Thursday, April 28, 2011


We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with [C], a Tatsunoko Production animation that occupies the first of two noitaminA slots on Fuji TV.

Storyline: 3

Realistically, the Japanese economy has been limping through busted bubbles here and there, but very rarely does national affluence affect anime shows. There have been stories of personal debt, but what if the Japanese economy tanked and greed was dictating human sentiment?

Enter the world of [C] (Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility). While our vigilant hero Kimimaro struggles with two part-time jobs and a college scholarship to pave the way to a gold-plated future as a civil servant, a mysterious world lies on the other side of the ATM screen, one where people in desperate need of cash sacrifice their future for the chance to get paid now. The "Financial District" is a digitized environment where human "Entrepreneurs" fight using their "Assets", powerful horned beings that attack through financial contributions. When a void is created through a suicide, Kimimaro is confronted by Masakaki, a grinning Cheshire representative of the Financial District. He's randomly given the opportunity to become a participant in the game, enticed with the opportunity to abandon his jobs and obtain a girlfriend.

While the background is enticing, I can't get over this idea that we've seen [C] before. That sense of fiscal temptation has been there in gambling shows like Kaiji, but the idea of holding a tournament against other greedy dealers for the sake of escaping debt was used back in Liar Game, as well. The only difference here is that the tournament is more like Tron. I'm certain that [C] will be more than just a Shônen Jump battle show, but it hardly feels that way right now.

Animation: 3

Tatsunoko Productions have suddenly been active this season, put in charge of the animation for Sket Dance, Pretty Rhythm, and this series. While there are some creative mixes in animation, particularly in the usage of side-bar subtitles that creep into frame like digital black slime, there are also some awkward moments where computer animation clashes styles. At times, it feels seamless, but it's pretty obvious where more polygonal animation takes center stage. One moment, Masakaki moves fluidly; the next moment, he feels as robotic as a "Money For Nothing" video. There just isn't much consistency.

Characters: 4

It's been about a year since Alice In Wonderland hit movie theaters in Japan, but it seems the "Mad Hatter" has been a big influence on character design. Blue Exorcist has already had a top-hatted madman grace its episodes, although he seems to be more a hidden enigma. Masakaki, on the other hand, is played as a terrific tempter by Takahiro Sakurai (Yaichi, House of Five Leaves), while the supporting characters could use their various backgrounds to build up Kimimaro.

Track: 4

The music really does hit all the right notes, if you pardon the pun. While you do get a handful of electronica in the songs, the music manages to be calculating during the dramatic parts and energizing during the action sequences. The opening and ending songs—"Matoryoshka" by NICO Touches the Walls and "RPG" from School Food Punishment (the coolest name for a band ever)—also provide some good melodies.

"Hype": 4

noitaminA has consistently produced some talented shows over the past few years, so the announcement of [C] really produced some anticipation for a good show. While it doesn't necessarily mean that the end result will be great, the tease of it succeeding has yet to wear off. While director Kenji Nakamura has yet to work in the lead role, he's done some solid work in other noitaminA shows, and screenwriter Noboru Takagi has produced fine works in Durarara!! and Hell Girl.

Overall: 18/25
I'm starting to fear that noitaminA, despite its recent critical successes with Wandering Son, Shiki and Princess Jellyfish, is losing part of its luster. Fractale burned out pretty quickly, and no one has picked up the other noitaminA title for Spring 2011, AnoHana. The tides could change with the two summer titles (No. 6, Usagi Drop), but for now [C] is helping the animation block stay relevant. While the production values are decent and the story has a lot to work with, there's this sinking feeling that we're watching Yu-Gi-Oh! being played with Monopoly money.

Maybe we're all being conned into a good show, but looking at the surface it's hard to tell if [C] is real or counterfeit yet. We're going to need some time.

([C] is simulcast on Funimation every Thursday at 12:45 PM EDT.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Steins;Gate, a White Fox animation based on the visual novel produced by 5pb. and Nitroplus.

Storyline: 4

Akihabara has always been the breeding ground for nerds and cosplayers, but if you wander past the maid cafes and electronics stores, you'll find the Future Gadget Laboratory, home to an eccentric trio of conspiracy theorists. Their leader, college student Rintarô Okabe, who also doubles as self-professed mad scientist Kyôma Hôôin, sees secret agents all around him. A lecture on time travel draws Rintarô to meet Kurisu Makise, a teenaged researcher who he later finds stabbed to death.

Upon returning to his lab with his space-case associate Mayuri and discussing things with resident hacker Hashida, Rintarô starts to notice oddities. While their machine, a microwave wired into their cell phones that turns bananas into green slime, is so much an accident that it's no longer that bizarre, Rintarô is shocked when he's told the lecture was cancelled long before he attended it. Even more shocking, Rintarô is speechless when he meets Kurisu as if she had never been killed in the first place.

