Sword Art Online

(25 episodes)

What’s it about ?

A virtual-reality MMORPG gone horribly wrong.

Characters & Plot

Kirito, our protagonist. He was one of the beta players of this new Sword Art Online game, so now he’s fully prepared for the actual game. Besides “competent” and “very knowledgeable about SAO”, he doesn’t show off much personality yet. And he’s quite nice to…

Klein, the n00b, who stood in line for the midnight release of the game (10K copies in total). Kirito has the patience to teach him the combat system (no magic, only swordplay), and they spend some time killing slime-level encounters in the beginners’ area.

Kayaba, the creator of the game. I have to give him credit for style : when he shows up, it’s with a gigantic avatar literally bleeding from the skies. He announces that (1) the “logout” menu option is now disabled ; (2) outside disconnection of the VR helmet by friends or family will cause the immediate death of the player ; (3) running out of HP will kill the player for real ; and (4) the only way out of the game is to reach the 100th level of the worldmap.

Well, crap. This is gonna be a loooong gaming session…

(There’s a girl prominently featured in promotional material and the ED, but she’s yet to show up.)

Production Values

This is a gorgeous series, full of scenery porn ; for a while it kinda looks like an extended SAO commercial (well, until the death toll starts racking up). The combat sequences look good, and even the extras have a lot of life to them. (Aside from a few glaring static crowd shots during the announcement.)

Overall Impression

On the one hand, this is a very-well executed first episode, perfectly selling the premise and the stakes. The writers clearly made their homework about how MMORPGs and their players work.

On the other hand… it’s a MMORPG. Endless grinding and senseless quests are kinda built in, and I have no clue yet how the series is going to spice it up so that it doesn’t become tedious awfully fast.

Still, that was such a good first episode that I’m keeping an open mind about it.

via [In which I review] New anime, Summer 2012 – Page 11.

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero (Hagure Yuusha no Estetica)

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Magical battles with tons of fanservice.


Akatsuki, our protagonist. He’s just escaped from a fantasy parallel world where he became a magic-wielding badass ; like all the people who came back, he’s automatically enrolled in an academy supposed to keep them under supervision.

Myuu, daughter of the Demonlord, and prophetized to wreak havoc later on. So of course our hero smuggles her (in a bag, naked) into our world and disguises her as his sister.

The student council president shows up, just to prove he’s an arrogant jerk who can hold his own in magical battles.

It’s heavily implied that the academy is way more sinister than it claims. It’s ruled by an Omniscient Council of Vagueness Shrouded in Shadows (the screen is so dark you can’t see anything !), some of whom sound a lot like the battle maids that were trying to stop our hero from leaving Fantasyland.

Production Values

Hello, fanservice ! (There’s little else to say.)

Overall Impression

Hum. There’s the glimmer of an interesting idea here, but the high fanservice level, heavy-handed exposition and murky pacing don’t make me very confident this show can achieve its potential. The male lead has some charisma, but that’s about it.

I’ll be passing on this one.

via [In which I review] New anime, Summer 2012 – Page 11.

Sengoku Collection

What’s it about ?

Gender-swapped Sengoku warlords thrown into the modern world.

Adapted from a cardgame app, because that’s a thing now.


Nobunaga Oda, the only girl who really shows up this episode. She’s shangaied away from her parallel world because… er, it’s not quite clear… and drops from the sky into current Tokyo. She eventually learns she’s not the only one and she’s gonna have to battle others like her to get back to her world, but most of the episode is spent on the culture shock.

She quickly shacks up with a poor random wage-slave dude, who’s somewhat bemused by this weird girl who won’t take no for an answer.

And that’s basically it for the cast this episode.

Production Values

Surprisingly good for this sort of thing. There’s a care to the animation that’s entirely wasted on such a project. (I guess Brains Base had to pay the bills and couldn’t find anything better to do…)

Overall Impression

Gender-swapped Sengoku warlords ? It’s been done already. Girl from a magical world who falls on some guy’s lap and experiences some “hilarious” culture shock ? Done to death too. This series is proof that bringing the two concepts together creates absolutely nothing of worth.

Of course, this show could have been saved through superior execution. But we don’t get that here : the characters are the same boring archetypes as usual, and there’s no spark whatsoever to this. The animation’s good, but that’s not enough to overcome the tediousness of the whole affair.

