Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue (Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm)

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Oh, another visual novel adaptation which crosses over with the sports genre ! Except this one has a male target audience.

Characters

Interestingly, our main character for now is Asuka, the ditzy cheerful girl. She’s just now getting into Flying Circus, a sports that involves sommersaulting around with flying shoes.

The game’s male lead, Masaya, is relegated to a support role for now : he’s brooding in the background about how he used to be good at FC until a fateful incident two years ago, and offers a few useful pointers (as well as recognizes Asuka’s innate talent).

There are other girls. Kinda tells you how much I payed attention, eh ?

Production Values

Well, it certainly does the job of selling a definite sense of wonder about flying in general, and Flying Circus in particular.

Also, magic skirts are thankfully in effect.

Overall Impression

Zzzzzzz… Sorry, I just don’t care. The characters are very boring, Masaya’s angst is laughable, and the spectacle inherent to the gimmicky sport isn’t enough to carry the show on its own.

I’ll pass.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Winter 2016 – Page 4

Prince of Stride – Alternative

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

“Stride” is a fictional sport that’s basically a five-people relay parkour race (with a sixth person coordinating them by radio). So this is a sports series (complete with the classic “save our club” narrative)… adapted from a female-targeted, male harem visual novel.

Characters

Nana, our heroine/audience stand-in, loves Stride and enrolled into this high school because she watched a video of their Stride club having perfect form… But that was a while ago, the members she saw are on the verge of graduating and already left it, and there are so few members left it’s on the verge of disbanding (they certainly don’t have enough people to properly enter races right now). She wanted to be the manager (aka the traditional female role of a sports team that’s a glorified gofer), but she’ll do as their Relationer (the radio coordinator).

Heath, the club president, at first looks like a slacker that gave up, but he did ensure the club’s temporary survival by merging it with the shogi club, and made sure that the members kept in shape. He even deviously trained Ayumu, the shogi club’s president, despite his stated disinterest into the sport.

Hozumi, the third “veteran” member, is the super-enthusiastic cute-looking guy. If you’ve ever watched a male harem, you know the type.

Takeru is another freshman who’s joining the club for the same reasons as Nana… except he’s way more obsessive and creepy about it, already seizing up potential recruits before he even enters the club room.

Riku is the victim candidate he’s pounced on. You can easily see why : he’s so fast that all the sports clubs want him, and his impressive amateur parkour run when he’s late for his first day in school makes him a shoe-in. Unfortunately, he’s a bit reluctant and seems to have some history with the club somehow (I suspect he’s the brother to one of the seniors who left in bad blood or something). Cue 2vs2 race between the seniors and the freshmen to settle this… And to his credit, Takeru doesn’t throw the race at all. The seniors are that good.

Production Values

Quite good. Atsuko Ishizuka (of No Game No Life fame) is directing this, and you can tell by her signature oversaturated colours. It’s nice to see her handling a show that doesn’t require creepy incestuous fanservice. (And even the manservice here is relatively tame, compared to, say, Free!)

I’m slightly warier of the race sequence being slightly bigger on impressionist little touches than proper scene-setting, which makes me worry about the show’s actual animation budget. But maybe they’re saving up for the proper races later on ? At least they still flow quite well.

Overall Impression

This is way better than I expected. Sure, the cast are walking clich├ęs, ticking all the classic male harem archetypes, but they still show a decent degree of personality and have good chemistry. Moreover, the show has communicative enthusiasm for its madeup sport, as showcased by the whole school preparing the obstacle course and watching, which may be a bit overkill for a club on the verge of disbanding. But who cares ? It makes Stride look cool and fun, which is all that matters.

Good enough for me to give it a bit of rope… and it’s not like there’s anything else on Tuesdays anyway.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Winter 2016

Blue Spring x Machine Gun (Aoharu x Kikanjuu)

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a manga series about survival games (although it takes some detours before getting to that point)… wait, it was published in a shonen magazine ? Odd, as this is clearly targetting a female audience.

Characters

Hotaru Tachibana, our highschool protagonist. The student council president, and a flamboyant Hero of Justice ! The kind who jumps down three stories to beat up a bunch of bullies. Now, Tachibana is quite short an unimposing at first sight, but more than makes up for it with ridiculous athletic and fighting skills. As well as getting into the face of anyone that remotely looks like an Ennemy of Justice !

The twist being that Tachibana is a girl, and identifies as such, despite coming to school in a male uniform. Very few people are aware of this, and you get the sense there’s an intriguing story behind her attitude. But we’re not getting into that yet.

Kanae is, for the lack of a better word, her best friend, and one of the few people in the know. She’s a bit too eager to try and get Tachibana to put on a skirt for my tastes. Anyway, she kickstarts the plot by telling her friend she’s broke after that humiliating time at this male hostel club… and Tachibana is already off to avenge her before she can add that it was because they turned her away (for being a minor, obviously), and she spent all her money on comfort food. But hey, Tachibana never misses an opportunity to go half-cocked to fight imaginary villains.