There is no doubt that the first few episodes of Steins;Gate will make your head hurt, but the story is well-constructed in its chaos. Obviously, the show will tease the viewer with different twists in parallel timelines and risks of temporal collapse, but it's a fun ride so far with some of the comedic interplay between characters. Hard to say if this is a drama right now, but Steins;Gate has some promise.

Animation: 3

Steins;Gate gets a lot of assistance from computer-aided animation, but the designs themselves are just decent. The show doesn't explore too much outside of Akihabara settings, but it's hard to really put a finger on how good the animation itself is, as there's much more attention to the story and its characters. Perhaps there's a little bit of residue from the visual novel with more focus on getting the characters to the final scene than to have them look outstanding getting there.

Characters: 4

There are some screwballs in Steins;Gate—Mayuri and Hashida are perfect foils, their ditziness and otaku pride, respectively, making them oafish—but both amplify the likes of Rintarô, who is probably one of the more mentally-disorganized main characters in recent memory. Mamoru Miyano (Takuto, Star Driver) is able to discard his usual bravado to act with paranoia and staged confidence, making Rintarô "mad" without making him crazy.

The downside might be that the show could certainly be called a "harem" show—there's a magnetism that draws the Akihabara girls to Rintarô, and it's hard to guess just what their role is. There's even an effeminate shrine "maiden" in Episode 2 who seems to be in the show just to make a joke that "he's still a boy". Good character designs aside, it's hard to say why they're all there.

Track: 3

The music inserts are nice with some driving paranoid tracks for the opening theme, but not too thrilling. Takeshi Abo does a good job composing the songs for the video game and was kept for the anime. Again, we're talking more about the story as fuel for the show, so the music by itself wasn't recognized all that much.

"Hype": 4

Steins;Gate was first developed as a successful video game, so the anticipation that the show would follow its footsteps was there. White Fox isn't necessarily a veteran to animation, but it was wise to hire two directors—Takuya Satô (NieA_7) and Hiroshi Hamazaki (TEXHNOLYZE)—who have had work with more psychoanalytical shows. The show also has two manga titles running to beef up the show's credentials and fan base.

Overall: 18/25
Steins;Gate was produced by the same two companies that united to form Chaos;Head, a similar visual novel that mixed conspiracy theory with Internet forums. If anything, while Chaos;Head delved into the subculture of Shibuya, Steins;Gate crawls around the nerdcore culture of Akihabara and lays out a story one may not expect from the district known more for its consumerism. We're getting soothing messages from the show that thinking about the possible time-travel twists won't hurt a bit, but it's hard to speculate just how this puzzle gets put together.

The anticipation of a temporal traffic jam gives Steins;Gate a good score in the starting gate, but there's no guarantee that the headache will be manageable.

(Steins;Gate is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Tuesday at 2:35 PM EDT.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Blue Exorcist, an A-1 Pictures animation based on the manga running in Jump Square.

Storyline: 4

Based on the manga written by Kazue Katô, Blue Exorcist (Ao no Ekusoshisuto) is about the lives of Rin and Yukio Okumura, twin brothers who are about as similar as Cain and Abel. While Yukio is quiet and quite capable in studies, Rin is more of a reckless, hot-headed marauder. While his strength is uncanny and his personality sparkles before people, his temper and one-track mind have made it impossible for him to hold a job for long.

However, it appears that Rin's torments are also in the form of demonic spirits he can see. He and Yukio's guardian, Father Fujimoto, is one of the most powerful exorcists in Japan and often deals with the uprisings of demons trying to pass over from the Demon World (Gehenna) to the Human World (Assiah). During one rather brutal scuffle with a ruffian possessed by a demon, Rin discovers the secrets locked inside him, his anger manifesting in a blue flame that encapsulates his body. Father Fujimoto, upon exorcising the demon, eventually admits the truth—Rin is the son of Satan himself!

While the idea of possession to invade a parallel world were explored in Dream Eater Merry last season, Blue Exorcist now takes a similar step into a much darker void and does it by allowing the plot to dictate direction. This show certainly has staying power by introducing an element where the main character will have to confront his evil identity, all while having to support and defend his brother. Simple? Maybe, but it's certainly clean.

Animation: 3

The animation so far is pretty much on par with Fractale and Occult Academy, the last two shows produced by Sony's animation studios, A-1 Pictures. There is some decent work to keep the show moving, but at the moment the animation isn't quite what keeps the series together. Considering that veteran animator Takahiro Chiba is Blue Exorcist's main animator, the show shouldn't suffer any bad blips in animation and should get better as time moves on.

