Spring 2012 capsules

Naruto SD – Rock Lee & His Ninja Friends was better than I expected. It’s thoroughly accessible, providing enough exposition about the setting (“teams of apprentice ninjas get various tasks to perform as part of their training”), the main character’ shtick (“Rock Lee is an apprentice ninja who can’t do any ninjutsu”) or whatever guest star happens to be passing (such as what Naruto can do). For someone like me who barely knows anything about the Naruto universe, this was very welcome.

Now, is this actually worth watching ? Let’s not get carried away. It’s mildly funny, but some of the running gags were getting tired even before the end of the second of the two skits in this episode. (Even Tenten herself is getting bored of always going “there’s no way anyone’s going to fall for Lee’s incredibly stupid plan… wait, it worked ?”) Also, the first skit relies heavily on poo jokes.

One episode was enough for me.

I was pleasantly surprised by Here Comes the Black Witch! (Kuromajo-san ga Toru!!). I’m not a big fan of anime in short formats, but this is a longer one (7 minutes), and properly paced for it. The premise is simple enough (middle-school occult fangirl invokes a demon by mistake, who’s going to teach her how to become a Witch whether she wants it or not), but it manages to get some good jokes out of it (our heroine MUST clean her room everyday… because leaving any hair or skin behind makes malicious voodoo body control possible).

This looks like a fun little gag show (and it’s not like this season promises many of these). I’m willing to give it at least a few more episodes to see whether it stays funny.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 5.

Some thoughts on more short series I won’t be making full reviews of :

Gakkatsu (“Homeroom”) is very bizarre indeed. The abrasive class rep organizes a debate about some inane topic (today : “what’s the name of that bump on your arm that’s equivalent to the ankle ?”), except she discards any argument she doesn’t like. It’s rapid-fire comedy building to an utterly stupid conclusion, but I’m not sure I actually find it funny. I’ll need a couple more episodes to decide.

Yurumates 3Dei has no 3D whatsoever, it’s just that there were two OVAs before this series ; fortunately, this looks like a fresh start. Unfortunately, this takes most of its three minutes to establish the premise (a condo house in the suburbs of Tokyo where former high school students go to prepare another go at college entrance exams ; there’sno privacy whatsoever and the place looks a bit run-down) and the characters don’t get much depth. I was vaguely interested in the subject matter, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be going anywhere interesting (and even Acchi Kocchi looks more satisfying as far as 4-panel gag manga adaptations go).

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 6.

Sequel watch !

As it turns out, I won’t be making a full review of Saki: Achiga-hen – Episode of Side-A. It’s more of the same from the original : cute girls with little personality playing mahjong as though it was calvinball. It makes a stab at building drama around the formation of an underdog club, but it falls flat due to the dullness of the writing. And that’s when it doesn’t just go for utter stupidity (actual dialogue : “wait, you’ve been cleaning this unused club room alone for two years on the vague hope we’d come back ?”). Also, given Saki‘s sluggish pace, I really doubt these people can get to the national level within 12 episodes.

Fate / Zero is back after three months’ break, and jumps straight back to where it left. Frankly, there’s no point in starting watching it now, you’ll want the 13 episodes of setup to have a hope in figuring out what’s going on.

Phi Brain S2 didn’t even take a week’s break, but it does go out of its way to reintroduce the supporting cast, the premise and the first season’s relevant events so that it can be a good jumping on point. Since the evil POG organization has been comprehensively dismantled by now, we’re getting a new set of villains to challenge the cast with more stupidly dangerous puzzles. Since they’re already more personality and charisma (hello, Hiroshi Kamiya and Tomokazu Sugita !) than the POG, I’m not complaining. This looks as fun as ever, so I’m in for the ride.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 7.

Okay, I’ll be using my “no reviews of sequels” escape clause and skip writing a full review of Eureka Seven Ao. Not because I was lost or anything (I didn’t see the original, but that’s no obstacle to understanding the gist of the plot here), but because the first episode bored me to sleep. Neither the flat characters, nor the rather generic events happening to them gave me any reason to care. Sure, it looks good, but I just found it very dull, and thus can’t summon any energy to cover it in any more detail.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 10.

