First Impressions

First Impressions: God Eater episodes 1-3

Jul 30 // Josh Tolentino
The good news is, that visually, God Eater is one of the best-looking shows I've seen in years. And it's not just getting by on style, either. Ufotable, as is their way, has created a technical tour de force with their newest series, using multi-layered shading and coloring techniques to create a unique look for God Eater, as well as finally make an anime where CG creations - in this case, the Aragami monsters and large parts of the backgrounds - don't stick out like a sore thumb.  That doesn't sound huge on its own, but considering the way CG is employed in most traditional 2D anime, it's significant. The few shows to do it well were often all-CG (like Fireball Charming or, err...Sega Hard Girls) or kept the 2D and 3D portions carefully separated (like Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and Etotama). Even Ufotable itself never quite managed the blend with last season's Unlimited Blade Works adaptation. They kept mostly to digital effects, and the CG still looked awkward and out-of-place when used for things like Caster's skeleton warriors or that red water pouring out of the Holy Grail. In most 2D shows, you can usually tell when something's been modeled someone CG comes in just by looking. Whether it's slightly flat colors or an unusual slowness (or smoothness) to the movement, being able to spot the CG in an anime is the "Conspicuously Light Patch" of its age.  To be perfectly honest, that's still technically true in God Eater. It's easy to tell that the Aragami are mostly done in CG, and it's more evident when both monsters and people are on the screen together. Still, the blend on display is better than ever, to the point that after watching the stream on Daisuki, I deliberately sought out a higher-resolution version of the broadcast to see for myself. God Eater just looks that good. More's the pity, then, that the narrative portions of the show simply don't live up to the lavish visuals. In fact, many of the fears some Ufotable fans had about the studio's ability to take on a "heavy" narrative show after five years adapting Type-MOON's "Nasu-verse" for the screen have proven at least partly true so far. Without the dense (and more importantly pre-existing) fiction of the Fate franchise to back it up, God Eater comes across as an Attack on Titan clone where righteous anger has been replaced by a dreary, somewhat undeserved sense of self-importance. It's not all Ufotable's fault, of course. God Eater compared favorably to Monster Hunter in the story department mainly by virtue of actually having a story. As a TV series, God Eater faces much stronger competition, not least of all Ufotable's own stellar work expanding Unlimited Blade Works, just weeks ago. I'd have hoped that they'd be able to make God Eater's world seem less threadbare than in the game, but instead the early results actually seem more stilted than before. In a bitter irony, the game versions of the characters actually seem livelier than in the anime, despite the anime having more "cutscene" in the first three episodes than in the entirety of the game itself. The setup is simple: Ravenous monsters called "Aragami" have destroyed most of humanity, which now hides behind large walled cities under the administration of FENRIR, which employs "God Eaters", warriors that gain superhuman ability when infused with Oracle Cells (the same ones as in the Aragami). God Eaters wield massive weapons called God Arcs to defend mankind's last sanctuaries against the monstrous hordes.  Lenka Utsugi is a newly recruited God Eater in FENRIR's Far East branch. Quite, stoic, and obsessed with taking vengeance upon the Aragami for eating his loved ones, Lenka's a "New-type", who can wield a new, transforming variant of God Arc. His can turn from a massive sword into a massive gun. Being talented, though, makes no substitute for experience, and Lenka's impulsiveness quickly gets him into trouble, forcing the veterans of the 1st Squad, including laid-back badass Lindow Amamiya and his pals Soma and Sakuya to bail him out. Naturally, the kid's got that "something" about him, and by episode 3, Lenka and the squad are working together, and meeting Alisa, another Russian New-type who's got a great hat and, judging by the underboob, might have had the rest of her outfit chosen by her creepy scientist mentor/father-figure. I'm not the kind of guy to go drawing parallels to Attack on Titan When everyone an anime features gross monsters and the people who fight them in a bleakly-toned story, but in this case the parallels are warranted, and unfortunately leave God Eater wanting. The raw anger and passion that underpinned the mood of Eren Jager's saga is here replaced with a dull kind of stoicism. Lenka's strong-but-silent demeanor may be an improvement from the goofball harem tediousness of the God Eater manga's lead, but not by much, and certainly not enough to make Lenka a better lead overall. Worse, points of characterization and flavor that helped the game set a mood in spite of a barebones plot are excised or missing in action here. Story points that might have made God Eater feel less, for lack of a better word, generic, like the privileged status of the God Eater corps or other dynamics, are nowhere to be found, leaving a by-the-numbers "soldiers at the end of the world" moodiness in its place. To be fair, it's still early going, and the show is already forging some newer territory by using flashbacks to the apparent origin of the Aragami and its involvement with FENRIR's higher-ups. It's a sign that Ufotable is beginning to plumb deeper into the lore, which has historically been a strength of theirs as opposed to natural-feeling characterization. Events are moving at a good clip, too, skipping over some of the game's high school shenanigans (at the time used to lazily deploy exposition without spending on animation), so it might not be long before all of it takes a more intriguing turn. Still, there's no avoiding the sense here that some opportunities to make God Eater a more vibrant setting have been missed, and I've no doubt that at least some viewers not hooked on the visuals were turned away by this early narrative blandness. Heck, I'd probably drop the show if I weren't already interested in seeing my favorite MonHun clone get some love.
God Eater photo
No Free Lunch
I've said time and again that God Eater is one of the best - if not the best - attempt yet by competing publishers to take a sip out of Capcom's giant Monster Hunter milkshake. With God Eater, developer Sh...

First Impressions: Ultraman X episodes 1-2

Jul 27 // Salvador GRodiles
In a clash between a red and purple entity, the two figures collide with Earth’s Sun. This ends up causing the phenomenon that people refer to as the Ultra Flare, which awakens the monsters that were sealed under the planet as Spark Dolls (a.k.a. actual creature SofuBi/soft vinyl figurines). Luckily, a group called XiO was formed to protect the people of our world and our main hero Daichi Oozora ends up become the candidate who unites with the show’s Ultra Warrior. Ultraman X’s plot may sound like your usual setup in a giant monster show, but episode 1’s main charm lies in the battles between the large hero and the huge creatures. To an extent, the battles play out like your action scenes from the Godzilla movies, except that you have a guy who uses martial arts and wrestling moves against his foes. Other than that, the shown didn’t have much going for it since the first episode was focusing on the disaster caused by the Godzilla-like monster known as Demaaga. Sure, we got a glimpse of Daichi’s backstory about his parent’s death, but it wasn’t anything grand to pull most people in. At least his fear of height gave him some flaws that could shape his character later on. Thankfully, the second episode helped raise the program’s quality. If there’s one thing that makes series about an organization trying to save the world, it’s the supporting staff themselves. This was an element that made titles like King of Braves GaoGaiGar and Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters’ first half fun to keep up with. Even though Daichi didn’t stand out much in the beginning, his comrades showed great potential. I mean, this series has a freaking scientist that’s a creepy goofy-looking alien. Honestly, Dr. Gourman’s presence in the show alone was enough to bring in some good laughs while we wait for the huge battle between Ultraman X and the Monster-of-the-Week. Of course, the silly alien isn’t the only character that’s fun since the rest of XiO’s members contribute to the show's segments. Rui’s enthusiasm for research and victory is cute and her interactions with Gourman were priceless. Even though the rest of the team mostly played the role of keeping the dangerous areas under control, the later episodes might flesh them out more. Hell, anyone who fights a giant monster with an advanced bazooka and/or gun deserves some mad props. One of the things that might push Ultraman X is that the hero can summon special armors through the use of the Cyber Monsters, digital creatures that are created from the data of the ones who’re sealed in the Spark Dolls. In a way, it’s almost like they were inspired by the Heisei Kamen Rider shows’ Form-changing gimmick. Sure, this means that the Giant of Light will likely have a bunch of different transformations, but it also lets the team experiment with the show's action scenes, such as the hero gaining the ability to fight with huge claws. Since I’ve heard that Tsuburaya toys mostly focus on the kaiju, this element might help them make the program's hero a more marketable character. Come to think of it, this new path might’ve inspired them to depart from the alien using the main hero as a host (or the Ultra Warrior using a human disguise) since the two Ginga shows and X involve a guy uniting with the Giant of Light through a special device. While XiO’s support vehicles that can dock into other machines are only used to stall the viewers until the big fight, their purpose could help with the merchandising side of things. Who knows, they might pull a Gridman/Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad and have them combine with the hero. For now, they serve as another feature that can help Tsuburaya expand on the show's toys. In regards to the two monsters shown so far, the creatures’ cartoony and pudgy designs give off a nice old-school feeling. While it seems lazy for Tsuburaya to reuse Birdon from Ultraman Taro, the franchise has been known for reusing older beasts, which is usually used to pull older fans in. That and to sell toys of the previous enemies to the new generation of children. Also, the staff's decision to feature a creature that looks like Rodan crossed with a chicken is a nice way to add goofy elements to any action scene. Compare to other children toku franchises like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, I was surprised to see that Ultraman X uses more practical effects than CG. Based on the program's first two episodes, the 3D models might be limited to the XiO defense vehicles. From Birdon’s flying scene to the show’s main fight sequences, the segments ranged from being hilariously cheesy to dynamically entertaining. For example, Birdon's flying segment would've benefited from using a CG creation or having the suit actor flap its wings like an actual bird. Nonetheless, it served as a silly moment before Daichi unites with X. Seeing that this is my first Ultra TV show, I’m not sure if this rule applies to the brand’s previous modern installments. One thing for sure, it shows that relying on mostly practical effects can look great or limit the type of sequences that appear on screen. For the most part, the first two major fights played out nicely and X's new Monster Armors might liven things up even more. With Ultraman X being my second entry into the Ultra franchise, the show has gotten better with each passing episode. Daichi may be a decent character at the moment, but his backstory and his connection to his parents’ Spark Doll might lead to him developing into a better protagonist. For now, the series' neat aspect is that its supporting cast gives off a nice dash of comedy to keep us satisfied until the main battle. Combined with the hero’s ability to equip monster-themed armors, I believe that Tsuburaya’s franchise has reached a new height. I guess you could say that we're in for an Xciting ride. [You can unite with Ultraman X at Crunchyroll and Tsuburaya’s YouTube channel] In a clash between a red and purple entity, the two figures collide with Earth’s Sun. This ends up causing the phenomenon that people refer to as the Ultra Flare, which awakens the monsters that were sealed under the planet as Spark Dolls (a.k.a. actual creature SofuBi toys). Luckily, a group called XiO was formed to protect the people of our world and our main hero Daichi Oozora/group member ends up become the candidate who unites with the show’s Ultra Warrior. Ultraman X’s plot may sound like your usual setup in a giant monster show, but episode 1’s main charm lies in the battles between the large hero and the huge creatures. To an extent, the battles play out like your action scenes from the Godzilla movies, except that you have a guy who uses martial arts and wrestling moves against his foes. Other than that, the shown didn’t have much going for it since the first episode was focusing on the disaster caused by the Godzilla-esque monster known as Demaaga. Sure, we got a glimpse of Daichi’s backstory about his parent’s death, but it wasn’t anything grand to pull most people in. At least his fear of height gave him some flaws that could shape his character later on. Thankfully, the second episode helped raise the program’s quality. If there’s one thing that makes series about an organization trying to save the world, it’s the supporting staff themselves. This was an element that made titles like King of Braves GaoGaiGar and Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters’ first half fun to keep up with. Even though Daichi didn’t stand out much in the beginning, his comrades showed great potential. I mean, this series has a freaking scientist that’s a creepy goofy-looking alien. Honestly, Dr. Gourman’s presence in the show alone is enough to bring in some good laughs while we wait for the huge battle between Ultraman X and the Monster-of-the-Week. Of course, the goofy alien isn’t the only character that’s fun since the rest of XiO’s members contribute to the segments on screen. Rui’s enthusiasm for research and victory is cute and her interactions with Gourman were priceless. Even though the rest of the team mostly played the role of keeping the dangerous areas under control, the later episodes might flesh them out more. Hell, anyone who fights a giant monster with an advanced bazooka and/or gun deserves some mad props. One of the things that might push Ultraman X is that the hero can change his fighting style through the use of the Cyber Monsters, which have the data of the creatures who’re sealed in the Spark Dolls. In a way, it’s almost like they were inspired by the Heisei Kamen Rider shows’ Form-changing gimmick. Sure, this means that the Giant of Light will likely have a ton of different transformations, but it also opens the doorways to more unique fight scenes. Since I’ve heard that Tsuburaya has been struggling with having variety in their toys for their titles, this element might push the franchise in a great new direction. Hell, this new path might’ve inspired them to depart from the alien using the main hero as a host since the two Ginga shows and this one have the guy unite with the Ultra Warrior through a special device. While XiO’s support vehicles that can dock into other machines are only used to stall the viewers until the big fight, their purpose could help with the merchandising side of things. Who knows, they might pull a Gridman/Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad and have them combine with the hero. For now, they serve as another example of this show focusing on selling more toys. In regards to the two monsters shown so far, the creatures’ cartoony and pudgy designs give off a nice old-school feeling. While it seems lazy for Tsuburaya to reuse Birdon from Ultraman Taro, the franchise has been known for reusing older beasts, which is a decent way to pull older fans in. At least it was neat to see the classic beast in action since it looked like a goofy Rodan crossed with a chicken. Compare to other children toku franchises like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, I was surprised to see that Ultraman X uses more practical effects than CG. From Birdon’s flying scene to the show’s main fight sequences, it’s impressive to see that the company didn’t resort to using 3D models during the crazy scenes. Seeing that this is my first Ultra TV show, I’m not sure if this rule applies to the brand’s previous modern installments. One thing for sure, it’s a welcoming aspect that shows that traditional practices can still impress folks— even if they’re cheesy and campy. With Ultraman X being my second entry into the Ultra franchise, the show’s first two episodes hold up to where we can end up with a fun title. Daichi may be a decent character at the moment, but his backstory and his connection to his parents’ Spark Doll might lead to him developing into a better protagonist. For now, the series neat aspect is that its supporting cast gives off a nice dash of comedy to keep us satisfied until the main battle, which balances out nicely. Combined with the hero’s ability to equip special armors, I believe that Tsuburaya’s franchise has reached a new height. I guess you could say that we’re in for a show that’s both exciting and excellent. [You can unite with Ultraman X at Crunchyroll and Tsuburaya’s YouTube channel]
Ultraman X photo
Xanidium Beam!
For a good while, my only experience with the Ultra franchise was Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends, which was directed by Koichi Sakamoto (Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger and Ultraman Ginga S’ Director). Honestly, I&rs...

First Impressions: GATE episodes 1-3

Jul 23 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, future episodes of GATE could prove me entirely wrong. The game of subtext is a perilous thing, and if you can find strange ultranationalist right-wing readings in everything from Mahouka to Knights of Sidonia to Attack on Titan, a show that openly stars members of the actual Japanese military (or "Self-Defense Force" if you want to get technical) is even more vulnerable to that kind of examination. Still, based on the evidence at hand, GATE is a perfectly serviceable fantasy with an interesting nerd-catnip hook. It's the hook that does more work than any one aspect of the show thus far. After all, for about as long as fantasy fiction has existed as a genre, people have been wondering how the medieval, swords-and-sorcery mores of your average Tolkienesque would match up against the grim products of the military-industrial complex. Put plain, we've always wanted to see how Gandalf, Frodo, or Sauron might fare against a machine gun, tank cannon, or jet fighter. If you think that sounds likes a simplistic sort of thrill to base an anime on, you're right. "Guns vs. Dragons" is only a few steps removed from "Boobs" on the scale of primal urges driving creativity, but that doesn't mean thought can't be put into its execution, and on that front, GATE does deliver. A portal opens up in the middle of a Ginza thoroughfare, belching out tens of thousands of orcs, ogres, pig-men, quasi-Roman soldiers, and assorted fantasy staples to wreak havoc on Tokyo's innocents. The man in just the right time and place is 33-year-old Youji Itami, an off-duty soldier and doujinshi-loving otaku, whose training helps save lives just in time for the army to repel the invasion. Fast forward three months and a new Prime Minister (I like this particular off-hand joke about how long it takes to get things done) wants to flex Glorious Nippon's muscle by sending a couple of divisions of Self-Defense Force troops through the titular "Gate", to secure a place on the other side and force the dastardly invaders into negotiations.  One incursion and a second slaughter of fantasy troops later, and Youji is placed in charge of a recon team assigned to probe the countryside on "hearts and minds" duty, which is where the story begins proper, complete with a dragon fight, elf-lady rescue, and the requisite encounter with a gothic lolita (named "Rory", no less) demigoddess. This is the point where GATE reveals itself less to be some strange creature born of secret militaristic urges than a spinoff of the now monolithic "trapped in another world" subgenre of light novel adventures. It is kissing cousins less with preachy alt-history explorations like Zipang or The Final Countdown than with genre, er..."classics" like Familiar of Zero, Sword Art Online, and even Log Horizon.  Its closest relative would be Outbreak Company, though the otaku pandering in GATE is so far limited to portraying Youji and his pal as unashamed geeks and pushing the story into familiar harem-assembly patterns. Already you can see the shape of the show's romantic polygon as the taciturn wizard, bouncy elf, saucy goddess, and normal fellow-human girls take their places in the roster. Honestly the main thing that distinguishes GATE's storytelling has been in the soldiers themselves. Given that creator Takumi Yanai was formerly in the JSDF, it's hardly surprising that the story would be friendly to "the troops", but in light of that history, it's also telling about just which parts of the service GATE is happiest to play up. While the blowout victories against the natives is predictable, the shows spends most of its time showing off Youji and his comrades less as warriors than public servants. Most of the soldier glory shots in the opening sequence are of folks in uniform generally being helpful, pulling carts out of ditches and giving rides to refugees fleeing a dragon attack. Youji himself displays an unusual (for typical portrayals of soldiers, at least) wariness of force and its use, refusing to call for backup to avoid risking innocents or provoking the enemy, and generally being a laid-back, intuitive leader. The shades of Irresponsible Captain Tylor And Yang Wen-li are welcome, and help defuse the potential for jingoistic chest-beating in the early goings. Even the enemy gets comparatively sensitive treatment, with the rank and file types portrayed more as victims in a power play wrought by craven leadership (on both sides of the Gate) than bloodthirsty savages. If there's one thing that doesn't quite square with this even-handed treatment, it's in the abject slaughter and seemingly effortless victory of the modern forces. I mean, sure they've got machine guns and artillery support, but it just doesn't feel right that they're effortlessly gunning down a hundred thousand troops in a single night's battle. By all logic the mere first round of shelling and gunfire should've balked the enemy into routing or stalemate rather than to just dumbly march into the bullets, no matter how foolhardy the generals. I'm not any kind of realism purist here, but the body count just seems unnecessarily inflated to make the disparity in force more dramatic. Besides that, GATE shows a lot of potential to be a fun and eminently watchable bit of summer anime. With a bit of luck, it won't get too bogged down in the less compelling harem wish-fulfillment aspects, further capitalizing on its hook and sensitive characterization.
GATE photo
Hellish Dragon v. Hellfire Missiles
Confession time: When I first set out to write about GATE, I was actually prepared to defend it. That's a weird stance to take with regards to a program I had yet to even watch, I'll admit, but I really was about to get all p...


First Impressions: GANGSTA

Jul 12 // Anthony Redgrave
GANGSTA has more in line with Panty and Stocking than 50 cent's thug life despite the title's connotation. The similarities with the rude, crude angels begin with partner mercenaries specialising in different weapons and having hearts of gold and end as it's an action anime rather than cartoony comedy. Nicolas and Worick are in the business of dealing death to enemies too risky for the police and being shouted at by the captain for their methods. A classic set up that would be tired if not for the interesting leads. Nicolas is the muscle and Worick is the silver-tongued negotiator making for an endearing duo that work well together. The show is not for the faint hearted as it's a mature show with a capital M. Drugs, murder, abuse to women, and bloodshed is present in each episode. The dialogue doesn't pull punches as it dishes out racial slurs, explicative insults degrading women and crude language making the show feel and sound like a violent dystopia. Fortunately, the show isn't all doom and gloom as the characters are very charming and colourful as mentioned before. The art style is warm to contrast with the majority of the characters decked in dark threads. Black shadow accent the unsavoury and rough nature of the show. The show's character design is attractive despite its thematically ugly world and I have not seen any major animation hiccups in the first two episodes. GANGSTA will be something I continue with during this season. I'm a fan of the action and the unpleasantness world is something I adore in fiction especially when they have likeable heroes that I can root for. The aesthetics are a beautiful topping on this delicious piece of anime.   [GANGSTA streams on FUNimation] GANGSTA is more in line with Panty and Stocking than 50 cent's thug life despite the title's connotation. The similarities with the rude, crude, angels begin with partner mercenaries dubbed Handymen specialising in different weapon and having hearts of gold and end as this is more action orientated than cartoony comedy. Nicolas and Worick are in the business of dealing death to enemies too risque for the police and subsequently being shouted down by the commissioner. A classic set up in many works of fiction that would be overplayed if not for the interesting leads. Nicolas is the muscle and Worick is the silver-tongued negotiator making for an endearing duo that work well together. The show is not for the faint hearted it's a mature show with a capital M. Drugs, murder, verbal and physical abuse to women, and blood flows rampant in each episode. The dialogue doesn't pull punches when it comes to racial slurs, explicative insults, and degrading women making the show feel and sound like a violent dystopia. Fortunately, the show isn't all doom and gloom as the characters are very charming and colourful as mentioned before. The art style is bright and warm to contrast with the majority of the characters that choose dark themed threads. The show's character design is attractive despite the thematically ugly world and I have not seen any major animation hiccups in the first two episodes. GANGSTA will be something I continue with during this season. Although the story is still ramping up, I like the world and it's inhabitants. I'm a fan of dystopian worlds like Fallout and the main leads are likeable enough to keep me engaged with their exploits.
GANGSTA photo
Violence! Racism! Misogyny!
Truncated versions of words bug the hell out of me. I always hear it in my mind's ear being spoken by an loud spoken and arrogant individual; 'GANGSTA!' emphasis on the -STA part with a line a spit flickering from their ...