Characters: 4

Most of the charm in the characters comes from the acceptance that this series is not for fan service. Aside from the supermarket ladies who work with Rin and the little kid he helps, there isn't a dominating female presence in this show. We're already given the sense that this will be an action show splashed with comedy in the right places, and the characters created for it are fit for the fight. Rin (Nobuhiko Okamoto) and Yukio (Jun Fukuyama) are played pretty well by their voice actors, and considering Hiroshi Kamiya is again on to play a snide character, the future characters should be equally colorful.

Track: 4

Some solid musical tracks decorate Blue Exorcist with plenty of quieter orchestral music in the background. Hiroyuki Sawano has directed for some strong live-action and anime shows in the past (Gundam UC, Sengoku BASARA), so the drama is framed well. The opening theme sung by UVERworld (Bleach, Blood+) and the ending theme sung by the Korean boy-band 2PM give the show its own vocal split personality, as well.

"Hype": 5

Of all of the shows advertised for the Spring 2011 season, Blue Exorcist is one that may have received the most fuel from its manga release in the US (Viz Media, April 2011). Blue Exorcist is also getting some high-caliber direction from Tensai Okamura (Darker Than Black) and scriptwriter Ryôta Yamaguchi (Escaflowne). Perhaps the best hype that it can enjoy is the fact that it is associated with Aniplex, one of the heavier marketing-oriented production units in Japan (Durarara!!, Fullmetal Alchemist).

Overall: 20/25
Blue Exorcist has one of the more enjoyable first episodes of the season, using a good chunk of time and comedy to develop Rin as a lovable loser, only to put him on display as the key to everything in the end. I like where this show is going, even though the opening animation to Episode 2 seems to indicate that this could turn into an Occult Academy where most of the show takes place on a school campus. While there is a risk the story could become soggy from being soaked in comic tropes a little too much, the action should become rather dramatic in the end and make for some action-packed suspense.

(Blue Exorcist is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Wednesday at 1 PM EDT.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Skit's Hitting The Fan

Conventioneering. It's been a habit (and a partial career choice) of mine.

I'll be at Anime Boston this weekend, April 22nd to the 24th, so you'll be lucky if you see much happening here at all. However, if you do happen to be there to take in the hijinks and relative mirth (mainly since it will be raining all weekend), I suggest you visit Son of "Waratte wa Ikeru?!", my panel on Japanese traditional comedy. I'll be discussing the finer points of rakugo and manzai comedy, as well as performing a few skits that I and my good friend Mike Toole have written.

So if you're not in line for the cosplay contest or the hentai dub panel, stop by Saturday April 23rd at 6PM in the Hynes, Room 309.

I will have a harisen fan on me, so behave.

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Astarotte's Toy

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Astarotte's Toy! (Asutarotte no Omocha), a Diomedea animation based on the comedy manga from Yui Haga.

Storyline: 0

Borrowing from the same Norse mythology that fortified Oh My Goddess!, Astarotte's Toy (Asutarotte no Omocha!) tells the story of Princess Astarotte, ruler of the country of Ygvarland in the Creature Realm. Since she's a succubus, it is her mission in the future to gather a harem of males, but that also means that she must feed off of their "life-seed" for survival. Of course, the show doesn't hide what "life-seed" we mean—Astarotte's hugging an inflatable banana in the hot springs when the matter of "sucking life-seed" is discussed by her head lady-in-waiting Judit.

There are a few things that stand in the way of creating a harem—Astarotte's only ten, and she completely hates boys for some reason. Since there are no humans in the Creature Realm, Astarotte confidently says she'll accept a male human into her harem. However, when Yggdrasil, the tree that once linked the dimensional worlds, is finally activated, Judit finds herself in the Human World. Therefore, the first candidate sent to the Creature Realm for Astarotte's harem is Naoya, a plain-suited member of Japanese society who gets accidentally tackled by Astarotte upon arrival.

Although it's hawked as a harmless show, there are a few things that are bothersome. This might be the more trivial one, but why are the "creatures" painted in such pretty colors? You'd swear that you were watching My Little Pony, not a show about succubi. The really disturbing part is that we're talking about suggested sexual tension between a ten-year-old female character and a male character that could be as old as a college graduate. It sounded creepy on paper (Naoya is 23 in the manga!), and it sounds creepy here.

Animation: 3

Animation is painted with all of the crayons of the moe spectrum, everything kept rather pastel and candy-coated in appearance. Considering that Studio Diomedea's last hit Shinryaku! Ika Musume was submerged in cuteness, they pretty much aimed for the same target on Astarotte's Toy. Unfortunately, the show is almost too cute for its subject matter—where's the creepiness that comes from talk about monsters?