Pass along, nothing to see here.

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

Haibane Renmei

(13 episodes, 2002)

My previous exposure

The second series I watched that was suggested by this thread ! And, er, that’s it : your descriptions didn’t give me much of an image of the show, and I tried to stay as unspoilt as possible anyway.

What’s it about ?

In what looks like a rural European city (but could really be anywhere), lives a small community of winged teenagers and kids (the titular Haibane, or “Grey Wings”) who hatch full-grown from eggs, get jobs helping around the villagers if they’re old enough, and eventually “fly off” when it’s time for them to move on.

The series follows the viewpoint of Rakka, the latest hatched Haibane, who thus gets to learn the strange customs and rules of the community and grow familiar with the other Haibane along with the audience.

What did I think of it ?

It’s been two weeks since I’ve watched this, and I’m still not sure what I thought of it.

Part of the problem comes from the initial episodes, where some of the Haibane’s customs (as well as the false impression that there are only female Haibane) leave a strong bad taste of Patriarchy. Now, further episodes makes it clear that’s not the case at all (there ARE male Haibane, who are treated exactly the same way ; and the few old men in charge of the system are all but stated to be failed Haibane who try and help the new ones), but that was still not the best first impression for a series to start off with.

Obviously, the series is a blatant metaphor for purgatory, what with the otherwise useless wings/aureolas that the Haibane have, and the general theme of moving beyond one’s past issues in order to go forward. Heck, the climax even deals with a Haibane who committed suicide in her previous life. The symbolism couldn’t be more obvious.

But I don’t particularly care about that. Fortunately, the show also works on a more prosaic level – a newcomer entering a community and progressively blending in, despite learning that she’ll have to go eventually. The slice of life episodes about each girl’s job are my favourite, as are the bits explaining how the community actually works. Who the Haibane were before and where they go after is mostly irrelevant (besides the way it affects their personalities), and I kinda get the feeling that the show agrees with me (what with never showing any of it, or the general message of “you need to get past it”).

Don’t mistake me, I’ve enjoyed watching this show ; I have a thing for slightly off-kilter slice-of-life/drama, Kana’s job pleased my tech geek side, and I enjoyed those characters’ company. But the heavy-handed symbolism didn’t quite click for me, which prevents the series from entering my hall of favourites. Still, I don’t regret buying that boxset sight unseen.

Now and Then, Here and There (Ima, Soko ni Iru Boku)

(13 episodes, 1999)

My previous exposure

This is the first review I’m doing because it’s been recommended in this thread. Beyond that, I don’t know much about the series, aside that (1) it’s grim, and (2) the main villain has been compared to Fractale‘s.

What’s it about ?

Shu, our protagonist, was just an ordinary middle-schooler until he met bizarre blue-haired girl Lala Ru. Before they can have a proper conversation, though, they’re transported into another world and captured by soldiers from Hellywood, the main baddies of the series.

To say that Hellywood is a hellhole is an understatement. This desert fortress is ruled by Hamdo, a raving madman, and ultra-professional yes-woman Abelia. They replenish their army by raiding the villages around them and enrolling the boys by force. (They also take the women and girls for, er, a more long-term approach.) They seek Lala Ru because she holds the power of creating water out of nowhere, which is obviously a hot commodity on this dying desert world.

Other major characters include Sarah, an American girl Abelia mistook for Lala Ru and captured before noticing her mistake ; and Nabuca, the kid leader of the brigade Shu is thrown into after interrogation.

Production Values

I had to double-check the date of production, as the artstyle and character design are something I associate much more with the early 90s or earlier than 1999 (it certainly doesn’t look like any other late-90s show I’ve ever watched). But then, that’s probably the point : it lures us into a false sense of security by looking like “safe” children’s entertainment before wheeling out the torture, mass-slaughter and rape. It takes some getting used to, but the animation is perfectly okay.

The soundtrack comes courtesy of my favourite composer, Taku Iwasaki (you should have told me !). While it’s way too early for him to be randomly inserting rap lyrics everywhere, he’s still very recognizable thanks to his reliance on big sweeping violins numbers and those weird water-y percussions that should be familiar to any watcher of Witch Hunter Robin or Read or Die. It’s sometimes a bit clumsy, but his brillance at establishing mood was already clearly in effect.

What did I think of it ?