Japanator's Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide!

Jul 04 // Josh Tolentino
New Series: [embed]33867:4893:0[/embed] Gangsta. Studio: Manglobe (Deadman Wonderland, Ergo Proxy, The World God Only Knows) Director: Shukou Murase (Ergo Proxy, Genocidal Organ) Broadcasting: July 1, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) One of my pet armchair-anime-historian theories is that the true successors to the hyper-masculine era of anime and manga in the '80s and early '90s, the heirs to the likes of Fist of the North Star and its ilk, aren't the "superhero" titles of the modern day, but gritty, crime-and-violence action franchises, of which Black Lagoon stands as current exemplar. That's just a fancy way of me saying that Gangsta., whose title and content seem to originate from two different facets of criminal pop culture, is after that crown, like Jormungand was not so long ago. While I have my doubts that it can make off with it, considering the high regard Black Lagoon still commands these days, the saga of two badasses who pull crazy jobs for both cop and crim alike, stands to be an enjoyable action romp. It's also out right now!   [embed]33867:4894:0[/embed] Chaos Dragon Studio: Silver Link (Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya, Watamote) Director: Masato Matsune  Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Hey, kids! You know what's cool? The works of Gen Urobuchi, Kinoko Nasu, Ryougo Narita, and Makoto Sanda, that's what! Their combined record of creativity boasts such titles Madoka Magica, Fate/stay night, Durarara!! and Record of Lodoss War. Therefore, Chaos Dragon, which brings all these creators under one project's roof, should be at least five times as awesome as any single one, right? Well, maybe. The "too many cooks in the kitchen" adage still holds true in most things, though there's no denying the appeal of wanting to see what results when you put a number of famous talents in a room, have them play Dungeons & Dragons, then adapt the transcripts into a real live anime series.    [embed]33867:4895:0[/embed] Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Seiji Kishi (Angel Beats!, Persona 4 The Golden Animation) Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) The honor of this summer's first official simulcast debut goes to Rampo Kitan, which also happens to be commemorating a whole host of other occasions, including the return of detective-themed anime after a brief surge in popularity a few years ago (when you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of take on loli Sherlock Holmes), and the 50th anniversary of the death of Edogawa Rampo, a famous Japanese mystery novelist.  I've never been much of a fan of mystery fiction, so I honestly couldn't tell you if we're seeing much of Rampo's work or influences in Rampo Kitan, but he's an author of a similar era to Ango Sakaguchi, who wrote the book that another 2011's somewhat overlooked detective anime Un-Go is based on. Rampo Kitan appears to be angling to push similar buttons.   [embed]33867:4896:0[/embed] GATE Studio: A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Anohana) Director: Takahiko Kyogoku (Love Live! School Idol Project) Broadcasting: July 2, 2015 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) One of the most enduring and - I'll freely admit - fun thought exercises in nerd culture is trying to find out how people from the real world would fare in the many fantastical settings preferred by genre fiction. This usually takes the form of "If you lived in [Insert Fantasy Setting Here], how would you do?"-types of questions, but one particularly popular mutation of that exercise is pitting fantasy against reality, usually a bunch of dudes with guns and tanks against things like dragons, elves, and other magical creatures. It's a staple of everything from Reign of Fire to Pax Romana, even to recent anime like Outbreak Company and arguably the now massive "stuck in a game" subgenre. GATE is a slightly different beast, though, in that it tosses the real-life Japan Self-Defense Force trough a magic portal full of monsters, elves, and lolita mages. In fact, the promo visuals for GATE looks like a Call of Duty or Battlefield soldier accidentally got copy-pasted onto the box art of a Compile Heart JRPG. This could be an interesting watch, provided one tries not to look too hard at the potential for right-wing-nutjob-levels of subtext.   [embed]33867:4897:0[/embed] SHIMONETA: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist Studio: J.C. Staff (Danmachi, Food Wars) Director: Youhei Suzuki (The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat, Aki no Kanade) Broadcasting: July 4, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Right as America celebrates its freedom from the oppression of the British, another world celebrates the freedom for high schoolers to run around telling filthy jokes and yelling about copulation, intercourse, and all the less-polite terminology for sexual congress between consenting adults. Expect to hear a lot of screeching, see a lot of fan service, and detect comically obvious subtextual criticism of recent "youth development" legislation with the potential to affect pop culture content.   [embed]33867:4898:0[/embed] God Eater Studio: Ufotable (Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Fate/Zero) Director: Takayuki Hirao (GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack, Magical Sisters Yoyo & Nene) Broadcasting: July 3, 2015 (Streaming on Daisuki) Considering how much I got hyped up for Unlimited Blade Works, being excited about Ufotable's latest project, now that they're nominally free of the Nasuverse's clutches (at least until they start crunching on the Heaven's Feel movie), should be a no-brainer. And it is! I am indeed hyped, for God Eater is my favorite Monster Hunter competitor, and it's got a style all its own. In fact, it's just stylish enough and takes itself seriously enough that the Ufotable of this era is the perfect studio to pick it up. I'm already mildly optimistic thanks to their choice of a new, original protagonist to replace the canonical putz that is the manga-based "Yuu Kannagi". This new guy seems to be constructed more in the Eren Jaeger mold of being really mad at monsters, but it should at least make for more engaging character dynamics than the boringly earnest audience stand-in. Not that it even matters, given that the game's protagonists are fully customizable by default, anyway. In any case, if God Eater ends up being a lavishly animated action romp and no more, it'll have done its job perfectly.   [embed]33867:4899:0[/embed] School-Live! (Gakkou Gurashi!) Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Masaomi Ando (White Album 2, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse) Broadcasting: July 9, 2015 (Licensed by Sentai Filmworks) Three schoolgirls have an impossibly idyllic high school life. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that they're hallucinating, and in fact they're the only survivors of a zombie apocalypse and are trying to survive.  It's a deliciously weird premise that sounds right up the alley of the staff, many of whom are veterans from Gen Urobuchi's Nitroplus, an outfit long known for disturbing and tragic stories. Some folks are describing the manga this is based on as a real emotional rollercoaster (one that mostly angles down), but I'm not fully convinced of that yet. If nothing else, it does promise to be something outside the norm for typical "everyday life" fare.   [embed]33867:4900:0[/embed] Prison School Studio: J.C. Staff (Danmachi, Food Wars) Director: Tsutomu Mizushima (Girls und Panzer, Shirobako) Broadcasting: July 10, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Five men. A thousand women. One high school. That's normally a setup I wouldn't pay a huge amount of attention to, and if I'm honest, I'm mainly interested in Prison School just by virtue of it's being attached to Director Tsutomu Mizushima. Pretty much every show of his that I've watched has ended up on my favorites list (though admittedly I haven't seen it all), and I see no reason to stop giving him opportunities to add to it.  Besides, the Prison School manga has apparently garnered a reputation as a hilarious (if divisive) satire of the whole "harem high school" concept. Here, the few men at a formerly all-girls school are treated less like kings (as is the common conceit) and more like prey, which, honestly, is the far more likely scenario.   [embed]33867:4901:0[/embed] Everyday Life with Monster Girls Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom) Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara (Arve Rezzle, Yatterman Night) Broadcasting: July 7, 2015 Well, it took 'em long enough. Ever since a little comic called "Life with Lamia" made its way off Pixiv some years ago, I had been expecting someone to go and make a proper anime out of the whole "Monster Girl" conceit. As a natural extension of the whole catgirl phenomenon, it was inevitable, but I am genuinely surprised it didn't happen sooner. Unfortunately, though, besides the many amazing athropomorphizations of various mythical beasts and creatures, the show itself appears to be a standard harem/fan service rom-com. Not that anyone would expect that much different from a show titled "everyday life". Plus, that's, like, the whole appeal of monster girls anyway.   [embed]33867:4902:0[/embed] Actually, I Am (My Monster Secret) Studio: TMS Entertainment (Yowapeda, Zetman) Director: Yasutaka Yamamoto (Hero Bank) Broadcasting: July 6, 2015 (Streaming via Crunchyroll) "Actually, I Am"...what? What is she? The answer to that question would depend on who you ask, and forms the central conceit of this season's other monster girl anime, as a milquetoast young man who can't keep a secret to save his life is charged with concealing the true, monstrous natures of his female friends from the general public. Fans of the less human aspects of the monster girl concept might be a bit disappointed initially, seeing as the monsters hinted so far trend towards humanoid types like vampires and aliens and things that aren't lamias or snake-women. That said, I'm getting a bit of a similar vibe here to Spring's Yamada-kun and Seven Witches, so that could end up a net gain.    [embed]33867:4903:0[/embed] Overlord Studio: MADHOUSE (My Love STORY!!, The Tatami Galaxy) Director: Naoyuki Itou (Digimon: Data Squad, Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge) Broadcasting: July 7, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Oh look, another anime where a dude gets stuck in an online RPG game world made real. How novel!  It's easy to dismiss this rapidly growing subgenre with a yawn, but I'd be lying if I said that the gamer within me isn't at least mildly interested. Besides, there does seem to be a bit of a twist in MADHOUSE's latest, with our lead not merely trapped in his game, but reincarnated into the role of the title's final boss, the titular, skeleton-bodied Overlord. That's a trope in and of itself, but hey, at least it's not yet another story about an ace gamer dude meeting with unending success as usual.   [embed]33867:4904:0[/embed] Snow White with the Red Hair  Studio: BONES (Captain Earth, Heroman) Director: Masahiro Ando (Sword of the Stranger, Blast of Tempest) Broadcasting: July 6, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) Fairy tale deconstruction, thy name is "Snow White". Good old "Shirayukihime" is anime's go-to character whenever Glorious Nippon wants to take on the roots of western fantasy fiction. That said, there's not a whole lot here to promote the thought that this might be the next Ookami-san, either, with the Snow White in question being a red-headed commoner who flees a forced marriage to the local prince with the help of a young noble named Zen. Romance and fantasy tourism ensue. That actually works for me. After all, not every fantastical setting has to be milked for epic adventure, and some of my favorite fantasy anime are low-key explorations of an exotic land with a side of feelings, rather than rollicking action. And it'll be interesting to see BONES get back on that particular genre horse after a long time.   [embed]33867:4905:0[/embed] Sky Wizards Academy Studio: Diomedea (Kantai Collection, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!) Director: Takayuki Inagaki (Desert Punk) Broadcasting: July 8, 2015 (Streaming via Funimation) You know that feeling you get when you look at an anime poster or even just hear its title and feel like you can predict the plot, characterization, and setting details from all that? And you're not cheating because it's one of those deliberately obvious light novel titles? That's the vibe I'm getting off Sky Wizards Academy right about now, with its story about a magical academy of (wait for it) Sky Wizards and the one disgraced ace wizard who takes on a class of misfit young girl wizards.  This, of course, is not to say that it can't be good or enjoyable, or even that my predictions will be wrong. It's just fascinating to see how even in a nominally creative industry you can still produce artistic works that just outwardly *scream* "product", if you get my meaning.   [embed]33867:4906:0[/embed] Charlotte Studio: P.A. Works (Shirobako, Hanasaku Iroha) Director: Yoshiyuki Asai Broadcasting: July 4, 2015 (Broadcasting on Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Daisuki) Pay no attention to the Director credit on Charlotte (sorry, Asai-san), because the big name here is Jun Maeda, he of Key and Sad Girls in Snow. Maeda is like M. Night Shyamalan for anime feelings, in the sense that pretty much everyone who knows his name likes to think they know exactly what he's doing when he does things. Whether or not that notion is actually true doesn't even matter.  In any case, it's also big because Charlotte is Maeda's first anime original since Angel Beats!, with much of the same team at P.A. Works helping produce it. Personally I liked Angel Beats!. Cliche as it was I did derive properly satisfying feels from all the tragic backstory. Ironically, though, it was the romantic bits that I bounced off of. Perhaps it's a good sign for me, then, that the action-to-melodrama balance of the trailer leans more towards the former?   [embed]33867:4907:0[/embed] Classroom Crisis Studio: Lay-duce (Go! Go! 575, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad) Director: Kenji Nagasaki (Gundam Build Fighters, Gundam 00) Broadcasting: July 3, 2015 (Streaming on Daisuki and Crunchyroll) Despite the rather banal high-school-students-with-jobs conceit and its classification as a rom-com, Classroom Crisis might just be this season's show to get the sci-fi juices flowing. Sure, the kids are in high school and have jobs, but when the high school is on frickin' Mars, and the jobs are designing custom spaceships, then you've got my attention.   Sequels, Shorts and Other Notables I've never really believed in the concept of the "Summer Doldrums", but thankfully for anime preview writers who are running terribly late, this summer is strangely stuffed with sequels and short-form productions. Most prominent there would be the new Dragon Ball Super, the first actual sequel to the Dragon Ball Story in nearly two decades. I've never been much of a Dragon Ball person, but it is quite exciting to see that segment of the fandom get all excited again. Then there's the continuation of Durarara!! x2, with the Ten portion of that arc getting its due, ideally this time with the studio not forgetting to animate entire portions of the final episode. The divisive Gatchaman Crowds also gets a second dip, where people may once more fall in love (or hate) with the way Hajime talks. I think it's cute, for the record. Also of interest is Aquarion Logos, a quasi-sequel to Aquarion EVOL, which turned out to not be a sequel to Aquarion at all. Non Non Biyori, Wagnaria, To LOVE Ru, Junjou Romantica and Hetalia also get new seasons after a lengthy absence from the scene, as well as a third (!) season of Fate Prisma Illya, which I honestly didn't think possible. Then again, Symphogear is also getting a third season this summer, so I guess anything is possible if you IMASINE it. Idolmaster Cinderella Girls continues the saga of me almost regretting calling myself an Idolmaster fan when I just can't get into all these new cast members.  Short anime really have come into their own after treasures like Tonari no Seki-kun and, er, Sega Hard Girls, which means that there are even more of them around now across an ever-expanding line of premises. You've got the usual idol and everyday life fodder like Danchigai, Sore ga Seiyuu!, Million Doll, and Wakaba Girl, but also in the margins are weird things like Pillow Boys a show about body pillows turned into cute boys, and Wakako-zake, a show about Miyuki Sawashiro visiting pubs and getting plastered. Even cute-bait and boobs anime have made a jump to the short format, with My Wife Is The Student Council President! and Himouto! Umaru-chan and the so-obvious-I-barely-need-to-preview-it Bikini Warriors. Life is good if you've only got 5-10 minutes to spare in your life for anime-viewing. And that's most of what she wrote! What are you watching this season? [embed]33867:4893:0[/embed] School-Live! (Gakkou Gurashi!) Studio: Lerche (Carnival Phantasm, Assassination Classroom)
Summer Anime Preview! photo
The Heat Is On
The Summer is nigh and the sun is out, and you know what that means, folks: Huddle indoors and watch Japanese cartoons! Well, come to think of it, that's our solution to every season, but hey, we're probably biased. After all...

First Impressions: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

May 18 // Nick Valdez
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma is a simple premise heightened by its presentation (like how Duck a l'Orange sounds better than it actually is thanks to its name). Yukihira Souma runs a diner with his father, and his dream is to one day surpass his father’s cooking prowess. When his father takes a job in America and closes the diner, Souma is shipped to Totsuki Culinary Academy, an elite cooking school where only 10% of students who enroll graduate. But those who do graduate become top figures in the cooking world. There he comes across a bevy of characters like the “God Tongue” Erina, the “Meat Master” Ikumi, and the oh so cute Tadaroko. There’s quite a bit of hefty production thrown behind what’s essentially a cooking show. I don’t really know what to think of it. At times it feels satirical since the fan service is so explicitly comedic (but ultimately superfluous), and a lot of the animation budget goes into making the cooking scenes flow with more vigor (thus resembling Shonen Jump’s more “action” filled anime), but it's meant to be taken at face value. The presentation almost hampers the subject material. It’s like the anime isn’t taking itself seriously. And while that does make for a good watch week to week, it’s hard to discern whether or not the studio is a good chef when they keep adding differing flavors each time. For example, a lot of the background music doesn't fit. When Souma cooks for Erina to get into Totsuki in the second episode, the music seems to be pushing the action faster than it actually is. Then you have moments of denouement after the action as the recipes are explained that are ruined by that music as well. It’s a weird quirk that I hope gets fixed in the episodes to come. But everything else is great! Character designs flow well, the fan service is just too ridiculous to be off putting (though you'll want to turn your volume down when girls eat and that gets super annoying), and there's a decent of amount of humor that lands. When Food Wars! isn't going for a cheap gag, it's spot on. At the very least, there are a number of actual cooking tips. Some of the recipes featured on the show are quite attainable and are developed enough to recreate. That's a nice touch since this definitely could've been a food anime that didn't care whether or not it served up actual food.  For as much there is to like about Food Wars, there are as many compelling reasons to avoid it. It’s a show that deals in extremes, and the constant overreaching will most likely hurt it in the long run. It’s possible that I gel with the cheesy premise now, but, as with any overly comedic show, the premise will tire out if it’s at a constant state of heightened reality. It’s one of those “style over substance” things. It’s like sitting in an all-you-can-eat buffet and being sickened by the taste of food after a few hours. Regardless of how much you think you can handle, you bust when you’re overfed. If Food Wars constantly keeps up this stylized world rather than have confidence that its show could exist without all the hubbub going on the background, it won’t keep my attention for long. But I’ve been hooked for time being. When it hits, it hits hard. And of course, Tadaroko is the best. 
Food Wars Impressions photo
Marry me, Tadaroko
I’ve had a lot of trouble catching on to anime over the years, but every so often there’s a show that sounds so incredibly insane that I can’t help but watch it. That’s how I got reeled into a shows li...

First Impressions: Garo: Gold Storm Soar

May 04 // Salvador GRodiles
Just like Garo: Makai no Hana's early episodes, the sixth series throws us into the main conflict. In this installment, two mysterious figures called Zinga and Amily are behind the increase in Horror activity in the surrounding area, which leads up to them releasing Ladan, another powerful Horror, from its seal. In other words, Ryuga and Rian are in for a mission where they have to prevent these two figures from completing in their plan. Compare to the previous toku series, Gold Storm’s basic premise doesn’t do too much to pull viewers in. Instead, the show’s big appeal is getting to see Ryuga and Rian in action again. Seeing that it’s been a good while since Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, the staff manage to show us that their characters have grown from back then. Ryuga seems to be more aware of his environment in battle, and Rian continues to mess with her opponents while using a gun and brush in combat. All in all, as a person who enjoyed the third Garo series, the main cast's evolution was a nice way to spice up the story. That, and Ryuga’s shuriken-shooting sheathe is an amazing way to make the guy stand out from Kouga, Raiga, and Leon. As nice as it was to see Ryuga and Rian again, the series fell short of delivering a solid performance. Sure, the show established the main conflict early on, but show’s tendency to rely on CG Horrors prevents it from reaching the same level of greatness found in the Kouga and Raiga Garo installments. Unfortunately, this continues to be a trend in Gold Storm’s second and third episode, which means that the franchise’s team might be saving the Horror costume designs for the upcoming Garo movie that stars Raiga from Makai no Hana. Nonetheless, the action choreography between the human characters continue to be a treat, since the action's still dynamic and well-shot. On top of that, each Horror-of-the-Week sports a unique design, which is an improvement over the third installment's decision to mostly feature the same creature models. Speaking of improvements, Ryuga’s battles as the Golden Knight utilize a new-and-improved Garo suit, which shows that the team’s still capable of creating cool outfits. From the detail in the armor's neck to the shoulders' new shapes, the current costume is a nice change from the one that was featured in the earlier titles. If anything, this is one factor that’s an improvement over the third series in the franchise, since we get to see the Armor’s Suit Actor partake in more stunts. Interestingly, Masahiro Inoue (Kamen Rider Decade’s Tsukasa/Decade) appears in the series as Zinga, which means that he’s retained his title as the Destroyer of Worlds. Based on his performance so far, he might evolve into an interesting villain later on. I guess it’ll all depend on how he interacts with the show’s cast during the first major encounter. For now, it's hard to determine whether he'll be a good or terrible villain, since his appearances have been brief for now. In terms of continuity, Gold Storm doesn’t require for its viewers to be familiar with its prequel film. Judging from the show’s first three episodes, the only thing that people likely missed out on was the introduction of D. Ringo, his assistant Yukihime, and Ryume, the show’s main Watch Dog. While these characters likely played a big supporting role in series’ prequel, the two shopkeepers seem to provide Ryuga with any information about his targets. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that they’ll be more fleshed out in this installment, so viewers shouldn’t worry about feeling left out. Seeing the Gold Storm TV show’s premise is different from its movie, the program’s timeline won’t be an issue here. Even though Gold Storm lacks the same strengths that made Makai no Hana’s beginning worthwhile, the show still has the potential to be a good installment for the franchise. Since the program’s been leaving us with hints of Zinga and Amili plan for Ladan, I’m certain that the plot’ll get juicier in the later weeks to come. Hopefully, we’ll get to see some actual new Horror costumes in future episodes, since it’s one of the fine ingredients that make the Garo franchise great. Considering that the series’ visuals are an improvement from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness, this is a great sign that Amemiya’s direction will turn this program into a shining success-- even if the well-designed Monster-of-the-Week suits are absent.
Garo photo
Ryuga is back, baby!
Back when it was announced that Ryuga from Garo: The One Who Shines in the Darkness would appear in a new Garo series, there are two possible outcomes that could come out of this. On one hand, we get to see Ryuga as a more ex...

First Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

Apr 30 // Nicole Helmeid
Makoto Sunakawa looks like the stereotypical shoujo protagonist, but is actually Gouda's best friend since childhood. Quiet, seemingly cold, and good-looking, he receives many confessions from girls but turns them all down. One day they are riding the train when Sunakawa spots a girl getting groped by a strange man.  Gouda steps in and saves the girl, named Rinko Yamato, who falls in love with Gouda at first sight.  She begins baking sweets for Gouda regularly to thank him.  Gouda has a crush on Yamato but since he is used to girls not liking him, he believes Yamato is in love with Sunakawa.  He vows to help them become a couple while being oblivious to Yamato’s advances. The anime is currently on episode 4, and it has proven it can skewer the stereotypes of the genre while still being funny and romantic.  One of the aspects of shoujo that drives me crazy is a character’s inability to realize their romantic interest likes them back.  The annoying “will they or won’t they” then drags on for the whole series. Thankfully My Love STORY!! doesn’t fall into this trap, even though Gouda is thickheaded enough for it to be a believable plot point.  Thanks to a trick pulled off by Sunakawa,  Yamato and Gouda confess to each other and are surrounded by sparkly shoujo bubble bliss.  Madhouse’s animation is another great characteristic of this series, and you will especially appreciate it if you are an avid manga reader.   Sunakawa’s written thoughts and the aforementioned shoujo backgrounds always give me a laugh.  Since this is still a shoujo series I’m excited to see what drama is in-store for this atypical couple.   [You can watch MY Love STORY!! at Crunchyroll with new episodes every Wednesday.]
MY Love STORY!! photo
Nice guys finish first
 MY Love Story!! (or Ore Monogatari!!) is an unconventional shoujo manga that’s received an anime adaptation this season.  The story follows unlikely protagonist Takeo Gouda, an extremely tall and strong high ...

Impressions: Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

Apr 19 // Josh Tolentino
I'll get back to that "era" thing I mentioned in a bit. But first, a bit of background. I didn't "drop" the site recaps of Sidonia halfway through out of dislike. On the contrary, by my reckoning, it's easily one of the best science fiction anime in years, though to be fair, that's not saying much considering the state of anime these days. Still, the point is Knights of Sidonia's good, and the best thing about it is that it's one of the few shows that really builds a sense of place into the setting. In a medium not especially well-known for subtlety, the show is a comparative master class in giving the viewer a sense of the kind of home the Sidonia is without resorting to lectures or explicit narration. Sci-fi and fantasy settings, due to being different from the world we know, are especially prone to falling into that expository pit. Despite my love for them, series like Log Horizon, Fate/stay night, and even Legend of the Galactic Heroes should serve as cautionary tales against that tendency. Knights of Sidonia has its own moments of "lore-dumping", but manages to cut down on that need by using things like environmental cues to communicate the state of the world and other key world-building tasks. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, though. Sidonia is, after all, is based on the work of Tsutomu Nihei, who created an entire sci-fi setting in Blame! and its related manga, and communicated that world through many, many, painfully detailed environmental frames, often without dialog or even activity.  What's interesting here is how Polygon Pictures has approached world-building in this adaptation, partly due to the differences between Nihei's hand-drawn artwork and their use of CGI. In the manga, Sidonia is portrayed as a very "lived-in" space, having been home to what might be the last of humankind for hundreds of generations. In the manga panels and the commercial-break eyecatches on the show, it almost looks as if the climbing, wall-mounted living spaces onboard the Sidonia (Side note: The "vertical" orientation even serves as a clue related to how the ship is laid out!) were carved straight from the concrete/asteroid hull, like the humans of the far future lived in a spaceborne rendition of Meteora.  By comparison (and particularly in the less graphically-impressive first season), the CGI version of the Sidonia looks cleaner and more sterile. Lines are straighter, corners sharper, and curves less curvy. Part of that was due to the CGI models being unable to fully represent the "grit" of the worn-down, lived-in nature of life onboard Sidonia. Polygon Pictures seemed to know that, but rather than settle for what would ultimately be an "inferior" representation of the manga's world, they leveraged Nihei's vision of Sidonia life into a visual style that was almost aggressively monochrome. Look at all that black, white and gray, broken up only by the occasional dusty red or green. The lack of color in the show's aesthetic recast Sidonia as less a rock-hewn community and more like something closer to a sterile, but decaying hospital or public building. You've probably been in one yourself. You know the look: Crumbly concrete, grit that's been cleaned off but leaving stains. The result is a setting that looked akin to an urban spelunking course than a vision of the future. Ultimately, both the manga and anime arrived at the same basic portrayal: That of Sidonia society being one of precarious, decayed beauty, in two different ways. Add to that the show's masterful audioscape - Sidonia is the anime that made me care about sound effects in anime, like Battlefield is the videogame that made me care about sound effects in games - and its interesting use of HUD graphics, and the first season was an aesthetic achievement rarely equaled, even by traditional 2D rivals. Sadly, Knights of Sidonia's narrative doesn't carry as much weight as its aesthetic. Between this, Blame! and the rest, Nihei's forte seems to be more in places than people. The theme of desperation and humanity on the brink still goes strong (in that way Sidonia differentiates itself from its rival Attack on Titan, thanks to their seemingly opposed moods), but the actual goings-on revealed a somewhat generic hero's story. Nagate Tanikaze, after intriguing viewers by being the last "normal" human among a population of kids that can photosynthesize, sort of dropped the underdog act midway through the first season. In some ways it couldn't really be helped. His circumstances and skills as the ace pilot of the Tsugumori mecha made him a natural hero. And yet having all the girls (including the third-gender Izana) fall for him in one way or the other felt...off, considering the way Sidonia normally comported itself. In short, we don't need these harem hijinks! And this is coming from Japanator's resident harem apologist.   Thankfully, the future seems to be brighter for the second season. Despite somewhat stiff character animation, the mecha scenes in the first two episodes of Battle for Planet Nine are smoother than ever. The plot seems to be picking up as well, with Kunato, the asshole squad leader that framed Nagate and got Hoshijiro killed, now under the control of the arch-villain, Ochiai. Ochiai's work on hybridizing Gauna and human apparently caused such a disaster that the Sidonia's population was reduced to less than 500 survivors. Considering modern studies suggesting that an ideal space-colony breeding population would need to be Original Macross-sized or better, one can only imagine the chaos that ensued in that man's wake. And now he's back, and turned the Hoshijiro-shaped Gauna placenta into...a teenage-girl-shaped bio-mecha, "Shiraui Tsumugi". One with a crush on Nagate. It's like a rom-com show set in the Macross universe where one of the girlfriend characters is a full-size Zentradi. Except Tsumugi also interacts with the human-sized world via an adorable tentacle, too, so all those bases are covered. Thankfully aside from these unfortunate (though hilarious) character dynamics, the moves being made in the shadows serve to deepen Sidonia's story. For one, Captain Kobayashi's made her move, and pulled a coup to take over from the creepy tank-people who served as the Sidonia's elder leadership caste. It's high time that the show's did more to portray the captain as a more ambiguous figure with regards to her intentions. She's one of the few people Nagate obeys without question, so seeing his naive ideals conflict with her ruthless pragmatism should make for interesting viewing as things develop further. Now, what's all this about "Planet Nine"?
Knights of Sidonia photo
The Knights Who Say 'Eeeh!'
And...we're back! Yes, it's been quite a while since the last time Japanator went in-depth with Knights of Sidonia. In fact, we're verging on a full year since the last recap. That's partly my fault. You could say I mimicked ...

First Impressions: Plastic Memories

Apr 10 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed it is, because my complaining about shit not making a huge amount of sense indicates that I care a bit about Plastic Memories' world-building right in the very first episode. To be honest, I have to give a hoot about the  world-building, because there's not a huge amount else that's compelling right now. Plastic Memories opens in a world where the huge SAI has created the Giftias, a type of android that's virtually indistinguishable from humans, and sold them to people for companionship. New graduate Tsukasa Mizugaki is the newest face in SAI's Terminal Service Department, an understaffed, unloved branch of the company dedicated to retrieving Giftias at the end of their nine-year-four-month operational lifespan. He's paired with Isla, a veteran Giftia that seems, at first, to be anything but competent, and the two take on their first assignment: Retrieving a little girl Giftia from a grandmother who's grown too attached to her android granddaughter. It's a simple enough plot to start off with, and helpfully introduces cast to each other, including the tsundere Michiru, the over-friendly Ren, the chip-shouldered senior Kazuki, and three other Giftias: Sherry, Zack, and Constance. Where Plastic Memories shines is in the sheer potential of its premise. It's Blade Runner meets Sad Girls In Snow, a fertile sci-fi angle softened and colored by troperrific rom-com relationships. I've always had a soft spot for shows that can rev up my imagination. Busou Shinki was terrible in many ways, but I loved it because it got me thinking about the kind of world where you could buy miraculously intelligent and deadly android waifus for not much more than the price of a gunpla kit. Thinking about Plastic Memories and the seeming place Giftias hold in its world scratches a similar nerd itch, which it tilting me in its favor already. I love that the show is basing its setup on a little-explored aspect of future-tech settings: Disposal. Many stories are caught up in imagining the implications of a radical new technology as it's introduced, but here in Plastic Memories it looks like everyone takes the "human" qualities of Giftias: Their personalities, intelligence, and sentience for granted, and the problems are arising where their nature as "products" can't be safely ignored. The concept also dives indirectly into discussion of how to deal with mortality. Giftias and the process of Retrieval could easily be a stand-in for debates about end-of-life care, euthanasia, and when to pull the plug on a loved one. Simply put, from a conceptual standpoint, Plastic Memories is solid, appealing sci-fi. What's less convincing is the show's character dynamics. It's a little early to be complaining about where the story's going, but if the big "twist" they're planning is revealing that Isla's almost "terminal" herself (how else could she be a "veteran" on a mere nine-year lifespan?), Plastic Memories may turn out underwhelming. The chemistry between the characters also feels a bit undercooked. The first episode opens with Tsukasa meeting Isla in an elevator after a bout of contemplating his mortality (who even does that?), then falling in love with her like some kind of putz. Of course, I'm not being fair to the characters at the moment. We've barely had an episode to let them grow and compel, but hey, this feature's called "First Impressions" for a reason.  And my first impression is that these characters can't quite carry the weight of their jobs just yet.  Still, there's a lot to like in Plastic Memories at the moment, so I'm definitely willing to stick with it and see how it shapes up.
Plastic Memories photo
Moe Moe Blade Runner
There's a lot I don't get about Plastic Memories. There a few critical points that I encountered in its first episode that don't make a huge amount of sense to me, nor would they to any sensible contemporary person. That's great!

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 25-27

Jan 24 // Josh Tolentino
In a move that feels almost novel by its infrequency these days, the show is neither a "second season" nor a new, absurdly-titled continuation. The episode numbering jumps in exactly where we left off, with the quintet having just defeated the underwater Stand-user Middler and plunging straight into the Egyptian wilderness in a sweet dune buggy. Indeed, a new fight begins right off the bat, virtually as soon as the group gets itself a new party member: Iggy, user of the sand-based Fool Stand. Iggy also happens to be a horrible little monster of a French Bulldog (or Boston Terrier?), one that eats hair and chews gum and farts in your face.  Iggy does, however, prove an instrumental distraction in vanquishing the first of JoJo and co.'s new set of enemies: N'Doul, user of the Geb Stand, and one of nine servants rocking Egyptian deity-themed powers. Geb, one of the most dangerous opponents the team has faced, manages to disable both Kakyoin and Avdol before JoJo needs to resort to his secret weapon: Animal abuse. Yep, young Jotaro throttles and throws the poor little thing - to be fair, he did have it coming - to keep N'Doul and his incredible, Daredevil-esque hearing powers distracted, ending the fight with a quick, Star Platinum punch and honorable burial. While the tension and puzzle-solving of episode 25 and 26 were a good reintroduction to JoJo's more epic qualities, episode 27 really helps carry the sense of humor and absurdity that makes the series so beloved. In it, the Khnum and Thoth Stand-users arrive in the form of the brothers Oingo and Boingo (their names redacted to "Zenyatta and Mondatta" due to more copyright ridiculousness). Boingo can read his Stand like a comic book to derive unerring predictions of the future, while Oingo can reshape his face to take on anyone's appearance. Together, they form one of the funniest episodes of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure to date. Their attempts to assassinate the quintet - none of whom they could handle in any kind of direct confrontation - are bumbling and hilarious, seeing as they all hinge on their ability to correctly interpret the future predicted by Boingo's Stand. Further, Oingo's attempt to masquerade as Jotaro also reveal weird, hidden sides of a character that up to this point has been best described as "completely unflappable". It's simply hard to imagine that at some point Jotaro showed off his ability to "swallow" five lit cigarettes at the same time. That kind of clowning around just doesn't seem "like" him, and yet it's all absolutely true, seeing as it's poor Oingo who has to suffer trying to keep up the illusion (and get his face blown off for his trouble). If there was ever a show that didn't need to pass anime fans' so-called "Three-episode test", it would be one with a legacy as proven as JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but it's funny and fitting that this "season"'s first three episodes reaffirm why it's such a classic. [Catch the latest Stardust Crusaders episodes on Crunchyroll!]
Stardust Crusaders photo
Still Walking Like An Egyptian
It's been far too long, but after its season-long hiatus, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has returned to the airwaves!  And neither Joseph Joestar's Stand-user party nor the hardworking folks at David Production are wasting any time getting back in the saddle, as they dive into Egypt to hunt down Dio Brando once and for all.

First Impressions: Kantai Collection ~Kan Colle~

Jan 18 // Josh Tolentino
It's worth pointing out that Kantai Collection's source material, the game of the same name that swept the otaku scene over the past couple of years, has virtually no story speak of. It barely even has a premise. That in mind, it's both disappointing and reassuring that the first two episodes of the show are basically Strike Witches, but with warships instead of planes. It's disappointing because had Kantai Collection tried for something new, it could've blazed a trail the way Strike Witches once did. On the other hand, it's reassuring because Strike Witches remains one of the best examples of its type, and if one is to be derivative, one may as well derive from the best. And in the "pro" column, Kan Colle lacks much of Strike Witches' more off-putting fanservice elements. The only "war on pants" happening here is against the fancy-pants Abyssal monsters that have, in a twist pulled straight from Arpeggio of Blue Steel, denied humanity the seas. The solution, as is ever the case in Japanese cartoons, is cute girls, ones born with the souls of warships past, and wearing some approximation of those ships' equipment as clothing. Has there ever been a thinner justification for it? Even the witches had their Striker packs and the distance of fictionalized air war scenarios to flesh things out. Of course, that's not really the point. We're here to see the "personalities" of our grandfathers' old navy haunts drawn as cute girls, and written in broad strokes based on their service histories, for some reason. The destroyer Sendai fought three of her four battles at night, making Sendai, the cute girl version, obsessive about night maneuvers. Hibiki, a destroyer given up to the Soviet Union and renamed Verniy, speaks random Russian phrases. All the carriers use bows and shoot arrows that transform into squadrons of planes. It's all very cute and well-researched, but anyone looking for a more political edge - or for something to twist into a perception of increasing Japanese militarization - will likely be disappointed. The nerds Kan Colle is made for are less interested in service and war than in they are in historical trivia and, well, cute girls. Not that that's a problem, of course. If anything, Kan Colle's problem is that it at times seems to have been made in a vacuum, drawn from a universe in which it is the first of its kind. In such a universe, the struggles of little destroyer Fubuki, the new girl at the Naval District just learning to slide weirdly through the water and shoot at monsters, would seem truly novel. Sadly, this is the real world, and seeing Fubuki and her friends be cute schoolgirls doing cute school things is far less engaging than watching her and the other Fleet Girls shoot weapons and launch torpedoes in surprisingly good-looking CG form. Shows like Girls und Panzer and even Upotte!! knew this and turned the trivia dial up to eleven, breezing through the largely unnecessary characterization to come straight at the one-and-done broad strokes. The results were less plodding around and more action. There's enough to enjoy here, though, for genre fans, especially in the little touches that acknowledge things like the game's Facebook-style repair timers, the ever-present, yet ever-invisible player "Admiral", and the animation. It's also fun to keep a page open on Wikipedia to see just which historical factoids inspired which Fleet Girl's personality traits.  In its way, Kantai Collection is a new way to fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, and seeing just how Glorious Nippon can wring all that kawaii out of its history.  
Kantai Collection photo
Nice Boats
The first episode of Kantai Collection kicks off with what might be regarded as an almost galling display of pretentiousness: Against a black background, a serious-voiced woman recites the Gosei, a set of five meditative...

First Impressions: Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

Jan 14 // Josh Tolentino
It's worth pointing out that the show could get so much comedic traction by just taking the Magical Girl concept and simply swapping genders, then playing it completely straight. Combined with the "idol appeal" angle that comes standard with these shows, it really would've been that simple for Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (I really have to find a more convenient way to write that title) to be a proper hit, the male Pretty Cure. Thankfully for all of us, the show didn't settle for "just" that, but went all-out on the parody aspect of it. Just as Daily Lives of High School Boys cleverly satirized the romanticized, largely nonexistent "high school life" depicted in anime and manga, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! takes that vaguely ironic, detached sense of humor and applies it onto the structure of the magical girl genre. As in Daily Lives, the boys get into lengthy, nonsense conversations about how the world is like oden, or deeply ponder the underlying purpose of the flavorless chikuwabu. And then they get ambushed by a "cute" pink creature that bestows them with a "fashionable" transforming accessory, the "Loveracelet", transforming them into outlandishly-attired guardians of love and peace, the Battle Lovers. That might be enough, but the humor's in the little details, like how the cute pink mascot, Wombat, speaks with the voice of an old man, and pilots the accidentally-murdered body of their homeroom teacher to avoid detection by the masses. Then there's the bit during the appropriately nude transformation sequences where you, the viewer, realize that the Battle Lovers' code names barely even follow a theme. The red and blue ones are Scarlet and Cerulean, sure, but the green one is Epinard (the French word for spinach), backgrounded by a four-leaf clover, and the yellow one is Sulfur, set against a picture of Saturn, and the pink one is Vesta, Roman goddess of fireplaces. It's so cheeky as to be hilarious. And then there are the monsters. The opening episode's long diversion about oden and chikuwabu rears its head, as an unnoticed student is transformed into a chikuwabu beast set on turning the world into a flavorless purgatory. The boys bring out their magical sticks, naturally, but can't be bothered to name their attacks before trashing the baddie. And this week's outing reveals a monster made of the rage one feels when you can't split those disposable chopsticks evenly.  And of course the antagonists of the show are revealed to be the results you'd get had the show actually decided to play the Magical Boys thing completely straight, a trio of princes with properly jewel-themed code names and all the regal bearing you'd expect out of the newest Gundam show or something. It's self-awareness up the wazoo on this program, and it all works so well you can't help wonder why it took until 2015 to make this happen. Whatever that means for anime and culture at large, with the heirs to the throne of love with us this winter, we won't be lacking for laughs. [Watch Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! streaming via FUNimation!]
Cute Earth Def Club LOVE! photo
Magical boys, oden analogies, and the anti-Chikuwabu agenda, oh my!
Magical Boys.  As I mentioned back in our Winter 2015 Preview Guide, just mentioning the concept drives home just how golden it is. There's so much potential in the idea of a Magical Boy show, with all the trappings and ...

Japanator's Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide!

