Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Category Archives: Fantasy

Alfheim Online (review)

Kirito wakes upFinal impression – what a letdown (3/10)

Fall 2012 (11 episodes) (SAO Review)

After waking up from the gorgeous nightmare of Sword Art Online, Kazuto’s first action is not to attend to his own atrophied body, but to immediately begin to seek out Asuna, his in-game wife who he promised to find after they escaped.  He finds her, but there’s a problem.  Despite clearing the game and majority of players having returned to the real world, Asuna remains trapped in her NerveGear. Filled with the pain of helplessness for being unable to save her, Kazuto attempts to return to his old life displaced by over two years while remaining by her side for support.

But when a friend from Aincrad (the world of SAO) shows him a screenshot of Asuna trapped in a birdcage, he dons his own NerveGear once again and dives into the world of Alfhiem Online to rescue her from the new prison she’s found herself in.  But he has to hurry because within a week, Asuna is going to be ushered into an arranged marriage with one of her father’s business partners.  Read more of this post

Sword Art Online (review)

Kazuto logs in for the first timeFinal impression – only half amazing (8/10)

Summer 2012 (14 episodes)

Kazuto rushed out to be one of the first players for a new form of virtual-reality gaming using a system called the Nervegear.  This device lets a player use his or her brain to play video games with a full immersion experience as if they had been transported to the actual game world itself.  The first game released is the fantasy MMO, Sword Art Online or SAO for short.  Assuming the online identity of Kirito, within hours of starting he and thousands of other players become trapped in SAO’s world of Aincrad by its creator, Akihiko Kayaba. Things get even more serious when it’s revealed that dying in the game means dying in real life too because the Nervegear has a hidden function that fries the brain of anyone whose HP drops to 0.  The only way to escape is for someone to clear the world’s massive, one hundred floor dungeon.  Read more of this post

Attack on Titan (first impressions)

Attack on Titan CrunchyrollReaction – gut-wrenchingly vindictive

Spring 2013 to summer 2013 (25 episodes) (Japanese title – Shingeki no Kyoujin) (more info)

I’ve often sold myself as the guy whose tastes differ with mainstream opinions in order to stand as the representative of anime fans who think a lot of big titles are highly overrated.  However, today I’m taking a more relaxed position as the voice of reason to try and calm things down a bit.  When I saw this image indicating that Cruchyroll had given Attack on Titan five of five stars with only two episodes out, my first reaction was, “really?” and the second was, “hold your horses.”

It’s just my own style to refrain from giving new anime I’m optimistic about a score because there’s no guarantee that the same level of quality will continue to hold up as the series continues.  But I’m not willing to let a perfect score go unanalyzed with so little to go on.  All we have so far is the setup, in which a young Eren and his childhood friends witness the power of the monstrous and disturbingly human titans that seem to have crawled straight out of the uncanny valley.

The only thing that the humans have done is get their asses handed to them, with no glory whatsoever.  Episode two in particular was incredibly lackluster with several time skips and way too much summarizing of what happened in between.  Sure it was stuff that had to be said, but it could have been said more elegantly and in a way that didn’t sound like reading a history textbook.

Now, let me be clear.  I’m not saying Attack on Titan doesn’t deserve those five stars, because it very well might.  The music for the opening and ending themes is epic and orchestral—befitting the grand scope of the setting that not only is big, but FEELS big.  It’s got a fresh art style too with very sharp lines that makes all the edges pop out, giving everything a lot of personality.  The writing has done a great job getting me emotionally fired up, although the only emotions I’m feeling are hatred or disgust for everyone outside Eren’s circle of friends and an uneasy sickness towards the titans.  We have been treated to a oversized, dark and hopeless situation that needs a hero to turn things around.

Eren vows to wipe out the titansBut I have a worrisome suspicion that our hero may be a rather shallow trope.  He’s a cocky, loser kid who is quick to make enemies of those stronger than him and has some rather unfeasibly grandiose dreams.  If that isn’t a familiar formula then clearly you don’t watch mainstream anime because that sounds an awful lot like Naruto to me.  The preview for episode three even indicates that Eren continues to be the stereotypical screwup in basic training.

If we’re looking for a beautiful action series that’s likely to have some masterfully flowing battles flavored with a thick revenge sauce, I can definitely see Attack on Titan being just that.  But I don’t foresee it being some deeply thought-provoking introspection on the human condition, which leads me to my conclusion that Crunchyroll’s praise is premature.

My friend Elliot at Japanator finishes off his resounding praise of the first episode with hint of trepidation as well, but we’re both optimistic that something big is just getting started. 

