Monthly Archives: August 2011
Final impression – refreshing, but could’ve been better 8/10
Fall 2010 – (title literal translation – Blooming Flowers – Samurai Girls)
The young samurai Muneakira returns from his travels around Japan to find the wanted criminal Yukimura being hunted by his childhood friend, Princess Sen Tokugawa. Yukimura is a diviner and has come to the capital to warn the country’s leaders that a calamity is on the horizon. However, Sen’s brother, the de facto leader of Japan, has written off the prediction as heresy and has ordered her capture. However, things get messy when Muneakira’s chivalrous nature leads him to take Yukimura’s side. When the battle is looking bleak, a mysterious samurai girl named Jyuubei descends from the heavens to defend Muneakira with her otherworldly strength. Who is this monstrously powerful young woman and what is her relationship to Muneakira?
Samurai Girls is set in a fantasy-style modern Japan, in a world that experienced a very different end to World War II. As I often do when a specific plot element excites me, I’m going to mention that I have a soft spot for alternate history stories, so this anime may rank higher on my scale than others might rate it. Given the excessive ecchi, even I would have expected my own rank for Samurai Girls to be a much lower score. But there’s a lot of innovation throughout the anime that is very fresh; resulting in the ecchi being more icing on the cake than excessive sugar. Using inkblots to censor the anime’s TV version was a stylistic stroke of genius. Unnatural rays of light that censor other, similar anime like Koihime Musou are getting cliché and tacky. But enough about the ecchi. Samurai Girls as a concept isn’t anything new. Attractive women with superhuman abilities is common enough, but it gets executed very well in Samurai Girls. There is a great balance of story and action, with pretty much every character having likable, relatable traits. The art style is also refreshing, with very sharp shading and thick lines that makes the entire anime look like it was painted with a wide brush. Excellent opening and ending theme music round out a surprisingly awesome anime.
Final impression – as good as the first season 7/10
Fall 2010 – (Alternate titles – A Certain Magical Index II)
Touma Kamijou claims to be the unluckiest man in the universe. But his mysterious right hand has the power to nullify all manner of supernatural conditions. In Academy City, this ability comes in handy because students develop skills as espers, each with a unique quality they are trained to use. But the religious institutions of the world see the city as a blasphemous affront to god. Many organizations seek the downfall of the city using divine magic. But Touma’s circumstance has afforded him a designation of neutrality in the conflict. He is charged with protecting Index, a young nun who holds a vast library of religious and magical knowledge. But Mikoto Misaka, his abusive, tsundere love interest, keeps him tied strongly to the science of the espers, because she’s one of the strongest in the whole of Academy City. Between two extremes of world views, Touma gets pulled by both sides as a mediator to keep the peace.
Picking up right where season one left off with absolutely no recap, Index II really sets itself up from the start as an anime that’s not going to be able to stand up well unless you’ve watched the first season. Index II follows the formula of the first series, developing its plot through many short arcs. While there’s nothing really wrong with this formula in theory, Index just can’t seem to execute it without creating some annoying gaps in sequence. Despite this shortcoming, the characters are all delightfully colorful and motivated. The underlying conflict of “religion vs science,” that sits in the background of Index II is a grandiose shadow of how it has been played in the real world, which is a fun satire of a serious social conflict many people pay little attention to.
Final impression – a rare masterpiece 10/10
Winter 2011 (Alternate titles – Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica – Magic Girl Madoka Magica)
Warm and engaging junior high student Madoka Kaname welcomes the cold and aloof transfer student Homura Akemi into her class. Soon after, Madoka hears a voice speaking to her; telepathically begging for her help. When she seeks out the source of call, she finds the cat-like alien, Kyubey being pursued by a dressed-to-kill Homura. With help from her friend Sayaka, they escape their frightening classmate, but blunder into the nest of a dangerous witch that was Homura’s real quarry. Just as things are about to end very badly, they are rescued from the witch by their upperclassman, Mami Tomoe. After the whirlwind of confusion abates, Kyubey reveals to Madoka and Sayaka that he has the power to grant any wish they desire, and in return they will have to become magic girls in order to fight the witches that endanger innocent lives. But Homura is intent on ensuring they do not accept his offer because despite his innocent face, there’s something dangerous Kyubey has not warned them about.