Masamune is the MVP of this host club : not only one of the most popular hosts, but also having a good eye to please the customers and avoid faux-pas from his colleagues. He was the one who turned Kanae away, and as such the object of Tachibana’s misguided wrath. It helps that he’s also her new neighbour, and they got off to a very bad start earlier in the day.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with survival games… Well, that’s Masamune’s hobby, and he insists on his duel with Tachibana being with toy guns. Yes, in the middle of the host club. (Cue all the hosts & customers cheerfully putting on safety glasses. Clearly this isn’t the first time.) While he takes on a handicap and Tachibana shows off some nice althletic and tactical skills, she makes the rookie mistake of not counting her ammo. Oops. Now she’s his.

So of course he wants her to join his Survival Game team, as a way to repay for all the needless damage she caused while jumping around in the club. He still hasn’t picked up on her being a girl, by the way.

(The third member of this team makes a cameo at the end.)

Production Values

Very good indeed. The action sequences are entertainingly over the top and get ridiculously fluid animation. There’s also a lot to like in the soundtrack.

Overall Impression

You know what they say : you can make any premise more interesting by dropping in a crossdressing girl as a protagonist. (Okay, I have no clue if anyone ever said that, but it’s true.) It helps that the show turns out to be way more entertaining than it has any right to. The sense of fun is pervasive, and Tachibana’s dumb antics are more amusing than irritating once you get to know her better.

Sure, there’s a bit of the characteristic rapey subtext of shojo romances (seriously, how is this manga shonen ?), but that stays as a low enough level to avoid being more than slightly annoying.

Besides this, the show turns out to be quite fun, so I’m strongly considering keeping with it.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Summer 2015 – Page 2

Food Wars (Shokugeki no Souma)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a shonen manga series proving that food porn can go to far.

Characters

Souma, our protagonist, is the son of the owner of a small eatery. While not as good as his father, he can still produce food delicious enough to make customers orgasm on the spot. (This is not an euphemism.) He also inherited a competitive streak, as well as the willingness to experiment with some very dubious new recipes. Well, you learn from your mistakes and all that.

Their restaurant is under attack from a group of very conspicuous real estate sharks, who want to get their hands on this price spot. This is the kind of show where they can seriously barge in and demand our kid hero to prepare a meal, just after making sure to spoil all the meat in stock. Cue a mwahahah or two. Souma of course takes them up on their challenge, and manages to still produce something incredibly delicious. Now get lost, and never come back !

This is the moment Dad chooses to come back from a trip and announce he’s closing shop anyway, and sending Souma off to a cooking high school for training. But not any cooking high school : an elite one where barely 10% of the students make it to graduation.

The OP & ED sequences show off a bunch of Souma’s future schoolmates… wait, why does one of the dudes wield a chainsaw ?

Production Values

The big selling point here is the intricate fantasy sequences whenever people eat food. They’re borderline pornographic ; you know what you’re in for when you’re hit barely a few minutes in by someone eating a terrible squid-peanut butter combination, and it turning into tentacle rape. (And of course there’s a brick joke with the girl actually enjoying the experience…)

You won’t be surprised by the fact that most of the fantasy screentime (or even the “real” food orgasms) is devoted to women. Because of course.

Overall Impression

/facepalm

I’ll give it to this show : it doesn’t commit halfway ; it takes the “food porn” moniker and goes to town with it. It’s got decent comedic timing, and the score knows how to emphasize the (well-animated) action.

But dear gods, that’s some creepily obnoxious fanservice indeed. Well-executed, but there’s no way I can recommend watching this, unless you’re really into that kind of thing. I knew from a few minutes in that I’m not, and won’t be bothering with another episode. One was hard enough to watch.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2015.

#42 : Legendary Gambler Tetsuya (Shoubushi Densetsu Tetsuya)

(20 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a shonen manga series about gambling in post-war Japan.

Characters

Tetsuya, our protagonist, is one of the many former Japanese soldiers demobilized after the end of WWII. There are tons of them, and not much work to go around (to say nothing of the desolate state Japan has been left in) ; so he decides his best bet is to enter a random mahjong gambling den and try to make what little money he has left fructify.

He did have a very good teacher back in the army ; an old soldier who was most probably a yakuza, and had nerves of steel, if the flashbacks are anything to go by.

Most of his first opponents are easy rubes ; he reads them easily and can clean them out without cheating, using basic psychological warfare. Er, maybe you’re going too far by becoming physical with one of those guys when it turns out he can’t pay right now ? It’s not like anyone here is swimming in cash…

Boshu, an old man who’s a regular and has noticed the scuffle, decides to intervene and join the table. And he’s a completely different matter ; shrewd enough to destroy Tatsuya (who won’t notice until much too late that the guy can also cheat like a pro).