Jan 04 // Josh Tolentino
Tsukimonogatari [embed]33406:4377:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: December 31, 2014 (Streaming on Daisuki) Director: Akiyuki Shinbo (Monogatari Series, Arakawa Under the Bridge) Studio: SHAFT (Monogatari Series, Mekaku Cityactors) This one's actually a bit of an oddball entry, and not just because it's the latest part of the naturally oddball Monogatari franchise. It's oddball because you can watch it right now on Daisuki, as all four episodes of the arc premiered at once, Netflix-style. Then again, SHAFT did pull this stunt before, its adaptation of Nekomonogatari (Black) last year, as part of the runup to Monogatari Series Second Season.  In any case, we continue the increasingly complicated run of adapting author Nisioisin's novels, with a story arc focusing on Kagenui and Yotsugi, the demon-hunter/familiar pairing that first made their debut in Monogatari Series Second Season. Tsukimonogatari purports to be the opening to the "Final Season" of the Monogatari Series, so if you're new to the franchise, there's a lot you'll need to watch if you want to catch up. Or not, the different arcs have stood well enough on their own with a little bit of background research done.    Kantai Collection ~Kan Colle~ [embed]33406:4378:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 7, 2015 (Streaming on Crunchyroll) Director: Keizo Kusakawa (Sekirei, Unlimited Fafnir) Studio: Diomedea (Squid Girl, Astarotte's Toy) One of the most fun things about the growth of the mecha musume genre is just how wide its figurative net is when it comes to scope. All you really need is the juxtaposition of cute girls (or more rarely boys) and some kind of nerdy nonsense like enthusiasm over battle mecha or vintage World War II hardware.  Kantai Collection is one of the latter, based on the browser strategygame that took the otaku world by storm with its moe anthropomorphizations of classic Japanese naval ships. As an overarching plot - or rather the lack thereof - has never been much of a problem for mecha musume shows, Kan Colle's premise feels like a melding of Strike Witches and the more recent Arpeggio of Blue Steel. A bunch of cute girls are apparently capable of channeling the spirit of Japan's old navy, and these "Kan Musume" are the only weapon in a war against some mysterious fleet denying humanity its seafaring birthright.  As Japanator's resident mecha musume fan, I'll be giving this one a look, but after good runs with the likes of Girls und Panzer and even Arpeggio, Kan Colle has a surprisingly high bar to pass to impress.   Maria the Virgin Witch [embed]33406:4379:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 11, 2015 Director: Goro Taniguchi (Code Geass)  Studio: Production I.G. (Kick-Heart, Haikyu!!) Superficial a person as I am, I initially dismissed this one on account of its vaguely Dragon Ball-esque character designs.  Akira Toriyama's style is essentially the reason I never played Chrono Trigger until the PSP era, a permanent black mark on my RPG nerd credentials, so I irrationally blame him for it. Upon closer examination, though, it's really only Maria, the titular virgin witch, that looks like a cousin to Android 18. More importantly, Maria the Virgin Witch is about a virginal sorceress living in the time of England and France's Hundred Years War. She hates the warso much she summons a succubus and incubus to do the dirty work and bring peace to the land. Let me say that again: She summons a succubus and an incubus. Seems that Miss Maria has some pretty dirty "dirty work" in mind!    Assassination Classroom [embed]33406:4380:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 9, 2015 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Seiji Kishi (Humanity Has Declined, Arpeggio of Blue Steel) Studio: Lerche (Re: Hamatora, Danganronpa The Animation) And here's the winter's young-audience heavy. You know the one: Adapted from some obscenely popular ongoing manga, now with an anime adaptation to serve as marketing fuel for the source. This season's entrant is Assassination Classroom, where an alien that destroyed the moon promises takes over a high school class and promises to destroy the Earth if the kids in the class can't kill him by the time they graduate. Given how dominantly school life features in every modern Japanese person's youth, there's no wonder a story about a bunch of students following through on their urges to murder their teacher took off like a rocket. That said, after World Trigger's poor showing and the near-absence of Seven Deadly Sins thanks to a rumored license snap-up by Netflix (which also bogarted Knights of Sidonia last time), I'm a little wary of this particular type of seasonal offering.  That said, thanks to FUNimation the show will be in fairly wide release, so there's no reason to to at least see what the fuss is about.    Sengoku Musou [embed]33406:4381:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 11, 2015 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Kojin Ochi (Detective Conan, La Corda d'Oro Blue Sky) Studio: Tezuka Productions and TYO Animation (Detective Conan, Tamayura Hitotose) If I were an executive in charge of tie-in marketing at Koei Tecmo, makers of Dynasty Warriors and its associated spin-off franchises, I would be pissed at the people who let Sengoku Musou (aka Samurai Warriors) fall by the wayside. After all, the Samurai Warriors games have been putting the mass slaughter in videogame Japanese history for far longer, and yet the culture at large has credited Capcom's Sengoku Basara series with putting feudal warlords on the pop-cultural map, leading the so-called "Samurai Boom" that led to marriageable young ladies to have crushes on Date Masamune, Sanada Yukimura, and a host of other 16th-century jerks. And here we are, with Sengoku Musou's first anime adaptation, and it just looks sad. After Sengoku Basara received no less than three seasons and a movie, the original samurai brawler ends up looking like the pale imitation. I guess this is what it must feel like to have been a fan of Everquest around the time World of Warcraft blew the doors open on MMORPGs. Yurikuma Arashi [embed]33406:4382:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 5, 2015 (Streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation) Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara (Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena) Studio: Silver Link (Penguindrum, Kokoro Connect) Debuting back in 2011, Penguindrum was a deliciously weird production that for many a fan, made the long wait for a new series from the director of Revolutionary Girl Utena worth it. Three years later, it looks like Ikuhara's been watching a few too many of Stephen Colbert's ThreatDown segments, because the premise of Yurikuma Arashi revolves around an unending war between mankind and its immortal enemy: BEARS! Yup, a weird asteroid exploded and turned all the bears anti-human (just as all humans were already inherently anti-bear), and now the two sides are separated by a giant wall. But lo, a pair of bears have taken human form to infiltrate the other side in order to find tasty people to eat, and so begins the forbidden human-ursine infatuation story, complete with lots of blunt innuendos about cute girls (or bears in cute girl form) "eating" other cute girls. Hm, methinks that Ikuhara's been watching what Goro Taniguchi's had planned with Maria The Virgin Witch as well.   ISUCA Broadcast Date: January 23, 2015 Director: Akira Iwanaga (Tegami-Bachi) Studio: Arms (Ikkitousen: Dragon Destiny, Wizard Barristers) If When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace was a showcase of the things you need to do to make what is ultimately a harem rom-com seem fresh and exciting, ISUCA seems like a showcase of a harem rom-com doing precisely none of those things. Honestly, I'm rarely this negative about a show I haven't seen, but there's very little to make this thing stand out, other than some positive word about the source material providing some good Shana or Familiar of Zero vibes. It doesn't help that the only trailer on hand barely a month out from debut is a live-action music video preview of the opening theme. Now, I liked at least one of those shows, and I'm regularly Japanator's resident genre apologist when it comes to harem pap, but ISUCA's gonna have to work real hard to make its own case, even in a relatively light season like this one.   World Break: Aria of Curse for A Holy Swordsman [embed]33406:4384:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 11, 2014 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Takayuki Inagaki (My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy) Studio: Diomedea (Squid Girl, Astarotte's Toy) Who's better, Warriors or Mages? That's the eternal question, and if you ask me, my money'd be on Mages if only they didn't wear robes most of the time. But what if they wore school uniforms (alongside the warriors), channeled the spirits of ancient heroes from ages past, and what if the hero of this story was a Mage AND a Warrior?!   That's pretty much the premise of World Break, and you'll be forgiven for thinking that sounds uncomfortably similar to a lot of other shows that have come and gone over the years. As an avowed fan of a game type that everyone else says is always the same every time, I can't in good conscience be too dismissive of the show, but it's hard to get really hyped up over it. Then again, I thought the same of Lord Marksman and Vanadis last season, and that turned out to be way more watchable and engaging than the initial premise held out to be, so there's always hope. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! [embed]33406:4385:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 6, 2015 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Shinji Takamatsu (After War Gundam X, Daily Lives of High School Boys) Studio: Diomedea (Squid Girl, Astarotte's Toy) Magical Boys. It seems like so simple a twist on the Magical Girl concept, but why has it taken until 2015 for a show to take it as far as this one has? Sure, we had the "Masou Shojou" from Is This A Zombie, and for decades now cute boys have had transformation sequences and group relationships as drool-worthy as the ones cute girls have had, but this might be the first time I've seen a studio create what seems to be a genuine Magical Boy anime. Sure, thanks to the comedy pedigree of director Shinji Takamatsu, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is more than likely to be a screwball parody show, but there's enough earnestness in there to make it all work out, especially given that you're not supposed to take REAL Magical Girl shows - the PreCures and Sailor Moons of the world - that seriously anyway. This'll be one to watch - and not just to see hot young men dress fancy, fight evil, and in promo art, stack themselves on top of one another that gives uncomfortable subtext to the term "wood pile". Unlimited Fafnir [embed]33406:4383:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 8, 2015 Director: Keizo Kusakawa (Sekirei, Kantai Collection) Studio: Diomedea (Squid Girl, Astarotte's Toy) Is Diomedea this season's J.C. Staff? I'm not sure, but what I am sure about is that they're making no less than four full-length anime series this season, and Unlimited Fafnir, a show about cute girls who have dragon powers and the one boy who they fall in love with, is probably the least interesting of the bunch. I normally would conveniently forget to include a show like this in a season preview, just to save myself the trouble of pretending to be enthusiastic about a program no one on staff and few in the audience would watch, but I'm irrationally irritated by Unlimited Fafnir's existence at the moment. Y'see, it's being directed by Keizo Kusakawa, who's also directing Kantai Collection, and I'd really like that show to be good. Thus anything that appears like it could split his or Diomedea's resources away from making Kantai Collection decent is on my blacklist.  Naturally, that sentiment doesn't make much sense, especially not with what we know about anime production, but like I said, I'm irrationally irritated with the show.  The Rolling Girls [embed]33406:4386:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 10, 2015 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Kotomi Deai (Silver Spoon Season 2) Studio: Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Hozuki no Reitetsu) You thought Wit would be back to work on Attack on Titan after their brief diversion with Hozuki no Reitetsu? Well, don't worry, because they are, and that's coming later. For now, though, feast your eyes on The Rolling Girls, the studio's first original project.  It's been a decade since the Great Tokyo War, and all of Japan's prefectures have gone solo, becoming countries for themselves and going to (highly colorful and cartoonish) war with armies called "Mobs" led by heroes called "Mosa". Enter the Rolling Girls, a quartet of girl bikers drawn from the Mob and tasked with travelling across the scattered nations to mediate disputes, solve problems, and probably find themselves or something. Sounds good, looks even better, and I can't help but admit that and if I didn't know who was making it, I'd have mistaken The Rolling Girls this for a Trigger-produced spinoff from Kill la Kill. That's a pretty good problem to have for Wit, if you ask me, and it's great to see these relatively new studios flexing their muscle by trying different projects, rather than being attached to one big thing and ending up being defined by it.   The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls [embed]33406:4387:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 9, 2015 (Streaming on Daisuki) Director: Noriko Takao Studio: A-1 Pictures (The Idolm@ster, Sword Art Online) I actually said almost everything I needed to about Cinderella Girls in this post, so I'll do the lazy thing and quote some of it here: Given that The Idolm@ster was my favorite anime of its year, I feel almost obligated to find something to like about this new adaptation of Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls, the mobile game spinoff I gave approximately zero attention to over the last few years. So here goes. Umm..well, the girls of 346 Productions (pronounced "Mishiro Pro") all look alright, and personality-wise it's fairly easy to take your favorite 765 idol and apply their archetype to one of the others. I can already see a Takane-type of sorts in Anastasia, an Azusa type in Minami, and a Miki-type in Rika. So when in doubt, existing Im@s fans can pick whichever one most resembles an idol they already like and stick with her.  That said, they don't make as much of an impression as the 765 girls did. That might shake out once they're given more time to say more than their names and catchphrases, though. Plus, despite there being over 200 idols in the Cinderella Girls game, they seem to have picked this core cast uniformly from the younger end of the pool. At their ages, very few of these "cinderellas" will be out past midnight. Perhaps the more pertinent question at this point is how the show will fare with some key staff shuffled around from last time, and without the muppet-faced character designs I liked so much before? Also, will the Cinderella Girls be enough to carry the idol torch in a post-Love Live world? War has changed, friends.   Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend [embed]33406:4388:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 8, 2015 (Streaming on Crunchyroll and Aniplex) Director: Kanta Kamei (Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, Bunny Drop) Studio: A-1 Pictures (The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls) I don't consider myself an especially hardworking feminist (else I'd have big problems with a larger proportion of anime than usual), but even I take issue with the way Aniplex has localized the title of Saenai Heroine no Sodate-kata. In Japanese, the literal translation is "Method of Raising a Dull Girlfriend", where "kanojo" (meaning "Girlfriend") gets those special chuunibyou pronunciation characters to make it read as the English "Heroine". The problem here is that it sounds awfully sexist, to "raise" your boring girlfriend. Aniplex should've paid attention to those furigana! As for the show, it's from the writer of White Album 2 and stars Tomoya, a nerd that enlists the help of two lady classmates to create a visual novel starring his muse, the beautiful Megumi Katou. The catch is Megumi has all the personality of a male visual novel lead (read: none whatsoever), and he and his co-creators will have to train their would-be heroine into a woman properly suited to star in that most noble of vehicles for fiction: The dating sim. So clearly, the plot itself isn't nearly as problematic as the title might imply. It's almost a reverse angle on The Taming of the Shrew, if you wanna be generous about it. After all, it's these three nerds helping a girl be as much of a character as her good looks would imply. Meeting one's full potential and all that. Why the bad title then? Death Parade [embed]33406:4389:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 9, 2015 (Streaming on FUNimation) Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa (Death Billiards) Studio: Madhouse (Redline, Chihayafuru) If you've been deprived of "dark" anime, and don't feel like jumping on the Tokyo Ghoul or Aldnoah.Zero trains halfway through, Death Parade is poised to be your jam. It's based on Death Billiards, Madhouse's entry to Anime Mirai 2013. As might be imagined from the title, Death Billiards involved a couple of guys playing a very high-stakes pool game in some purgatorial bar. Death Parade expands on the concept to encompass darts, roulette, and all manner of pub and casino games to illuminate human nature. Maybe Mushishi was too tranquil for you?  Gourmet Girl Graffiti [embed]33406:4390:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 8, 2015  Director: Akiyuki Shinbo (Tsukimonogatari) Studio: SHAFT (Monogatari Series) There's very little I need to write to justify how this show could be really exciting. All I need to do is first, point out that Gourmet Girl Graffiti is quite proud of its "slightly erotic eating sequences". Next, I'll point out that SHAFT and Akiyuki Shinbo are the studio and man that did this for toothbrushing. I'm in.   Sequels and Continuations On the sequels and continuations front, we've got a bunch of expected entries, like the Egypt arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, as well as the returns of Aldnoah.Zero and Tokyo Ghoul after taking breaks.  For some reason somebody commissioned a third season of Dog Days, and perhaps even more bafflingly, a new, two-cour season of Fafner, which is actually way novel now that Evangelion clones are out of style.  The real star of the returnee's party, though, is the new season of Durarara!!, and that's been gone and missed for long enough that it deserves its own info box:   Durarara!!x2 Shou [embed]33406:4391:0[/embed] Broadcast Date: January 10, 2015 (Streaming on Crunchyroll and Aniplex) Director: Takahiro Omori  Studio: Shuka  It's been a whole five years of waiting, but we're finally getting some more Durarara!!. And all it took was for someone to wrangle together the original staff at Brains Base to form a whole new studio just to put this thing out.  And not just this thing, for Durarara!!x2 Shou is just the first sequel. Two more seasons, subtitled Ten and Ketsu are planned for later this year and early next, all set to adapt gobs more of the original novels.  Man, it's been so long since I last saw some Durarara!! that I can't even remember what happened besides the second half not being as good as the first. I'll need to catch up!   And that's pretty much it for winter's new offerings. Beyond all that, shows like Gundam Build Fighters Try, Log Horizon 2, and Terra Formars, if I ever get around to catching up on that, will continue on schedule. I may have said this was a "light" season, but there's still plenty to watch! What's on your viewing slate this Winter, and what would you like to see us cover? Let us know!
Winter Anime Preview! photo
Cartoons to keep warm by!
Winter may be upon us, and as the weather cools, it's the perfect time to curl up by the fire or stick your legs under the kotatsu and let the Japanese cartoons roll! This is Japanator's official Winter 2015 Anime Previe...

First Impressions: Your Lie in April

Nov 04 // Hiroko Yamamura
Your Lie in April is the anime breathe of fresh air I've been craving all year. I used to be pretty susceptible to romantic slice of life shows, pretty much gobbling up anything with a little heartbreak and a decent love triangle. However, the formula really started to become contrived, with pretty much the same tropes being revisited over and over. That's not to sayYour Lie in April isn't devoid of such tropes, it just finds a way to elevate itself past them... so far. The story is actually somewhat simple. We meet the star of the show, Kosei Arima, who is a brilliant pianist, and the musical hope of his ailing mother. Unfortunately the disease ends up taking his mother, and Kosei finds himself scarred for many reasons, unable to continue playing piano. He is supported by his two best friends, Tsubaki and Ryota, who seem to always be on the look out for the down and out friend. Life is just churning on, with Kosei finding little solace, until the fateful day he is introduced the lovely and talented Kaori Miyazono, a free spirited violinist. Kosei finds himself starting out as the third wheel, as Tsubaki seems intent on hooking her up with the sporty and popular Ryota. If this sounds like the set up for a typical slice of life anime, you wouldn't be wrong, but it's everything that sets Your Lie in April apart. Number one, the show is jaw droppingly gorgeous. From the color selection, background artwork, to the characters themselves. Everything in the show looks meticulous and intentional. You'll forget that your television could provide such rich and saturated colors in an animation. I don't think I've seen eye designs quite as good in quite a while. Arakawa's designs really come to life, with every sparkle and tear in the character really looking amazing. I'm especially please with the fact that they chose to show Kosei's eyes through his frames, to give the viewer a sense of seeing the character in a closer way than even the others in the universe do. The computer aided animation holds up beautifully, and I can honestly say that this is the best looking anime I've seen in years. Secondly, the music is fantastic. You would probably guess that a show whose main characters are classical musicians would contain great music. It's not just the in story music that's great. The opening and ending pop songs are fantastic, with the BGM tracks also being lovely. The voice acting is also top notch. There's so much going on audio wise, that this is one show you want to watch with your speakers turned up. The simplicity of the show is what grabs me. The fact that A-1 would put a AAA production towards a basic plot makes things even sweeter. I don't know what the "Lie" they are referring to is yet, but I'm sure it will make things quite a bit more complicated. In four short episodes they've succeed to develop characters that I truly care about, a web of potential love stories and entrenched in, and fates that I can't wait to see unravel. Sure, I'm a sucker for production value, but it doesn't drown out the good writing here as well. Now that we see Kosei is able to push past his inability to play, and Kaori is facing what looks to be some serious medical issues, I'm eagerly awaiting next week's episode. Who's going to get which girl? Who is actually in love with who? Maybe Kosei and Ryota end up together? Whatever happens I just hope they can keep the current pace going across the 22 episode arc. Your Lie in April is my must watch anime of this year so far, and definitely not a show you should miss. [Take in the beauty of Your Lie in April of at Crunchyroll]  
Your Lie in April photo
I can't contain the feels
I have to admit, it's been a while since I've actually gasped while watching an anime. However, that's exactly what occurred after I processed the sheer beauty that was the first episode of A-1 Picture's Your Lie in April. I ...

Impressions: When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace

Oct 30 // Josh Tolentino
That's totally OK, though, because the show (which I'll be calling Inou Battle from here forward, in the interest of readability) mines this idea for utter hilarity, telling the non-story of a group of teenagers given awesome power without an epic destiny to match it. Hopeless chunnibyou hyper-nerd Jurai Andou said it could be possible that he and his female friends in the literature club could, suddenly, by chance, all be given the superpowers he pretends to have. A few seconds after that statement, a shining light fills the room. Six months later, everyone does in fact have superpowers...and nothing's changed. They still meet as the literature club, and mess around in imaginary spaces manifested by the reality-warping powers of resident middle-schooler Chifuyu Satomi, but why they have their powers and what they're supposed to do with them remains a mystery.  That's part of the joke, of course. At the same time, though, the actual superpowers themselves recede into the background, with the show itself morphing into a charming comedy about the value of, and drawbacks to, maintaining as, er, rich and committed an imaginary life as Jurai does.  Need a hilariously pretentious superhero nickname? Just consult Ju-kun and his "Bloody Vivre". Who annoys his teachers by intentionally choosing archaic alternate kanji characters in all your tests? That's Andou. And if you're confused by your newfound abilities and don't know what to do, Guiltia Sin Jurai and his pal Kiryuu Heldkaiser Luci First have the answers you need. Inou Battle at times feels like it's trying to make the case for the value of chuunibyou, constantly raising situations where their lack of concern for social norms and sheer enthusiasm for an imagined setting inadvertently helps the people around them, normal and superhuman alike. Of course, the show stops short of actually lionizing these men and their complexes. After all, Jurai, Kiryuu, and the LovePlus-loving Sagami are the kinds of nerds you'd want to strangle if you had to deal with them in real life. The girls seem to understand that as well, turning the poor, hopeless putz into the butt of the joke more often than not. The show also works because the people making it are really good. Paired with the grounded sensibilities of director Tsutomu Mizushima, Studio Trigger elevates the material, adding expression and feeling to even the more mundane scene. There's nary an off-model moment in the four episodes thus far, and their sense of style helps the jokes land with all possible force. It's in little things as well, like the use of intense action lines in a confession of love, or the occasional Kill la Kill easter egg. Speaking of Kill la Kill, Inou Battle's energy makes the show feel like it was being written by none other than Mako Mankanshoku.   Don't get me wrong, though. Inou Battle is no tour de force of narrative accomplishment. It'll never be Oscar-bait or its anime equivalent. That's not the point. What it is is thoroughly entertaining, getting by on craft, charm, and a winking irreverence and self-awareness that is, in a way, the opposite of its own protagonist's incurable chuunibyou.
Inou Battle photo
Everyday Super-Unheroics
"What would you do if you had superpowers?" It's a question people love to ask each other, and the answers are usually quite mundane. They often involved finding ways to make lots of money using superpowers. Very few of us wo...

First Impressions: Log Horizon 2

Oct 23 // Josh Tolentino
That last bit is important, because Log Horizon manages that feat by flipping the script. Rather than having "real consequences" tacked onto the mechanics of playing an MMO (like Sword Art Online's becoming a death game), the game's mechanics frame, and to an extent drive the very "real" actions taking place as Shiroe and the other players of Elder Tale find out that their favorite game is anything but. And as the adventurers of Akihabara quickly find out, their mastery of Elder Tale's mechanics is just the beginning of learning to cope with their circumstances. Though the entire point of the show's premise is that the world of Elder Tale is far larger and more complex than the game could ever adequately cover, Log Horizon manages to never truly leave behind that game-mechanic framing. And yet it never really gets old, because crucially, those familiar tropes of MMORPG play form the backbone of everyone's interactions with the world. Even the NPCs, the People of the Land, convey information through the devices and cues Elder Tale uses.  It works like a charm, and counterintuively, helps "sell" the verisimilitude of this "real" world the players are trapped in, while remaining as much of a fourth-wall-breaking wink-and-nod as Colonel Campbell telling Snake to use the SELECT button to activate his Codec. It didn't always go so smoothly, though. Early on, Log Horizon tended to get caught up in the minutiae, a side effect of the fact that MMORPGs themselves aren't all that popular in the grand scheme of pop culture. With part of the audience deprived of that universal frame of reference, long minutes had to be spent explaining what NPCs were or the other mundanities of the MMO life. Much of it paid off by revealing more of the Elder Tale experience, but it couldn't help but be dry and boring for all its necessity. Few characters got much room to grow, either. Though the perspective of Minori and the lower-level cast members helped show things from the other side of the prowess-fence, most of Log Horizon's plotlines could be resolved simply by waiting for Shiroe to come up with a plan and for the Round Table heavies like Crusty to carry it out. That's not necessarily bad in itself, but it veers dangerously close to the kind of protagonist-worship that plagues modern genre shows. Fortunately, the second season seems to have moved slightly beyond that, in part thanks to the introduction of threats and challenges that may be beyond even Shiroe. Like, for example, not going broke. That's right. Ending the first season of Log Horizon not on an epic boss battle for the fate of the world, but on fending off a concentrated attempt by strangers to troll your festival wasn't a fluke, but a mission statement. This show really did mean it when it said that its world would be "real".  And the struggle to make rent is about as real as it gets, when you think about it. Of course, this is a fantasy world, so magic is the key to the vault. More specifically, the vaults of the Kinue clan, the NPC people who - get this - are apparently responsible for having monsters rain coins when killed. Shiroe plans to raid that cookie jar in an epic heist that starts, fittingly enough, with organizing a raid. And the raid seems to be just the beginning, as Log Horizon seems to finally be more confident in finessing its storytelling technique. While Shiroe tries to break the bank, Akatsuki and those left behind face a new threat, one possibly linked to the "automated" Royal Guards that patrol the city to punish unauthorized player-killing. Flash-forwards and other jumps to and from the past and present seem to imply that things might not end well for either Shiroe or his friends.  Whatever happens, I'm hooked all over again, and I'll be living in this database (database), just living in this database (woah-oh).   
Log Horizon 2 photo
Still Living in the Database
We neglected to cover Log Horizon back when it debuted, beyond first look by Karen, who came away distinctly unimpressed. That was a missed opportunity, because, like many a good show, Log Horizon was very much a sl...