AKB0048

What’s it about ?

In the future, entertainment has been banned. An underground concert by guerilla idol group (sic) AKB0048 encourages a group of kids to apply to become new members.

This is, of course, a glorified advertisement for real-life idol group AKB48.

Characters

Nagisa, head of the kids’ group. She’s a big fan of AKB0048, but Daddy has recently been promoted in the Anti-Entertainment Agency and doesn’t want his daughter anywhere near this, for fear of scandal.

Yuuko, the bratty one, has a boyfriend. Who doesn’t approve either.

Orine is an orphan who works at the generic factory instead of going to school.

There’s a 4th girl shown in the beginning who seems to have completely disappeared in the “4 years later” segment. Presumably there’s a story there.

AKB0048 themselves are “the 5th generation”, “in homage to the originals”, and don’t a single personality to share between the 10 or so of them.

Production Values

Pretty good. There’s a lot of CG elements, especially in the choreography sequences (Precure-ED style), and it doesn’t look half bad.

Obviously, the whole soundtrack comes from AKB48. It’s not very good, generic J-pop.

Overall Impression

At face value, this is reasonably competent. The plot is ludicrous, but this is decently-written enough for the stakes to be clear and the main characters to be somewhat fleshed out. And that “guerilla idol group” sequence at the beginning is quite fun to watch.

On the other hand… this unashamedly promotes generic soulless mass-produced entertainment, with a degree of white-washing that I’m really not comfortable with (three seconds of research into AKB48 made the “boyfriend” issue even less tasteful). This requires completely buying into the idol marketing machine to be any fun to watch… and sorry, no dice.

And really, it’s not like the plot is likely to go anywhere interesting, or the characters to develop a personality beyond their archetypes. I’ll pass.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 17.

Hyouka – You can’t escape

(21 episodes)

What’s it about ?

A high school detective club.

Characters

Houtarou, our protagonist. He’s usually a partisan of minimum effort, but here he strong-armed by his sister (an alumni of this same high school) into reopening the “Classics Club”, which had no members left. He’s actually quite a clever guy once you get to know him (if you’re not rebuked by his unwillingness to do anything unnecessary).

Satoshi, his best friend for years. He’s very obviously the exposition guy, and relishes in it (calling himself with pride “a database of useless knowledge” at one point). He’s not above starting rumors on his own, either.

Chitanda, a girl they found in the clubroom, and who’s very interested in it. (And so, Houtarou immediately dumps the presidency onto her.) She’s fascinated by mundane mysteries, school urban legends and the like. She’s a bit gullible, to say the least.

Whatever the club is actually about (it apparently has something of a reputation), they never get around to going into any Classic Litterature in this episode ; instead they obsess over several of the most low-key and low-stakes mysteries I’ve ever witnessed. Although it’s mostly an excuse to showcase each character’s personality.

Production Values

You can tell this is a Kyoto Animation production : the animation is wonderfully fluid, and there’s a marvellous attention to detail in the body language and the backgrounds ; every single walk-on extra feel like they have a personality and a story of their own. (Witness in the opening scene that dude desperately trying to do some homework in the deserted classroom and getting progressively more annoyed at Houtaru and Satoshi talking so loudly behind him !)

This isn’t the most visually creative show of the season (aside from that fun little “mystery of the door” sequence and the random fantasy scenes “demonstrating” Houtarou and Chitanda’s chemistry), but it certainly has the best production values by far. (Yes, better than Fate/Zero.)

I’m not a fan of the soundtrack yet, but I could see it grow on me.

Overall Impression

In any other hands, this would have been a forgettable low-key mystery show. But the impressive care put into every single detail pays off at the end, when Houtarou gets to display some impressive sleuthing skills in a way that takes advantage of those details and is perfectly in line with his stated philosophy. And the solution to the “phantom club” mystery is a strong enough piece of writing to make me trust this is going somewhere. (I’m not spoiling it, because I loved getting surprised by it.) Also, I’m now sold on Houtarou (Yuuichi Nakamura is impeccable as always).

I’m definitely going to follow this one.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 15.