Well, this is certainly a grim series. My DVDs include an interview with the director where he states he was inspired by documentaries about African child soldiers, and it certain shows. All of the ways Hellywood perpetuates itself and the cycle of violence are distressingly realistic, and the series doesn’t shy away from explaining the specifics, up to and including institutionalized rape (although it stops just short of depicting it graphically). No character escapes unscathed…

… With the exception of Shu, whose boundless optimism and energy staggers disbelief. (Climbing up ventilation shafts just after being tortured and shot twice ? Uh ?) I can’t complain too much, though ; without him around to protest about how horrible this world is, and actually trying to make things better, the series would fall into an inescapable pit of despair. (Lala Ru’s pretty much resigned herself after thousands of years of being fought over, and Sarah, while perfectly capable of saving herself on her own, was well on her way to join the circle of violence if Shu hadn’t stepped in.) His presence, however implausible his resilience, is the catalyst for change.

And this is where we hit the series’ weakness : while it’s very good at depicting this hellish world and characterizing how nearly everyone is part of the problem, it doesn’t offer much depth beyond that. The whole narrative is subservient to its “war is hell” message, and however good a rendition it is, it doesn’t manage to really rise above it. The issue may be with the characters, who remain mostly one-dimensional throughout.

This is certainly a show worth watching ; but its shortcomings prevent it from really winning a place among my favourites.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 5.

The Vision of Escaflowne

(26 episodes, 1996 + 1 movie, 2000)

My previous exposure

This seems to be the first anime series I ever watched in full, as it aired on French TV in the late 90s. I hadn’t rewatched it ever since, so I thought it’d be interesting to revisit it.

I’d never watched the movie until now, which allows it to barely squid under this thread’s mission statement.

What’s it about ?

Hitomi, an ordinary high-school girl with a gift for fortune-telling, gets suddenly brought by accident to the parallel world of Gaia (a blend of med-fan and steampunk) by Van Fanel, who was busy fighting a dragon as a rite of passage for becoming king of his country. Before anyone can settle down, said country gets destroyed by the big bad empire of Zaibacher, whose stealth mecha are way too powerful for the defensors to handle. So Hitomi and Van are on the run aboard Van’s super-duper-special mecha Escaflowne (whose very existence was the reason Zaibacher attacked for the first place). Along the way, they gather a ragtag group of allies, most notably the litteral knight in shining armor Allen Schezar (and the crew of his flying ship).

This being at least partly a shoujo show, we get lots of Hitomi hesitating whether to pursue a romance with either Allen or Van. Gripping stuff.

The REAL plot of the show involves Zaibacher actually being a tool for Isaac Newton to create a big machine that alters fate and will allow him to recreate Atlantis. No, seriously. The series never quite recovers from that reveal, sadly.

What did I think of it ?

I have mixed feelings about this one.

At the heart of it is a very well-constructed, 16-episode-long chase scene. Despite being a bit repetitive (“Van & Hitomi arrive somewhere, they aren’t really taken seriously, Zaibacher suddenly attacks and our heroes narrowly escape, usually with some more allies in tow” happens, what, five times in a row ?), it manages to showcase some interesting worldbuilding, develop the characters properly, progressively increase the stakes and build towards the big reveal. The fight scenes are mostly well-staged (except Ep #13, which is a bit of a mess), and made all the more thrilling by the top-notch soundtrack (probably the second-best Yoko Kanno has ever composed). It’s hard not to get enthralled when the choirs start going “Es! ca! flow! ne !”…

And then the story stops dead on its tracks with the big reveal. Never mind that it’s very stupid indeed ; that’s not the problem, and to be fair the show had spent a lot of effort before that point to foreshadow it and make it somewhat believable. No, the big issue is that the story loses all momentum. Zaibacher stops being the implacable assaillant it’s been up to now. Our heroes finally find a safe base or operations, just because (which is made worse by it being a place they’ve already visited and found hostile). The show never quite recovers from this, and ends on a whimper. (The climax includes a Van/Allen fight that just feels gratuitous and contrived.)

One subplot I find emblematic is Dilandau’s fate. He’s a great villain in the first half, chewing scenery with gusto and providing the heroes with somebody to fight. Then comes the progressive reveal that he’s actually Allen’s sister manipulated by Zaibacher’s fate-altering machine… and okay, that mostly works in context, despite depriving us of a fun villain. But the finale has him reverting to the original with no memory and no real consequences (aside from setting up that half-assed Van/Allen fight), which just feel like a cheat. This lack of followthrough is pervasive throughout the last few episodes of the series, which alas contribute to bring the whole thing down.