First Impressions: Shirobako

Oct 22 // Jeff Chuang
Making anime is a grind, a business, after all. For some it means long hours and little pay. For others it's hair-raising stress. For some it's a childhood dream. The same can be said of Shirobako's viewers. It could very well be just another late-night TV anime out of the dozens of new shows every season that you are checking out. It might be another PA Works production for those keeping score at home, featuring director of Girls und Panzer and Big Windup. For me it's anime-of-the-year material because of the specific type of anime otaku inside of me. I'm definitely jumping the gun with that proclamation just two episodes in, but the Shirobako story is already off a great start. The conceits to dramatize a busy production means combining the excitement of a high-stress environment with the realities (and all that it comes with) of a life-like, adult setting. Having the story describe a difficult project means Shirobako can play up the challenges and tribulations as a way to pivot the plot up and down, giving its characters chances to shine. And quite frankly a crazy project going down into flames is often more entertaining than an well-oiled Japanese business machine. At the same time, Shirobako anchors our perspective with a student-made animation by five excited and driven graduating students, who swore on doughnuts that they will reunite in Tokyo, each looking to fulfill their promise to each other as the best cog they could be in the anime dream machine they seek to be a part of, together. After that start, the pilot episode swings to Aoi Miyamori, the animation assistant for Studio Musashi, as she peels rubber late at night, in a methodological race with another strangely marked car labeled "G.I. Staff." They are animation runners. And it goes beyond Kuromi, the last animated animation runner most of us are familiar with. Today, the production or animation assistant role goes beyond transporting vanilla envelopes of animated cuts between various animator. In essence, she is the project manager of a specific episode, and works with the episode director to put the week's anime through its paces, keeping tabs on animator resources and making the schedule work. When the schedule slips, that's when the driven and passionate assistant get to show her colors. It sure beats pulling one's hair out. It's no surprise that the animation assistant take the lead in a story like Shirobako. Aoi gets to interact with most of the staff in the production pipeline, from director all the way to driving the sakkan (animation director) to the dub recording session. Armed with the company car, she is more than just a gofer--she literally drives the anime making machine. The action sequence in the beginning of the first episode is reminiscent of Initial D, perhaps, and it's a bit of a concession to having to show the world such a mundane task as producing a TV anime--here's a car chase for you to enjoy. At the same time,  it's within this crazy scene that Shirobako shows off the touches of the various chases in Girls und Panzer, as Aoi corners methodologically.  And it's in the details that this letter to the anime otaku shows its love. Shirobako punches for its weight. For long-time Otakon goers like myself seeing grand-dad level producer Masao Maruyama animated as a character was a great treat. As the fans go to work identifying the other cameo appearances in the show, Shirobako also makes some very obvious references, directly putting three of the voice actresses from the show as almost themselves. Seeing them voicing characters that are themselves, then voicing the in-show characters, is a pretty funny exercise that is also a bit surreal as the actresses apply their craft as they know, presented without any trimmings. The slightly less obvious reference include several of the other sound staff and the director himself. I'm sure more will be uncovered as we move through the series. Perhaps the most impressive thing, other than seeing a dramatically amusing version of the animation machine, is that despite all the grinding, daily drag, the passion of the animators leaks through to the characters in a very one-to-one way. It really feels that the people making Shirobako cares, and the story seems to explain this in a direct way. I'm wondering if it ever gets too awkward when what happens in the show is too close to real life for comfort. At this point, however, it hits me in a spot few shows do, and I hope Aoi and her friends and coworkers pull through by the season's end, to the end of Shirobako. [Watch Shirobako on Crunchyroll!]
Shirobako photo
An anime that makes an anime
Shirobako is many things--a story about a struggling animation studio, an anime production starting to go haywire, the promise of five young women in the pursuit of their dreams, and that is just to list a few. Shirobako, ...

First Impressions: Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works

Oct 18 // Josh Tolentino
Come to think of it, the fact that this show even exists is a bit of an anomaly. Anime series almost never get real "do overs", much less for reasons like "the last people to try didn't do it right". Unlimited Blade Works enters rarefied company, standing alongside such notable properties as Evangelion and, er...Negima!. It's a testament to Type-MOON and the Fate franchise's brand power, as well as Ufotable's craft, that not only were they able to get another Fate adaptation green-lit more than ten years after Fate/stay night's popularity peak, but also craft it to such a high standard. And I'm not kidding about that either: The show is gorgeous. It's not quite up to the visual level of the Garden of Sinners movies, but the first two episodes - both of which are twice the length of the average weekly - match Fate/Zero, another Ufotable gig, at its best. The quality of their craft is visible even when many scenes are almost static in their lack of overt activity.  Character designs also show off a more refined interpretation of Takeshi Takeuchi's originals, striking familiar poses and acting out familiar scenes. In more ways than one, the show feels like Fate/stay night the game, except executed on a higher level. This plays out particularly well during fights, as Ufotable manages to incorporate the colored flashes and streaks that represented motion in the old game art, but in the full range of motion and dynamism afforded by very expensive animation. The first encounter between Lancer and Archer is a thing to behold. Of course, this sheer faithfulness to the source has its downs as well as ups, represented well by this two-hour prologue. Though the episodes aptly recreate the opening scenes of the game, practically verbatim, their contemplative tone could easily be interpreted by non-fans as overly ponderous. Listening to Rin and Archer explain the value of Command Spells or watching seemingly pointless interactions with schoolmates of no clear importance ends up an albatross around the neck of Unlimited Blade Works' pacing, and this time there's no first-person viewpoint to show us characters' thought processes as they go through the mundanities of place-setting and world-building. But it all still works, and in some cases the distance of perspective helps separate the audience from the character, bringing Shirou's personality quirks and character flaws into greater relief, making him more relatable as more than the generic harem lead he came across as in the game. It's an interesting feat to manage considering that most visual novel adaptations suffer from that distance, and also speaks to the depth of the source in some key ways. For better and worse (mostly better), Unlimited Blade Works feels like a throwback of sorts, based as it is on the little chuunibyou game that could, highlighting how far we've come since then, and how rare that kind of success ends up being.
Unlimited Blade Works photo
The Holy Grail for Type-Lunatics
These day it's hard to imagine an active otaku who isn't at least passingly familiar with Fate/stay night, Type-MOON's juggernaut of a visual novel series.  I'm sure those sorts of folks exist, though, and the duty ...

First Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters Try

Oct 15 // Josh Tolentino
But first, a story. Watching the first season of Build Fighters week to week, I became aware of a contingent of fans who were also watching, but in eager anticipation of Build Fighters eventually "getting serious", i.e. going through some kind of dark twist that turned it from a show about kids fighting in tournaments with their favorite plastic models into a more traditional war story. Most predictions along those lines presumed an eventual trip by Sei and company to Reiji's homeworld of Arian, home of the Plavsky particle. These fans looked forward to what some started calling the "Arian War arc" where Gunpla would be used as tools of warfare (like Gundams should), and things would go "dark" for the rest of the series. Far be it from me to tell someone how to enjoy something they liked - and there's no doubting this subsection of the fandom did like Build Fighters as presented (in contrast to the crowd that hated Build Fighters because Gundam "must" be serious-business stories about war and whatnot), but I got the feeling they were missing the point. After all, this is a show where more than one character proudly declares that the whole reason Gunpla Battle fans can be so passionate and dedicated to their hobby is because it's exactly that - a hobby. Nothing more, and definitely nothing less. The fact that no one's life or no nation's fate is at stake in a Gunpla Battle liberates its fans from the real-life concerns that accompany having to kill or be killed. And remember, Build Fighters' ending theme glorifies "short-pants spirit" and speaks of a "neverending childhood". This show doesn't just love the hobbyists that its primary medium speaks to, it glorifies them. In short: No one would find this fun if it wasn't all a game.  Six paragraphs in and I haven't actually said anything about Build Fighters Try, but suffice it to say, that they don't go to Arian and have a war. Naw, Sunrise has instead opted not just to double down, but triple down on its love affair with Gunpla fans.  Instead of the duo of Sei and Reiji, only one of which is a true dyed-in-the-wool Gunpla otaku, we've got three top-tier hobbyists of varying stripes rounding out the main cast. There's Fumina Hoshino, a Gundam fangirl and Gunpla Battle Club President. It'd be reductive to call her a distaff Sei, but as the resident Gundam enthusiast with a passion for her "grunt suit"-based Powered GM Cardigan, that's where she's at at the moment.  Kamiki Sekai is the newcomer, and is so much like Reiji that Mr. Ral even calls him the Second Coming of Reiji, so the connection is obvious and deliberate. He's not an alien prince, though. He's a hobbyist, too, but his passion's for martial arts, especially his Jigen Haoh style. As you might imagine, he's the one who gets to prance around in the Build Fighters Try's poster mecha, the Build Burning Gundam, delivering particle punches like he didn't just now learn to play Gunpla Battle. There's not much to him at the moment beyond being a younger, less princely Reiji, but he does have Mirei, a hot older sister voiced by Aya "Sheryl Nome" Endo, who may or may not have a mysterious purpose. If the full depth of that purpose is nothing more than to be this season's Rinko Iori, I'll be somewhat disappointed. You don't give someone with that many closeups a throwaway-yet-fan-favorite role. On a side note, it turns out, to my surprise, that the Build Burning Gundam is NOT based on any particular design from G Gundam. It's not based on the God Gundam (which was renamed "Burning" for the English dub), and it's not based on the Shining Gundam either. If nothing else it's got the proportions and martial arts focus of a true Mobile Fighter, though, so that's probably all that matters. If I called Fumina a distaff Sei, this new guy, Yuuma Kousaka (the younger brother of China, everyone's favorite Bearguy pilot) looks almost exactly like Sei. Of the trio he's the master builder, but seven years since seeing his sister's boyfriend win the World Championship have instilled a heavy dose of sullen middle-schooler syndrome, and he's got lost interest in Gunpla Battle despite his proficiency at sniping the crap out of Sekai's Dom using his Re-GZ-based Lightning Gundam. We've a little ways to go before these three archetypes solidify into real characters (such as they are in youth-targeted shows like this), but we're definitely on solid ground as far as action goes. Build Fighters Try repeats the now well-known routine of Gunpla Battle, from (Please) Setting Your GP Base and Beginning Plavsky Particle Dispersal, to the many shout-outs to classic and obscure mobile suits from all across the Gundam canon. From the get-go we see a number of cameos, ranging from the classic Dom that, for whatever mysterious reason, was hiding the Build Burning Gundam inside of its frame, to the under-appreciated Enact from Gundam 00, to a bunch of hot custom jobs in the opening mob sequence. Callbacks aren't limited to Gunpla either, as we also see Tatsuya, Sei and Reiji's rival from last season, and a reference to Caroline Yajima, (the rich-bitch girlfriend of Samurai Boy Niels Nielsen) whose company seems to be providing the Plavsky Particles seven years later. It'll be quite a hoot to see what's happened to the crew in the years hence. At the very least, we should find out why Sei hid the Build Burning Gundam inside a Dom, and hid THAT inside his World Championship trophy. Also, why Mr. Ral recognized it right away. Build Fighters is back and it looks to be in top form!
Gundam Build Fighters Try photo
A Try-fecta of Gunpla Greatness
Gundam Build Fighters was a show aimed at children and designed to promote the toys Bandai wants them to build. It also happened to be the most refreshing Gundam show in years, and an love letter to Gundam's endurin...

First Impressions: Terra Formars

Oct 12 // Josh Tolentino
Speaking of living on Mars, if you want a real cool story that goes much further than Terra Formars, try reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  Spoiler alert: There are no sentient hyper-evolved cockroach men in The Martian, but there are quite a few harrowing moments that also happen, often involving sudden decompression.  But enough about (very good) books, let's get to the show we're watching, which is pretty much Attack on Titan. From the rah-rah "kill 'em all" opening theme to the very slight scowl-and-wink sense of humor, Terra Formars is about the closest anyone's come to making a spiritual sibling to Attack on Titan. Even Knights of Sidonia doesn't come as close, it being a more hopeful show by far than either of its two contemporaries. Their differences are mainly stylistic. Where Attack on Titan went for a more epic military adventure, Terra Formars is a hyper-masculine fight show gone dark, both figuratively and literally dark (the color palette is practically monochrome). Every character has a unique set of bug-based superpowers activated by a special medicine in combat, such as Captain Komachi's wasp-based powers.  And where Attack on Titan relied on budget-breaching sequences of high-octane animation, Terra Formars' visual vocabulary is the jump cut, with a minor course in slow-motion. Everywhere there's action, Terra Formars uses sudden, jarring cuts of brief motion followed by the (usually gory) results of combat. It works great at reinforcing the idea that these utter badasses (and many of them are, particularly the authority figures) are completely outmatched by the cockroaches. They may kill a few here and there, but it's simply impossible to believe at this point that there's any chance of the humans winning their war on Mars. There is, though, an unfortunate side effect of the show's expertise at jump cuts, and it's a tendency to kill off characters like an expert photobomber trying to ruin people's selfies. Virtually anyone besides the three characters in the title card can be killed, seemingly just to make a point about the cockroaches being tough customers. Speaking of a gory aftermath, there's actually very little of it to see, because Terra Formars uses some of the most awkward, ineffective censorship I've ever seen employed in a broadcast anime. If I didn't know better, I'd say the studio were having a laugh at Japan's antiquated censorship laws. I mean, just look at the screenshot. It hides practically nothing! But no censor bar can hide the elephant in Terra Formars' room, and that's the inescapable fact that the cockroaches - those horrible, unknowable savage beasts seemingly bent on murdering all the decent people with bug superpowers who just want to find a cure for some weird alien virus - look like super, super racist caricatures of Africans. It doesn't help that the Terraformars are often shown with the sophistication of (monstrous) cavemen, nor do there seem to be any humans with even remotely the same skin tone (every region BUT Africa seems to get plenty of representation on the Annex 1 mission). For viewers of a certain cultural background, that kind of portrayal will be impossible to simply ignore, and to be perfectly frank, I don't think it should be ignored, especially not if, as the show goes on, it comes to light that Terra Formars' politics are as repellent as its choice of antagonist. But for now, it seems to simply be a case of boneheaded ignorance rather than malice, so I'm willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt, or at least hope it goes no further than this one sin. [Terra Formars is streaming on Crunchyroll]
Terra Formars photo
The bugs whacked us, Johnny!
Let's get the obvious thing out of the way first: Terra Formars is not very good "Mars" fiction. The concept of Martian colonization and its myriad possibilities is just about the furthest thing from this show's mind, ev...

First Impressions: Terror in Resonance

Jul 24 // Dae Lee
Having seen Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno make pure magic (known around here as Cowboy Bebop), this was a show I couldn't afford to miss. To expect another Bebop would be inflated expectations to say the least, but I was just excited that two of the most respected masters of their respective field is exciting no matter what. The story follows two off-the-grid teenagers who plan and execute a series of terrorist attacks in Tokyo, with a loner schoolgirl who finds herself becoming an accomplice. The meanings of the attacks aren't all that clear, but glimpses of the two leads' pasts suggest that they were subject to fairly heinous acts in their youth at then hands of a "institution," and carry a large burden with them as survivors.  The duo, Touji and Arata, compliment each other as opposites. Touji is outwardly childish, sporting a veneer of innocence and happiness that hides a truly twisted and hardened mind. Arata is tall, confident and outwardly cold, but proves to be the more sentimental and soft of the two.  The wild card introduced is Lisa, a bullied girl with a overbearing mother who longs for escape but finds herself trapped in self-complacence, scared of taking any real action. All that changes when she witnesses Touji carrying out an attack, and is essentially blackmailed into becoming an accomplice. Several supporting characters emerge, the most notable being Shibasaki: a grizzled ex-detective working in the filing department who takes note of these cryptically presented acts of terrorism.  I can't help but get the same feeling that I experienced with Death Note. The first two episodes feel like a set up for a battle of wits, playing a game of cat-and-mouse all over Tokyo as the main objective of Youji and Arata become clearer. The two leave a mysterious calling card "VON" behind their activities, and upload foreboding video recordings on the internet with puzzling messages and taunts while wearing masks.  I'm enjoying the pacing as well -- the sequence of events and cutting between the detective and the teens quietly build up tension until eventually all hell breaks loose. The action is fast-paced and manic, where the animation team really shines. This pattern so far has been pretty effective at keeping my attention, and more development on the story and characters will only further my interest. The animation and art design is nothing but stunning. Listed as studio MAPPA, we're treated to a dense, concrete jungle with a slick design sense and lavish animation. Though it runs close to feeling a little too clinical and detached at times, it's nonetheless impressive. The demolition Shinjuku building eerily evokes the same haunting imagery from the destroyed 9/11 Twin Towers, from the demolition itself to images of twisted steel and rubble from the aftermath.  Yoko Kanno's tracks lend enormously to the show despite showing lots of restraint. The quality of the tracks perfectly compliment the action on screen, from building quiet tension to sweeping scores. This is the first time I'm hearing Kanno score a thriller, and so far it's a joy to listen to. Terror in Resonance offers something very different this season, and it's honestly surprising coming from Watanabe and Kanno. They've left their more fanciful eccentricities out in service of something more grounded and serious, applying their talents in ways that surprise us.The result is something that feels like it has a movie-level production despite being a television series, and that is a feat unto itself. [Watch it at FUNimation!]
FI: Terror in Resonance photo
Heroes or villains?
A new, original anime series directed by Shinichiro Watanabe with music from Yoko Kanno?Whose hand do I shake for making this happen? Terror in Resonance was a wildcard since it was announced,  featuring a relatively unknown studio (MAPPA) and a story that revolves around teenage terrorists with some frightening plans.  

First Impressions: Momo Kyun Sword

Jul 14 // Josh Totman
Momo Kyun Sword follows the busty Momo who was born from a magical peach that a couple found floating in the river. They raised her as their own and watched her ripen. Somehow growing up she had made friends with a dog god, a monkey god, and a pheasant god. The first episode doesn’t really go into how they all meet, but I’m sure it will in later episodes. We also get to meet the Celestial Maidens that have been sent by the top maiden, Sumeragi. These maidens are out to stop the demons from finding and taking all the fragments of the Michimi Peach which gives the holder great power. Boy, does this thing sound like something you have already watched before? Besides the cut and paste story, everything about this show screams overdone. The character designs look pretty generic. There is no real pop to them at all. Mainly it looks like it was made this way for easier animation. The peach theme is all around as well. Yes, yes, I know it’s the main running theme of the show, but the peach shape should be reserved for butts not boobs. Momo’s boobs don’t look all that attractive because of this keeping with the peach shape. It only makes them look heavy and awkward. The rests of them in the show don’t have this problem thank god. The real question we have to consider here is; where do we see this show going? That could be easier said than done. What I mean is this type of first episode set up could go in multiple directions. One of the ways it could go is the more serious approach where the characters find out more about themselves as they hit the road battling demons and recovering the peach shards. Then we could have pretty boring trope of them just dealing with almost the same situation at each shrine in every episode. Lastly, we could have a series that is just going to make fun of itself and keep making perverted jokes and situations all around boobs. Most of us are going to pick this last one because that seems to be the easiest way something like this could go. So far the show was...interesting. There were a lot of things that reminded me of other series’ and the show doesn't quite seem original. I could second guess most of what was going on or what was going to happen before it did. This does not make for fun anime watching. I’m not all that excited to watch any more of this series, but I will just to confirm what type of series we are dealing with. My normal threshold is three episodes for a series to really hook me unless the first one is really bad. Momo Kyun Sword is OK at best and that is still stretching it. Most people would already write this off as a bad series, and frankly, I don’t blame them one bit. This series is really going to have to put something out there to win people back, and hopefully, it’s not just boobs that they are putting out there...
FI: Momo Kyun Sword photo
Millions of peaches, peaches for me
As the site’s official “boob anime connoisseur”, it is my duty to watch all the boob anime each season.  It’s a filthy dirty job most of the time, but there are times when it can pay off beyond the bounce and deliver a good engaging story. This season, I’m afraid to say, will not be one that I see paying off...