Gankutsuou – The Count of Monte Cristo

(24 episodes, 2004-2005)

My previous exposure

I first heard of this one through the president of my college anime club, who was a big fan of the artstyle. I think he even showed us the first episode. I never got around to actually watching the full thing it for ages, though, as I waited until I thought I’d be “ready”.

I’ve obviously heard of the basic plot through cultural osmosis, but I’ve never actually read the original doorstopper of a novel (or watched any of the numerous movie/TV adaptations). So I was mostly fresh on the actual plot twists the series had in reserve for me.

What’s it about ?

It’s the future, but conveniently society is basically the same as early-19th-century France (well, kinda, I’ll come back to it further down). Albert de Morcerf is the young naive heir of an up-and-coming politician, engaged to the daughter of a rich banker, and promised to a bright future… until he meets the eccentric Count of Monte-Cristo on the Moon. Little does he know that his newfound friend is actually out for a (very convoluted) revenge against the three men who wrong him 20 years ago… including Albert’s father.

Let’s be honest, the SF setting is just a parlour game, as one will try and guess how each element is transposed from the original context. But it’s also an excuse for the visuals to go marvellously insane. A duel will become a battle between giant armoured mecha… because why not, after all ? The show revels in its artificiality, using psychedelic images to make its story even more grandiose and baroque, as best exemplified by the use of unmoving elaborate textures to depict people’s clothes and hair. It will either burn your eyes or make you fawn over how pretty it is.

What did I think of it ?

I loved it, as you probably can tell by now. Not only is it gorgeous, but it never sacrifices the clarity of its storytelling. This is a very well-structured adaptation, with my only little qualm being that the Count’s plots take ages to actually go anywhere. But when they finally come to fruition, it makes all the build-up worth it.

It is interesting how little this adaptation cares about the Count’s past life as Edmond Dant├Ęs. He barely gets ten minutes of flashbacks very late on, as the strict minimum necessary to explain why he became the implacable vengeance machine known as the Count of Monte-Cristo. (Not the how, though, the series doesn’t care about that at all.) The Count himself is an antagonist throughout, with only token displays of hesitation while he tramples over the lives of innocents to get at his targets.

The focus here is clearly on Albert, which is a bit tiring at times given how much he’s a naive spoiled brat who takes a lot of time to distrust the dude who looks like a vampire. (Or heck, even be aware of how much many of the adults around him are scumbags.) But then, this is not a series for subtlety, and the core goal here is to display how the Count’s revenge wreaks havoc on innocents’ livelihood. Albert, as innocence personified, is the perfect incarnation of collateral damage. The storytelling choice of making the Count’s motives distant (and unrevealed until nearly the very end of the show) only adds to the monstrosity of his actions. Yes, those three assholes probably deserved punishment (not only for what they did to him, but also for their various other misdeeds later on), but the Count’s sweeping retaliatory action was always bound to provoke more future strife in an endless cycle of vengeance.

Perfectly illustrating the pointlessness of the Count’s actions, and looking great while doing so, this is a show well worth watching.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 11.

One Stormy Night – Secret Friends (Arashi no Yoru ni: Himitsu no Tomodachi)

(52 episodes)

What’s it about ?

The unlikely friendship of a goat and a wolf. Adaptation of a bestselling children’s book.

Characters

Mei, a somewhat naive young goat. She’s not entirely clueless, though. (Also, this is proof that Rie Kugimiya can sound charming when the role requests it.) One stormy night, she stumbles into a dark shelter, where she meets…

Gabu, a young wolf. Since it was dark, they got to talk for enough time for him to get fond of his newfound friend. Even when he learns she’s food. He carries most of the episode, with the conflict between his heart and his stomach.

Production Values

This is entirely CG-animated… and it doesn’t look half-bad. Nice scenery porn, decent cartooning for the characters’ body language…

Overall Impression

One the one hand, it’s a perfectly decent start that introduces the premise well and makes the archetypal characters grow on you. This would fit quite well as the 20 first minutes of a decent kids’ movie. (And presumably the 2005 movie was along the same lines.) But… 52 episodes of this ? I was already starting to get a bit tired of Gabu’s inner conflict by the end of the first episodes, so I dread how repetitive it’ll get by the third month of it.

Yeah, I think I’m going to skip this one.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 12.