Production Values

Perfectly okay, if a bit of a retro feel. Considering that this is a period piece that manages to sell the run-down state of post-war Japan, there’s not that much flash to the mahjong matches ; just enough to carry the big narrative beats over without feeling out of place.

Overall Impression

Ah, mahjong. A game I’ve never managed to learn the rules of, and the show is making little effort to explain. That makes it hard for me to follow the games, outside of the general thrust of it ; and thus I just can’t quite care enough. Tetsuya being a bit of a dick doesn’t help ; he really deserved that comeuppance.

Also, I’m a bit suspicious of a competition series adaptating a manga midway through its long run ; I fear we don’t get a real ending. (The fact that it aired in daytime makes me suspect it got cancelled for low rating.)

So, despite a strong period flair, I’m not going to bother with this one.

Source: [In Which I Review] Anime series from 2000 – Page 12

#37 : Fighting Spirit (Hajime no Ippo)

(76 episodes, + 50ish episodes’ worth of sequels and specials)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a sports manga that started publishing in 1989 and is still running.

Characters

Ippo, our protagonist. This shy and downright wimpy high school student always gets bullied, and it’s getting worse. The paradox is that he’s actually quite strong, due to helping out all the time at his mother’s fishing shop (and doing the heavy lifting of shipping equipment).

His (single) mother would rather he spend more time socializing and having some actual teenage hobbies, but it’s hard to tell him no when he’s so earnest in helping running the struggling shop.

Takamura is some dude who rescues him after yet another attack by bullies, and gives him some first aid. As it turns out, he’s debuting as a pro boxer, and impresses Ippo enough for him to take Takamura as a role model. Now, the guy is a bit wary about this kid aiming for a career in a brutal sport he has the wrong personality for, and makes sure to give him all the proper warnings. Ippo is undeterred.

Production Values

Good enough for this kind of thing. The source material shows its age a bit, as half the cast (including Takamura) rock “bad boy” pompadours.

Also, this isn’t a show that papers over the violence inherent to boxing ; blood will be drawn several times an episode.

Overall Impression

Well, it’s a sports show that doesn’t really deviate from the usual formula. You know the drill. What it does have going for it is strong characters (I was especially impressed by how well-rounded Takamura was), and the acute sense that Ippo comes from a working-class background.

… On the other hand, I don’t really care for boxing (especially as this looks like a mostly realistic take on the sport), and long-running sports series aren’t something I’m looking forward to marathoning. This is a show that does everything right, but I don’t find it compelling enough to keep watching it.

Source: [In Which I Review] Anime series from 2000 – Page 11

#24 : Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters

(224 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of that shonen manga featuring a children’s card game… Wait, no. Initially, the manga featured a variety of games, and the 1998 anime series reflected that ; it’s only later on that the “Duel Monsters” cardgame took center stage, and this sequel increased that emphasis even more.

I’m breaking my rule on sequels to give this one a full review, due to its cultural relevance. I mean, I’ve seen enough parody abridged versions of this that it would be silly not to try and have a proper look at it.

Characters

Yugi, our kid protagonist with absurd hair, is really fond of this Duel Monsters cardgame ; it helps that his grampa runs a shop selling it and gave him some rather rare cards. There’s no explanation whatsoever for why Yugi gets a transformation sequence that makes him look much meaner and kick more ass at the game halfway through. Or why he’s got this Mind Crush psychic attack to deal with villains once he’s won against them.

He has a few friends : Jonouchi, who is at least shown playing the game early on (although after that he does nothing but cheer on Yugi) ; Honda, who contributes nothing ; and Anzu, who as a girl gets to make a speech about friendship.

Seto Kaiba, one of their classmates, is definitely Not A Friend : he wants to steal and destroy Yuki’s grampa’s super-super-rare card so that himself will be the only player to own any. Also, he owns a massive corporation that gives him access to goons to back him up, and he’s a technological genius who’s designed a holographic system that makes card battles slightly less boring to watch.

For someone who initially looks like a major deal, Kaiba is defeated quite early on ; a new villain with a fancy monocle makes a cameo at the end.

Production Values

Okay-ish, I guess ; the soundtrack makes a game attempts at instilling a bit of atmosphere and tension early on, but nothing can make the card battles entertaining once they’ve started.

Overall Impression

So, yeah. There’s no getting around the fact that Duel Monsters is a very boring game, especially as the rules had yet to be solidified and balanced by any kind of physical release ; it’s basically a very boring game of Kamoulox Calvinball where each turn is basically “see the new attack I’m pulling out of my ass damaging you !” It’s immediately tedious, and a chore to watch.