First Impressions: Hanayamata

Jul 14 // Jeff Chuang
If you saw Kiniro Mosaic from a couple seasons ago, you might be smitten with the same concept--a westerner comes to Japan and drives a funny story about east meeting west, via cute girls doing cute things. Hanayamata so far seems a little less like that and oddly enough, more like another cute-girls-doing-cute-things predecessor: K-ON. The rock number that the first episode opens up on us doesn't quite inspire awe, despite animation studio Madhouse's usual charms. Instead, it does a good job setting expectations--that this is a story about people with aspirations, and wanting to accomplish something. Shortly before our focus character Naru chances a magical first encounter with Hana, we learn about her drummer friend Yaya who is looking to make something out of Yaya's rock band. The very shy Naru keeps things to herself while she full dive into the fairy tales and fantasy stories in the library. As one would expect, the gaijin she met does everything to ruin Naru's routine. Following Naru around for a day, we also see that Naru is the daughter of a dojo owner, and practices some kind of sword art at home. She has a well-to-do family friend who is a year older, Tami, and in this way she finds herself pushed towards the edge of her well-established comfort zone. It's hard to say if the story of Hanayamata, based on an ongoing, serialized manga, will take a more serious tone or, more importantly, be too devoid of humor to drive this pretty-girl show forward. The relationships between the OP-preordained cast probably will be the centerpiece of the story, sure, but like all journeys like these it's about how we get there. There are a lot of interesting things set up already at this point, so we could enjoy the show initially even with the exposition bit--such as learning how Hana gets so fluent with Japanese. One thing is for sure, Hanayamata is one of the prettiest anime this season. The way those traditional clothes cover our protagonists is a page out of Chihayafuru, plus a truck load of art filters. There's blooming blossoms in the air, there's early-summer fireworks under the full moon and a field of stars. On top of that you add these very cute girls and dancing, and the end result is a very beautifully crafted show. The summer night scene when Hana meets Naru is straight up otherworldly, and I think it might even have gotten to the point where I begin to suspect the way this show anchors itself in reality, given its theme about Naru's fancy. On top of all this, Hanayamata is squarely marketing to the otaku, featuring some quality seiyuu idol types behind the characters. With two WUGs and three other promising new(ish) voice actresses, doing promo shots in cosplay, it's easy to get caught up on the pretty girls, 2D or 3D, and their songs and dances. Maybe that's okay for one episode. Learning about yosakoi was worth those 24 minutes of mine. [Watch Hanayamata on Crunchyroll!]
Hanayamata photo
Jersey Girl does Yosakoi
Hello there. I live in the state of New Jersey, here in the USA. Unfortunately my name is not Fountainstand and I've never heard of yosakoi until I first read about Hanayamata. After doing a few Google searches...

First Impressions: Glasslip

Jul 12 // Dae Lee
P.A. Works seem to have cornered the market for anime that evoke nostalgia with school-bound protagonists and complex relationships, and Glasslip fits snuggly among its sibling creations. We're introduced to a tightly-knit clique of diverse personalities who round together at the local cafe to organize activities and gossip.  We have Toko Fukami as our lead protagonist, a girl with boundless optimism with a strong affinity for the arts. Being the daughter of a local glass workshop owner, she frequently makes glass creations and enjoys drawing in her spare time. Her personality is very reminiscent of Manaka of Nagi-Asu -- naive and gracious, with seemingly limitless patience. Her world and relationship with her group begins to change when a rich, new face rolls into town and starts stirring the pot. Named Kakeru and sporting jet-black hair, he aloofly integrates himself into Toko's life, arranging private meetings where he explains to her that they are both somehow connected and share the ability to see into the future. These sequence of events begin clashing with the already-fragile state of their group's thin veneer of tranquility. Harbored feelings and unrequited love are uncovered early on, and things get interesting faster than expected.  Coming off of Nagi-Asu, one of the most visually beautiful televised anime I've ever seen, I had pretty high expectations with Glasslip; but they somehow went above and beyond even that. This is P.A. Works hitting their stride, becoming that much of a direct competitor visually to pillars of quality like Kyoto Animation. Lush with colors and details without feeling alienating, they've created a quiet bay-side town that feels alive. There are a few interesting deviations from the studio's past works by integrating some sillier elements to the series, despite its grounded characters. Small bubbles featuring chibi-styled talking heads and cartoonish sound effects stood out as a strange departure from the very straight-laced delivery from past works, but the more I've seen of it, the less weird they felt. Almost any show dealing with time as a main concept has my attention, and Glasslip seems like a show with lots of promise. The robust art design, ridiculous production value and confident direction falls in line with what makes P.A. Works a stand-out studio. We still have a lot of character and plot to dig into but the premise and presentation has me hooked. [Watch Glasslip on Crunchyroll!]
FI: Glasslip photo
I sense drama in your future
I've become a large fan of P.A. Works in the past year or two. The Eccentric Family and Nagi-Asu both proved to be among the top shows of their respective seasons, providing grounded drama in the midst of well-realized fantastical settings.  

First Impressions: Persona 4 the Golden Animation

Jul 11 // Dae Lee
The first few minutes are all too familiar for those who have played the game or watched the 25-episode AIC Rasta's anime rendition in 2011: Aria of the Soul, cryptic words of fate, a promise of adventure. The opening song rolls out, the tune unchanged from the Playstation Vita game, devoid of any production or staff credits -- only giant names of the characters flash on screen. The studio knows what you want; they know why you're here.  I can already tell: this isn't going to follow in the footsteps of the previous Persona 4: The Animation. The first adaptation was a earnest effort to cater to newcomers as well as existing fans, sticking closely to the source material with some new side content to pad the story. Persona 4 the Golden Animation however, plays out like a "greatest hits" compilation. Remember when I said the opening credits only feature character names? That turned out to be the only introduction viewers will get. Nanako, Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke: all our familiar cast members that have proper and unique introductions in the game don't even have scenes where they exchange names. They're just there and ready to get the story going.  Newcomers beware, this is a show that will leave you in the dust in favor of getting all the new P4G content into this new adaptation that will only last 12 episodes -- less than half the length of the original anime. This is a show that is very clearly aimed that those who played the game or watched the previous anime, so this is where I'll start getting weirdly specific about the anime and source material. This P4G Animation features a different Yu Narukami. This is a bonafide, max-stats Yu who possesses heroic courage, sagely knowledge, enthralling expression, saintly understanding and rock solid diligence. This Yu goes down the spicier path of life, being about as outgoing as his character can be in the game via dialogue choices. Not only that, but I swear I see a vague twinkle in his eye when he does all these things, as if HE KNOWS. He knows that's he's done all this before.  The way he instigates conversations, talks to people who should be complete strangers as if he's known them his whole life, the way he extends his hand first, that damn vague expression of satisfaction he wears. I swear, this is some kind of bizarre meta-Yu, and it's messing with my mind!  But my dumb theories aside, something else this adaptation starts to do is take some steps in creative liberty. Those who played the game multiple times and have the sequence of events burned into your mind will see a myriad of small differences, many I would assume, in the interest of time. The initial entry into to the TV world is probably the biggest example as it consolidates multiple events into this one trip, and makes some giant omissions as well. These may be small ripples, but the more I feel like these could be the catalyst for bigger waves of changes to come.  The final nail into the coffin that this isn't your typical Persona 4 is the final action sequence in the TV world where literally thousands of shadow enemies appear onscreen, swarming our heroes. In Yu's very first Persona summon, he not only manages to annihilate every last one of them, he does it with what looks like the Megidolaon attack from the video game, a skill acquired late-game which decimates every living enemy in a blinding flash of light. Not quite your typical skill set for a beginner Persona. Both directors listed as working on this adaptation have histories with this universe, as Seiji Kishi is the returning director of Persona 4: The Animation, and Tomohisa Taguchi who is directing the second Persona 3 film Midsummer Knight's Dream. The character look and design feel still seems very similar to the previous adaptation, despite being a A-1 Pictures production this time around. The higher production values are apparent in a few very beautiful scenes, but some of the awkward wonky character drawings that plagued the first series still persists to a lesser extent in this new production. This is definitely not meant for the uninitiated, and is more of an act of fan service for those in the know. This is a heavily abridged version of the story that cuts out much of the character development and subtler story points, highlighting the bare minimum and focusing on adapting the new content from the game. The new face of the series, Marie, seems to be the only one who gets the full character treatment with a proper introduction and decent screen time. None of the character-specific dungeons are to be found, or even alluded to, making me think that many of them may be omitted, if not altogether. Next week's episode preview already features Kanji, who doesn't appear until 1/4 into the original narrative, meaning the break-neck pace will not let up anytime soon.  It's hard to say how I feel about this. The visual upgrade is noticeable, but I was hoping for something even more of a departure from the original animation. And while I'm enjoying the nods to the original material and the interesting ways it tries to condense the narrative, I can't help but feel the twinge of shame that this series is completely guilty of the typical, "If you're a hardcore fan, you'll feel right at home; if you're not, then there's very little to like here" phrase.  Like everything related to Persona 4, this is a quirky weird show that seems like it'll have some interesting tricks up its sleeve that will cater to fans whether you played the Playstation Vita remake or not. It does practically require you to at least know the original storyline to really appreciate what it's doing here, but it genuinely has my attention despite knowing this song and dance like the back of my hand. [Watch Persona the Golden Animation on Crunchyroll!]
FI: Persona 4 the Golden  photo
Welcome to the... well, you know.
Persona 4 is among the most addictive and stubborn video game properties of the past 4 years -- you couldn't get rid of it if you wanted to! A lightning in a bottle that continues to hook us in with spin-offs and now, a second anime retelling. But this time, we're going full-on New Game Plus.  

First Impressions: Argevollen

Jul 09 // Josh Tolentino
Generic Country With Difficult Name A is making war upon Generic Country With Difficult Name B, breaking through its walls with a combination of 23rd-century mecha, 21st-century tanks, and early 20th-century infantry, for whatever reason. Rookie mecha pilot Tokimune is being naive and hot-blooded, and disobeys orders to go save some civilians who happen to be driving a mech-sized truck. In the truck is a big custom mecha that moves a lot more naturally, has some kind of brain interface, and allows Tokimune to be a general badass. The battle is won, but at what cost?  Sound familiar? It should, since it's every single military mecha anime cliche thrown in a blender, just as Buddy Complex and the first episode of Valvrave the Liberator were every post-Code Geass anime cliche in that nutshell, and Majestic Prince was every post-Macross anime. Don't get me wrong, though: I don't prize originality very highly when it comes to my Japanese cartoons. I had fun watching all three of the shows I mentioned. As a person who enjoys many products of the mainstream game industry, I can understand that "derivative" does not equate to "bad". But Argevollen will have its work cut out for it if it seeks to rise above the crowd. That's a shame, because on the writing front, Argevollen feels far less "forced" than almost any other genre show this season. Sure, everyone's a cliche, but they settle into their niches quite naturally, and much of what happens in this first week doesn't feel trite. Most of the characters' interactions, barring a "lions leading sheep" moment from the old generals and an unnecessarily hostile first meeting between Tokimune and his love interest, flow well and "click" in a way that rarely happens in anime. At the same time, though, on a technical level Argevollen's making a much worse first impression than any of the other shows I've mentioned. Buddy Complex had appealing character designs, good-looking mecha, and some well-executed framing early on. Majestic Prince's fights started out strong and only got stronger, eventually rivaling the best of Macross and being a CG showcase. Valvrave went off the rails just before the credits and never got back on.  By comparison, even in this first episode where all the resources are supposed to be front-loaded to make a good hook, everything and everyone's movement is more stilted stiffer than Mahouka's storytelling. I can get behind the mook mecha's Front Mission look, but things are really going to have to step up if they want to get the kind of good war story credit shows like the 8th MS Team are remembered for.  [Catch Argevollen streaming on Crunchyroll!]
Argevollen photo
War Stories
If I were a less charitable and much lazier recapper, I'd point you to my First Impressions of Buddy Complex and call it a day. Heck, nearly all of it except the basic plot description still applies! That's because Argev...

First Impressions: Akame ga Kill!

Jul 08 // Hiroko Yamamura
Right away we see the prowess of our protagonist Tatsumi, demonstrating his ability to quickly dispatch creatures with ease. Apparently he and his friends are something special back home, and he confidently strides into the capitol looking for a high ranking position. He quickly gets a taste of reality by getting tossed onto the street, and told there is just no work for someone with his skills.  Tatsumi's day doesn't get any easy when he's scammed by the well endowed Leone, and left to sleep on the street. Things seemingly pick up when a young aristocrat invites him to her home, and offers up work. The so far upbeat and silly show starts to show its sinister side a bit here, when the family's guard whispers of problems and punishment in capitol.  He is also told of a feared group of thieves called the Night Raid, who murder and rob the wealthy.  It's not long that Tastumi comes face-to face with the Night Raid and the blade of the highly skilled blade of Akame and the rest of the team, seemingly lead by Leone. The group quickly dispatches the family and the sugary exterior of lies quickly unravels around Tastumi. Yes my friends, this is where things get good. While he is no match for Akame, he is spared at the last minute by a well placed heirloom and the mercy of Leone. Tastumi discovers the fate of his lost companions and dispatches his own justice, and heads off on a new path. I'll let you guys enjoy how this goes down on your own. You guys know by now I'm a sucker for character designs. That's probably the main thing that draws me to a series, wether in print or in animation. I was initially quite jarred at the cuter redesign of Tatsumi, but can see how it works in the show. While the manga was far from being gritty looking, I guess it took me a bit to adapt. The whole thing actually adds a bit to the show's strength. It's bizarre, and jarring ability to mix the horrific with humor and cuteness. While it definitely built up to a big release, the show did well at making you feel that things were just not right, even during adorable shopping scenes. Even if the saccharine levels were too much for you, the ending brutality surely pays off for you in the end. Wether or not this mixture of things hold up in the long run is still to be seen. Even with under 30 minutes to introduce the series, we already get an idea of what everyone is about. While they all seem to carry a few anime tropes along with them, they all have something fresh and new about them, leaving you interested in their stories. Tatsumi may seem to be an standard anime protagonist so far, he's walking around with his own demons and aspirations, and is a character worth sticking around for. Of course fans are probably most interested in the title character Akame's story, and I think they did a great job in keeping her cool enough to have your interested piqued, but not show enough to not make you hungry for the next episode. The show's artwork and animation look top-notch, with fluid battle scenes, fast action, and well-drawn weapons. Like I mentioned earlier, the gore really clashed with the moe/cutesy scenes and the use of color and light really play an integral part. Seeing how members of the Night Raid casually hold conversations and joke with each other while surrounded by bloodshed is pretty entertaining. I have to definitely mention that the show's music is just fantastic. The opening song Skyreach by Sora Amamiya and the ending Konna Sekaai, Shiritakunakatta fit perfectly, and have already been added to my iTunes collection. The rest of the music has been perfectly composed by Taku Iwasaki, who is well-known for his work on Gatchaman Crowds, Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal, and Gurren Lagann. Really well-made stuff. I'm quite excited to watch the rest of Akame ga Kill! this summer. While it never stuck me as the anime to watch, I'm surprisingly pleased with my assignment. I'm really hoping that they can find that perfect mix of humor and gore, all while not going too far ala Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka. It's important that they not overdo it, and keep things poignant. Fans new to the series are in for a season full of awesome battles, sweet weapons, and a surprisingly political ride. Oh yeah, Akame's going to kill.  [You can catch Akame ga Kill! over at Crunchyroll]
FI: Akame ga Kill! photo
The "slice-a-life" show you always wanted
Like usual, I left it up to my lovely co-workers at Japanator to choose the anime I was going to watch this season. This technique has a few benefits and risks, as they might intentionally be setting me up a hellish few month...

First Impressions: Sword Art Online II

Jul 07 // Salvador GRodiles
Instead of taking us to another game with a medieval fantasy setting, Sword Art Online II’s new MMO title, Gun Gale Online, takes place in a futuristic world that revolves around using guns in combat. However, this time around, the show’s story focuses on the mystery behind the Player Killer known as Death Gun. So what makes this person special? Well, the mysterious gunner has a firearm that’s capable of killing his/her targets in real life without having to be in the same vicinity as the victim. Of course, no one's going to stand by and let this crazy killer have its fun, as a member of the Ministry of Affair’s Virtual Division hires Kazuto to help with their investigation on the matter. With this notion set in place, Sword Art Online II plans to bring back the elements that made the Aincrad Arc worthwhile. As a person who’s only kept up with the Sword Art Online anime, it was great to see that the concept of actually dying in a virtual game has returned to the series. Thanks to Death Gun’s special ability, Sword Art Online II has the potential to bring a new level of suspense to the show’s story. When you think about it, Kirito’s going to be in for an intense ride, as his life'll be in danger at any moment-- at least until we learn the secret behind the killer’s broken technique. While the show’s first episode didn’t have much action going on, I found the dialogue segments to be very informative, as they gave us an idea on how Gun Gale Online’s mechanics work. On top of that, seeing Kazuto and Asuna interacting in the real world shows the viewers that their lives after the Fairy Dance Arc has gotten better. If anything, both scenes act a decent way to prepare us for Kazuto’s new adventure when he logs into Gun Gale Online for the first time. Best of all, the show has proven to us that it’ll move at a steady pace, which means that Kazuto’s progression will feel more natural than before. If there was one far-fetched thing about Sword Art Online II, it'd be Kazuto's recruitment into the case, since I felt that it was unrealistic for the Ministry of Affairs to hire him before seeking other individuals who'd be better qualified for the job. Sure, Kirito completed SAO and managed to put an end to Sugou’s evil schemes when he was in Alfheim Online, but that doesn’t mean that he’s capable of doing a detective’s job. Then again, this is a fictional show where virtual realty's possible, so we should just assume that Kazuto’s gaming skills and knowledge of the virtual world would be essential to this mission. On the bright side, at least Kazuto’s getting paid for risking his life, so this arc might change how he pursues his future career. On the animation side of things, A-1 Productions continues to apply their vibrant coloring style to Sword Art Online’s new season. Overall, the show’s staff did a fine job in bringing Gun Gale Online’s advanced setting to life, as the city in the episode gave off a nice cyberpunk vibe. While we didn’t get to see how A-1'll handle the gun-based fight scenes, the sniper character known as Sinon gave us a little sample of what to expect for the sniping side of things. Depending on how the studio animates Sword Art Online II's upcoming battles, the show might capture the actual feel of each firearm shown in the series. However, I can't help but to be worried over the fact that A-1'll switch between the 2D and 3D guns (such as Sinon's sniper rifle) during the each shooting sequence. Personally, I would rather see more hand-drawn guns than CG firearms, as the 3D models fail to blend with the show's characters and scenes. Despite the show’s slow start, Sword Art Online II’s narrative managed to give us a crash course on what to expect in Gun Gale Online’s world. With Death Gun on the loose, I’m certain that the killer’s role will create some suspenseful moments for Kazuto’s new avatar. Most importantly, the Phantom Bullet Arc has the potential to bring us back to the death-related aspects that was absent in Fairy Dance. In other words, Sword Art Online II might have what it takes to blow the first SAO series out of the water. Hopefully, SAO II’s pacing won’t speed up later on, since the series' quality would go down if staff decides to cram two arcs into one season again. In the meantime, let’s hope that things remain steady during Sword Art Online II’s second episode. Since I felt satisfied with SAO II's content so far, I'm actually interested in seeing where Kazuto's investigation will take him next. If something goes wrong during the show's upcoming episode, then we can at least look forward to hearing more of Miyuki Sawashiro’s (Durarara!!’s Celty, Kamen Rider Decade’s Kivala) voice next week. [You can log into Sword Art Online II's world at Crunchyroll and Daisuki]
FI: Sword Art Online II photo
It's time to log back in
Back in 2012, Sword Art Online’s first season caused a huge stir in the anime community. Most people hated the show because of Kirito’s character, while others started disliking the series when SAO was in the midd...

First Impressions: Aldnoah Zero

Jul 06 // Dae Lee
Aldnoah Zero wastes no time throwing you in, but there is quite a bit of world-building to establish first. We whip back down to Earth to see that not all that much has changed. We see familiar school uniforms, a normal apartment; a boy named Inaho cooks breakfast as his sister, Yuki, walks lazily out having overslept. Inaho gets ready for high school and boards a bus where he greets his friends at the back. As we follow a small band of students on the way to school, we get plenty of hints and exposition that begins the world-building process. Whispers of a disaster recovery effort being underway in their major city clues us into the event infamously referred to as "Heavens Fall", which occurred 15 years ago, and suggests that the citizens of Mars was responsible. Another passing comment lets us know that Japan was hit less than in other countries around the world, giving us a sense of how widespread the damage must have been. Humans seemed to be able to effortlessly teleport between Earth and Mars via a relic discovered on Earth's moon, called the Hyper Gate. During a Mars colonization expedition, ancient alien relics and technology was uncovered, called Aldnoah -- a hotly contested commodity that was claimed by the Vers Empire of Mars which continues to strain relations with Earth. A crackling speaker dispenses more history: The Vers Empire declared war against Earth in 1999, with the Moon being the primary battleground, which eventually led to the destruction of the Hyper Gate which was first discovered on it, and essentially destroying the Moon -- the chunks of floating debris now orbiting Earth is referred to as the Satellite Belt. The remaining Vers forces left behind, having no way of returning to Mars after the war, took residency in the Satellite Belt among the orbiting Moon chunks. Militarization has infiltrated everyday life, as it has become mandatory curriculum for students to undergo training, which includes learning how to operate giant humanoid mechs called Kataphrakts, an effort to push against Mars should another war arise. Back on the cold and clinical spacecraft, we see the naive and optimistic Princess Asseylum preparing to visit Earth to establish peace, and spending company with a boy named Slaine who claims the princess saved him and his father's life years ago. The striking visual difference of these 'Martians' effectively makes them seem more alien and otherworldly in comparison to the familiar contemporary aesthetics of Earth. It seems that the humans living on Mars have established some sort of sovereign monocracy for themselves, with very clear lines between the various classes. When we see the armored cars surrounding the limo which is ostensibly carrying the princess, we can already tell what is going to happen. A meticulously planned attack is carried out via missiles which end up destroying all the cars, including the one Princess Asseylum was supposed to be in. A political conspiracy no doubt, which would spur the Vers Empire into another declaration of war, just as some have been waiting for. The framing of the attack leads me to believe that the princess may actually be alive, but we'll have to see about that in the coming episodes. This was, all in all, an elaborate world-building episode that lays down the foundation for the conflict that our characters will have to deal with for the remainder of the series. All the static exposition set up in the first half are likely to come to life in the subsequent episodes, and it's quite the exciting prospect, because the political intrigue is simple enough for anyone to understand, while carrying a lot of weight in setting up the story. We're finally left with horrifying imagery as the Vers Knights engage in a full on invasion, evoking the ghastly images associated with the atomic bomb happening all over the globe simultaneously. It was a powerful closer that sent a deep chill up my spine, effectively accompanied by the bombastic choral blaring of Hiroyuki Sawano's musical score. It may be considered a dry episode by some, but this show carries a weight and confidence that managed to convince me that I was watching something special. The art design, animation, and music all come together for a project that feels like a massive undertaking and will provide plenty of discussion in the coming weeks. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started, but this will be the first title that comes to mind for quite some time when thinking about great opening episodes of the current season. [You can watch Aldnoah Zero on Crunchyroll!]
FI: Aldnoah Zero photo
Orange is the new black
On a monolithic object in space, men in colonial attire stand around with grave faces as a young princess giddily marvels at the chance of visiting the primordial blue sphere that spawned all humans: Earth. What this show doesn't tell you right away, is that these people are in fact, Martians.