Characters: 1

The original manga designs by Yui Haga and the anime designs by Mai Ôtsuka sadly sugarcoat the subject matter of the show. In the land of Ygvarland, apparently age ain't nuthin' but a number, since it's hard to button down how old everyone is (except for the noble Olav, who is thankfully one of the more entertaining characters). Everyone else could qualify as kids, which makes a show that jokes about sex all the more dangerous.

Track: 1

The background music is chock-full of calliopes, music boxes, and flutes, good for a kid's show, but out of place here. The opening and closing themes are okay, but only filler. The bigger gripes are with the acting, as Rie Kugimiya is, once again, put in the role of the long-haired underdeveloped main character, while Naoya's voice actress (Rina Satô) sounds too feminine for the role.

"Hype": 2

There's plenty of hype behind this show to sell it to viewers, even if most of it feels negative. Notably, the original manga is called Lotte no Omocha!, but the change of the title for the anime indicates that candy conglomerate Lotte likely had a say in the matter. This could be a trademark issue or an issue with the company being associated with a sexually-tinges show like this one, but either way there was some notable press. Director Fumitoshi Oizaki (Romeo x Juliet) has had some sporadic work, as far as fame within the staff goes.

Overall: 7/25
Astarotte's Toy would be an adorable kids' show with its sense of adventure and jellybean designs, but too much nudity is the least of the problems with this show. This is the first show of the season where I feel the roles were mistakenly assigned, and other than Astarotte's fear of males, there's really nothing to pilot the show. Worst of all, what is with the subject matter of some of the shows this season? The Qwaser of Stigmata, in its second season, is all about warriors who get strength from breast milk, while Astarotte's Toy here obviously harps on oral-sex innuendoes, both visually and metaphorically. It's like perverts are going all out this season before Tokyo's censorship laws kick in for the summer.

Warning: Astarotte's Toy is a toy unfit for kids and cultured anime fans. Proceed with caution.

(Astarotte's Toy is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Sunday at 12 PM EDT.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011


We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Softenni, a Xebec animation based on the comedy manga from Ryô Azuchi.

Storyline: 2

A complete 180 from serious tennis shows such as Ace wo Nerae! and The Prince of Tennis, Softenni is a bare-bones approach to tennis comedy, based off of the manga from Ryô Azuchi in Monthly Comic Blade. Situated in the rural countryside of Hokkaidô, Sofuteni covers the daily practices of the Hakuô Middle School soft-tennis club as they learn the ropes and aim for the top.

Naturally, the members of the club have their quirks, leading to minute-long vignettes as they interact. Asuna's the clumsy ditz, her mind wandering towards sexual innuendoes while her feet manage to trip over tennis-court lines. Her friend Kotone is a gung-ho, fire-eyed competitor who takes her aggression out on her home dojo's students afterwards. You've also got Chitose, a flighty girl with bottomless pit for a stomach, and Kurusu, an abnormal tennis prodigy who has a thing for mascot heads. All of them are taught by Mishimagi-sensei, a lazy former high-school pro who looks to be eternally fighting off a hangover.

And...that's it. Comedy ought to come from the characters just being themselves while they try to learn the game, but for some reason Softenni seems to think that the viewers want to see panty shots and Asuna's sexual thoughts at the same time. Need we remind people, these are middle-school students. Funny shouldn't come at the expense of looking like a dirty old man in the process.

Animation: 3

Well, the animation's at least vibrant like cotton candy, which is probably the best direction to go for a show about club activities. Realistically, after-school sports aren't meant to be this fun, so at least that approach is worth the ink. It's about on par of your average Xebec show, and you're thankfully not getting a harem show in the process. Still, it would be miles better without all the attention on underwear.

Characters: 2

A glutton, an emotionless weirdo, a tomboy, a ditz, and from the looks of things a foreigner. This isn't exactly the most original of line-ups, but at least Azuchi had the right mind to include an uninterested semi-pro to educate them all. While the members of the club fit solidly into tropes and even look the part—Asuna's ahoge hairstyle turns into punctuation when necessary—Mishimagi luckily doesn't fit into one, obviously knowing his place and role as instructor.

Track: 2

Peppy for the opening and ending themes, Softenni deflates into your typical slice-of-life soundtrack. The only thing missing would probably be the recorder noises from Azumanga Daioh. The acting fits the characters appropriately and is nothing to really get excited about.

"Hype": 1

There really wasn't much talk about Softenni at all, outside of the suspicion that we'd be getting your average Xebec cheesecake show. Director Ryôki Kamitsubo has been involved in production for about a decade, but his only major work was the Hen Zemi OVA from last year. (Not exactly a resume builder...)

