesn't show its characters faces half the time, there is a lot of detail, from the carefully scripted walla, to the way the rotoscoping allows characters to shift their weight. The first episode may have been a little tedious for some, but as the conflict with Sawa escalates, this series is getting harder to put down.

#4 - Space Brothers [ep. 51-55]

If your excuse to not watch Space Brothers up until now has been, “the series is too long!” then you no longer have an excuse. We've been saddled with a whopping three episodes of recap, so if you want the seize the opportunity to skip 51 episodes of anime, you can.

Once that marathon is over, we find the characters still in the middle of the desert on their training mission. It's not the most thrilling of episodes—the side story about Nitta and his brother was vastly more interesting than their current challenge of being stuck with a lazy robotics engineer, but as Space Brothers has consistently delivered the goods up until now, I have no reason to doubt that something good will come of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go stew in anger over those three weeks of recap.

#5 - Attack on Titan [ep. 1-4]

In an alternate world, humans live in perpetual fear of Titans, vicious man-eating monsters that come in all shapes and sizes. In order to survive, humanity has hidden itself away in territories built within concentric walls. One day, everything goes to Hell when a massive, skinless Titan tears down the outermost wall and leads his smaller, but still creepy, Titan buddies inside to eat everybody. Flash-forward a few years and brash, but determined, hero of the show Eren joins the military, promising to wipe out every last Titan. Together, he and his buddies team up to be the best Titan-killing soldiers ever.

In one word, Attack on Titan is Fun. The monsters are incredibly grotesque and destructive, making them the perfect non-human villains. Hell, the first one we see is the stuff of nightmares, his skinless body held together by muscles and tendons, and sporting a toothy maw the size of an ice rink. I can't imagine where such creatures would come from, or why they only eat humans (that's just not evolutionarily helpful—what will they eat once all the humans are gone?), but they are magnificent creations of the imagination.

I also appreciate the pace of the series, which is recklessly fast at times, but contributes to a sense of chaos that permeates the show. This momentum is led by Eren, who is kind of that annoying hero who never shuts the Hell up about his ideals. At one point, we're supposed to be in awe of the fact that he was able to balance in a piece of combat equipment with a defective harness (think a harness with grapples and lines that let you zip around trees like Spiderman), but it seems to me, his superiors should've taught them all to first spot broken equipment. With his can-do attitude and ideals, though, he convinces all the top members of his graduating military class to risk their lives on the front lines, where they immediately find themselves face to face with another crazy skinless Titan.

For action freaks, it doesn't get much better than Attack on Titan. It's a simple revenge show—boy sees monster eat mom, boy wants to kill monster—but it's one that's relatively unique in both its monster designs as well as its setup. It's a little too early to tell whether or not this will turn into a Titan of the Week show, but so far, I've been absolutely gripped by the series and cannot wait to see more.

#6 - The Devil is a Part-Timer! [ep. 1-4]

Amongst the Spring season's comedy offerings, The Devil is a Part Timer might be the best, although it relies more on situational humor than jokes or gags. The Demon Overlord and his general have accidentally ended up in Japan. No longer able to use his magic willy-nilly, the Overlord (now renamed Sadao) has to turn to other means to survive—namely, renting a tiny apartment and working part time at MgRonald's, where he quickly gains recognition as a dedicated employee. He's determined to rise through the ranks of this fast food emporium and take over Japan, but he's facing resistance the Hero Emilia, who's now holding down her own fort as a tech support specialist. Alas, they're not the only people of their kind in Tokyo, and soon they have to face other dangers, including a magic user who's causing earthquakes and who's trying to kill them.

While The Devil is a Part Timer isn't exactly a knee-slapper, its premise delivers a consistently good time. From the novelty of watching a Demon King take orders at MgRonalds and debate whether or not to use his dwindling magic reserves to resuscitate a deep fryer, or watching people rag on his Uniqlo wardrobe, it's a comedy that deftly uses absurdity to perfectly complement the more serious, action-oriented side of the story. From the look of things, it seems as though the series will be taking a more serious turn in the next few episodes, but considering how successful it's been at keeping things goofy and light-hearted, I expect (and hope) that things won't stay in the shade for too long.