First Impressions: Locodol

Jul 06 // Dae Lee
The idol boom in Japan has affected entertainment in many ways, eventually making its way to video games and anime. Singing and dancing is seeing a nation-wide revival, with idols popping up to promote anything from clothing lines to restaurants. A recent trend in the industry are a surge of idols that represent their region, promoting their city and getting involved in local events, activities, and tourism -- and that's where Locodol comes in. We're introduced to Nanako, a smart-mouthed and emotional girl on the outside but a bit shy at heart when she realizes she yearns to be part of a club but doesn't know what to do. She unknowingly agrees to take on a job as a local idol (locodol) to help revitalize her small town and is paired with the calm and professional Yukari to become a duo. The first event is at a grand re-opening of a local water park, which Nanako stumbles and trips her way through, but  with Yukari's guidance and composure, Nanako realizes the fun that comes with being an idol. I felt like the sequence of events was well-written in a simple but effective way. There's quite a bit of  interesting foreshadowing going on in subtle ways, many that wasn't apparent to me until a second viewing and some that I assume won't come into play until later. The opening shot of the episode is a weekly music ranking chart, something Japan is rather obsessed with, and is often dominated by idol musical acts. The show pulls away, but the television continues its programming and actually shows one of the idol groups in the ranking, AWA GiRLS, in the background of the opening scene. At school, there is a scene dedicated to a girl performing in a mascot costume. You never see her face, but you hear a student call her by name: Yui. She's likely to be a fairly important figure in the future, if I had to guess. Nanako is also shown humming the town's (Nagarekawa) anthem on her way to school, something that becomes pretty important later on. Yukari makes her first appearance on Nananko's television as well, something I missed in my first viewing. There isn't much in the way of great animation, but the art is extremely clean and every frame is picture perfect, drawn with care and precision. I always really appreciate and take note of art consistency (as it seems to be fairly uncommon in lots of anime productions), and Locodol surprised me with its high quality renderings. The art design seems to be going for a simple and attractive look, which works well with the tone and feel of the show.  Nanako is given the task of carrying this first episode, and she does the job as the flustered and excitable lead who is thrust into the world of idols. Much of the humor relies on her sarcastic and deadpan reactions, and I found her very easy to like. Yukari comes in as a mentor figure to her, but I'm sure we'll see what makes her tick in future episodes. A significant chunk of Locodol's appeal, as I said before, is pretty similar to Wake Up Girls in that it's clearly a "art imitates life" type of show, albeit with embellishments. I can see plenty of people wondering why this type of anime exists, who it appeals to, and find it boring. However, these kind of idol shows dig a bit deep into their own bag of traditions and tropes, and the flavor comes from those details.  The references that reproduce Japanese music charts, public events, and variety shows are things that are fairly novel in the anime space, and bring something familiar to the table in a way I don't see often, and that's where the appeal sits with me. It can be tough to get into Locodol because it provides something that may seem underwhelming if you're looking for conventions of a normal anime to pull you in, but if you have any passing interest in the dynamics and goings on of small idol units that share various analogs with real-life idols, this is something I would recommend.  [You can watch Locodol on Crunchyroll!]
FI: Locodol photo
Local idols in locomotion
As an avid idol fan myself, I've always appreciated when media takes care to pay attention to details and display that they themselves are enthusiastic about Idol culture. Wake Up Girls was one such anime, and I feel like Locodol will be a similar offering.

FI: Sailor Moon Crystal photo
FI: Sailor Moon Crystal

First Impressions: Sailor Moon Crystal


We are not helpless girls who need men's protection
Jul 05
// Brittany Vincent
I never thought I'd be on the verge of tears after watching Usagi Tsukino's very first transformation into the pretty soldier of love and justice for the umpteenth time, but here I sit wiping tears away and swallowing back th...

Japanator's Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide, Part 2!

Jul 04 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]32786:4012:0[/embed] Sengoku BASARA: Judge End Studio: Telecom Animation Film (Moyashimon Returns, Yowapeda) Director: Takashi Sano (Blassreiter) Opening: July 5, 2014 PUT YA GUNS ON!  That's not a catchphrase I expected to be able to say again after Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party was released, because as I understood it, we've been over this story already. After all, The Last Party was a feature-length movie that basically covered the plot (such as it is) of Sengoku BASARA 3, which in turn brings Capcom's stylized saga of samurai superheroes to Sekigahara, the battle which in real history effectively brought an end to Japan's sengoku era. That would've been a pretty good spot to put the sunset on the BASARA boys, but alas, here we are. Judge End apparently covers the exact same plot period, though I presume it'll be including involvement from some of the characters left out of The Last Party, such as the genderswapped gunner Magoichi Saika and some dude whose weapons are a ball-and-chain and a fantastic set of abs.  Unfortunately, production duties have been passed from Production I.G., which handled the last two seasons and the movie, to Telecom (aka TMS), who last delivered Yowapeda. That might not be the best sign, but then again even in I.G.'s hands Sengoku BASARA was never quite the "sakuga" powerhouse it could've been, so it could work out just fine.   [embed]32786:4018:0[/embed] Samurai Jam - Bakumatsu Rock! Studio: Studio DEEN (Fate/stay night, Hakuoki) Director: Itsuro Kawasaki Opening: July 2, 2014 Streaming on: Crunchyroll The other day I mentioned that we've passed a Rubicon when it comes to finding otaku-friendly twists for historical anime. It's simply not enough anymore to make Nobunaga a cute girl or hot guy and call it a day. You've gotta have a weird twist, be it some kind of bonkers sci-fi drivel or...rock music idols.  Bakumatsu Rock is the latter, jumping forward some three centuries to the Meiji Restoration and casting Ryoma Sakamoto, a key figure in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and now a well-haired rock star seeking to take down the government squares with his songs of love, peace and freedom. The show just aired last night, so look forward to some First Impressions soon!   [embed]32786:4024:0[/embed] Free! Eternal Summer Studio: Kyoto Animation (Free! ~Iwatobi Swim Club~) Director: Hiroko Utsumi (Free! ~Iwatobi Swim Club~) Opening: July 3, 2014 Streaming On: Crunchyroll and FUNimation  Much as I am a fan of Kyoto Animation's work, I sort of bounced off of Free! I'm not sure why, but I know it wasn't the hot boys or even the swimming. Maybe I just wasn't up for a "sports anime", even though it was as much a sports anime as K-ON! was a "band anime", so I dunno. But hey, good thing I'm not in charge, because Free! is back and airing right now, complete with a new subtitle, Eternal Summer. That said, I don't think hot boys swimming shirtless is what the people of Westeros wish for when they talk about how "Winter is coming."* *Yes, I made a Game of Thrones reference to disguise the fact that I don't have all that much to say about Free!    [embed]32786:4028:0[/embed] Black Butler: Book of Circus Studio: A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online II) Director: Noriyuki Abe (Bleach, Flame of Recca) Opening: July 10, 2014 Streaming on: Daisuki Get ready for a new generation of anime fans to name their online game characters "Phantomhive", because the show that brought us the Sebastian meme is back. After considerable departures from the original plot early in the series, Book of Circus pulls a Days of Future Past and turns back the clock, jumping off from episode 15 of the first season and effectively nullifying the entire second season like it was a future filled with mutant-hunting robots. To boot, they've brought on a Director with plenty of experience helming JUMP shows that need to stay manga-faithful and a writer that's probably best left unburdened with the task of creating original stories (Gundam SEED Destiny and Vividred Operation scribe Hiroyuki Yoshino). If A-1 can keep up the production values, I think Brittany can expect a fun ride through the land of butlers and delicious shipping opportunities.   [embed]32786:4030:0[/embed] Tokyo ESP Studio: XEBEC (Rio Rainbow Gate, Yamato 2199) Director: Shigehito Takayanagi (Galaxy Angel X, The World God Only Knows Season 2) Opening: July 11, 2014 I liked what little I saw of Noragami, mainly for the execution on its romance hook and endearing characters. Unfortunately, it wasn't especially exciting as an action show, which might explain why I sort of forgot it existed until I had to write about Tokyo ESP.  For whatever reason, Tokyo ESP rubs that Noragami itch, except where the latter's female lead was turned into to a narcoleptic catgirl ghost, Tokyo ESP's lady lead Rinka basically turns into Kitty Pryde, who is one of my favorite X-Men. I'll consider that an official endorsement from Marvel Studios.   [embed]32786:4031:0[/embed] Barakamon Studio: Kinema Citrus (Black Bullet, Yuyushiki) Director: Masaki Tachibana (.hack//Quantum) Opening: July 5, 2014 Streaming on: Crunchyroll On title alone I'd have thought Barakamon to be like a mashup of a certain blade-armed Mortal Kombat character and everyone's favorite Pocket Monster dogfighting sim, but no, it's a thoughtful character piece about a jerkfaced calligraphy dude who gets sent off to the sticks for being a jerkface, where he meets a little girl that changes his jerkfaced outlook on life.  Basically, it's this season's Bunny Drop, and that really can't be a bad thing, especially not since their source manga is apparently quite good. Of course, they could foul up the adaptation, but that can happen with anything, really.    [embed]32786:4032:0[/embed] DRAMAtical Murder Studio: Naz (Hamatora) Director: Kazuya Miura While shows like Free and cute boy idol programs like Bakumatsu Rock and Shonen Hollywood are ripe for shipping, the boys in them tend to remain generally straight, much to the consternation of fans who like their hot boy pairings "canon". That's where shows like DRAMAtical Murder come in, based right off of popular BL and yaoi games. Though I'm still not swinging the way I'd like to for this type of program to strike my fancy, it does look a sight more interesting than other shows in its ilk, featuring weird "Rhyme Battles" and properly nutso character designs.   [embed]32786:4033:0[/embed] Persona 4 The Golden Animation Studio: A-1 Pictures Director: Seiji Kishi (Persona 4 The Animation, Angel Beats!) Opening: July 10, 2014 Streaming on: Aniplex and Daisuki  As much as I'd love to call myself a superfan of Persona, everything about this adaptation of Persona 4 Golden screams "unnecessary". Sure, it might be adding in the involvement of some new characters from Atlus' definitive version of Persona 4, but are Marie, a scooter, a garden, and a vacation to the mountains really enough to justify an entire new anime series? I'm inclined to disagree. That said, it's not as if the original Persona 4 anime was perfect either, and this might be a chance to correct some of the missteps made the first time around. Dae's going to be checking it out, and we'll see if he can form a social link with it.   [embed]32786:4034:0[/embed] Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? Studio: Silver Link (Strike the Blood, Mawaru Penguindrum) Director: Shin Oonuma (Baka and Test) Opening: July 11, 2014 You can tell it's going to be a weird season when there's no obvious candidate to take care of the harem-loving contingent and for better or worse, Summer 2014 will NOT be a weird season, thanks to Invaders of the Rokujyoma!  Normal everyday potato-man Koutarou rents a 6-tatami apartment (that's basically a broom closet), but meets a whole bunch of weird girls that make his life cliched and interesting. I sort of liked in when harem shows were getting postmodern, like with Is This A Zombie? and even Date A Live, but unfortunately I'm not quite getting that vibe from this one.
Anime Preview 2! photo
It's getting hot in here!
The sun's up and it's time to get the heck into the shade and watch some Japanese cartoons! Welcome to the second part of Japanator's Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide! Just as we did in yesterday's first part, we're here to ta...

First Impressions: Rail Wars!

Jul 04 // Dae Lee
The Japanese National Railway is a hot ticket for high school students in this alternate Japan where the railway has not become privatized, and is taken care of by the government instead. Naoto Takayama, the lead male protagonist, is a certifiable train enthusiast who seems set on working for the prestigious national railway. In his training he forms a small, ragtag group consisting of feisty red-headed Sakurai, knowledgeable yet busty Koumi, and physically capable Iwaizumi Shou. The first episode follows this band from their first meeting at training school, up to their graduation where they will begin working as a full-fledged squad. As someone who doesn't have much knowledge about trains, let alone those that occupy Japanese railways, I was pretty excited about the prospect of gleaning some locomotive trivia from this anime the same way I learned about various war tanks from Girls und Panzer. In that way, I feel like Rail Wars can definitely deliver, despite the technical terminology whizzing by my head. Where the show begins to falter for me, lies with the flagrant fan-service and lackluster visuals. I'm not squeamish about fan-service, whether it be men or women; it's practically a hallmark of anime. what I do care about, is tone. And I felt like the tone of the show was hindered by the liberal amount of unnecessary enunciation of breasts and hind-quarters, which even extend to non-essential background characters. Perhaps the most annoying part of all this is how the fan-service is integrated into the show.  Despite taking care to draw extra ass lines onto every female character, the anime comes off as weirdly timid and unable to own up to its actions. Unlike No Game No Life, a show that revels in ecchi and has fun with it, there's no such sign of self-awareness or glee with Rail Wars, which actually makes it feel a little dishonest. This kind of implementation screams to me that the studio was terrified that the original material wasn't interesting enough, and resorted to the cheap tactic of throwing large, shifting boobs onscreen as often as they could. The visuals also left a little more to be desired. Many drawings of characters look off-model and occasionally wonky, with ancillary background characters looking lazily rendered. The animation also felt stilted and lacking. There are flashes of impressive animation work in action scenes, but the overall visual quality fell below expectations. I'm a sucker for hyper-focused niche anime and following a small band of main characters, so the hooks are still there for me despite the few glaring missteps in execution. From this first episode, I feel like my expectations are a bit more tempered, but I still enjoyed all of the train-centric activities. They successfully integrate story situations to dispense trivia ranging from fuel efficiency to the advantages of certain train lines, with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm to draw me in. There's fun to be had, but the weirdly integrated fan-service and merely adequate visuals will be a combination that will turn away many potential viewers. I was hoping for a show that would lean into its premise a bit more and embrace the fun and ridiculous aspects of working on a national railway system, but that could still be the case in future episodes.
FI: Rail Wars! photo
CG trains and Butt-lines on full steam!
Rail Wars was strangely one of my most anticipated this season. The premise of a train security force fighting against railway privatization extremists sounded just crazy enough to become something worth following, but the first episode left me a little perplexed.

Japanator's Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide, Part 1!