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai Ep. 1

Sasami can't believe what her brother is up toInitial impression – disappointingly pointless (4/10)

Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info) (title literal translation – Sasami at Not Doing My Best)

Going into Sasami-san, I expected that I would enjoy it a lot more than I did.  It’s a nice-looking Shaft anime with a trippy premise and the cast includes Chiwa Saito and Kana Hanazawa, two of my favorite voice actresses.  So finding myself in the position of not liking it has me somewhat perplexed.  The only reason for this I can think of is that this anime wants to be a psychological comedy in the vein of Bakemonogatari, but unfortunately is being let down by the problem of not having a plot.  I can’t find any motivating force behind the actions of these weird characters and that wouldn’t be an issue if Sasami-san had the same quality of dialogue that graces Nishio Ishin’s works.  Wandering aimlessly isn’t the best setup for this kind of anime unless there’s an overarching theme that ties it all together and because there’s so many other anime right now that are put together much more cohesively, I’m going to have to let this one go.

Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? Ep. 1

The Black Rabbit is caughtInitial impression – rough-edged, but good-hearted heros

Winter 2013 (10 episodes) (more info) (title literal translation – The Troublemakers Are Coming From Another World, Right?)

When someone is stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s good anime logic to call for heroes from other dimensions.  Mondaiji-tachi is still in the early stages, but is showing plenty of the traits associated with a good action / adventure with a worthy cause.  The cast is full of colorful characters with superpowers of suspect origin, but they have enough flexibility to be put to some creative uses.  My biggest complaint about the series so far is the fanservicey design behind the orchestrator of this setup, the Black Rabbit who happens to be a literal bunny girl.  She feels very much like an unnecessary cry for attention from a series that is actually interesting enough in its own right.  Like many series before it, I wish writers would have more confidence in their work to not devalue it with characters like this.  But as she’s the only issue I’m having with this series thus far, I can overlook her and enjoy the battles that may not be keeping me on the edge of my seat, but still have excellent flow.

Amnesia Ep. 1

Getting back to work helps the heroine rememberInitial impression – a hazy start

Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info)

With a completely uncomplicated title, there’s no guesswork as to what this series is about.  Our heroine has amnesia—so bad in fact that through the conclusion of the first episode we still don’t even know her name.  While it appears to be 100% committed to its theme, Amnesia is suffering the problem that comes with the territory of a lot of first episodes, and that is its slow start.  I can’t stress this enough…if I can’t tell what an anime is going to be about after the first twenty minutes, it’s going to have a hard time catching my attention.

The heroine attempts to piece together clues of her lifeThat being said, the setting is showing promise as the heroine’s busy job in a maid café allows plenty of opportunity to get to know the ins and outs of the cast as we discover through her eyes the personalities of the butlers who are her coworkers.  And for what appears superficially to be a pretty-boy anime, I’m not turned off by its character designs.  I’m even willing to give a respectful nod to everyone’s multicolored irises that give the visual style an air of distinction.  The premise may be an overly simple setup to make things mysterious, but I’m willing to allow Amnesia at least one more chance to impress me before I give up on it.

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha Ep. 1

The Demon King is a playful woman?Initial impression – intriguingly fun

Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info)

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha…after doing a little research to practice my Japanese, the simplicity of the title has a certain charm to it.  “Maoyuu” as far as I can tell, is a meaningless arrangement of syllables.  However, “Mao” and “Yuu” are the first two hiragana of the next two words in the title, “Maou” and “Yuusha,” which translate to “Demon King” and “Hero.”  So an equivalent translation of the title into English would read something like DeHe Demon King / Hero—a very lighthearted and carefree name for an anime if there ever was one.  It continues this path of keeping things simple because another silly quirk of this series seems to be that our hero and heroine will remain unnamed, instead to be referred to only by their titles, Demon King and Hero.

The hero separates from the party to take on the Demon King aloneBut it’s the story of Maoyuu that might actually be going somewhere really interesting.  Immediately, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha does a quick 180 degree spin after its initial bout of gusto with heroes going off to slay the Demon King and starts talking about the politics of the war currently in progress between humans and demons.  In this exposition, the set pieces are revealed and a clear goal is set so we all know exactly where everyone’s motives lie.  It’s a simple setup and it’s too early to tell if it’s going to be a weird, philosophical, romantic comedy or an ill-conceived, shallow flop that tried way too hard.  If it sounds like I’m rambling, it’s because this first episode has put me into a bit of a tizzy, but I want to reinforce that it hasn’t displeased me.

Given the art style, the playful fantasy theme and the fact that the Hero’s actor is Jun Fukuyama, the voice of Yuuta, it’s no wonder this series reminds me strongly of Chuunibyou.  Based on that, readers who saw my Anime of the Year post will understand that I may subconsciously be giving this series the benefit of the doubt.  But I’m genuinely curious to see where this adventure is headed and hopeful that it’s going to turn out to be an enjoyable journey.

