Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall 2010 - Invasion! Squid Girl

Not every tale from the sea is a Hans Christian Andersen romance. Not every struggle between man and fabled sea creature is meant to be labeled as a saga. Most of all, not every creature from the sea that seeks vengeance against humanity for its crimes against nature has the capability to succeed with its invasion.

Then again, has there been an invader so deceptively cute in its ineffectiveness? ("Puchuu! Puchuu!" - Ed.)

Herein lies the conundrum for the titular character in Invasion! Squid Girl (Shinryaku! Ika-Musume), a story animated from the mind of mangaka Masahiro Anbe. Sometimes humanity just doesn't take the invasion seriously enough, but when you're a dojikko from the deep, the deck is already stacked against you.

Currently running on Crunchyroll as Squid Girl, this new show animated by Diomedea (Bokurano) features the episodic adventures of a half-girl, half-squid who has come to the surface to teach humanity a thing or two about abusing their control of the sea. However, despite being able to control her tentacle-like hair for combat, Squid Girl isn't exactly prepared for the fight—her cute appearance makes her status as an invader hard to take seriously, especially when she appears at the seaside restaurant "Lemon" and is mistaken for the part-time help.

While the shop's owners Eiko and Chizuru figure Squid Girl to be just a kid in costume, the resulting dismissal brings about her clumsiness, as her demonstration of her power results in damage to the restaurant. Unable to develop a spine to stand up to the proprietors (cephalopods are natural invertebrates, after all), Squid Girl finds herself having to work off the repair bill for the humans she was supposed to conquer and learns that humanity is a little stronger (and stranger) than she thought.

Considering the direction is done by Tsutomu Mizushima (Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-Chan, Hare + Guu), I was expecting the comedy to be off-the-wall and perhaps a little invasive towards fourth-wall humor, but the production of Squid Girl is done in such a reserved manner that the lighter comedy fits it admirably. The situations involving Squid Girl's slow understanding of society are paced well with her cluelessness being the key comic device. More importantly, the art's smooth design and simplicity meshes well with the comedy, so even the predictable comes out feeling comfortable.

If there is one debatable thing that comes to mind after watching Squid Girl through Crunchyroll, it's the uncertain translations of the script. Squid Girl uses the suffix de geso (geso means "tentacle") in place of the Japanese copula desu, so her lines are occasionally written to reflect the "squid" in the meaning. At times, the translation can be adorable ("Wait a squidly minute!"), but sometimes it can come across as forced and unnecessary:

The translation isn't terrible, but it's not exactly easy to digest, and you may come across purists who may find this translation as extraneous (or not going far enough de geso!)

It may look too simple to result in an enjoyable show, but perhaps the best thing Squid Girl has going for it is the feel of a sit-com. Squid Girl is painfully oblivious to some surroundings, only to be overreactive to others, and that common formula makes for some enjoyable entertainment. The episodes are short, succinct, and silly, but not to the point of disbelief. We're not saying that the humor will get old any time soon or that the show will turn into a cheesy version of Alf, but for now it works rather well.

For what it's worth, there was a need for a slower-paced anime comedy this season, especially with the speed and the magnitude of the lechery we've seen in some of the other shows. Squid Girl is calm yet humorous with its serene location and oddball characters, and I for one welcome our new squid-vaders.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall 2010: MM!

There is something to be said about the lack of psychoanalysis in anime. With all the screams of "Hentai!" and slaps that knock falsely-accused would-be perverts into the next prefecture, you'd think there would be just as many psychiatrist visits as there were hospital visits. There are so many personality flaws and oddities in anime that Sigmund Freud would have to cancel all of his appointments for the rest of his life if he were working today.

If all of those mental cases were thrown into a padded room, the interactions might result in the sort of anime MM! has become. The goal isn't necessarily to cure each of their mental phobias and philias—it's more like watching different sorts of fish sharing the same aquarium—but if the basket cases manage to stumble upon a remedy, it's a bonus.

This show from Xebec (Ladies vs. Butlers, Kanokon, To-Love-Ru) really runs the gamut on the different twists one could make to a destroy a relationship. The general gist is that Tarô Sado is a masochist, to the point of being able to take the brunt of any female's attack and find pleasure from it. This was triggered from his classmate Arashiko's extreme fear of boys (and her right fist), which was in itself triggered by violence from a past boyfriend. With these dominoes so easily upset, Tarô is endlessly tubthumped (you're never gonna keep him down!)