Jul 02 // Josh Tolentino
[embed]32704:3986:0[/embed] Sword Art Online II Studio: A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, The iDOLM@STER) Director: Tomohiko Ito (Sword Art Online) Opening: July 5, 2014 Streaming on: Crunchyroll Man, Sword Art Online was popular, wasn't it? It certainly felt that way back when it was airing, to the point that it was so popular questions of its actual quality almost didn't even matter, so outsized were the reactions one way or the other. Even Karen was so off-put by the hate she felt it necessary to dampen the flames of ire a little bit. Whatever you think of the show, though, it’s here for a second helping of your attention! A-1 Pictures returns to animate the saga of Kirito and all the good things that happen to him in MMO land in Sword Art Online II. This time around the players, Kirito included, have switched to a new game, Gun Gale Online, where players use firearms of varying sorts and a special black gun seems to be killing people...in real life ("IRL" for you net-savvy Zero-Cool types). Gasp! Seriously though, I find it quite amusing that wherever an MMO-related crisis arises, Kirito and crew find themselves at or diving into the center of it. It’s like they’re the Justice League of online gaming ridiculousness. Salvador is all about superheroes (just check his Annotated Tokusatsu recaps!), so he's volunteered to see if Sword Art Online can do some justice...to itself!   [embed]32704:3987:0[/embed] Aldnoah.Zero Studio: A-1 Pictures and Troyca (Persona 4 Golden The Animation) Director: Ei Aoki (Fate/Zero) Opening: July 5, 2014 Streaming On: Aniplex Channel The Butcher is back! Gen Urobuchi, fresh from bringing us closer to hitting a "Bingo" than any Kamen Rider fan should be able to stomach, has a new concept, and it's ostensibly a mecha show about two futuristic societies in fundamental conflict...wait, did I just describe Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet? Oh, it says "Earth versus Mars" here, so we're good.  Anyway, facetiousness aside, it looks like a promising original anime in a sea of adaptations, which is always a plus. I am beginning to get a little bit worried, though. We're seeing Gen Urobuchi's name being attached to an increasing number of projects, and while most of them have panned out so far, I'm concerned that if this trend continues he might end up the Suda51 of anime production, more a name attached for marketing cachet than out of genuine involvement. Only time will tell, though, and Dae will be on hand to tell us if that line's been crossed.   [embed]32704:3988:0[/embed] Zankyou no Terror Terror in Tokyo) Studio: Mappa (Teekyu!, Kids on the Slope) Director: Shinichiro Watanabe (Space Dandy, Cowboy Bebop) Opening: July 10, 2014 Streaming On: FUNimation It looks like Shinichiro "Cowboy Bebop guy" Watanabe really is back in business, with three anime in three years, and that can only be a good thing. Then again, given my worries about Gen Urobuchi's rising profile, Watanabe's a lot closer to that "name you attach to stuff" phase. But I'm not worried, though, since everything he's made since he came back has never been less than decent. Featuring a mysterious terror attack perpetrated by Japanese teenagers, Terror's got strong Eden of the East vibes going for it. Dae will be watching it, and with luck, it won't be so similar to Eden of the East that he gets his privates threatened by ladies with cigar cutters.   [embed]32704:3991:0[/embed] Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal Studio: Toei Animation (Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure) Director: Munehisa Sakai (One Piece Strong World, Suite Precure) Opening: July 5, 2014 Streaming On: Viz Media And here's the heavy. Back in the days when "Japanimation" was the word for anime rather than a term sites will fire you for using unironically, there was Sailor Moon, the grandmommy of magical girl anime for many a young otaku. Now it's getting the Dragon Ball Kai treatment, with a more manga-faithful remake courtesy of Toei and broadcast everywhere Sailor Moon hit like a pop-cultural tidal wave (which is pretty much everywhere, when you think about it). Beyond the unthinkable notion that audiences these days have grown out of Sailor Moon, and the occasional pro-toast protest it's hard to see this going terribly wrong. Director Munehisa Sakai has experience helming crowd-pleasers like One Piece, as well as having his hand on the reins of the thing that took over for Sailor Moon, Precure. I think we're gonna be OK. After years and years of delays and no-shows, when Crystal was finally confirmed as a thing that was really real and happening this season, Brittany's sigh of relief was audible...in space! So she'll be watching it.    [embed]32704:3994:0[/embed] Argevollen Studio: XEBEC (Upotte!, Space Battleship Yamato 2199, Broken Blade) Director: Atsushi Ohtsuki (Ladies vs Butlers!, To Love-Ru Darkness) Opening: July 3, 2014 Streaming on: Crunchyroll This is purely down to personal bias, but I'm quite happy that unremarkable mecha and sci-fi series seem to have superseded unremarkable dating sim/incest comedy adaptations as the "filler" shows of a given season. You know the type, a show that you've heard little about beyond a trailer or some vague premise, that may impress or simply fade from memory like last week's breakfast. Right now, Argevollen, with its tale of two fictional nations at war and the super robots that might tip the balance, feels exactly like that.  Only time and word from yours truly will be able to tell us if XEBEC's latest production will be the Valvrave of its time...or the Buddy Complex of its time.   [embed]32704:3995:0[/embed] Tokyo Ghoul Studio: Studio Pierrot (Naruto Shippuden, Level E) Director:  Shuhei Morita (Tsukumo, Kakurenbo) Opening: July 3, 2014 Streaming On: FUNimation The last couple of years have seen a resurgence in anime that manage to ably tap the horror vein, or at least give a satisfying amount of creepy spooky J-vibes*. For lovers of that kind of thing, Tokyo Ghoul's story of cannibals and the young man that becomes half-one might be a winner.  Sure, things seem a bit iffy when Studio Pierrot gets attached to something that's not also being published in Shonen Jump, but they're a proven outfit, and the actual creative team doesn't share much overlap between the people doing the actual grunt work on Naruto and the like, so in essence all bets are off. Hiroko's been looking for something to sink her teeth into now that she's back with us, so she's torn off a hunk of this show to lay her eyes on. Let's hope it proves meaty enough for her taste. *Creepy Spooky J-Vibes is also my rap name.   [embed]32704:3996:0[/embed] RAIL WARS! Studio: Passione (Haitai Nanafa) Director: Yoshifumi Sueda Opening: July 3, 2014 Trains, right? Gotta love 'em! Selphie love's 'em, the ToQgers love 'em, the Galaxy Express 999 people love 'em, everyone loves 'em. Trains.  You know who doesn't love trains, though? TERRORISTS. Capitalist terrorists in particular, who hate trains so bad they want to...privatize them? And to defend state-owned infrastructure from the predations of would-be railway robber barons are a bunch of high school train cops.  Yeah, Rail Wars! might be just the right kind of weird, and we've Dae's volunteered to wait at the crossing for this doozy of a show to make a stop. Will he get aboard, or will it make him want to leap off the platform?   [embed]32704:3997:0[/embed] Akame ga Kill! Studio: White Fox (Steins;Gate, Tears to Tiara) Director: Tomoki Kobayashi Opening: July 6, 2014 Akame ga Kill! bills itself as a "dark fantasy", which in the parlance of anime and manga adaptations, means lots of blood, violence, "mature" content and probably boobs. Main character Tatsumi has taken up living in the Capitol, a place that could be called "a hive of scum and villainy" as a gross understatement. And here, even being a merciless assassin marks you as one of the good ones. So yes, depravity ahoy! Hiroko's taking a few steps into the big city, but whether she can tolerate it is a matter best saved for after the First Impressions writeup.   [embed]32704:3998:0[/embed] Hanamonogatari Studio: SHAFT (Monogatari series) Director: Akiyuki Shinbo (Monogatari Series) Opening: August 16, 2014 It's ironic, but Hanamonogatari is becoming both easier and harder to explain in terms of the new season. For one, it's part of the now long-running Monogatari Series franchise, but isn't actually a new installment or season. Instead, this five-episode banger represents the middle portion of Monogatari Series Second Season, and consists of storylines originally intended to air during that period, including the "Suruga Devil" arc, starring everyone's favorite breathy-voiced lesbian, Kanbaru. So basically, it's less like Bakemonogatari or Nisemonogatari, and more like Nekomonogatari (Black), i.e. another product of SHAFT's continuing not to give an eff about proper project and budget management. So that's why Hanamonogatari is hard to explain. It's easy to explain as follows: "If you haven't kept up with the rest of this nonsense, this isn't the place to start." And there we go. Thankfully, Amber has kept up with the rest of this nonsense, so she's taking the case.   [embed]32704:3999:0[/embed] Normal Girls Try Becoming Locodols (Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita) Studio: feel. (Futakoi Alternative, Kiss x Sis) Director: Munenori Nawa (Fortune Arterial, Haruka Nogizaka's Secret) Opening: July 3, 2014 "What's a Locodol", is probably the first question you'll have upon reading this light novel-esque descriptive title, and the answer is "It's yet another Japanese truncation of two loan words 'local' and 'idol'." So yes, these "local idols" are basically a poppier, slightly more sexist* version of the "town mascot" concept. I'm really not sure how this becomes a thing, because in my mind, an idol that starts "local" and stays that way is not a very successful idol. Watching iDOLM@STER has taught me to believe that idols must have endless ambition and always aim to be the "top idol" and so on. Well, I suppose it'll be up to Dae to tell us if Locodols are really a thing when he watches it.   [embed]32704:4000:0[/embed] Hanayamata Studio: Madhouse (Kaiji, Akagi) Director: Atsuko Ishizuka (The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, No Game No Life) Opening: July 7, 2014 "Is this a dancing anime?" has been a joke since the Haruhi days, but I think this might be the first time I've encountered a show that allowed me to answer the question seriously. Yes, Hanayamata is a dancing anime. It is a dancing anime about a very specific kind of dance, the Yosakoi, and the cute girls who take it up. If you ask me, it's probably closer to this season's idol anime to watch than the Locodol thing above. Heck, Bandai Namco's already got a game tie-in planned. As resident wota expert, Jeff's taken this one and will be relaying his thoughts on their steps.   [embed]32704:4003:0[/embed] Survival Game Club! (Sabagebu!) Studio: Pierrot Plus (Beelzebub) Director: Masahiko Ohta (Minami-ke) I guess we should've anticipated it, but "Airsoft girls" anime are now a thing. In retrospect, I suppose it would've been inevitable as soon as Strike Witches consciously evoked love of World War II military hardware as it spun off from more typical sci-fi-styled mecha musume shows.  And then, between Girls und Panzer, Uppote! and Stella Girl's Academy Division C3, we've got another show that's all about a normal girl, this time Momoka Sonokawa joining the all-girl airsoft club. Unlike C3's dark turn, though, it looks like Survival Game Club may deliver as promised. Whether that's a good or bad thing will be up to Dae to decide.   [embed]32704:4004:0[/embed] MajiMoji Rurumo Studio: J.C. Staff (Aria the Scarlet Ammo, Little Busters!) Director: Chikara Sakurai (Naruto Road to Ninja) Opening: July 9, 2014 No genre ever really goes away completely, and while pervy rom-coms about some youthful milquetoast meeting a girlfriend he couldn't possibly deserve are thankfully no longer the bulk of the quarterly anime output, they're still around. MajiMoji Rurumo is that thing, starring as it does a horny young teen guy who accidentally summons a young witch, and somehow forms a contract with her for 666 wishes, which she must convince, coerce and entice him into using up so she can go home. Unfortunately for him, using up all the wishes would mean his death, so there's the rub. Much as I am a lover of dumb crap, I'm not feeling this one, but we at Japanator are blessed to have another person on staff who shares my initials: Josh Totman. And he seems quite into pervy rom-coms, so he'll be tackling this witch-themed wish-fulfiller.   [embed]32704:4009:0[/embed] Momo Kyun Sword Studio: Tri-slash and Project No. 9 (Recently my little sister is unusual, Ro-Kyu-Bu!) Director: Shinsuke Yanagi (Ryo-Kyu-Bu!) Opening: July 8, 2014 In addition to MajiMoji Rurumo above, Josh Totman will also be handling the season's other "boobs anime", Momo Kyun Sword. Apparently no longer content with turning sengoku-era warlords into cute girls, Anime, Inc. has turned its adapting eye to old stories, this time the venerable tale of Momotaro and his three animal companions. Momotaro is now "Momoko", and she's got to get back her village's sacred treasure from a pack of ogres and their princess, Onihime. Beyond that, adventure! I for one fully support the continuing spread of the "reimagine it with cute girls" trend, as with enough time and persistence I'm hoping it'll hit some real classics. Think about it! How about Arthurian legends gender-swapped (beyond Fate/stay-night of course), or the Ramayana or Wagner's Ring Cycle with all the cute girls you can handle.   [embed]32704:4010:0[/embed] Glasslip Studio: PA Works (Tari Tari, Hanasaku Iroha) Director: Junji Nishimura (Ranma 1/2, You're Under Arrest: The Movie)  Opening: July 3, 2014 Streaming On: Crunchyroll Going solely by the title and knowing Japan's penchant for truncation, I would've assumed Glasslip was a romantic comedy anime loosely based off the story of Cinderella. And maybe it would have samurai warlords reimagined as cute girls or something.  The truth, though, is far more mundane (and, ironically, more potentially interesting). Touko Fukami dreams of becoming a glass artisan, and during her summer vacation, meets a boy who claims to hear voices from the future. Romantic hijinks and slice-of-life comedy ensue between Touko and her boy, plus a balanced male-to-female core cast full of well-glazed character designs. This isn't usually my cup of tea: I get enough melodrama watching telenovela with my grandmother, but I definitely won't begrudge anyone who does like having their heartstrings tugged.   [embed]32704:4011:0[/embed] Shonen Hollywood - Holly Stage For 49 - Studio: ZEXCS (Diabolik Lovers, Cuticle Detective Inaba) Director: Toshimasa Kuroyanagi (Say I Love you, Minami-ke) Opening: July 5, 2014 Streaming On: Crunchyroll Shonen Hollywood is a male idol anime, and also a light novel adaptation, but also not, because the actual plot of the anime (such as you can get from idol shows) is set a full fifteen years after the light novel it's based on. this would be like starting an Idolm@ster anime franchise with the cast members of Million Live!, who instead have the original 765 Pro girls as mentors, or even people who run things in the present. Either way, it looks less bonkers than the likes of Uta no Prince-sama, so there's a good seed to be found if you're looking for hot boy anime to fill your lonely nights.
Anime Preview! photo
In the Summertime
It's the summertime, and the weather is high. You can reach right up, and touch the sky. When the weather's fine, we've got Japanese cartoons on the mind! It's the first part of Japanator's Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide! Th...

Impressions: Knights of Sidonia

May 08 // Josh Tolentino
NO. They really can't catch a break, at least not based on the last four episodes. I'm honestly hard-pressed to think of a recent series that is more bleak than Knights of Sidonia. Last year's darling Attack on Titan comes within the same ballpark, but it's not quite the same, especially not if what you're looking for in an anime is for it to bum you the hell out. Knights of Sidonia wins that particular fight hands-down. But you'd definitely be forgiven for thinking they're quite alike. Both Titan and Sidonia are based on 2009-vintage manga published by Kodansha, and share many parallels besides.  Where Titan had its walled nation as a setting, Sidonia has the Sidonia, a giant concrete spaceship built into an asteroid. Being more or less a "hard" sci-fi series, the Sidonia is a generation vessel, cruising for the last thousand years or so as people live their entire lives in the city built into the hull of the ship. These places play host to outwardly similar stories as well. Both tell the tale of mankind living in exile, hiding or running from a barely knowable, existential threat for as long as anyone alive can remember. And of course, a brief respite from that doom is shattered by the reemergence of the threat. In Titan, the threat was the titular Titans: goofy-faced, people-eating nudist giants. Sidonia's enemies are the Gauna, a bunch of Lovecraftian tentacled space horrors referred to with terms like "placenta". Both can only be killed by hitting a specific weak point, though Sidonia's wrinkle is that the kill can only be made with the Kabizashi, a special kind of spear that the entire colony has only 28 of. Indeed, if you were being a bit reductive, you could still get close to the mark by calling Knights of Sidonia "Attack on Titan in space", but at the same time, the moods of the two shows feel markedly different, in spite of their strong parallels. For its part, Sidonia's far more of a bummer. Part of that's down to the visuals. Even at its most bleak, Attack on Titan maintained an over-the-top sense of style that you could appreciate, what with all the spinning Spider-Man action. Sidonia is full-CG, for better and worse. Better, because it does look distinctive in its washed-out hues, clean details, and nearly monochrome palette. Worse, because it's not great CG. It's not like I'm expecting Fireball Charming-levels of expressiveness for a full half-hour each week, but the broadcast frame rate is still very low. At times it's almost as low as the kind of filler-CG other studios would use to quickly animate crowd sequences in standard anime. Also everyone's got a sort of fish-face thing going that can make them hard to tell apart. To an extent, I'm almost thankful the show is fairly expressionless, because the kind of bad stuff that happens to good people on the show would be hard to take if it were rendered with more detail. Every week so far someone's bought the farm, and while that's not so bad on raw numbers (lots of people certainly died in Attack on Titan's bigger battles), Knights of Sidonia has been particularly adept at making every death hurt, even just a little. It's accomplished this in various ways. The first time someone bit it on the show, it was sudden and almost out of the blue, directed at a character that in any other show would've been developed as a love interest for the hero, Nagate Tanikaze. That happened at the end of the first episode, but then they spent a few minutes of the next flashing back, discovering the roots of why she was acting like a jerk last week, and retroactively establishing empathy. It's a neat trick that defuses the sense that the kill happened purely for shock value. The next few deaths followed a more stereotypical "death-flag" angle, with new characters supposedly hailed as aces getting slaughtered. That's something you expect, because they clearly aren't the heroes. Then they start throwing the buildings around. Splattering crowds of people into poorly rendered red jelly would be one thing, but the pain you feel watching is magnified by the little hints they've been dropping through previous episodes, about how disastrous things get when gravity gets messed with on a moving city-sized spaceship.  After all that, they still haven't managed to make a dent in even one space monster. And they're starting to evolve, as well. There are no breaks to be caught. This is of course where Nagate comes in, being the hero and all, but even with his abilities, his hero mecha, and the mysteries behind his true nature, there's just one of him. Plus, the one that's around is so unused to following orders that that's surely going to cause major trouble down the line.  That said, it's not like Sidonia lacks any sense of humor, as evidenced by the nice bear dorm lady and sight gags involving catheters and accidental peeking. All the same, the gags here feel more like brief respites from the carnage rather than genuine lightheartedness. And that's probably for the better. It's also a happy side effect that the fish-faced CG designs has helped "desexualize" what little fan service there is in the show. I usually like my Japanese cartoons dumb and happy, but Knights of Sidonia has me hooked. That's a bummer I can actually look forward to.
Knights of Sidonia photo
Desperation, Despair, Death, and Deep Space
Ever see someone get physically hurt, and then involuntarily cringe, as if you feel that person's pain? That's a function of empathy, as everyone knows. Watching Knights of Sidonia is like feeling that cringe, almost every week, for nearly half an hour. It's like watching The Red Wedding on loop. Christ in heaven, can't these poor bastards catch a break? The answer, below.

First Impressions: M3 The Dark Metal

Apr 22 // Dae Lee
Kawadahara is a city that is mostly owned and facilitated by a enterprise called IX, whose alleged goal is to aid in reconstruction and keep people safe from "Admonitions." These are mysterious and dangerous monsters that are born from what people call the "Lightless Realm" -- a corrupted and uninhabitable area in which darkness has swallowed everything. Shrouded in mystery, it's an ever-present, ever-expanding mass that threatens what's left of the human race. To keep Admonitions at bay, large mechanical vehicles called Vess patrol the city during the dark hours. Nowhere near as sleek or extravagant-looking as anime mechs tend to, these wheeled, boxy Vess units look more like over-sized BattleBots. While they're nothing spectacular to look at, I thought it was pretty refreshing to see pilotable robots that look like they were built for purely utilitarian and practical purposes. While I anticipate there will be more typically stylish looking mechs as the show goes on (the opening gives it away), if you're here to see agile, gravity-defying death machines and flashy action, this doesn't seem like that type of show.Eight young men and women ranging from temp workers to high school students were selected as prime candidates to be the first team to deeply explore the Lightless Realm, via newly modified Vess machines. While the reasons behind their candidacy were unclear (one character notes that none of them even volunteered for this), there is undoubtedly a connection between all the would-be pilots that I expect will be expanded upon as the show goes on. If there's one thing this show gets right, it's atmosphere. From the get-go, M3's opening suggests that this is not a typical mecha show -- the melancholic song and visuals suggest that it will be more of a psychological drama, reminding me of series like Bokurano. The background music is used sparingly, but notably well done, with a mix of flourishes reminiscent of older anime and haunting melodies. The character designs fit the show well, looking lanky and somewhat energy-deprived. Their distinct eye designs make them all look perpetually tired, even villainous.The first episode suffers from two key things: the complete absence of relatable characters, and visual presentation. Five of the eight pilots were featured in the first episode (with a sixth showing up at the very end), and none of them were established in a way that made any significant impact. The two characters featured the most in this episode ended up feeling flat and uninteresting: Akashi made for a dull brooding protagonist, and Emiru, a selfish temp worker who is using this as a chance to make a new life for herself, is overbearing and obnoxious (although to be fair, she was explicitly written to be that way). In a general sense, I believe that a show is only as good as its characters, so I'm hoping that they'll flesh out their current roster and give me something to latch onto in the coming weeks. For now, all the characters only have mere suggestions of color and personality. M3 established the tone and general setting with this episode, leaving characters by the wayside, which I perceived to be an unfortunate move. Because this is just an introduction, it can be remedied in the coming episodes so it's not a real issue yet, but it did distance me from the show, as I was unable to invest myself emotionally with anything that was going on. While I found the character designs to be unique and fitting for their world, I discovered that the animation and drawing quality varied between halfway decent and noticeably bad. Bland, uninspired story-boarding and composition is prevalent throughout, almost daring you to be less interested in the visuals. The result is a show that looks and feels like it was pulled out of time, which is a strange feeling to have about a 2014 anime. There are plenty of shows that I found amazing despite lackluster visuals, but it is still a legitimate barrier to entry for a lot of viewers, and I believe it is the show's largest stumbling block.Despite these weaknesses, M3 has plenty of interesting things on the table. The various mysteries surrounding the Lightless Realm and the strange creatures that come from it are hinted and poked at enough to keep my interest, especially when they introduce a "Corpse," rumored bringers of death, believed to be guardians of the Lightless Realm. There's much more left to be found and lots of ground to cover as far as the characters and setting go. M3 seems to be a mix of sci-fi mecha, supernatural mysticism, and drama, coated with a unshakable feeling of ominous things to come. I'd like it to be a show I can grow to love, but it also has the potential to be a half-baked, toothless show with a edgy gimmick. But for now, it's got a hell of a unique flavor, and I want to see more. [You can catch this on Daisuki weekly]
FI: M3 The Dark Metal photo
Get your goth eyeliner out
A unique art style and mysteriously dark premise was beckoning me, telling me that this show had the potential to bring something really interesting to the season. With Junichi Saito at the helm, director of acclaimed Sailor ...

First Impressions: Kamigami no Asobi

Apr 21 // Brittany Vincent
The Yui of Kamigami no Asobi is a regular high school student who happens to love training with swords, but she's not made too much progress when it comes to her love life or even entrance exams, like her friends talk about. One day after school when she returns to the shrine she lives in with her parents, she happens upon a magical sword that seems to have only just appeared. She touches it, which she should have known is always a bad idea in this kind of a setting, and suddenly she's transported to a magical world with hot, rude guys running around everywhere, and no one knows where they are. It's just a bunch of weird, pretty boys with strange personalities walking around lost. After bumping into the not-so-Mr. Nice Guys and wandering around aimlessly, Yui comes face to face with Zeus (yes, that Zeus), who's roped her and the rest of the men she's met with over the course of the episode into a little scheme of his: learning what it means to be human and everything that comes with it. Oh, and those pretty boys? They're actually gods like Hades, Susanoo, Baldr, Loki, and Dionysus, who haven't done very well at their jobs. They're going to learn from Yui and each other about humanity and what it means. And at Zeus' insistence,  she's going to stay in this bizarre academy and land of the gods until he says otherwise. It was a strong episode, especially given the explosive beginning depicting a battle that's inevitably going to take place, but I was interested in seeing what kind of personalities the guys bring to the table and why many of them seem to have chips on their shoulders. I'm also hoping that Yui acts less like a wide-eyed waif than she has so far, given the fact that she's been presented from the start as a strong character. I don't want to see her devolve into the same kind of boring girl that permeates these narratives, so hopefully the next episode gets more of a regular plot established and answers many of the questions I find myself with at the end of the first one. I also want to see more male transformation sequences, because now that Mikisugi's gone, he's going to need a replacement.
FI: Kamigami no Asobi  photo
What does it mean to be human?
Kamigami no Asobi is a lively reverse-harem series based on the visual novel of the same name, and if it ends up anything like the Hakuoki series, it should be a treat to follow. It's got everything: gorgeous boys (for everyo...

First Impressions: Nanana's Buried Treasure

Apr 18 // Karen Mead
Nanana is a ghost who lives in high-schooler Tama Juugo's new apartment. She can eat pudding, play online games and even wrestle, strangely enough, but she cannot leave the apartment. However, Nanana is not just any ghost who can't move on; in life, she was an important person who helped establish everything on the experimental, student-focused island where the story takes place. In addition to being some kind of super-genius, she also loved treasure hunting and apparently buried all sorts of mythological "treasure" all over the island, and students from her former school have made a club out of hunting for it. Juugo gets involved in the hunt, figuring he might as well try to solve the mystery of who killed Nanana in the first place while he's at it. There's no reason why this set-up couldn't work, except the show doesn't seem to know what to focus on. So much time in these two episodes is wasted on typical rom-com humor, and lame humor at that, plus I just don't buy Nanana as this great treasure hunter. The Nanana we see is a typical gamer type who stays up all night playing MMO's and flips out over pudding; I feel like I have no reason to believe that she was ever this great treasure hunter, except for the show telling me so. Granted, she's a ghost, which tends to dampen one's spirit of adventure, but I just don't feel Nanana the ghost and Nanana the exalted, Lara Croft-like adventurer are in any sense the same person. It feels like a "hot ghost girl in my room" story was tacked on to a pre-written narrative about someone else. The other characters aren't helping much. Juugo is an affable dude who likes seeing girls in maid costumes, but nothing makes him stand out from typical romcom protagonists. We meet a detective-obsessed loli, a character type that seems to be growing in popularity, and a transgender character who gets to be the butt of some jokes because she's transgendered -- my, how classy. I'm not that easily offended, but I do find the inclusion of this particular character incredibly mercenary -- like "Have we checked off 'cute girl who is a boy' on the list yet? No? Get us one of those, and put her in a maid costume, stat!" Outside of the hilarious (NOT REALLY) reveal that she's trans, she serves zero purpose in the story. At least it looks nice; there's no shortage of pretty colors on display, and the character designs are quite attractive, especially Nanana herself. If you just shut off your brain and look at the pretty people on screen, I guess you could find this show pretty enjoyable. There's also something very lush about the visuals-- this feels like a spring anime, somehow. Still, I really wish the creators had streamlined the concept and made an honest-to-goodness treasure hunting show, instead of whatever the heck this weird harem/romcom/magical girlfriend mystery stew is. This title is a whole bunch of stuff thrown together without much apparent thought, all stitched together like some kind of terrifying moe Frankenstein, and I can't watch it without being distracted by all the seams that are showing.
Nanana's FI photo
How does a ghost eat pudding?
This show probably sounds like a really good idea on paper. It's filled with cool concepts like treasure hunting and classrooms that attack you until you solve puzzles, but it's also filled with multiple girls in maid outfits...

First Impressions: Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san

Apr 16 // LB Bryant
I admit it, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this first episode. I'm not the type of person who automatically assumes that I'm going to hate something just because it's a short, but super-short length does tend to diminish the amount of enjoyment that I feel like I can get from it. Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san though is a cute little series that I think that I'll be catching every week from here on out, particularly since it is only three-and-a-half minutes long.  The comedy in this first episode is pretty direct. What I enjoyed about it though is that -- unlike other comedy shorts like Teekyuu -- there was no need to cram in jokes every second. The comedy is delivered at a fairly relaxed pace and allows audiences to actually digest what they've seen before moving to the next gag. I always appreciate it when an anime short is willing to do this, as the more frantic pace tends to turn me off very quickly.  Additionally, the production values on this short are really quite amazingly good. The character designs and general animation production looks like something that you would see from a full-length series. Studio Seven is known for their anime shorts (Ai-Mai-Mi, Strange+ and Recorder and Randsell are all theirs) but they really stepped up their game this time around and created a very good looking series.  This is a solid first episode and if you're looking for something new to fill up three minutes of each week, you really can't go wrong with this one. I'm giving this one my stamp of approval!
First Impressions photo
Already a better yuri than Akuma no Riddle
Normally, I don't like reviewing shorts because it's really difficult to get a full review out of something that's less than five minutes long. Every so often though, you come across a short that manages to pack a ton of laug...


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