Initially, I was worried that the chuckles of watching a demon work the fast-food counter might wear off, but The Devil is a Part Timer has been a pleasant surprise. If you're looking for a silly comedy that doesn't just involve cute girls doing wacky things, I'd highly recommend this series.

#7 - Muromi-san [ep. 1-4]

Takuro loves to fish, but his life changes when he accidentally hooks Muromi, an obnoxious, potato-faced mermaid who doesn't believe in climate control and resents aquatic mammals for having lungs. Since she's half fish, most of the jokes revolve around that—she's also enemies with cats and birds, including a harpy she meets through her yeti friend. It's a weird show, but pretty delightful. It helps that each episode is only twelve minutes long; I'm not sure I'd be able to stand an episode twice as long, as Muromi has a tendency to ride that fine line between quirky and annoying.

For those who love their humor a little on the dark and twisted side, Muromi-san fits the bill. Despite all the characters (except Takuro) being cute girls, none of them act cute. Older mermaid Leviathan reminisces about the times she's transformed into a giant, fire-breathing sea creature. Muromi breaks dolphin ribs. Even sweet little Harpy tries to peck Muromi's eyes out whenever she forgets that they're supposed to be friends.

It's not exactly high-brow entertainment, but Muromi-san is great for those times where you only have a few minutes of downtime and want to watch something silly. All of the episodes are standalone, so it's really easy to watch one at random, and even though the jokes are hit or miss, you'll likely find yourself smiling.

#8 - Valvrave the Liberator [ep. 1-4]

Valvrave the Liberator is fun and ridiculous, as long as you don't expect it to really make too much sense. Which is to say, it's not the best written of shows, and it's hard to tell if it's intentionally outlandish, but if you want an action-packed, no-brain-cell show, then this might be it. A word of warning, though—the dialogue is awful. The example that jumps to mind is the first episode, in which best friend and love interest of main character Haruto seemingly dies from a bomb blast. As he runs towards the impact site, frantic, her friends call out, “She's dead! Just accept it already!” Those are some good friends. A few episodes later, that same girl convinces a bunch of high school students to declare independence as a country, if that's any indication how logically reasonable this show is.

It turns out, the school was hiding a secret awesome giant robot under the pool. When Haruto jumps into the cockpit, he's asked by an AI girl if he's ready to give up who he is, and when he says yes, he immediately synchronizes with the machine and turns into a super awesome fighter. Uh, and he also turns into a vampire. With super healing abilities. Anyway, we're thrust into the middle of a violent political squabble (in space), but with Haruto at the helm, the good guys will probably win.

If you're looking for a giant mecha show that's grounded in semi-realistic geopolitical conflict, then you'd probably be better off watching one of the Gundam shows than Valvrave the Liberator. I mean, Valvrave has space vampires, so it's not trying too hard to be serious. In fact, because it's so not serious that it has a fair amount of leeway in the kind of crap it can get away with, like cheesy dialogue, ridiculous characters, and a messy story that's held together with spit and glue. It is pretty entertaining, though, so if you've got a hankering for mindless fun and a low bar for storytelling, then I think you'll enjoy this series quite a bit.

#9 - Majestic Prince [ep. 1-4]

Now here's something that boggles the mind. Say you're in a violent, intergalactic war with a mysterious race of invaders. You don't know who they are, you don't know why they're attacking you. You have a couple of pilot schools here and there, all with some fairly talented students. Presumably, you also have a standing army of trained professionals. Now, let's say one of the schools has a five member team of misfits that have been sucking at all of their fight simulations. Why on Earth would you think that they would be the best combat team to use for rescue missions and surprise attacks? What part of this makes sense from a strategic standpoint?

Majestic Prince is about five kids who have these pretty sweet flying space mechs that harmonize with their DNA. At school, they're known as the Failure Five, because they're pretty bad at what they do. Inexplicably, they're thrust into a real-world combat scenario, and even though they make it out alive (and are even hailed as heroes!), they're not exactly high caliber soldiers. Why anyone would continue using these kids makes no sense.