Enter the head of the high school's "Second Volunteer Club", Mio Isurugi. Although she first appears angelic to Tarô, serving as a means to cure him of his problem, her superiority complex and sadistic measures just makes matters worse. Throw in a crossdressing guy with an ojôsama split personality, an obsessive-compulsive girl, a school nurse that has a thing for subterfuge over others, and Tarô's over-doting sister and mother, and you have yourself the makings of a real asylum, padded cell and all.

Since many of the characters seem to suffer from divergences in their personalities, it should be no surprise that MM! itself suffers from its own Dissociative Identity Disorder. The show does have some touching moments in it between Tarô and the other Second Volunteer Club members, and the plot is surprisingly free of any seriously awkward sexual situations. That being said, the processes used to help the members drive away their neuroses are hardly conventional and seem to bring about more pain and suffering than if the characters were to drop cash for a professional psychologist.

Additionally, there just seems to be no love for Tarô in this series. When he's not being the club's masochistic dog, he's a wishy-washy character that looks perfectly fine in front of girls. The only reason he's taking all of this punishment from Mio's God complex and Arashiko's androphobia is so he can receive psychotherapy from the club. I'm no brain surgeon, but my suggestion would be for Tarô to get over himself and leave the freaking club. So you're getting hit over and over again by a tsundere and a meek girl—do you know how many fans would kill to be in that position?

If anything, MM! is a Pavlovian experiment in itself—after seasons of priming fans with bossy characters, showing them Mio likely will trigger automated responses of moe, even though tsundere fans would rather have another season of Haruhi. Realistically speaking, the reactions to the characters may be the only thing the show has going for it, as there doesn't seem to be any pressure to solve the mental problems of the Second Volunteer Club. It won't matter if Tarô gets well in the end—he'll still have a girlfriend who both loves and hates him.

Unless you're a masochist like Tarô and appreciate the pain without reward, perhaps it's time to stop pushing the button.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall 2010 - Sora no Otoshimono: Forte

One has to wonder about the psychology of those people working in the anime and manga industries. What makes a mangaka choose a particular style when creating characters and a particular route when introducing them into the story? What is the reasoning behind a director's particular approach towards camera angles or character voices?

For the longest time, I have wanted to believe that it all involves an artist's desire for expression and an animation company's desire to make a profit in entertaining the fans. After watching Sora no Otoshimono: Forte ("Heaven's Lost Property: Forte"), I'm no longer sure what the motivation is. It's likely all monetary, but I have a feeling some other reason is lurking under the surface.

The series, currently running on Crunchyroll, revolves around the presence of a black hole in the skies over the quiet town of Sorami. The hole is actually a sort of connector to "Synapse", a world of angel-like constructs called "Angeloids". In particular, two have fallen to Earth and have been bound to a "Master"--Ikaros, a passive and emotionless Angeloid with destructive capabilities, and Nymph, an under-developed prototype with a deep knowledge of electronics. Of course, much like many modern anime androids, these Angeloids inexplicably flock to Tomoki Sakurai, the biggest high-school horndog since the likes of Ataru Moroboshi.

In the last season, Tomoki had come under fire from the likes of the more evil presenses in Synapse, but the return to a peaceful life has left some questions unanswered. Just what lies in Synapse, and will classmate Eishiro look to expose the meaning behind its arrival? Will Tomoki's childhood friend Sohara admit to the feelings she has for him, despite all of the attention the Angeloids give him? Just who is this new Angeloid model who seeks to kill Tomoki, only to fail miserably? And will we ever see a show where Tomoki doesn't experience a cartoonish erection from seeing T&A?

Sora no Otoshimono: Forte is still animated through AIC, who have concretely established themselves as the studio to go to when you need cheesecake (Mayoi Neko Overrun!, Strike Witches, Asobi ni Ikuyo). There does seem to be some sort of plot in the sequel, but you'd be hard-pressed to find it amongst all of the suggestive poses, bosom bounces from buxom bodies, and perverted nonsense. Due to the nature of the Angeloids to be able to make the impossible possible for Tomoki, there's nothing absurd about adventures through dreams, an Angeloid being sexually abused through "Tomoki's Six Paths of Hell," and a parade of erotic magazines in the street.