There’s a lot I like here… but I have this nagging feeling that a lot of it comes from the first-class soundtrack elevating it above what it really is.

What about the movie ?

The good part : it does away with most of the series’ most questionable aspects. They’ve managed to completely write Zaibacher out, which is quite an achievement. Dilandau stays who he is throughout. The Van/Hitomi/Allen love triangle is completely absent (Allen has a smaller role, overall).

The bad part : it replaces it all with a by-the-numbers plot with nowhere near the same ambition as the original. To accomodate the plot, Hitomi starts off a lot whinier. And the worldbuilding is much less interesting, with the only flashes of interest coming from leftovers from the series.

But then, there’s only so much you can do with a 95-minute movie. Unlike, say, RahXephon or TTGL, this movie doesn’t even try to cover the same story as the series, and I can’t really fault it for that. It’s a pity it doesn’t manage to build anything really worth watching instead, but I can’t bring myself to hate it. It ain’t horrible : the production values are obviously higher (although the character design has taken a turn for the worse – poor Merle !), the music is still ace, and the plot actually makes more sense… but at the cost of being very generic indeed.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 3.

Battle Girls – Time Paradox (Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox)

(13ish episodes)

What’s it about ?

An ordinary high school girl is transported to a female version of feudal Japan.


Hideyoshi, our protagonist. Late for school, not very bright and utterly superficial. She goes to pray at a local shrine not to mess up with her exams, stumbles on a magic ritual, and that’s how she ends up in feudal Japan. Of course, her first reaction is to mistake everyone for cosplayers and complain about the poor cellphone reception.

Nobunaga Oda, at this stage a local feudal lord in a quest to gather the pieces of a mystical set of armor and conquer Japan. I have no clue why she tolerates Hideyoshi’s antics or has any reason to think she’ll be useful, besides plot convenience. (I mean, Hideyoshi’s Japan History textbook will probably come handy, but it’s introduced too late for that to work as an explanation for Oda’s tolerance.)

Mutsuhide, Oda’s aide, who for some reason looks exactly like one of Hideyoshi’s classmates (are they going for the “it was all a dream” ending ?). Utterly irritated by Hideyoshi, but suffers through it because Oda said so. I can sympathize.

The OP & ED show half a dozen more girls that shall presumably be introduced in later episodes.

Production Values

Well, it could be worse : sure, the outfits (especially Oda’s) are ridiculously stripperific, but we don’t get too many panty shots and the like. Still, to make clear what kind of series we’re watching, the ED shows all the girls naked, with thin strips of fabric overlaid at random to hide the naughty bits.

Overall Impression

It seems like nearly every season there’s one of these (See also : Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls, Koihime†Musou…). It’s not outright terrible, but it’s very generic indeed and offers nothing of note to make it worth watching.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2011 – Page 4.

Without Wings -under the innocent sky- (Ore-tachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai)

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Fuck if I know ; I can’t make head nor tails of the plot. I’ll say “fanservice-heavy harem comedy with a dash of heroic fantasy” to err on the safe side, but even that fails to accurately describe it.


Takashi Haneda is the protagonist of a ridiculously cliché harem, with various girls (his little sister cousin, the aggressive one, the athletic one who lets her mind wander, and a fourth one I can’t quite get a hold of yet) fighting over him before he’s even stepped five feet towards school. Also, we get numerous panty shots and even naked shots of their breasts when they push themselves onto him. And he’s got whiny narration by Hiro Shimono (when did his career devolve into “cliché harem lead” ?). But the lot of them only get 5 minutes of screentime.

The rest of the episode is dedicated to a trio of loser dudes unlucky in love, and desperately trying to set up a drinking party with whatever girls they find. One of them is 35 and owns the bar they hang around at ; the other two look high-school/college-aged. Anyway, the only girls who accept the invite are the part-time waitresses. Overall, it’s a very pathetic scene that makes me loathe everyone involved.

But wait ! Just before and during the ending credits, we see all of them in a heroic-fantasy setting, fighting monsters and the like ! Is this a MMORPG or an actual parallel world they’re escaping into ? I have no clue ! (And why would Haneda need escaping anyway ?)