By far, the best part about the show is its mecha action scenes. That's when the series shines the most, and it's a lot of fun watching these robots zip around space, shooting at things. That's also where the vast majority of the budget is allocated, because when the characters aren't in space, the animation is terrible. The character designs are created by Hisashi Hirai, so everyone looks like a noseless clone of somebody else from Gundam SEED or Infinite Ryvius. When more than one character is on screen, everyone freezes in an awkward position, mouths agape and eyes vacant until someone is finished speaking. In the first episode, when the group is asked questions, the camera slowly pans onto each of them in turn, waiting for reaction shots that will greedily gulp up valuable animation time. The pennies have to be pinched somewhere, and it's all on the humans.

It's not a bad show, necessarily. It's just very inconsistent and nonsensical. When lives are at stake, it doesn't seem wise to continue using these teenage misfits in combat, just to wait around and see if they'll get better or not. And yet, that's the entire crux of the show—waiting for our protagonists to get their situation together, to form the super team that we know they'll eventually be. Until then, hang onto the space fights, because that's the only thing the series has going for it right now.

#10 - Red Data Girl [ep. 1-4]

I'm beginning to really love and appreciate P.A. Works as a production studio. Their work on Hanasaku Iroha was breathtaking, and their work on Red Data Girl is absolutely stunning as well. The care they put into their lush, mountainside backgrounds is a treat for eyes, and they have a knack for character animation that makes their series easy to watch.

That having been said, the series itself doesn't quite live up to its visuals just yet. Based on a series of novels by Noriko Ogiwara, Red Data Girl tells the story of a gal named Izumiko. Initially, we're not sure what her deal is, but we know she has some kind of abilities or powers. Every electronic device she touches breaks, and when she takes off her special red-rimmed glasses, she sees spirits and other non-humans. Enter Miyuki, a sour teenage boy who is tasked to protect her. Through him, we learn that Izumiko is the vessel for some kind of ancient goddess, and he is obligated to assist her. In an awkward time jump, the two make the decision to transfer to a special high school in Tokyo, which we are led to believe hosts all sorts of... magical-type people.

Here, I must admit that I am thoroughly sick of the whole girl-is-a-vessel/reincarnation-for/of-a-goddess crap. It's old and tiresome, and I can't help but feel that my exhaustion with this subgenre is bleeding into my experience with Red Data Girl. For as beautiful of a series it is, the show itself is not that novel. It's kind of neat that Izumiko can't touch electronic devices, I guess, but in the grand scheme of the show (so far), it doesn't really matter. So she can't use iPhones. Whatever. Given that even within the past couple of episodes, we've learned more about who she really is (a vessel for a goddess!) and her abilities to identify non-humans, the show will probably Get Better. At the present, though, it feels a little flat. We've not really been given any reason to like or care about Izumiko nor her asshole bodyguard Miyuki, but since the series has had to take the necessary amount of time to set up the characters and get them to Tokyo, it's possible things will pick up in the next few episodes or so. Right now, though, everything's a big “so what?” and only time will reveal what, if any, consequences there are for everyone's actions.

#11 - Devil Survivor 2 The Animation [ep. 1-4]

Boy, if you think kids use their cell phones a lot now, wait till they start using them to control demons. Terrible creatures have invaded Japan, and the only thing that can fight them are demons that are spawned from some secret new app that downloads itself onto your phone after you tell it you're not ready to die in a horrible train accident.

Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, which is not a sequel, but is actually an adaptation of the Devil Survivor 2 DS game, is a monster of the week show where different demons show up every episode, most Hell-bent on destroying Japan. I guess in the game, you can upgrade your own arsenal of demons in order to better combat these bad mofos. Central to the conflict is a few key players—high school boy Hibiki, whose cell phone controls the almighty tiger god Byakko, his buddies, and some organization called JP, which protects the country from demons.

The series is mindlessly fun, but unless you're a huge fan of the game, and really want to see what it looks like when someone else is playing, then it's not much to write home about. After all, it's a fairly straightforward and simple premise. Demons attack, deaths must be prevented, and in order to do so, our protagonists have to unleash their own avatars. While the fights themselves look kind of cool, it's kind of hard not to laugh when all the human characters are just shown with their cell phones in front of their faces, as though the demons are incapable of attacking if the cell phone isn't pointed directly at the fight (or is that how it works?). To the show's (and the game's) credit, the various demons are pretty creative, and from a design point of view, it's interesting seeing what kind of creature will be summoned next. Aside from that, though, Devil Survivor 2 isn't terribly spectacular, but if all you're looking for is entertainment to whittle away the time, then it does its job.