Overall: 10/25
I suppose we shouldn't be too critical of Softenni; there are plenty of nonsense sports manga that wish they had reached animation stages (Mr. Fullswing comes to mind). Unfortunately, the moe has been dialed up to critical levels, and the female characters become difficult to identify with. Considering that the show would probably get many more male viewers with gravure idols doing the same thing, the point of Softenni just doesn't seem to be there.

Softenni is funny. I just wish I could laugh without feeling so awkward.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Toriko, one of seven Shônen Jump manga titles currently running as anime on Japanese TV.

Storyline: 2

It is the Gourmet Age of humankind, a period in time where men and women have perfected the art and comprehension of cooking. In this unnamed land, there are creatures and plants that exist on a whole new level, but the dangers to obtain such ambrosia is real. It is in this age where Gourmet Hunters roam the succulent lands, finding the choicest ingredients that exist in nature in order to create the ultimate full-course menu.

However, not all are as brave as the Gourmet Hunters. Komatsu, a skinny cook from the International Gourmet Organization, would normally get eaten alive, but he is able to locate Toriko, one of the greatest of the Gourmet Hunters. The two start their adventures together in the Baron Archipelago by looking for an ingredient on Komatsu's list, the legendary Gararagator. During the trip, we get the full force of Toriko's power, as he's able to fell immense fish, birds, and reptiles without a problem, but can he overcome a Gararagator twice its average size?

While Toriko does have some imagination put to it and borrows some good concepts from its Shônen Jump brethren (check out the DBZ-like opening animation where Toriko runs in the foreground while a gargantuan beast strolls in the background), I can't help but feel guilty about the subject matter. Zac Bertschy from ANN pretty much hit my opinion in his review, noting that "if you're an animal lover, or a conservationist, or let's say a yearly donor to your local zoo, the entire idea behind this show might rub you the wrong way". I just have this sinking feeling that we're watching a version of Pokemon where Ash captures a critter in a Pokeball, only to roast it on a spit with herb butter.

Animation: 4

Pal, you're talking to the big men on the block, Toei Animation. Already known for being THE authority on animation (Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, One Piece, Digimon), Toei pretty much capsizes the competition when it comes to scale. There are plenty of expansive horizons on display here, and the colors are vibrant even in the dark. Considering that Fuji TV and the Yomiuri corporations are helping this project financially, it's no surprise that you'd get some incredible vistas.

Characters: 4

While Toriko himself appears something like your strong-man prototype, the shock of his orange suit bringing images of Goku to mind, the creativity of the various creatures makes for fantastic new branches in the animal and plant kingdoms. Fish with crustaceous claws, alligators with eight legs, dragon-tailed birds—I'm not sure what clicked in the mind of the manga's creator Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, but he's certainly being generous with genetics.

Track: 4

The music is produced by Hiromi Mizutani (Hell Girl, Before Green Gables), and we're getting some pretty big orchestral composition. It would have to match the size of the show's range, so there are some really good moments of music. The actors provide some full vocal ranges as well, the studio wise to reunite Ryôtarô Okiayu (Toriko; Scar, Fullmetal Alchemist) and Romi Park (Komatsu; Edward, Fullmetal Alchemist).
Most of all, the show's opening theme "Guts Guts!!" is sung by Akira Kushida, veteran when it comes to high-impact themes (Kinnikuman, various tokusatsu shows). If this music doesn't make you want to eat a burger in one bite, nothing will.

"Hype": 5

Toei and Shueisha uncorked the money keg for this show, marketing it heavily towards the younger audiences. The first episode was actually a crossover episode with One Piece where Toriko and Luffy pretty much ate everything in sight, but it did the job to launch the series into orbit before it even ran its first TV episode. While first-time director Akifumi Zako may be untested, he's got a capable character designer in Hisashi Kagawa. Let's also not forget that Toriko is running in the spot vacated by Dragon Ball Z Kai, a coveted spot to say the least.

Overall: 19/25
Toriko is pretty much the ultimate Shônen Jump wet dream. If you were to combine the muscled one-on-one battles from Dragon Ball, the immense collectibility of critters from Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the adventure (and belly-busting gluttony) of One Piece, you'd get everything there is to Toriko. That's not to say that the show is unoriginal from its combination, as the show has gone for broke by being big—big music, big animation, big characters, and big sponsors. We're seeing the Big Gulp of anime.

Staying on the theme, Toriko has some "big" shoes to fill. If it stays disconnected from reality as the flower child of Iron Chef and Crocodile Dundee, it should do extremely well in the younger audience. However, I do wonder how other cultures and environmentalists will view Toriko in the long run, even if it is fiction.

(Toriko is simulcast on Funimation and

Friday, April 15, 2011

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Aria the Scarlet Ammo

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Aria the Scarlet Ammo, an anime based on the light novel series written by Chûgaku Akamatsu and manga published in Comic Alive.