Ginga e Kickoff!!

What’s it about ?

Sport series for kids about soccer.

Characters

Shou, our elementary school protagonist. The team he used to be in was quite decent, but it’s just disbanded due to conflict with the coach (who quit) and half the team wanting to focus on exams anyway. So now he must find new players to restart the team from scratch. The problem : he can only bring his own enthusiasm to the table, as he’s mostly crap at the sport. (There’s a lengthy scene of him being outclassed by a dog.)

Erika, transfer student from Osaka. (Except Shou doesn’t know it yet, which makes him trying to recruit her all the more puzzling.) She seems to have some actual talent, unlike him. And she’s on board with training with someone else than her dog… up until she learns the team has been disbanded, of course. She has a massive hero worship for…

Misaki, an adult professional player who just happens to be passing, just in time to give some encouragement for her fan.

Presumably there’ll be more than two players on this team (although the OP/ED certainly don’t show 11 members), but that’s for future episodes.

Oh, and there’s some drunk on a bench who’s bound to be the new coach.

Production Values

Just about average.

Overall Impression

This ain’t half bad : the characters have chemistry, the scenes of them training at soccer are fun, and the premise is so ridiculous you can’t help but wonder how they’re gonna get out of this predicament.

The problem is that it’s going to take forever and a day to gather the team, especially with the second episode going out of its way to do something with a completely different team. And I’m not interested enough to follow this for the long haul, especially in so busy a season.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 12.

Shining Hearts – the Bread of Happiness (Shiawase no Pan)

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Generic fantasy RPG setting. Starring bakers.

Characters

Rick, a promising young breadmaker, whose shop is starting to get great business. No personality beyond “the reasonable one”.

His three interchangeable “cute” employees, who barely share a personality (and a brain) between the three of them. And let’s not even go into those terrible outfits those girls are wearing.

Alvin, the ruler of the local elf-forest our heroes get lost in halfway through the episode. He’s a dick. He’s got a sister who’s more amiable but no less irritating.

There’s no plot whatsoever in sight. Alvin mumbles a bit about the red moon being a bad omen, but there’s no indication it’s anything other than a sign announcing bad weather the next day.

Production Values

Terrible. The character designs are generic crap, the music is off-the-shelf and just ridiculous whenever it goes for the dramatic, and the whole thing feels like it has no soul whatsoever.

One point that sums the whole show up : there are numerous female characters, played by a variety of more or less popular voice-actresses. There are only two male characters of any note, and both of them are voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya.

Overall Impression

Look ! It’s generic soulless crap ! At least Sengoku Collection had a joke (however stale it was) and sketched out the plot within its first episode ; this is just a big pile of nothing, with no tension, no plot, no characters and no jokes.

I’m sure you can make a decent series about making bread, but this isn’t it. There’s absolutely nothing worth watching here.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 10.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Jazz in the 60s in Japan.

Characters

Kaoru, our point-of-view character. He’s a perpetual transfer student (his father kept moving around due to his job, and he’s now staying at his aunt’s), and not very good at dealing with other people. His main problem is that his anxiety often builds up and makes him nauseous… Oh, wait, he gets over it within the course of the first episode. Move along, then. Also, he’s got an actual personality : the stuck-up, bright kid that looks down a bit on everyone. He plays the piano and loves classical music, but this changes when he meets…

Sentarou, the class delinquent, the huge dude everyone’s afraid of. The kind of guy who can take on three senior students and not look ridiculous (he loses, because this is not the kind of series that lets him get away with it unscathed). He takes an interest on this puny protagonist that won’t back down, and it’s irritation at first sight between the two of them. He plays drums (often with improvised sticks on every available surface), and is a jazz fanatic.

Ritsuko, the class representative, and the actual reason Kaoru takes an interest in jazz. See, her father has this record store, and she invites him to the soundproof music room downstairs… and Sentarou’s already there, playing drums (they’re childhood friends). Cue macho posturing.

Production Values

Pretty good. And hey, if you’re going to do an anime series about jazz, you can’t go wrong with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack.