What’s more striking is the total absence of any explanation of Yugi’s status quo. I know it because of popculture osmosis (and having watched a good chunk of Abridged Series), but you’d think re-establishing the “possessed by a Pharaoh’s spirit” setup would have been a priority for this sequel. Ahah, no, the new viewer is left without any clue to this stuff, aside from Yugi’s bizarre super-powers. That’s a puzzling exposition failure.

Since watching paint dry is more entertaining than any Duel Monsters match, I think I’ll keep to the Abridged Series, thank you.

Source: [In Which I Review] Anime series from 2000 – Page 5

Ping Pong – The Animation

(11 episodes, noitaminA)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a sports manga that ran for a year in 1996-97. Also got a live-action movie a decade ago. Not exactly the most obvious choice for an adaptation, but there’s been weirder greenlights this season.

Characters

“Peco”, the annoyingly smug asshole who skips half the high school club’s training sessions. He’s quite good and does have some charisma, but he certainly deserves a punch in the face.

“Smile”, his best friend (or so it’s said, they barely interact at all here), the taciturn analytical genius who stays in the background. (He never smiles, of course.)

“China”, the transfer student, who used to play in the big leagues in his country, and sees his transfer as a humiliating demotion. This whole club is beneath him, he effortlessly trounces Peco… but Smile does catch his attention.

Production Values

The core selling point here is the name of director Masaaki Yuasa (Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy, Kick-Heart…). It certainly looks like nothing else, with a distinctive super-kinetic style and impressively animated matches.

Overall Impression

The problem is that the show leaves me completely cold. Sure, there’s a lot of technical skill at play here, but there’s very little to latch onto emotionnally until China shows up halfway through to liven things up. Even then, I found the main characters very unlikeable, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to make me care about what happens to them.

This is a caricature of a good chunk of noitaminA shows : an artsy ambitious project that nobody would want to watch. I’ll give it one more episode to turn my opinion around, but it’s on thin ice.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2014 – Page 7.

Baby Steps

(25 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a tennis manga series.

Characters

Eiichirou, our protagonist. Nicknamed “A-chan” for his consistently perfect grades. He has high-level OCD, and his cleanly-written, perfectly-designed notes are admired by the whole class. He’s perfectly okay with lending them out freely (he has spares !), too. See, making all those is integral to his learning process ; that’s the way he can cope with his studies.

Until a year ago, he had no interest whatsoever in tennis ; cue several-episode-long flashback. See, he was aware he needed to practice some sort of physical activity. Most sports clubs were out, as he has only little time available in his busy studying schedule, but that “free tryout!” pamphlet for the tennis club looked interesting.

Natsu, a girl in the next class over, happens to be in that club. Now, he’s no good at dealing with girls, but her dedication to tennis (she secretly wants to become pro) has peeked his interest. She seems to like him too ; she does call him a weirdo all the time, but it’s not mean-spirited.

The idea here (layed out in the flashforward prologue) is that Eiichirou is going to apply his meticulous approach to tennis, apparently with some success.

Production Values

Most of it is okay ; there’s some good animation for the tennis bits… but the character designs are very awkward, obviously lifted from the page without too much care on how they’ll look animated. In particular, the episode ends on a close shot of Natsu where I’m completely unable to discern what expression her face is supposed to be displaying.

Overall Impression

Now, that’s a semi-interesting premise for a sports show : the nerd who uses maths to supplement his play. I’m sure it’s been done before, but the characters are likeable enough, there’s some decent comedic timing, and I’m intrigued enough not to drop it immediately.

I’ll give it one more episode to feel out where it’s going.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2014 – Page 3.

Haikyuu!!

(25 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a volley-ball manga series.

Characters

Shoyo, our protagonist. He’s actually quite good at volleyball, with great speed and jumping ability. Unfortunately, his middle school doesn’t have much of male volleyball club. And by that, I mean he was alone in it for two years, barely got a trio of first-years in his final year, and just about managed to rope two of his friends (who know next to nothing about the sport, being in other clubs) to participate in the district tournament. That they even manage to score some points in the one match they get to play is a miracle. Especially as they’re facing…

Kageyama, one of the local rising stars, very serious about everything he does, and very angry at most of his teammates for underestimating the scrappy underdogs. This is serious, guys, stop taking shortcuts ! And he’s entirely aware of Shoyo’s potential.

By the end of the episode, Shoyo moves to high school, giddy to be joining a proper club that’ll let him have a rematch with his rival… Wait, what are you doing here, Kageyama ?

Production Values

Perfectly okay for this kind of thing.

Overall Impression

Well, it’s a generic sports series, featuring hot-blooded rivals. It’s got the usual message of “never give up !”. It’s competent on every level, with well-placed flashbacks laying out the backstory in the middle of the match, but there’s no real spark or originality to it.

I’m not interested.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2014 – Page 3.