Storyline: 0

In a world where crime is rampant and in need of control, Tokyo Butei High School is there to create the next experts in armed investigation known as "Butei". While it appears to be a normal high school, the students are heavily armed and well-trained in the art of gunplay and swordsmanship.

However, one of those students, second-year Kinji Tôyama, wants out. Badly. It's just too bad that, on the way to school one day, he's chased down by a remote Segway with an uzi for a driver, and his bike is equipped with a bombing device straight out of Speed.

All is not lost; his heroine, Aria H. Kanzaki, parachutes from the sky and foils the plan with her own accuracy. When seven more rogue uzis come their way, however, it is Kinji's time to act. We discover that he has some latent power that gets triggered by a rise in blood pressure, and he takes down all of them with his own weaponry. While that would make any girl swoon, Aria's more concerned that Kinji saw her bra in the process and later moves into his dorm room, demanding he be her slave.

There are so many directions we can approach this story, but I'll take it from a sociopolitical stance. One of the teachers states that Tokyo Butei was developed to prevent crime, but apparently there are killers on the loose that want to kill Butei students. Isn't this the exact argument why guns should be banned from schools? I just can't get over this idea that the show is glorifying violence instead of working to prevent it, and coupling it with random fan service doesn't make the plot any better.

Animation: 1

I'll give J.C. Staff a little benefit of the doubt, as they have been working like a dog to put out productions, but there's just some unease in watching the show. The computer graphics produce weaponry that feels too polygonal and doesn't mesh with the show's movement. Meanwhile, it feels like I'm looking at the background to A Certain Magic Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun, also produced by J.C. Staff.

Characters: 0

Judging by the characters, this show is hardly original. Rie Kugimiya and Junji Majima play a tiny violent tsundere and her "slave", respectively, while the other characters are just fill-in male perverts, mysterious teachers, and harem fodder. Just for bringing Kugimiya and Majima back together, this show ought to be called Toradora! Tora! Tora!

Track: 1

Thump-thump music in the background? Check. Anything else? No? Okay then. Let's move on.

"Hype": 3

Well, the light novel series written by Akamatsu has done well, scoring nine separate volumes of print and 1.9 million copies sold so far, so that usually helps push a show. There hasn't been much else, however, as the title hasn't been picked up for simulcasting overseas. (Rightfully so, since I could imagine the huge uproar if it did.) I suppose the marketers just assumed that the fans of Ground Defense Force! Mao-chan would go and buy this with or without promotion.

Overall: 5/25
I bit my tongue when watching Full Metal Panic! and Gunslinger Girl, even though I didn't like the idea of kids and teens with guns. However, after watching the first episode of Aria the Scarlet Ammo, I stand by my guns on this one, no pun intended. There is really no place in any popular culture for shows like this that encourage the idea of allowing guns in educational facilities, even if the selling point is defense. Perhaps this displays my cards when it comes to my personal political spectrum, but Aria the Scarlet Ammo would have been a bad choice for Funimation, Crunchyroll, or any streaming site.

Call me a hypocrite for not saying the same thing about Misato in My Ordinary Life, but I can tell the difference between a lampoon and an action flick. Can you?

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi, an anime based on the boys-love manga written by Shingiku Nakamura (Junjô Romantica).

Storyline: 3

Meet Ritsu Onodera, a twenty-something editor who would rather be reading literature. His own complications at his father's publishing company has forced him to hunt for work elsewhere, and even though shôjo manga is completely outside of his comprehension, he goes to work for Emerald Publishing, only to be swept up in a department with a split personality. The first day he finds the department obliterated by the harsh "cycle" led by chief editor Takano, who thinks so far outside of the box that he actually kisses Ritsu to demonstrate to a female mangaka the best angle for a scene.

Even after settling down and meeting the other employees, there's still this odd tension; Takano seems to know Ritsu from before. Of course, it's pretty obvious that they had a thing in high school, Ritsu's flashbacks rife with his feelings for his "sempai", but Ritsu's bitterness at his job and his new boss clouds his mind. There's no doubt the next few episodes will be easy to process as realization between them dawns, but can Ritsu handle the job?

Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi (World's Greatest First Love) may be a boys-love story, but it's certainly trying to show the ropes regarding manga at the same time, explanations regarding panel display and tone scattered amongst the drama and comedy. While the story does center around the love-hate relationship between Takano and Ritsu, the supporting cast looks like it will help the plot with timely bits of comedy. There are some concerns about how this show might last 13 episodes, but it's a decent start.