This show seems content with testing sexual taboos on Japanese television and completely ignoring any attempt to bring value to itself. Instead of exploring the unknown and figuring out how to neutralize the threat of Synapse, the characters are merely thrown into hijinks for 20 minutes before a sliver of dramatic tension can emerge. The art isn't particularly great, and the performances by the Japanese voice actors are actually disappointing, perhaps even grating. It's as if the show was competing against other shows for fandom's sexual energy. (More on that later; To-Love-Ru got a sequel! - Ed.)

All of the bath scenes, bloody noses, and conversations between Tomoki and his crotch have drawn me to the following conclusion--some fans (and perhaps some writers?) must be inadequately ashamed of their sexuality if these sorts of shows continue to appeal to them. I'm not saying that Sora no Otoshimono: Forte may eventually return with a serious storyline, but how many of these filler fan-service episodes will it take? If I've got to wade through faux hentai to get to the nugget of the story, then it's just not worth hunting for gold.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall 2010 - Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

If there is any animation studio in Japan whose animation style has been hard to predict, it likely could be Gainax. While it has explored serious undertones and messages (Wings of Honneamise, Evangelion), the studio's primary style is deeply rooted in comedy. At times, the format can be situational (Mahoromatic), confrontational (FLCL), or just plain crude (Ebichu!), but the principle remains the same: it's hard to tell what's coming from Gainax until it charges through the gate.

There is one thing to keep in mind with Gainax's works—there probably hasn't been an envelope they have been afraid of pushing, but their latest production, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, may be the studio's riskiest venture into comedy yet.

Some fans may mistake this show as a Dirty Pair knockoff, as Panty and Stocking, two angels that have fallen to Daten City due to their corrupt behavior in Heaven, play opposites of each other like Kei and Yuri did. For the blonde vixen Panty, most of her corruption is due to her immense libido for handsome men, while the gothic-lolita Stocking snacks on sweets all day. To get back into Heaven, they must follow the assignments sent to them through their assistant Reverend Garterbelt and collect coins that spring from the "Ghosts" that terrorize the city. To exorcise the Ghosts...let's just say that their weaponry lies in their names.

If anything, Gainax is definitely shooting for shock value with the series. The first two half-episodes show the angels at two very different speeds and classes—the first moves Panty to the bowels of the city's sewers where a monster made up of bowel movements lurks, while the second launches the two at subsonic levels in an attempt to stop a speed demon. Considering that direction was left for Hiroyuki Imaishi, known for his high-speed, rebellious styles in anime (Dead Leaves, Gurren Lagann), the pace of Panty & Stocking is so sonic that it just might leave the Japanese viewer gasping for air.

It may be that Gainax isn't exactly shooting for popularity amongst its Japanese viewership—the presentation of the series is certainly one that is far more Western in influence. Episodes are given the Cartoon Network touch, almost to the point that the creators of The Power Puff Girls should consider this a "homage" or a "lawsuit-waiting-to-happen". Sound effects are plastered over the scenery in chunky letters , while curse words are either spoken in English or bleeped out during the broadcast. Even the floppy mascot Chuck (chakku means "zipper" in Japanese) seems to be an ode to Gir from Invader Zim.

There are some parts about Panty & Stocking that won't sit well. The poop humor. The unfiltered swearing (sometimes aided by Crunchyroll's liberal translations). Panty's flamboyant sexcapades. Combined with the cartoonish art style, these will likely confuse some parents, if not offend them completely. This show is not meant to be consumed by minors. However, it's not as if we haven't seen the humor before in Gainax's shows—"Death Race 2010" felt it was straight from Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi's science-fiction parody episode, down to the panty-licking demon, and FLCL was full of odes to the likes of South Park.

People expecting the run-of-the-mill anime should turn back before passing the point of no return, as Gainax may have reinvented the wheel to the point that Panty & Stocking is no longer considered "anime". The artwork is so cutting-edge, the music by Taku Takahashi of m-flo fame so dance-hall electronic, and the subject matter is so taboo that fans will either love it to death or hate it for being too unique. I'd consider Gainax's attempt to break the mold a colossal success, as long as the show doesn't violate any major censorship laws along the way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The AND HOW! Award

We've witnessed all of the bad that has come in 2010, so now it's time to say what we liked from anime this year (and there was a lot to sift through!) While the last five awards have all been question-based, this one is definite, and our opinion regarding the best hasn't been swayed (without cash exchanging hands). Here is the list of Spring and Summer 2010 anime shows that have made us stand up and say...