There’s also a bizarre framing device with radio/TV shows (including an outrageous American-accented DJ) shown in a rapid succession… and I’ve got no clue why they’re doing this.

Production Values

Decent, I suppose. The very heavy fanservice whenever a girl’s on screen is quite annoying, though.

Overall Impression

What the heck is this shit ?

Now, I can understand trying to be a bit creative when adapting yet another harem dating sim. But this is just incoherent crap, with three different narratives that completely fail to coalesce into any coherent whole. It’s probably trying for the “self-parody” angle, but that just makes it more obnoxious.

I hate every single character and it makes no sense whatsoever : avoid like the plague.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2011 – Page 4.

Star Ocean EX

(26 episodes)

What’s it about ?

While investigating bizarre occurrences in a remote star system, a spaceship crashlands on a planet after encountering an unexpected asteroid field. While exploring, a member of the crew finds a portal that transports him to a fantasy world, where a local hails him as the Hero of Legend…


Claude, our protagonist. Son of a hero admiral who saved the galaxy 20 years before. Daddy takes him along on his trips, but does not take him seriously (and given how the brat has yet to display any shred of competence, I kinda agree). Anyway, our “hero” is prone to fits of whiny narration that do absolutely nothing to endear him to me.

Daddy The Admiral himself seems to be a decent sort (and he’s certainly good at saving his ship from random asteroids), and respected by his crew (which seems to consist of only five people, himself and his son included). However, despite him investigating a somewhat interesting plot (did someone send a death-moon to hit a planet ?), it looks like the series will focus on his annoying son’s trip to a fantasy world instead.

Rena, a female elf living in the fantasy world. Mistakes Claude for the Hero of Destiny as she sees him defeat a monster with his raygun (which looks like a sword of light to her). She looks dumb as a sack of bricks.

Production Values

I was under the mistaken impression that this show had a budget, what with the decent CG sequences of space action at the beginning. However, the fantasy action sequences soon resort to still images animated by shaky-cam, and I realized that they’d blown all their cash on the first ten minutes.

Overall Impression

Gods, this is terrible. I didn’t have many expectations from an adaptation of manga that’s itself the sequel of a videogame, but this is by far the second worst show of the season so far. I especially appreciated the bit where it starts as a somewhat decent space opera (despite some warning signs like the insufferable protagonist), and then suddenly jumps into generic-fantasy-land. Way to kill my interest, show.

 Blur effects shouldn't be a substitute for actual animation.
Blur effects shouldn’t be a substitute for actual animation.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2001 – Page 3.

Dog Days

(12 episodes)

What’s it about ?

In a parallel fantasy world, war rages between the kingdom of Biscotti and the Galette Knights. A surprisingly PG war, with no casualties whatsoever and announcers providing step-by-step colour commentary. Oh, and they’ve all got animal ears and tails (Biscotti are dogs, and I think Galette are cats). Anyway, Biscotti are losing, so they call upon a hero from Earth to save them.


Shinku, our protagonist and ordinary high school student. He’s actually an accomplished athlete (coming second in the last big sports tournament, and assiduously training for improvement), and a bit of a showboat. When he’s transported to another world and called a hero, he muses that this must be a dream, so what the heck, and dives in with enthusiasm.

Milchore, the kid ruler of Biscotti, who summons Shinku and exposits the situation to him. She doesn’t show much personality yet, to be honest.

We get to see a few more Biscotti characters, including a couple of elite warriors who get rid of scores of enemy mooks in one spell. Er, weren’t they supposed to be losing ?

Although it might be because the top Galette Knights have yet to deploy – everyone says they’re very impressive, but I’ve yet to see any of that.

Production Values

By the makers of Nanoha ! So you get the obligatory OP by Nana Mizuki, bright and shiny colours everywhere, CG runes galore for every single spell, and loli-style character designs for nearly everyone important (except the “villains”).

Overall Impression

I’m not really sure what to think about this one.

I quite like the twist of war as a harmless sports-like competition, and Mamoru Miyano lends tons of his usual charisma to the protagonist. On the other hand, the Biscotti people are dull and sugary as hell, and the Galette Knights don’t show much promise either.

I’ll probably give it a couple more episodes before judging it.

via [In which I review] New anime, Spring 2011.