#12 - Date A Live [ep. 1-4]

The first episode of Date A Live is just plain stupid, but you know, it kind of gets better. Although “better” depends on your tolerance for shonen romance hijinks. Even though Date A Live is one big joke that lampoons dating sims, it still plays out with the same elements—after all, just being aware that dating sims exist and let you play out generic scenarios doesn't make the resulting scene any fresher. Walking in on a naked girl in the shower is the same gag regardless of if it's played straight, or under the guise of a nudge-wink joke.

Shido is your normal, everyday, vanilla high school dude, except one day, when he's trying to save his little sister from a spacequake, he discovers that they're caused by mecha armor-wearing girls, and his little sis is actually the commander of some agency that fights these spacequaking-causing “Spirits.” Whatever. Anyway, the sister has assembled a master team of womanizers and dating sim players to help execute her master plan, which involves Shido making all the Spirits fall in love with him. For whatever reason, he possesses a super power where he can seal away the Spirits' uh... spirits with a kiss, so wacky shenanigans ensue, and he starts collecting Spirits like trading cards.

Now, here's the thing. Yes, Date A Live is very aware of what's going on and what it's doing. It's aware that it's using dating sims as a plot gimmick—it's goofy, and that's the joke. But it doesn't change what the show is, which is still basically just a shonen harem romance. Knowing that this harem is orchestrated by this organization of Spirit busters doesn't make some of the show's elements more palatable, like when girls fight over whose cookies Shido likes best, or the claim that the Spirits can only be mentally stable around him. I mean, I know shows like this are an escape fantasy for guys, but it's still kind of offensive, even if the show is aware of it. Awareness doesn't excuse it from stupidity or offense. The goal is still to present this fantasy, regardless of if the series is purposely borrowing from the library of clichés or not.

That having been said, this tongue-in-cheek presentation of the old shonen harem shtick does make the series better at certain times. The setup where the sister commander has a panel of romance “experts” vote on what canned dating sim response Shido should use is pretty funny, as is the mood meter that they use to assess a Spirit's response to certain comments or stimuli. There's a scene where Shido is given the chance to name the first Spirit, and every dating sim player on a network is asked to assign an appropriately generic name. So yeah, there are funny moments, but it doesn't necessarily excuse the scenes in between, that do use the “joke” as the front for generic fanservice. (And yes, one can easily talk about how retrogressive it is to assume that “real” women can be played like dating sims, but that's honestly not a discussion worth having at the present—a show where women fight to sit next to some boring MC at lunch is hardly knocking down any doors of progress.) In any case, I'm less put off by Date A Live now than I was after the idiocy of the first episode (Really? Some guy's little sister is a secret commander of an anti-super-mech-lady taskforce? Please.), but I'm still wary of the more conventional clichés.

#13 - Karneval [ep. 1-4]

I hate to be dismissive of Karneval right off the bat, but it's one of Those Shows. The kind of shows where crazy stuff just happens, and there are explosions and mystery organizations and people who rise from the dead, and you're supposed to be so dazzled by the pageantry of it all that you don't stop and think, “Wait, what?” In short, Karneval makes no sense. It's not that it's convoluted; it's that the series makes no attempt to build any of the characters in a coherent or interesting way, so it's just an action series populated by empty husks of pretty boys. By the time episode four rolls aroud, we can appreciate that it's very slowly piecing together a couple of pieces here and there in terms of character relationships (except now one of the main characters might turn out to be a magical rodent(??)), but it's still immensely frustrating to watch.

The first guy we're introduced to is this bright-eyed, white-haired boy named Nai, who is like, part human, part fairy rabbit or something. He's trying to track down his old buddy Karoku, who left behind a Circus I.D. bracelet. Because he's generally kind of clueless and scared, he's helped out a bunch by tough guy protagonist Gareki. And I guess we find out that the Circus is actually this government organization that tracks down bad guys, but there's also a mystery villain organization named Kafka who work against the Circus. Sorry—I know that doesn't give you much to go on, but you can blame the show. Everything in the show is one big muddle of characters, and considering we've yet to really be introduced fully to any one of them, having a giant cast is a huge pain in the ass. I can't tell one person from the next. Hell, I don't even know who the good guys are.