And How! - Not as much a question as it is a statement, but it fits the category. This is to be given to the one show that came out as the without-a-doubt BEST show of the spring and summer.
So here they are, folks, from the runners-up to the champ.

5. Giant Killing

In all honesty, it's almost impossible to really narrow down the rest of the field and pick one show that stands with the other four as being the best of the best. So far, there has been plenty of praise for shows like Tatami Galaxy, Highschool of the Dead, Rainbow, and House of Five Leaves over the past few months, while I've grown to prefer the storylines woven in Shi Ki and the lighthearted romp that is Ôkami-san. Even Black Butler 2 proved to be good with the addition of an "evil" side.

In the end, I admit that I chose the anime that finally reflected the sport that I love in a different light than the other ones. Instead of focus on insane attacks and the personality of a lone player trying to win at all costs, Giant Killing took the road less traveled and told the soccer story with the coach as the focus. While shows like Whistle! and Captain Tsubasa focused on the development of one in many, Giant Killing opted to unite many—players, coaches, opponents, and especially the fans—into one.

Considering Giant Killing managed to do all that with a different art style that reflected more of the manga's image (and during a World Cup year, no less!), I'd say that it should be considered one of the best of the year.

4. Occult Academy (Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin)

It was hard for me to really settle on thoughts concerning Occult Academy. The hype for it becoming a good series was there, and the first episode certainly provided a spark of hope with its twists and comic timing amidst the drama. However, along the way, it felt that the show was trying to focus too much on its secondary characters, as the stories involving Maya's friends didn't exactly leap off the page, and the "Bunmei-loves-Mikaze" spin-off felt even more forced in terms of grabbing laughs.

When the show determined that it had time and space to come to a conclusion, it wrapped the ending up very nicely. While the show could have become an X-Files clone with a non-believer teaming up with a believer, it was actually nice to see Maya's commandeering personality working with Fumiaki's mother complex. It was probably best for the show to wrap up after a season, as there isn't a manga to work with, so the result was something satisfying.

3. Mitsudomoe

There is no doubt to me that Mitsudomoe turned out to be the sleeper hit of the year. All signs pointed to the show being too crass for actual elementary kids, as there was everything BUT poop jokes involved, but the interactions between the Marui triplets and the misunderstandings with the other classmates never got stale. Normally, jokes about the following don't jive well separately, let alone in one program:
  • Urine
  • Panties
  • Bras
  • Boobies
  • False stalker accusations
  • More panties
  • Hamsters named "Nipples"
However, Mitsudomoe managed to make each misunderstanding funny, and in the end the bond between sisters wasn't shattered in the slightest. In fact, the show made a good attempt to make the other characters more twisted, and the crude comedy that resulted made the touching moments even more likable. The news that the show will get eight more episodes is both fantastic and disappointing, as the show's so good that it deserves more than two-thirds of an additional season.

2. Arakawa Under The Bridge

As I had stated before, the works of Akiyuki Shinbô are flying so far under the radar. His directorial prowess, combined with the humorous atmosphere of the original works, have really made some of SHAFT's animations (Sayonara Zetsubô-sensei, Maria Holic, Hidamari Sketch, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Bakemonogatari) a thrill to follow. It was a bit surprising that Arakawa Under the Bridge or its current sequel have not been picked up for online streaming, but there is likely an excuse for that somewhere.

The show about self-made man Kô and his sudden relationship with a self-declared Venetian girl along the river Arakawa on paper could have been considered dull, but it's the other characters—oddballs that would rival anything Lewis Carroll composed—that make the show great to watch. So far, Kô's neighbors include a star-faced guitarist, a militant male nun, two research-fearing iron-masked kids, a ditzy gardener, and their mayor, who still refuses to admit he's only dressed in that kappa costume.

The comic give-and-take is superb, the animation angles and perspectives are unique, and the addition of a new season and more crazy characters will only make it better.

1. Durarara!!

Some people may claim that this is an unfair proclamation. Since the show actually began in Winter 2010's anime season, it shouldn't qualify for the Best of Spring/Summer 2010, should it?

The heck with that opinion. Durarara!! is easily the best animated show that ran on Japanese television this year.

The signs are there that Durarara!! just overwhelmed the senses and impressed people. The show managed to keep itself so shrouded in mystery that each of the full two seasons' 26 episodes were fresh and inspired. The music had a terrific jazz feel to it, and the Ikebukuro setting provided just enough of Tokyo's various atmospheres—nerdy otaku, tough-guy yakuza, clueless ganguro, and hipster gaijin, to name just a few—to make them all clash in a cultural traffic jam.

