Puella Magi Madoka Magica

What’s it about ?

Technically a magical girl series, but it’s all about the atmosphere. Madoka is an ordinary middle school student, up until she starts having weird dreams of magical battles. Then the girl she saw fighting in her dream suddenly transfers in, she finds a wounded critter offering her powers, and she soon finds herself sliding into bizarre side planes where it’s not exactly clear who’s fighting whom.

Characters

Madoka, our protagonist. Tends to be pushed around a bit by her friends and family. I find it notable that her mother wears the pants and is the bread-winner of the family, while Daddy stays at home. This pretty much sets the tone of how much guys are going to matter in this series.

Homura, the mysterious transfer student, of course establishing she’s awesome at everything from maths to sports in a montage just after she’s introduced. Also : very –ing creepy. Her first interaction with Madoka is to lead her to an isolated place and warn her off from doing anything. After that, she acts threateningly towards a wounded critter, and it’s ambiguous whether she’s the one who provokes the slide into a dangerous side plane.

Sayaka, one of Madoka’s two best friends. The cheerful one. (There’s also a Yamato-Nadeshiko-in-training one.) Earns my love by distracting a powered up Homura with a fire extinguisher. (Also, wondering what this girl is thinking of being in full cosplay gear at school.)

Mami, an experienced magical girl who rescues Madoka and Sayaka, and obviously has a much better clue than us viewers about what’s happening. While always smiling and cheerful, she barely conceals her hostility towards Homura, making it clear that there’s much going on under the surface here.

Kyubey, the mascot rescued by Madoka. Enthusiastically offers Madoka and Sayaka to become magical girls at the end of the episode, which given everything else in the episode ends up sounding far more sinister than he probably intends.

Production Values

Wow. This looks gorgeous ; Studio SHAFT obviously pulled all the stops here. In particular, the backgrounds are very pretty, and the dream/side world sequences are a weird combination of CG and collage that work perfectly. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about the character designs, although they do work as a nice contrast to the grim settings. Also, props to Yuki Kajiura’s soundtrack, which is as atmospheric as ever.

No ED ; the OP’s song is average stuff, although there’s a lot going on in the animation.

Overall Impression

Given its pedigree, this was always going to either be a mess or a fantastic mesh of styles ; thankfully, it’s the latter. The contrast between the “childish” (the magical girl premise, the middle school setting, the character designs) and “grittier” elements (the dream and side world sequences, the music) works well to generate a “not all is as it seems” atmosphere, and the plot is obviously going somewhere. I also liked the restraint of not rushing Madoka into becoming a magical girl in the first episode, too, as everything else they included here has some purpose (I particularly like the characterization of Madoka’s mother and of her homeroom teacher, who both exude tons of personality despite their minimal screen time).

This is a strong contender towards the best show of the season.

via [In which I review] New anime, Winter 2010-2011 – Page 5.

Rio – Rainbow Gate !

What’s it about ?

Follows the adventures of the star dealer of a high-class Casino, which seems to involve high stakes duels against nasty customers. “Adapted” from a series of pachinko gambling machines.

Characters

Rio, the *BOOBIES* title character. From what little personality *PANTIES* she displays, she’s a bit dim, and easygoing enough to let *BOUNCE* her pervy manager trick her into dodgy *KNOCKERS* costumes and situations. She has the superpower of *UPSKIRT SHOT* magically calming down a crowd around her, as well as *RANDOM WEDDING DRESS* making the odds favour whichever casino customers *CLOTHING DAMAGE* she wishes (to the point that clients crowd around her to benefit from her mojo).

Mint, the young granddaughter of a VIP client visiting the casino ; as the naive newcomer viewpoint character, she wanders around the setting while everyone else delivers exposition. After a while Rio is specially assigned to escort her around. Slightly brattish, but at tolerable levels.

Orlin Dunhill, our asshole villain of the week. After various unsuccessful assault attempts with his goons, he eventually challenges Rio to a poker duel… for reasons that, in a storytelling masterstroke, aren’t properly explained until its end (he’s after Mint’s teddy bear). He’s your usual charisma-deficient lech, and a moron to boot.

Rosa Canyon, a Hollywood actress and regular patron of the casino. Cue the “obaa-san” jokes. For some reason, she’s the one dealing the duel, instead of the dozens of random dealers running around.

There are various other side characters, such as a couple of bunny waitresses that have so little personality they even complete each other’s lines. Their main purpose is exposition and duel commentary.

Production values

This actually looks quite decent, with some nice animation for action scenes, and above all a wonderfully psychedelic sequence during the duel. But don’t even try watching it if you’re allergic to fanservice.

There’s no OP. The ED is an annoyingly peppy JPop number that has even more fanservice than the actual show.

Overall Impression

This… is actually a bit better than I imagined (but then I had very low expectations). The fanservice is less obnoxious than I expected, and mainly concentrated on Rio herself (it steers mercifully free of Mint). The plot is obviously just an excuse, but it’s all in good fun. There’s even a couple of good jokes.