Karneval is... well, it's just not fun to watch, which is disappointing, because on the surface, it should be fun to watch. It's well-animated, it has a lot of pretty characters, and crazy stuff happens. However, all of that is wasted because the series just simply doesn't bother slowing down for two minutes to flesh out its characters or the storyline, so all we're left with is a jumble of bright colors and explosions. If that kind of superficial excitement is all you need to have a good time, then maybe Karneval is your bag. However, it's not mine, and unless it ponies up some backstory in the next couple of episodes, then I'm washing my hands of this mess.

#14 - My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU [ep. 1-4]

While there are occasional moments of brilliance in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, overall, it's a little tedious. Our three characters are Hachiman, an isolated high schooler who hates the empty illusion of "youth," spoiled loner Yukino, and the ever peppy and pink-haired Yui. The three of them are part of a service club that exists to help students with whatever request they have, which is an increasingly popular gimmick in anime.

We learn over time that, even though Hachiman and Yukino both profess to hate people, they're remarkably aware of social norms and societal behavior. It makes them both good fits for the service club, and we get the sense that despite their self-imposed isolation, they desire to fit in. However, because they've both got such chips on their shoulders about society and high school in particular, they're written like they're always trying to outwit each other, which is exhausting to watch. The characters can never just have a normal conversation. Everything is delivered in dry quips, and even though that kind of banter is okay every once in a while, when it makes up a large portion of a show, it gets really dull.

From what's hinted through Hachiman's flashbacks about a bicycle accident he had, I assume we'll get more of an engaging story regarding his social hangups and his refusal to trust anyone, but we're not quite there yet. As of yet, most of the episodes still follow the same tired formula, wherein one “client” comes in for their help, and they dispense some advice. It's becoming one of the shows that I least want to watch every week, and unless things pick up quickly, I'm not sure I have much more patience for it.

#15 - Arata the Legend [ep. 1-4]

I suspect that Arata the Legend is much better in manga form. I don't say that just because I used to be a Fushigi Yuugi fangirl, and thought that Yuu Watase shat gold. I say that because in its animated form, it just feels bare. It feels like a the shell of a really great idea that sags under the emptiness of bad execution, barely kept afloat by a premise that could've been interesting if the characters were written at all to bolster it.

We're introduced to two guys named Arata—one is a lonely high schooler with a lot of dickbag friends who make fun of him behind his back. The other is a long-haired dude from another world who was born into a clan of magic users. The latter guy (we'll call him Arata, and the high schooler Hinohara) is sent to the capital to meet with the magic princess, but is framed for her attempted murder when her twelve Hot Dude Protectors betray her. As Arata runs off into a cursed forest, he swaps souls with Hinohara.

Although the first episode feels a little mangled, we quickly realize what's going on. Hinohara (whom we see as Hinohara, but everyone else in Alternate World sees as Arata) is now inhabiting Arata's body, but is still being pursued as the princess' attacker. As luck would have it, he possesses the magic power that Arata lacked, and can activate this magic sword that has a god inside. He must now overcome whatever whiny teenage angst he has and defeat the Twelve Hot Dudes, while Arata is off in Tokyo, doing whatever it is that high school boys do.

While this old-fashioned body swap is well and good, the main problem with Arata the Legend is that Hinohara is woefully underdeveloped in the series. Presumably, if this story is worth its salt at all, the story is supposed to show his growth—not only as a warrior, but as a boy becoming a man. We're supposed to see him overcoming his fear of trust and his teenage emotional baggage, and embracing his Inner Strength. Because the anime series is so keen to plow through as much story as possible, though, we don't really get any time with Hinohara. As a result, he's little more than a whiny kid with trust issues, and rather than sympathizing with him and genuinely wishing him well, we're more likely to dismiss him with a, “get over it, kid.” Surely, that's not how he was meant to be portrayed.

I love a good body swap story. I know it's been done a million times, in various media and in various genres, but I like the general idea of it. Unfortunately, I don't think Arata the Legend is quite living up to its potential. It feels like it's just going through its paces, hitting plot checkpoints that it knows it needs to hit, without turning back to make sure the audience is emotionally invested. What a waste.