The plot was certainly reflective off its odd cast. The characters had so many sides to themselves that it made guessing the next character's identity all the more fun to do, and each of them were tied to the other through Izaya's wonderful duplicity. Just to make sure the story didn't drown in too much reality, the inclusion of the "horsewoman" Celty gave anime its first memorable headless character.

At first, the ending felt like a bit of a disappointment, but self-reflection only made me appreciate the series even more. Aniplex's gamble into dubbing a series it had already aired as a sub may be risky, but I'm all for it—Durarara!! won't have many equals for some time in anime.

So what do you think, folks? Let us know what you thought the best of the year has been so far!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The WHY?! Award

For every Oscar, there is an equal and diametrically-opposite Razzie.

Before we get into any discussions about the best anime shows from Spring and Summer 2010, we need to discuss just what shouldn't even be in the picture. There have been some bad shows in the past, and if we don't really stay vocal about what we feel shouldn't have seen the light of day, we'll get complacent about anime quality. I mean, do we all really want to sit through another Eiken?

That being said, we at AniMaybe present to you the shows from 2010 that have made us ask...

Why?! - This should speak for itself. The award given to the one show that just didn't deserve to be animated in the slightest. Meant to be wailed toward the heavens like a pained Captain Kirk while one is crouching on their knees before the computer and begging for all that time back.
So here are the Top 5 shows from bad to the very worst...

5. Tono to Issho

Don't get us wrong. While this turned out to be a decent OVA for what it was worth in the spring, the reformatted version of Tono to Issho turned out to be just 80-second snippets from the original OVA conjoined with the opening theme. There was no "new" series to speak of, a serious disappointment for something that was advertised so heavily as something new for Summer of 2010.

It is due to these edits that Tono to Issho lost a lot of its flavor, as jokes meant to be driven into the ground through repetitious gags were left unfinished. It's as if the jokes were halted by the pull of a plug in order to sell the public on purchasing the OVA instead. While Tono to Issho may have been an attempt to counter Hetalia with its mocking perception of history, it doesn't help to shave so much off the skits that it loses humor.

A show that presents itself in strips from its product, as if it was trying to advertise itself with teases, is not a show that should have been made at all.

4. Shin Koihime Musô: Otome Tairan

I've already spoken before on how Otome Tairan's plot and adaption of Romance of the Three Kingdoms were weak in the first place. There are only so many times one can go to the well with a story about girls in lavish costumes taking warm baths, wandering the countryside, eating food, and making immense misunderstandings regarding pregnancies.

Please don't make me have to speak about this show again.

3. Asobi ni Iku Yo!

There seems to be an extent on the number of times one can retell Urusei Yatsura and the invasion of harems that fall from the sky. Tenchi Muyô gave them tails, bright hair, and mascots. Saber Marionette made them into androids, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie made them into kids, To-Love-Ru gave them spaded tails, and Sora no Otoshimono gave them wings.

Asobi ni Iku Yo! just made them catgirls, put them in school swimsuit and Gundam suits, and crashed them in Okinawa.

If the story had tried for some plausibility, it would have had capable characters and adjusted the severe gender imbalance in its cast. It would have made technology less hokey and more convenient. It would have made Kio a little more aware of his surroundings instead of turning him into someone without a clue when it comes to relationships.

The final straw? A blatant ripoff of Muttley from Wacky Races, even in name. Hanna-Barbara should sue.

2. Strike Witches 2

Are people seeing a common theme here?

The main battle between the Strike Witches battalion and the Neuroi was so easily resumed in the second season that the possibility of a mindless third season produced for otaku consumption is something not so far-fetched at all. Considering that one show involved one of the cast members destroying a Neuroi by sitting on it when it crawled into her panties, the show really has no hurdles too high.

The incredibly scary part is that there was no real development of the enemy, the Neuroi themselves. No voices, no names, no identity, nothing. That just means that the writers can keep giving mecha-musume fans more twelve-episode parcels of the War on Pants and more ways to combine militant destruction with underage knickers. If they unearth another few shows for this franchise, it just means that the best way to make a show nowadays is to take things immensely popular with the nerds and stick them on girls.