Animation: 3

The animation style coming from Studio DEEN fit the adaption of Nakamura's last manga Junjô Romantica, so it's only appropriate that they get the reins for this show. Crisp animation is used for the serious scenes, and the comedic scenes are treated lightly as well. However, the show's strength lies in its construction, as the episode is paced out well with proper dispersion of drama and comedy. We're not flooded with dewy romantic scenes that are interrupted by slapstick.

Characters: 3

While the characters may seem average for a boys-love anime, I tend to think that more attention was put on the details regarding their situations and designs. Expressions are grainier when the characters are tired, circles under the eyes not mysteriously vanishing during the scene. In short, these characters are rather believable, even if the idea of forgetting one's first love is not. Character designer Yôko Kikuchi's a twenty-year pro at this, so I give her credit for developing stable designs.

Track: 3

The opening and ending themes do their job at giving the show energy in the beginning and turning the volume down at the end. The acting is done properly without many signs of overacting or overreacting. A decent job from producer Hijiri Anse.

"Hype": 3

I honestly didn't see this show coming, but Nakamura and Studio DEEN do have a history of success together. It's also good to see that Chiaki Kon has been retained for work with the two again, as she has directed some good shows along the way (When They Cry, Otome Yôkai Zakuro). Perhaps the marketing kept the show hidden, because it has some power behind it.

Overall: 15/25
It may make a boring pentagon, but Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi is a show that defines a good start. There are no real flaws in animation, design, soundtrack or acting, and there's also nothing that completely entrances the viewer. It belongs somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and has the capability to impress later on. More importantly, it looks like the show may not completely focus on one couple, as indicated by the opening animation, which could either give more material or over-season the show by drawing away from the main couple (see: Kare Kano).

Overall, it's anyone game as to how this show does, so Square One doesn't look bad right now.

(Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Friday at 1:35 PM EDT.)

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san, an anime based on the Yasuhisa Kubo manga in Evening magazine animated by Production I.G.

Storyline: 3

The plot to Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san (You're Being Summoned, Azazel) has to be boiled down to its purest form, as the show only occupies fifteen minutes. The Akutabe Detective Agency processes its cases in a method much different than other agencies. Instead of finding deadbeat husbands and criminals through diligent stakeouts and investigations, as his female assistant Sakuma would prefer, Detective Akutabe would rather leave the dirty work to the demons he summons, one of them being the butt-faced pervert Azazel (not to be confused with Ketsu-inu).

Considering Azazel's small size and lack of motivation, it's not hard to understand that things get complicated. When a customer comes demanding that the agency do something about her cheating husband, Azazel completely misinterprets the missions, leading to numerous do-overs. The only way that Akutabe can see this ending smoothly is by promising to dissolve Azazel's contract with him, but even that promise shows just how devious the detective is.

This first episode does the job much like its OVA did, hitting the viewer with bursts of comedy and parody, some of it approaching raunchy toilet humor. Yes, there are jokes that involve feces, sexual organs, and breast augmentation, but since when has that become a taboo subject for anime? Frankly this story could have a world of potential, especially with all the Pokemon-like demons ready to be summoned.

Animation: 2

You're not getting the Louvre from Production I.G. here, and that's likely the point. It can't be denied that the show's quality takes a hit from the depths of his potty humor. Rightfully so, since a high-quality production would likely distract from the comedy. Kudos to the staff for managing to incorporate Sazae-san into the fold—I will never be able to look at the show again without imagining Sazae with nuclear warheads for breasts.

Characters: 4

For a humorous show, you're going to be needing memorably humorous characters. Azazel absolutely steals the show here, his expression capable of going from ferocious to precocious in two seconds. He is the quintessential boke in this comedy—he was hilarious in the two OVAs released for the manga last year, and he is framed brilliantly with Sakuma's innocence and Akutabe's treacherous nature. I can't wait to see how the other demons are introduced.

Track: 3

Again, you're not going to be expecting Beethoven or Bach here. The soundtrack gets the job done here with its horn-and-cowbell sound effects and its para-para opening theme. While Daisuke Namikawa provides a pretty droll voice for Akutabe, the producers did the genius thing by giving the role of Azazel to Masaya Onosaka (Vash the Stampede, Trigun; Donpachi, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo). The mix of an Osakan accent gives Azazel the perfect voice for complaints and complete brown-nosing.

"Hype": 3

Not much was said about Azazel-san before the season, despite the pre-introductory OVA series released with the manga last year. However, you do get a capable production company from Production I.G. Better yet, you get direction from veteran Tsutomu Mizushima, who has produced past comedies that have required fast-and-furious comedy (Hare Nochi Guu, Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, Shinryaku! Ika-Musume). Seems like they got the perfect guy to direct this show.