Is it any good ? Well, no. But if you turn your brain off, it’s a semi-decent fanservice series that steers clear of harem clich├ęs (at least so far). I could see myself trying out another episode or two.

via [In which I review] New anime, Winter 2010-2011 – Page 4.

Tamayura OVA

(4 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Basically, this is a slice-of-life series about a girl obsessed with photography and her friends, in a rural village.

Characters

Fu, our main character, is a quiet clumsy airhead. She got her love for photography from her father, who died 5 years ago.

Kaoru, her best friend. Like nearly every character voiced by Kana Asumi, she’s cheerful and slightly snarky.

Norie, our setting’s Tomo. Energetic, annoying, and unhealthy fond of Fu’s younger brother.

Maon, who spends more time whistling than talking.

Plus various other supporting characters (Fu’s family, Kaoru’s embarrassing older sister, etc.)

Production Values

It’s an OVA that revolves around scenery porn. Of course it looks good.

Overall Impression

Dull. While I was half-joking about falling asleep while watching Starry Sky, here it was a real struggle to stay awake. Which really shouldn’t happen for 4 15-minute episodes.

Understand, I actually enjoy the slice of life genre. I liked K-On!, Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh… I’m currently watching and enjoying Potemayo, for –‘s sake ! But there seems to be a subset of the genre that immediately puts me to sleep, and this is such an instance. (Other example : Hidamari Sketch.)

It’s not even that nothing happens : there’s a neat throughline around Fu’s obsession and how it allows her to connect with her late father. But… the pacing is glacial, the characters are barely developed at all, and the jokes aren’t that funny. When the series goes for emotion, it does feel genuine, but those moments are few and far between.

via [In which I review] New anime, Winter 2010-2011 – Page 3.

Starry Sky

(13 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Reverse harem setup : formerly exclusively male academy is now co-ed, although there’s only one female student right now. Each episode focuses on a different male student, with a parallel to the zodiac constellations (although they’ve introduced a 13rd one for some reason). Apparently this school only teaches astronomy- or astrology-related fields.

Characters :

Tsukiko Yahisa, our female lead. Nearly no screentime so far.

Yoh Tomoe, Capricorn. This is a pseudonym : his actual name’s Henri Samuel Jean Aimee (sic). Half-French, choosing to go back to Japan in order to find a girl he fell in love with a decade ago. His parents approve (it’s implied his father did something similar way back when).

There are other various classmates, including a very enthusiastic Mr Exposition, but none of them got any names yet.

Production Values :

Low. It’s a net anime, and the animation is quite minimal (not to the degree of Nyaruani, though). It doesn’t look particularly good, but this could be my personal distaste for standard shojo character designs. Also, the episodes are only 11-minute-long.

Overall Impression :

Dull, dull, dull. There’s no real conflict yet, and the plot barely gets started at all. I can’t sympathize with Capricorn-guy, and the girl is a non-entity so far. Frankly, I doubt I’d manage to watch another episode without falling asleep.

But then, I clearly don’t care for the genre ; if you’re more into it than me, you could find some value to this show (it’s got a pretty impressive voice cast, for example).

via [In which I review] New anime, Winter 2010-2011.

Haiyoru! Nyaruani: Remember My Love(craft-sensei)

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Standard harem setup, type B : young dude has cute girls leaving at his home for undisclosed reasons. Except they’re all anthropomorphic personifications of Lovecraftian Elder Ones.

Characters :

Mahiro, our male lead, appears quite bemused by the whole thing (it’s obviously not his choice). Dreading whatever next those crazy girls are going to do.

Nyarlko, our female lead, tries to play the magical girlfriend, despite the whole Elder One thing. Actually ends up overshadowed by her more colourful “siblings”. Obviously has some sort of nefarious agenda, but the show’s not telling.

Chtuko. Totally into Nyarlko.

Further episodes introduce Atoko (“nice” older sister, but with a filthy, filthy mind) and Nyarle (very, very shy).

Production values :

I had to check this wasn’t the Flash ONA that was produced a few months ago. Let’s be clear, this is barely animated at all (although it’s far from horrible looking). Also, the episodes are 4-minute-long… scratch that, if you remove the standard warning and the ED, you’ve barely got 2 minutes of actual footage per episode.

Overall Impression :

On paper, this sounded like a trainwreck. (Moe adaptation of the Lovecraft Mythos ? WTF ?) In practice, this is strangely endearing : the show is clearly aware that the setup makes no sense (and doesn’t spend any time trying to explain it, actually). There’s clear sense of impending doom, the least subtle sign of which being the “XX days until mankind’s extinction” announcement at the end of each episode.

I don’t really think it’s going anywhere (it’s too short for that), but as a mindless joke it works. And hey, it’s only a few minutes of your time.

via [In which I review] New anime, Winter 2010-2011.