1. kissxsis

If there was any story that shouldn't have seen the light of day, it's the TV adaption of the kissxsis OVA, but it surprisingly should not be spurned just for the hinted incestuous relationships (even though we are reminded that Keita and Riko/Ako are step-siblings, but that really doesn't make it feel better). Not only does the story go way too far in Riko and Ako's attempts to get into their step-brother's pants, but the show has tons of violations.

The implied sexual relations and constant masturbatory images are just half of the mistakes, as the root of the problem lies at the feet of a production company wanting to bring the images of sexually-charged manga to life. The embarrassing situations covering urination, indecent exposure, groping, and even the obligatory scene with a minor imbibing alcohol—yes, we have to remind ourselves that it's a completely different culture, but that doesn't justify that they can be combined to tell an absurd story like kissxsis. It's as if the creators always wanted this to happen to them in middle school, so they decided to put it in a show.

Possibly the hardest thing to really stomach is that some of us are getting comfortable with letting a story go through 12 episodes without a thing actually changing in it. There are no spoilers required in kissxsis, because nothing actually gets done by the end of the story. By the end, those who yearn for Keita continue to yearn for him, while those ignored by those girls continue to get ignored by them. Keita continues to show he has no stomach for telling his sisters to mind their business, while Riko and Ako continue to show that they have no means of suppressing their sexual urges with their step-brother.

It's like it was a story that was never meant to be told in the first place, making it deserving of the award.

Next time: the shows that made us stand and take notice—AND HOW!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The WHERE?! Award

There haven't been many shows that have gotten no hype at all in Japan, especially with all of the opportunities to sell your product to the public. Sometimes I wonder just how much hype is too much, as I'm sure the public, as a consuming entity, gets tired of being sold a repackaged item or has no interest in a show at all.

To those shows that had potential to hit it big, only to not thrill the general public, we present the award that asks:

Where?! - Not necessarily meant for the worst show of the half-year, this award is for the show that had the biggest hype but disappeared from the map so quickly that we can't find it anymore.
Mind you, these shows are not necessarily unsuccessful in Japan or the US. As suggested by the title of this award, they just don't appear to have struck their target audience through their marketing blitzes. In some cases, they may have just fallen off the radar completely.

3. Senkô no Night Raid

This is certainly no fault of the shows featured in the "Anime no Chikara" collaboration between TV Tokyo and Aniplex, but for some reason the immense hype behind this show probably lifted it too high in the early run. While the initial series So Ra No Wo To got some pretty good publicity and chatter from fans, and the following show Seikimatsu Occult Academy got some good exposure on Crunchyroll, Senkô no Night Raid seemed to have little fanfare surrounding it.

This doesn't necessarily mean Night Raid is hopeless as a potential draw, as the show does have its own unique intrigue involving espionage in China during the times leading up to World War II, but it seems that it was skipped over during the transition to online entertainment—only So Ra No Wo To and Occult Academy are available on Crunchyroll. Perhaps the show didn't tell history in the way people wanted it to be told—maybe it should have taken a hint from Strike Witches and had everyone missing pants?

(Interestingly enough, according to ANN's rating system, Occult Academy is the lowest ranking of the three in terms of popularity; perhaps there needs to be a 3A for this category?)

2. Ikkitôsen: Xtreme Xecutor

For some reason, this year was pretty heavy for fans of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels. Not only was an authentic version finally produced by a Chinese company for Japanese television in 2009/2010 (Sangoku Engi), but the two alternate moe-fied versions of the story got sequels of their own. In fact, both the Ikkitôsen and Shin Koihime Musô franchises combined their resources to provide a website collaboration for their upcoming shows.

Surprisingly enough, while Shin Koihime Musô: Otome Tairan was put on Crunchyroll with its original series, Ikkitôsen: Xtreme Xecutor hasn't seen the light of day.

I'm sure there is a perfectly good explanation for this, as Funimation doesn't have the rights to the sequels (Media Blasters picked up the second and third shows, Dragon Destiny and Great Guardians). However, the interest that put the first show on the map in the US may have finally dwindled down, as the fourth season had little else to offer but a fighting tournament and more ways to punch clothing off of girls. Considering the fourth season was launched at Comiket this year, the niche market in Japan may be the best place for it.

1. Mayoi Neko Overrun!

It may be hard to stomach, but even Shueisha misses the mark with its Jump titles every now and then. In fact, I've been very critical of the shows that have come from manga drawn by Kentarô Yabuki lately, as Black Cat didn't quite turn out to be that exciting as an anime, and To-Love-Ru...well, it was To-Love-Ru.