If you’re one of those people who runs away from magic girl anime like the plague, it’s time to have your prejudices blown away by the marvel that is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The first noteworthy point I’d like to make is that Madoka Magica deviates widely from the established tropes of the magic girl genre. You won’t see any nudity or even panty-shots during transformation sequences (which are pretty much absent, anyways). Additionally, the girls get cool weapons to fight with like swords, guns, and bows instead of the more traditional magic girl fare of boring staves and wands (I’m talking about you Nanoha!). With the curious exception of Mami, the girls also don’t call out the names of their signature attacks in battle like you’re watching an episode of Naruto or Bleach. It’s all natural, mature and feels like a world that’s just around the next corner; waiting for us to stumble in and immerse ourselves in an adventure.
There’s a level of seriousness and darkness in Madoka Magica that I’ve not seen in a magic girl anime since watching Mai-HiME back in 2004. Even before it finished, I could clearly see that this was going to be an anime that deeply moves the viewer. With a fresh art style, well-developed characters, terrific writing, pleasing music and a beautiful conclusion, I cannot recommend Madoka Magica strongly enough. I consider myself to be articulate, but I’m finding it difficult to write just how good this anime is. Easily one of the best anime I’ve ever watched.
Final impression – often underrated 7/10
Winter 2011 (title literal translation – Is This a Zombie?)
Eucliwood Hellscythe, the quiet necromancer. Haruna, the genius magic girl. Seraphim, the vampire ninja. Ayumu, the high school zombie. Combine them together and there’s no end to the problems they can cause for each other. When Ayumu accidentally absorbs Haruna’s magic girl powers, it becomes her responsibility to instruct her new cross-dressing apprentice. And when Seraphim challenges Ayumu to a duel to the death, it’s more of a war of attrition when they realize that neither can kill the other. But underlying all of this is Eucliwood’s secret powers and troubled past. If her three friends can’t team up to protect her from the mistakes she has made, she might have to leave forever.
Kore wa Zombie desu ka? falls into that class of wild and strange anime that a lot of love and hate relationships develop around. While it’s understandable why many would want to steer clear of it, the cast of random oddities fits with the anime’s overall tone to create a nice cohesion that feels acceptable. I hear a lot of people complain about Ayumu’s cross-dressing. But is that really something to complain about when the rest of this anime is oftentimes just off-kilter, goofy and fun? Yes, occasionally Kore wa Zombie gets a little too serious for its own good given its cast of oddball archetypes, but overall it’s very entertaining.
Final impression – mediocre 6/10
Winter 2011 (Alternate titles – Dream Eater Merry)
Yumeji has been experiencing a recurring nightmare in which he’s being accosted by cats. But things get worrisome when they threaten him that in his next dream he’s going meet the boss. Sure enough, the big bad cat demon, John Doe, arrives wielding a savage-looking saw and sporting a Jason hockey mask – but this isn’t any normal nightmare. Right in broad daylight, Yumeji stumbles into a daydream from which there is no escape. It’s John’s goal to steal Yumeji’s body by conquering his mind from the inside. But when hope seems unjustified, another nightmare in the form of a young girl named Merry pops into the struggle. However, saving Yumeji is just a consequence of her real motives. She wants John to take her back to her home in the world of dreams that she has been unable to return.
Yumekui Merry is another example of J.C. Staff turning out anime that are entertaining at best; decent at worst. The concept of alternate realities inside our own daydreams and demon nightmares that invade our psyches is interesting with enough creative variety to give a lot of diversity to the cast. In the end, though, Yumekui Merry just lacks polish. The gratuitous swimsuit episode that crops up all too often in anime feels really unnatural this time around, when Merry – who started off strong and sure – is given a wishy-washy makeover that results in almost none of the characters being very likeable. This is especially true of the anime’s villain, whose motivations are to just see people suffer, which is childish. One thing that you can always consistently expect from J.C. Staff is excellent music for the opening and ending themes in their anime and Yumekui Merry has some great rock and pop sounds to get you fired up to watch and – most importantly – soothe you when it’s all done.