Overall Impression

There were always going to be a lot of expectations over Shinichiro (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) Watanabe’s big return. Well, this is nothing like those shows. This isn’t an action showcase at all, and you couldn’t make it more mundane and down-to-earth if you tried. The direction doesn’t do flashy at all… although there are some nice ideas such as introducing Sentarou through his music way before we actually get to see him.

What this is, though, is a love letter to jazz, played by characters who have some charisma indeed. I’m hooked, and I could see this grow on me as the season passes.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 10.

Tsuritama (“Fishing Bowl”)

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Saving the world through fishing !

… Yeah, I haven’t a clue either.

Characters

Yuki, our point-of-view character. He’s a perpetual transfer student (his grandmother, with whom he lives, keeps moving around the country), and terrible at dealing with other people. His main problem is that his anxiety keeps building up until he’s suffocating… literally, which from an outside point of view looks like he’s getting angry and making weird faces for no reason. His other problem is that his self-pitying narration makes him very annoying.

Haru, the other transfer student. He’s very, very weird. For starters, he keeps claiming he’s an alien. He wanders around the city with a fishbowl on his head. This fish may or may not be his sister. He suddenly starts living at Yuki’s with no explanation. And he’s got a watergun that stops Yuki’s anxiety moments and makes the target lose consciousness and follow him for a bit.

Natsuki, a normal dude in their class that’s a bit irritated with those two bozos. Unfortunately, he works part-time at the fishing store Haru has now decided to patron. Poor guy, I pity him.

There’s also a mysterious foreign dude (and his MIB unit) stalking them and observing them from afar. He’s seen having a meal with a duck.

Production Values

Perfectly alright. It’s got an heavy metaphorical bent (water keeps invading the screen and drowning Yuki, for example) that helps the general weirdness blend in.

Also, I have no clue what that pre-credits sequence (a myth of a woman defeating a five-headed dragon) was about, but it certainly was pretty to look at.

Overall Impression

Well, that was certainly a bizarre watch. I think there may be too much emphasis on Yuki’s “normality”, because he’s way too obnoxious and only becomes tolerable once in presence of characters who won’t let him get away with so much mopping around.

Now, the alien/”saving the world” thing… I have no clue whether this is all Haru’s delusion, or there’s some actual SF elements to the show. The series does just enough to intrigue me. I’m not sure I care enough to see it to the end, but it gets at least another episode.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 10.

Jormungand

(12 episodes + 12 more episodes this Fall)

What’s it about ?

Psychotic arm dealers are COOL.

Characters

Jonah, child soldier from whateverland. Presumably he’s got quite some backstory, but this first episode doesn’t care to enlighten us much yet. Having lost his family to the pointlessness of war, he obviously hates weapons, and thus arm dealers. But to do anything about it, he needs weapons. Hence why he’s now in the employ of…

Koko, head of a tight-knit arms-dealing group. The joke here is that half the time, she behaves like most other Shizuka Itou characters : constant flirting, childish temper tantrums… It’s just that in this context, it makes her even more terrifying. Especially when she suddenly drops back to “pro” mode in mid-sentence.

There are eight other members in the unit, but there’s no time for them to get too much development yet. there’s the prettyboy, the seasoned old soldier, the token other girl who’s a bit too protective of Koko, the guy in a suit and glasses that can’t be as innocent as he looks… Presumably we’ll get to know them better in the next 23 episodes.

Production Values

Impressive. This has the best car chase I’ve seen in a while, for example. And Koko wouldn’t work as well without the care applied to her body language and crazy faces.

Also, Taku Iwasaki signs the soundtrack. It’s not his flashiest, but It does become more and more catchy as the action sequences gather momentum. (Also, I laughed out loud at the track playing during the next-episode preview. Perfect choice.)

Overall Impression

Hello, Black Lagoon clone ! Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind. It certainly manages to catch the right vibe, balancing charismatic psychotic characters, dynamic action sequences and discussions of existentialism quite well.

There’s one little problem, though : this first episode features two different jobs, and they both suffer from the small screentime they get. The first one has muddled stakes (it’s not immediately clear what our team is trying to achieve), and the second has them pulling a plan so straightforward it makes their opponent look like an idiot.

But that’s a minor problem ; the goal here was to sell us on the premise and the protagonists. Mission accomplished.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2012 – Page 9.