That being said, the show Mayoi Neko Overrun! was pushed all over Shônen Jump's Japanese pages without ever being run in them (it was run in Jump SQ with the likes of Tegami Bachi, Claymore, and D.Gray-man). However, while To-Love-Ru has enjoyed releases in the US through Sentai Filmworks and The Anime Network, Mayoi Neko Overrun! really hasn't had an impact. Again, it could be the need for timelag between Japanese and American releases, but there hasn't been much clamor for it, and the show itself seemed to lack any construct, except to show off its characters in skimpy clothes from ankle-level camera shots.

For a show that was hyped as being different from Yabuki's last two adaptions, it doesn't help that they kept the cat motif for the series and brought cameos from the To-Love-Ru gang. That just indicates that Mayoi Neko Overrun! was desperate for attention from fans of the shows that succeeded before.

Next award: the shows that made us scream "WHYYYYYYY?!"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The WHEN?! Award

Marketing in the Japanese anime industry is a wonder to behold. So many handouts are passed out during conventions, but the weight put on each show is not equivalent. For every Naruto series and Detective Conan movie out there that is hyped up the ying-yang, there are a few shows that don't quite live up to expectations, if they even have much in terms of expectations in the first place.

However, there were some good shows out there that manage to still impress people without the marketing push. It's those shows that have left us asking...

When?! - Not necessarily meant for the best show of the half-year, this award is for the show with the least amount of hype that was so surprisingly good it left us wanting to know the time of its next arrival.
Here are the candidates for the WHEN?! Award, the pleasant surprises from the Spring and Summer 2010 seasons that have us wanting a little bit more from Japan, whether it be in the form of sequels, revisions, or in the case of one position, an American tour.

3. THE CHERRY COKE$ / G・P・S (Giant Killing)

Call it the soccer hooligan in me, but not only was Giant Killing surprisingly good when compared to the likes of other soccer-based anime shows (Captain Tsubasa, Whistle!), it really captured the game-day feeling through the addition of two bands for their music.

The opening theme "My Story" was performed by the group THE CHERRY COKE$, a band with influences that stretch from punk to Irish folk (the group is known to rock the tin flute, accordion, and banjo). They have played with the likes of Rancid and the Pogues in Japan and opened up for Flogging Molly during their 2007 American tour.

The ending theme "Get Tough!" from G・P・S is just as good a listen. While there isn't much information on this band, I think a tour with both THE CHERRY COKE$ and G・P・S opening for an Irish punk band would be a nice thing to have in the US, especially if it brought them together with the Dropkick Murphys (THE CHERRY COKE$ were supposed to open for them in Japan, but Ken Casey's illness canceled the tour).

2. Saraiya Goyô (House of Five Leaves)

Looking at the "watch" count on Funimation's Youtube channel might indicate that this show underperformed. The show didn't quite interest common viewers in comparison to the likes of Hetalia and Black Butler II, both shows garnering five-digit responses versus clicks in the thousands for House of Five Leaves (even though the first episode got an impressive debut as one of the first to be provided for Youtube consumption).

However, the show did garner some good feedback and a run on Viz Media's IKKI online manga website, and the art itself really did give the show a different feeling for a samurai drama. It would be good to see the show go through a live-action run, even if the manga's style would be sacrificed in the process.

1. Ôkami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi (Ôkami and her Seven Acquaintances)

Sometimes shows that get too episodic tend to require a little more time for the ending to fall into place, and that's a reason that I hope Ôkami-san gets green-lit for a second season. Back when the Tokyo International Anime Fair was in full swing, there really wasn't much buzz surrounding the show from Geneon Universal's booth, as shows like Mayoi Neko Overrun!, Kaichô wa Maid-Sama!, Hakuôki, and Fate/stay night were the shows garnering top attention in their pamphlets.

However, on the whole, Ôkami-san managed to keep my attention the entire season with its creative depiction of well-known characters and their interaction in overlapped fairy-tale spoofs. Considering the lack of hype surrounding the show, it was an enjoyable watch—even the old narrator's cumbersome voice, as interfering at it may have been with the story itself at first, turned out to be better than first encountered. A second season may be impossible to get, due to the finite limit to the number of shows one can spoof, but hopefully things lead to a dubbed version in the US.

Next time: we wonder what show fell off the map with our WHERE?! Award!