#16 - Photo Kano [ep. 1-4]

It's hard to get through an episode of Photo Kano without rolling my eyes. It's just so absurd. Especially when the main character gets all these girls to strike seductive swimsuit photos for his camera. What high school is this, and who's teaching these young ladies decorum?

Photography enthusiast Kazuya is given his father's old DSLR. Entranced by the view of the world through the viewfinder, he quickly becomes obsessed with photography. When he's given the opportunity to join the artsy, official Photo Club, or the super pervy, exploitative Photography Club, we hope that he picks the former. But of course, this is a show based on a dating sim, so he picks the latter, where they teach him all the tricks in catching upskirt shots, downshirt shots, and everything in between. Because of his friendly demeanor, he's able to use his relationships with a lot of the pretty gals at school for private “modeling” shoots. And because this is an anime where reality is whatever we want it to be, he's also inundated with requests from girls to snap their photos, often posing in their school swimsuits, asses towards the camera. Afterward, they merrily skip away with a, “Don't show this anyone, kay?” as though we, the viewer, weren't watching the entire time. Uh-huh.

That everyone in this school exists in a fantasy world where girls are excited to have a friendly dude snap pics of them during gymnastics practice is ludicrous, but I won't begrudge Photo Kano its daydream. After all, even when it's not actively taking “photos” of these girls in consenting modeling situations, it's shot from a voyeuristic angle anyway. When girls walk through the hallways at school, the camera is perpetually positioned somewhere between their knees and their necks, and the wind is always fluttering their skirts up. We realize then that it wouldn't have mattered what club Kazuya picked, because the series had already settled on what kind of photographs it wanted him to take.

Watching Photo Kano is not so much uncomfortable or cringe-worthy as it is just eye roll-inducing. After all, it exists in a bubble of sexuality and passive acceptance, where a guy can snap candids of girls in suggestive positions, with her merely waving it off as a silly trifle. In this way, everything seems consenting, even though in real life, Kazuya and his Photography Club buddies would be the Councilmen of Creeptown. As a vehicle for constant fanservice, Photo Kano is fine. As any kind of work with a working narrative? Not so much. I guess curiosity compels me to see what other doors open.

#17 - Yuyushiki [ep. 1-4]

I'm glad that nothing in my life really reminds me of Yuyushiki. I mean, I've been in some of the same situations— who hasn't crept by the magnetic sensor at a bookstore, petrified by the possibility of it going off for no reason? And yeah, I understand all too well the spellbinding vortex that is the Wikipedia spiral. But the girls of Yuyushiki (two of them in particular, the energetic and annoying Yuzuko and her ditzy copycat Yukari) are exhausting creatures, and even though I have the luxury of turning off the stream when I feel overloaded, I can't imagine anyone in the world who could tolerate friends like these.

Yuyushiki is based off a four-panel comic strip, and it feels that way. It's one rapid-fire gag after another, with mixed results. Sometimes they're more slapstick, involving one or more of the girls furtively trying to hit each other; sometimes they're a little more weird, like when the girls get a topic in their minds and fall into a Google web of trivia and bizarre factoids. In that way, those scenes remind me of the Mameshiba spots, which are simultaneously cute and terrible. In fact, that may be an adequate way to describe Yuyushiki—cute and terrible. The girls are adorable enough, in that well-meaning, slack-jawed kind of way. There's three total in the main group—the dynamic duo of irritation that I mentioned before, and third gal Yui, who plays the straight man. They're the sole members of the school's “Data Processing Club,” in which they mostly just goof off on the Internet. In between their computer searches and their everyday wackadoodle hijinks, there are also some random yuri gags thrown in, which don't really make sense, but I guess are par for the course for a manga serialized in a seinen anthology.

For every scene that elicits a laugh, though, there are maybe ten or more that don't. The problem is, Yuyushiki is just too damned long. Lots of gag comedies have had luck with a four minute run time—Yuyushiki should've followed in their footsteps. At 22 minutes, the show is exhausting and repetitive, relying too heavily on the antics of two bubble-headed girls who are written to be as annoying as possible. It grows wearisome after a while, and although I still get an occasional chuckle out of the episodes, my patience with the series is getting thin.