Final impression – well written 9/10
Winter 2011 (Alternate titles – Wandering Son)
Nitori is a confused young boy who feels a need to explore his identity in much greater detail than other people his age. In elementary school his closest friends always told him that he looked good in girls’ clothes, but his cross-dressing “hobby” goes much deeper into his psyche than just enjoying wearing dresses and skirts. Takatsuki is in a similar, reversed situation to Nitori, but she’s much more certain of her desire to be like a man than Nitori is of his femininity. The most interesting facet of this dichotomy is the two of them are the best of friends. But as they start junior high school and begin the journey towards becoming young adults, the problems surrounding their gender identities will have to be addressed.
In the short time since its conclusion, Houruo Musuko has already solidified itself as an anime that breaks the mold. Anime that really explore societal issues like gender identity are few and far between, but when they do come up, it helps legitimize anime as an art form. The opening and ending themes are beautifully composed and fit well with the image this anime wants to deliver (please listen to Rie Fu’s wonderful bilingual singing). While there’s nothing to really complain about in Houruo Musuko, there’s also never a climactic or even a dramatic moment to give an emotional rush for Nitori’s controversial circumstances. It’s all dealt with rather calmly and fails to take advantage of the emotional baggage associated with the issues it wants to address. But that’s just a choice of stylistic direction rather than a shortcoming of the anime to deliver an interesting story. Houruo Musuko also brings a refreshing style both in its pastel-color art and story with the two protagonists being introverts surrounded by more flamboyant side characters. It’s a level of believability not often seen, which easily pushes it into the top list of influential anime.
Final impression – excellent story, mediocre presentation 7/10
In the near future, an invasion of beings called Novas from an alternate dimension has left everyone to rely on the Pandoras to protect the world. Pandoras can only be women and they are created by merging parts from the Novas into adolescent girls to develop super-human strength and agility. But the men aren’t useless. After bonding with a Pandora, a boy can become that girl’s limiter – a partner capable of neutralizing some of the Novas’ passive strength in battle. Satellizer el Bridgette is one of the most notorious Pandoras, known not only for her temper but also her amazing strength that’s allowed her to progress in West Genetics, the Pandora training academy, without the need for a limiter. That is, until the timid Kazuya Aoi decides to intensely pursue becoming Satellizer’s partner. He’d better watch his back because he’s not only an amazingly powerful limiter, but he can also perform the role without bonding to a Pandora. If the other girls realize the strength of combining Satellizer with Kazuya, their jealousy will stop at nothing to prevent the two prodigies-in-potential from pairing up.
So yeah…Freezing. There’s not much that can be said to sugarcoat an anime where several times an episode, busty girls are going to be slashing each other’s clothes off. But if you keep an open mind about the in-your-face nature of Freezing’s ecchiness and its lack of censorship, I think you’ll be surprised to find something a little more sophisticated than you would have expected. Freezing takes on some deep psychological issues, such as rape being about control rather than lust as well as the damaged psyche of a rape victim. Characters also have complexes within their personalities and selfish ulterior motives that you’d expect such powerful, competitive and stressed people to possess. With these subthemes giving the plot and setting a foundation to work on, Freezing compares favorably to Queen’s Blade. Voice talents Mamiko Noto and Kana Hanazawa also contribute brilliantly. But if you can’t see the hidden subtleties of Freezing for all the boobs and panties, at the very least you can watch it for its fast-paced action and well-played science fiction story that I feel is really at the heart of this overlooked anime.