Persona 4: The Animation (review)

The cast of Persona 4: The AnimationFinal impression – play the game first (7/10)

Fall 2011 to winter 2012 (25 episodes)

Yuu Narukami is a city boy, who for various circumstances at home, ends up moving out to the countryside to live with his uncle and little cousin.  But being a naturally suave and likeable guy, he’s quickly able to shake off the aura of being a transfer student and makes some friends.  But when the tiny town of Inaba he finds himself in is rocked by a series of bizarre murders, he gets caught up in a creepy cold case where the victims are seen on a mysterious TV program called the Midnight Channel that airs on foggy nights when you have your TV turned off.  In the face of such unbelievable circumstances, Yuu and his friends become the only ones capable of rescuing the victims by diving into the television and fighting the bloodthirsty monsters that live there using a manifestation of their psyches called Persona.

Yu calls IzanagiWriting an objective review on P4 was difficult for me since I’ve played the game it’s based on.  This isn’t the same as reading the manga that serves as the source material for an anime since both of those media are non-interactive.  Video games on the other hand are and being put in the position of having no influence on the characters’ decisions or the pace of the story was a little unsettling.  I wonder if many other people feel this way about adaptations of video games that aren’t a loose reinterpretation of a concept, but instead a faithful retelling of the same story.

The girls can't cookThat being said, P4: The Animation recreates the events of the game as closely as is possible, with a few changes made that were probably necessary for the transition to TV.  This includes obvious things like completing a side character’s story in a single episode rather than the game’s slower progression that might be spaced out over the course of the entire play time (or even not completed at all if the player neglects that particular social link).  But one thing that always disappointed me about P4: The Animation was the fight scenes.  The game is something of a visual novel built around the framework of a really solid RPG.  That setup should have been a natural cue that the anime ought to be an action / drama.  And while the drama does well, the action is dry and has an air of inevitability to it that never feels the slightest bit suspenseful.

"Welcome to the velvet room."All in all, it makes me sad because, because I loved the game and my hopes were high that the anime would live up to that same level of quality.  If nothing else, the soundtrack for the P4 anime is even more amazing than the game and includes all of the original music in addition to new and expanded tracks with terrifically-written English lyrics that really gets me fired up.  In the end, Persona 4: The Animation is a supplemental anime for fans of the game, but still a very solid series.

Kamisama Kiss Ep. 1

Initial impression – almost no original ideas (4/10)

Autumn 2012 (13 episodes) (Japanese title – Kamisama Hajimemashita) (more info)

While I don’t hate Fruits Basket, it’s just not written in a style that I’m very fond of.  The male characters are all androgynous pretty boys, side characters show no potential, ideas come and go on a whim and the premise is really hard to swallow.  So when Kamisama Kiss follows that formula like it was cut from a piece of the Fruits Basket quilt, even someone who liked that setup more than me ought to give this series a second thought.  The degree to which it’s ripping off its inspirational material is staggering.  The female lead starts out homeless, it’s centered on the premise of gods and spirits and the main man in her life is an unlikeable jerk that the viewers are expected to forgive just because he happens to be there for her at the last minute.

That’s not to say it isn’t fun.  Being subjected to all the responsibilities of a god without any of the upsides is full of opportunities for all kinds of hilarious trouble.  Maybe I’m just the wrong kind of person to have an appropriate attention span for this kind of random flow.  I’d say check out Kamisama Kiss if you were a Fruits Basket fan, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a disappointingly shallow spinoff.

Ixion Saga DT Ep. 1

Initial impression – rough and immature (4/10)

Autumn 2012 (12 episodes) (full title – Ixion Saga: Dimensional Transfer) (more info)

Clearly Kon has forgotten rule 29—on the internet, all women are men.  Where Aoi Sekai made fun of the console wars, Ixion Saga makes fun of (MMO)RPGs in general.  It does this by accentuating how mismatched min-maxing players’ outfits look and how by all rights nobody should have the time to charge up a finishing move without someone coming in and delivering a knock-out blow.

But beyond that it’s not very clever.  It really has poor taste in the unscrupulous sensibilities of the party’s cross-dressing maid, makes fun of child marriage and main character Kon is just an unlikeable, lecherous wad that portrays a poor image of the gamer stereotype.  If you like this style of writing and story with fantasy elements mixed with modern heroes in an alternate dimension, Hagure Yuusha did a much better job presenting this subject matter last season and I’ll even encourage you to go check it out instead of wasting time with Ixion Saga.

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