#18 - The Severing Crime Edge [ep. 1-4]

I bet you've never heard this one before—there lives a mysterious girl in a mysterious house whose hair is long and silky, but can never be cut. And then there's a boy who wields a pair of serrated hair-cutting shears, who's strangely obsessed with cutting hair, to the point where it's almost a fetish. And lo, they meet, like hair-crossed lovers, bound to fate forever. Awww, you guys.

Except there's also serial killers. Like a lot of them. By the time everything is set in place, we see that the town is littered with them, and they're all after invincible hair girl, Iwai, who's formally known as The Queen of Hair. You see, we first find out that hair-cutter boy Kiri is descended from serial killers, in what is probably the hokiest scene I've seen in a long time. Literally, he's having a bad day and is sulking in his room, when his dad (grandpa? I don't remember) knocks on his door and asks, “Are you upset because you found out you're descended from a serial killer?” W-w-what? Geez, gramps, maybe he just lost his favorite pencil at school.

Well it turns out that Kiri is indeed descended from a serial killer, whose weapon was those very pair of hair-cutting shears that he still owns. They're imbued with serial killer magic, so only he can cut the hair of The Queen of Hair, and thus he nicknames the scissors (and him, by association) Severing Crime Edge. Because this is a wild world we live in, we then learn that a) anyone with cursed serial killer magic can get a wish fulfilled if they kill the Queen of Hair, b) there's a secret organization that just sits around and hosts watch-parties of violent crimes, and c) Kiri is now tasked with protecting Iwai from the hordes of crazies who are after her. Dang.

I mean, it sounds pretty dumb, but it's all strange enough that it's worth watching, at least for a few episodes. My worry is that it'll quickly turn into a Battle of the Week show, as we're already seeing a hint of that. There was the Powerful Hammer guy, the Guy Who Really Loves Rules, and now some crazy couple whose serial killer powers we don't know yet. Despite it all, what we're missing is the bigger picture. Why is this premise even a thing? I guess it's neat and all, and fairly inventive, but if it's just another half-cooked reason to force weekly fights, then it'll get stale pretty quickly. Everybody loves a mindless action show, but it has to be compelling in order for anyone to care after the first few fights.

#19 - Samurai Bride [ep. 1-4]

Hey, if you love boobs and butts, then I have got a show for you! Samurai Bride, the direct follow-up to Samurai Girls, brings all the girls back, with the same ink splotch censors that we all loved the first time. Only this season, it has even more reason to use them, because the girls have decided to turn their dojo into a maid café! That's right. The girls basically decided, “F--- this” and took the shortcut to even more fanservice. And even though the first season had all these powerful bad guys, the law of anime dictates that the second season must have even more powerful bad guys, so the series also introduces a cast of all new girls, all whom wear as little clothes as our original set.

When the girls aren't fighting other girls, wacky things happen. In one thrilling episode, pet monkey Sasuke finds her way back to the dojo, and wouldn't you know it, she can transform into an adorable girl with giant paws and a monkey tail. Dog girl sniffs someone's crotch in order to tail a panty thief (spoiler alert, it's Sasuke!), and some other girl threatens to put Muneakira's “katana” in her mouth. Uh oh!

In the meantime, Jubei's lost her master samurai powers, but it's probably fine, because this is a show where good always triumphs evil, and no matter how many bad guys are introduced, our girls will probably prevail.

Let me level with you all. Samurai Bride is a perfectly entertaining show for people who like action shows and who love fanservice. The maid café element of this season is a little forced—the show certainly didn't need any help creating more reasons to show off butts—but there are elements of the original show that fans will love. The fight scenes are cool, the new bad guys are both badass and sexy, and you can let your imagination run wild with the girls. It is exactly what you expect it to be; nothing more, nothing less. However, Samurai Bride is not really the show for me. I love swordfights as much as the next person, but personally, the insanely high amount of fanservicey filler in Samurai Bride kind of bores me. I'd like to see what happens with Jubei, and I'd like to see how/when she gets her powers back, but I'm not keen on sitting through all this filler to get there. If you love fanservice, as I'm sure the target audience does, then by all means you should hang onto this show. I personally don't think it's as interesting or as engaging as Samurai Girls, because I think it's trying too hard on the fanservice front, but if you don't mind a tradeoff of more tits in lieu of narrative engagement, then I think you will like this show just fine.