Final impression – …a little disappointing 6/10
Ryuuji Kisaragi’s hot cousin Eriko, is a treasure hunter and she’s recruited him to join her new organization to search the world for obscure curiosities. But to start out, it’s just the two of them retrieving a box of stolen items from a shady underground organization called Fang. Upon opening it, Ryuuji finds that it contains a beautiful blonde girl who seems to recognize him. When they take her back to his apartment, Eriko finds scales on the girl’s hand, revealing that she’s an infant dragon who has transformed into a young girl. Lacking a name, Ryuuji decides to call her Rose because of the scale pattern on her hand. Becoming involved with dragons may have been a deadly decision when Rose’s fiancé Onyx arrives to reclaim his bride.
The plot of Dragon Crisis feels very forced in many ways. Most of the characters don’t seem to be doing anything because they want to. It’s more of an obligation to fill the roles they’ve been assigned and isn’t natural. This is tempered a bit by Rie Kugimiya’s talent for portraying some of the most fun girls in anime. We typically see her in the role of tsundere, but Rose is much less tsun (aloof) and much more dere (loving) than many of Rie’s past roles. The dramatic opening for Dragon Crisis is sung by Yui Horie, but oddly enough her role as a voice actress in the anime is fairly minor. If you’re not interested in watching Dragon Crisis, I can understand, but please at least watch the fun, chibi ending theme.
Final impression – could have been better 6/10
In the future, the Infinite Stratos (IS) is an armored suit system that is at the forefront of international pride, research and competition. The catch? IS can only be piloted by women. That is, until Ichika Orimura blundered into a laboratory and activated an IS suit by himself. A whirlwind of events lands Ichika in the prestigious IS academy, where he is of course, the only guy. Being socially awkward around women further complicates Ichika’s situation. But he’s fortunate enough to have a childhood friend in his class, Houki Shinonono. Reunited after six years, will she be able to help him adjust to the pressures of being the only male IS pilot?
Infinite Stratos was a little more interesting for me perhaps because I’m an English teacher in Japan and I can appreciate the position Ichika is in. For those not familiar with this aspect of Japanese culture, in schools the boys and girls don’t associate with each other very much socially. Aside from boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, there’s a distinct system of cliques that develop around the genders. The American perspective that Ichika is in a fortuitous situation is definitely not a shared perspective within the Japanese culture and he’s likely dreading a high school experience devoid of friends.
One of the glaringly annoying points of Infinite Stratos is how it’s never explained why only women can pilot the IS suits or why Ichika is the only male pilot. But IS wins some major points in my score book because the mecha musume genre is very underrepresented. With only Strike Witches to serve as a genre-to-genre comparison, IS looks pretty darn good. However, the structure of the plot lacks focus. Despite the problem of things moving wildly from mecha battles, political wrangling, and romantic comedy, IS has fun moments and can appeal to its fringe audience.
Final impression – unsophisticated but fun 6/10
Shinku is a junior high school student that specializes in unconventional sports like free running, gymnastics and obscure martial arts. He’s always looking for the next challenge and when the kingdom of Biscotti is in need of a hero, they open a portal that brings him into an alternate dimension. In Flonyard, instead of true wars with the risk of life and death, they do mock battles that test endurance, agility and fortitude – the perfect forum for Shinku to show off his skills. But rival nation Galette is pushing for more battles and this leads Princess Millhiore of Biscotti to think that there may be something more at stake to these competitions than simple patriotism.
Dog Days watches like a cross between Zero no Tsukaima and a sports anime, as written by a furry. But take that with a grain of salt because the anthropomorphic characters in the world of Biscotti and Galette aren’t played up as being very different from normal people (with a few comical exceptions). In the end, Dog Days is typically going to be overlooked by the general anime audience because of the character designs being dog and cat people, but I think that would be very shallow thinking. I’m not suggesting Dog Days is some kind of sleeping masterpiece, but there’s a subtle charm to the development of the plot. You can also feel the conflict in Shinku’s heart when it comes time for him to go home and leave the world that has become his natural second home. Yui Horie was probably typecast for the role of Princess Millhiore because of the songs that accompany Dog Days, and her talent really shines in what is otherwise a pretty average anime.