Overall: 15/25
I'm a bit disappointed by the shoebox-sized parcel the episode became, but much like Azazel himself, I'm impressed with the range of comedy we get from the half-pint. Azazel-san gives its all in the shortened span and concentrates all that comic goodness into a delectable bite. I'm getting a slight impression of Zatch Bell minus the upbeat moral we're to get in the end, and teaming up the sexually-harassing Azazel with an innocent waif of an assistant could make for some brilliant comedy.

Azazel-san could possibly be the funniest thing on TV this season. I wonder what we have to sacrifice to get this one streamed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

F1RST IMPRESSIONS: Maria†Holic Alive

We continue our look at the newest anime shows for Spring 2011 with Maria†Holic Alive, a sequel to the Maria†Holic anime produced by SHAFT.

Storyline: 3

For those entering the show right in the middle, Maria†Holic covers the story of Kanako Miyamae, a second-year student who transfers to the hallowed halls of Ame-no-Kisaki Academy. While she is enraptured by the thought of falling in love like her parents did at Ame-no-Kisaki, a past incident has left her completely terrified of boys and head-over-heels in the thought of finding true love with another girl. However, in the ironic style that many anime shows embrace, the first person she meets and falls for is Mariya Shidō, a cross-dressing boy who gets sadistic pleasure out of masquerading as a petite and refined girl.

The entrance into the second season, Maria†Holic Alive, doesn't require much knowledge of the first. Just know this much: Kanako has managed to assemble a group of dependable friends, but her secret yuri affection for them makes her heart (and nose) bleed. Mariya, however, sees Kanako as both a danger to his identity and his personal plaything. When Kanako discovers the location of the tree under which her parents met, she's anxious to get under it with her own friends, only to find the tree is housed within the confines of a dangerous dorm filled with challenges. Will she overcome the obstacles to her heart? Will she find true love? Will Mariya actually stay away for an entire episode?

The concept of Maria†Holic Alive was fun to follow in the first season, so the second season could try to get down to business, but it's still a lot of fun to pick on poor Kanako. There's a good chance the show may just fiddle around with the players on the chessboard until the end of these 13 episodes. I'm torn on whether the show should remain comic or delve into drama, but so far the first episode is mindlessly fun.

Animation: 4

There is no doubt in my mind that animation studio SHAFT is the best at what they do, but that's not to say their expertise is in animation, per se. They provide some terrific openings and closing to keep the viewer's attention, and they don't always depend on sharp movement to animate their shows. Much like their productions of Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubo-sensei, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, SHAFT provides a sort of artistic animation in Maria†Holic Alive, one where still photography dominates the animation and minor movements are "filmed" at interesting angles. However, SHAFT also stays quite faithful to the original manga with some scenes dictated by Kanako's superdeformed reactions.

Characters: 3

The more I look at the character designs and make that association between SHAFT and Maria†Holic Alive, the more I see a Takarazuka performance that has been invaded by a fanatic stalker. If Kanako was erased from the show like a Garfield Minus Garfield strip, the characters would likely appear normal about 90% of the time. You do have some unique characters stemming from Mariya's sadism and her maid Matsurika's deadpan comic delivery, but this show centers around Kanako's priceless reactions. The other characters are just gravy.

Track: 4

Again, SHAFT's role as the adhesive for this show becomes a central point for the show, including its soundtrack. Composer Tetsuya Nishiwaki is retained from the first season for his services, so we get a good mix of background music and an opening theme that becomes a terrific parody of a live-action sentai song. This also means we should be getting a good ending theme for the show if the songs from the first season are any sort of barometer. The acting is good, but the use of the same voice actresses from past SHAFT shows has to make you wonder if they'll ever stray from the norm.

"Hype": 5

It's directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. It's produced by SHAFT. That alone should make your skin tingle like Kanako being touched by a male, but most of all, it's an Akiyuki Shinbo/SHAFT anime that's actually being streamed overseas.

Legally. That never happens.

Granted, that means you have to get a monthly subscription from The Anime Network to watch it to completion, but it should still excite SHAFT fans.

Overall: 19/25
I was a bit worried that Maria†Holic Alive might devolve into a shôjo version of Sayonara Zetsubô-sensei—the non-sequiturs spill like wine, the animation devices are similar, and just about all of the voice actresses played a female student in SZS—but I like the spin that both SHAFT and the original mangaka Minari Endô have put on yuri comics and Takarazuka theater. We get plenty of odes to the comics produced by the Year 24 Group in Japan, but the comedy surrounding Kanako's fanatic obsessions with romance also lead her to be a likable tragic figure—always the stalker, never the stalked.

It's good to have Maria†Holic back and to have SHAFT finally make their presence felt.

(Maria†Holic Alive is simulcast on The Anime Network every Sunday at 11 PM EDT.)