#20 - Mushibugyo [ep. 1-4]

Mushibugyo takes place in an alternate reality that occupies my nightmares. Set vaguely in the Edo period, such that there are active samurai and ninjas and things, the series tells of a world where giant, awful, man-eating insects (and other creepy crawlies) have started rampaging cities. Why are they there, and where did they come from? I don't know, but I hope every single last one of them is blown to smithereens. Leading the charge is the government-run Insect Magistrate's Office, which employs colorful hero types to combat these vicious, awful beasts. They're pulled from the vast annals of shonen protagonist lore, and encompass such archetypes like the loudmouthed ninja girl, the boozing swordsman, the little orphan kid who cries but is actually courageous, and the enigmatic white-haired warrior whom everyone looks up to.

Our protagonist is yet another archetypal hero, the scrappy fighter who has to prove to everyone that he has a lot of talent, and what he lacks in swordsmanship, he'll make up with pure gumption. He's come to Edo to serve in the Magistrate's Office in place of his famous samurai father, and although nobody likes him at first, I'm sure that in due time, everyone will think he's an Okay Dude. Also he meets a chick with massive tits, because, you know.

I think Mushibugyo is a great series for people who are new to anime. It's past-faced, it has colorful characters, and there's lots of sword-fighting and quick jokes. Unfortunately for everyone else, it's just carbon copies of stuff you've seen before (with the addition of bugs the size of single-family homes). The jokes are lame (I can't believe he walked in on that ninja girl while she was dressing!!!!!!!!), the character conflicts are trite, and even the main premise is a little watery. Here is a show that has so little creativity going for it that it throws in giant insects so that the cast of heroes have something to fight every episode.

It's not that the series isn't good or entertaining, it's just that it's not good enough to stand out in a season full of much more interesting, much more fresh ideas. Mushibugyo serves a purpose—it's a standard shonen action show about a big-hearted, fresh-eyed fighter who will save the world with his ideals—but it's not something that will sweep anyway just yet. It might be a show that's better suited for marathoning as a box set. Right now, it doesn't hold my interest week to week.

#21 - Zettai Boei Leviathan [ep. 1-4]

I can't watch any more of Zettai Boei Leviathan. I fear that I'll be bored to death. In fact, I may have already died a couple of times just in trying to watch the last few episodes. Watching Zettai Boei Leviathan feels somewhat like walking into the perfume aisle at a K-Mart, where you're suddenly surrounded by sickly sweet chemical smells, and the only thing you can think about is leaving as fast as possible.

Zettai Boei Leviathan takes place in some cutesy blah fantasy world where people wear sashes for belts and drink booze out of flagons. It features three cutesy plop girls named Leviathan, Bahamut, and Jormungandr (BECAUSE THEY ARE MYTHOLOGICAL WATER CREATURES) who coexist in this bland village, occasionally transforming into ridiculous outfits where they have dragon tails and scales on their boobs. They've also befriended some cutesy glop fairy named Syrop (WHICH SOUNDS LIKE SYRUP), who is pretty funny because she's tiny but eats a lot (SIGH). And then basically nothing happens. In one episode, they get in a scrap with some town hooligans and wreck the local tavern, and then in another episode, Leviathan has to help waitress, but it's hilarious because she sprays some customers in the face with some water. Then one of them gets stuck in a swamp, but then there's a dragon who lives there who swallows and axe and then they—ARGH.

There is absolutely nothing interesting about Zettai Boei Leviathan, which fails even as a Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show because the character designs aren't even all that great. So it's actually more of just a Girls With Pointy Ears and Scales Doing Menial Tasks show, which is terrific if you've absolutely run out of other shows to watch in the world. I read in a series description that eventually, the girls join some kind of defense task force organized by Syrop in order to save the world against some invaders, but honestly, I can't even bring myself to watch until I get to that point. I've already sat through three episodes of this fluff, in which the highlight was watching a dragon blush while a girl complemented his uvula.

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