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Tag Archives: 9/10

Accel World (review)

Welcome to the Accelerated WorldFinal impression – smart action, sharp story (9/10)

Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (24 episodes)

Haruyuki Arita was your atypical rotund kid.  The target of bullies and dealing with self-esteem issues, he at least has a few good childhood friends to make his life bearable.  But one day, the gorgeous and unapproachable student council president, Snow Black (yes, that’s really the name she uses) offers Haruyuki a chance to break free of the chains the world has placed on him.  After installing the program Brain Burst, given to him by Snow Black, he becomes a burst-linker—someone who can accelerate his mind beyond normal perception to react to situations in ways that would normally be impossible.  But each use of the program costs a point and recharging will require him to enter the battlefield that is the Accelerated World.

Silver Crow confronts his hold rival, Ash RollerAccel World has everything a shounen action anime needs to be good, plus a whole lot more that makes it great.  One of the things I love about this anime is that it gets you thinking in some very creative ways right from its very premise.  The thought of slowing down time—or more literally, accelerating your perception of time—is not only exceptionally original, but proves to be a flexible enough concept to allow it to keep expanding its usefulness through granting access to new abilities and rewarding out-of-the-box thinking.  This subtlety of the powers granted by the Brain Burst program is where this concept’s true strength lies.  To truly master the system requires a burst linker to come to terms with the scars of his or her past, which is manifested in his or her duel avatar.

Snow Black congratulates HaruyukiAs much as I talk about how important aesthetics are to me when it comes to anime, Accel World’s choice to cast a short, plump, weak-willed, generally unattractive young man as the protagonist was both daring and genius.  His flaws are huge and conspicuous, leaving Haruyuki plenty of room for growth and opportunity to overcome challenges as the story progresses.  But this rather simple starting point pales in comparison to the metaphoric dichotomy that is Haruyuki Arita, the slow and tubby junior high school student and his sleek, shiny and fast duel avatar, Silver Crow.

Silver Crow outmaneuvers Scarlet Rain's attackRarely do we see the manifestation of someone’s desires visualized so clearly, and since all the characters are a part of this system of emotional scars that take on an incarnate form, this entire anime becomes one big canvas for depicting each character’s backstory through it’s visual design—even if it’s only speculative in some cases.  In this way, I could appreciate this series far beyond its beautiful art style.

Silver Crow faces Cyan PileSince Brain Burst is at its heart a fighting game, it would be a shame if Accel World didn’t have some excellent action scenes.  And once again, it delivers in this area as well.  From more simple, straightforward fights that give the message that in battle using your head is just as important as using your fists, to bigger, grand melees that have a pace to them that tests players’ abilities to read the battlefield and adapt to the pace of the fight, there’s no shortage of excellent skirmishe punctuated at the right times between the daily lives of the characters.

One thing about the fights that disappointed me slightly was that towards the end of the series things start to lose the cleverness that filled the earlier fights in favor of something more akin to a dry battle-of-wills where the winner just wanted it more.  But it never gets obnoxious because the focus always remains on the characters and they never feel defined by their powers—rather just the opposite, because the players are the ones who give their powers form.

Black Lotus issues a challengeOne of the things about this series that I think shouldn’t be overlooked is how deep its premise really goes.  Being able to accelerate your time and interact with people to grow and mature at a rate several orders of magnitude faster than is normally possible makes you wonder about these children’s futures.  The obvious advantage of their abilities is to analyze situations in detail and essentially, “cheat time” but they can also develop themselves mentally.  Are some burst linkers already many years ahead of their peers with respect to their maturity?  Will they accelerate through their childhoods and become adults far sooner than they otherwise could were they not given the Brain Burst program?  This even challenges our definitions of what it means to be an adult.  Can we really define that developmental stage in a person’s life correctly in a world of young people who experience time at a different rate compared to the rest of us?

Lime Bell doesn't realize how much her mere existence will shake up the Accelerated WorldThe story has a few flat spots that I felt messed with the pace a bit—most egregious being Snow Black’s trip to Okinawa—but if that’s my only complaint, I’m not going to hold it against this otherwise brilliant series.  Most pleasing is the ending that leaves things open to the possibility of continuing, but has none of the failings of a cliffhanger.  It’s complete and brings everything to fulfillment. Instead of leaving you wanting more, it’s simply the impression of “well that’s the end of that chapter.  Life goes on and maybe someday I’ll get to see more.” But more doesn’t feel necessary.  This makes Accel World one of my top shounen action anime in recent years.

Hyouka (review)

Impression – mystery with a lot of heart (9/10)

Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (22 episodes + 1 OVA)

Lazy Oreki (he calls himself energy-saving) has just started high school and at his elder sister’s behest he reluctantly becomes what he assumes will be a relaxed, solitary member of the Classics Club.  But no sooner does he contemplate an easy high school life than he finds a pretty, long-haired girl named Chitanda has entered the club room ahead of him and says she also wants to join.

These two are opposites in nearly every way imaginable.  One is a contemplative, genius boy from an average household with no motivation whatsoever and the other is a spacey, energetic girl from a rich family with an intense curiosity about everything.  But just like two magnets, put their opposite poles together and you’ve made something greater than the sum of their parts.

The pair is joined by Oreki’s friend Satoshi and the girl trying to win Satoshi’s heart Mayaka.  They begin a journey to unravel the mysteries of the memberless Classics Club they’ve inherited, lend their specialized assistance to people along the way and learn a few things about themselves as they grow into young men and women.

Mystery is something that anime seems to have a hard time doing correctly.  Generally speaking, most mystery or puzzle anime focus far too much on the genius of the hero to make some boringly grandiose epiphany in the climax of each episode—usually to the tone of, “It was all so obvious,” when it was actually so thick you could use it to fill potholes.  We the viewers don’t get to feel smart ourselves because there are never any clues for us to attempt to draw our own conclusions before the solution to the puzzle gets revealed.

This makes Hyouka by far the best mystery anime I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  Hints get dropped left and right and Oreki has the right personality not to be condescending to his friends or the audience when he points out the clues we’ve missed as the mystery gets solved.  I don’t think there was ever a conundrum I figured out completely on my own, but I could usually get pretty close and that was always really cool and satisfying.

The topics of the mysteries are also intellectually engrossing.  Dealing with such frivolous ideas as deriving the proper ending to an unfinished script to the more serious issue of bringing resolution to an unrequited love, Hyouka’s content spans a wide spectrum.  And then combined with Chitanda’s infectious energy, it’s hard not to feel invested in the outcome.

The heroes also mesh well together with the four of them coming in nice pairs.  Oreki is brilliant, but lacks the drive to self-motivate.  Chitanda is a bundle of curious intent, but leans towards hasty and scatterbrained.  Friendly Satoshi is analytical and smart, but often has trouble getting things together—in more ways than one.  Then, Mayaka’s cold and contrary personality helps put the brakes on when things start getting out of hand (she also has access to resources being an assistant librarian).

So it basically goes like this—Chitanda needs her curiosity itch scratched, so she turns to Oreki who needs some pep talk to get him moving.  Satoshi is all too eager to lend a hand and when the three start to snowball, Mayaka injects some rational thought by pointing out something they overlooked.  That’s not to say that each episode is formulaic—far from it.  Every mystery is a unique problem to tackle and the cast’s rich characters help keep every new development fresh and interesting.

But Hyouka wouldn’t be so great if it was nothing but mysteries. There’s a wonderful story of young people developing their friendships built around this framework of enigmas.  And while I hesitate to call Hyouka a romance, the intended pairings of boy and girl are made quite clear right from the start.  In some ways I like this approach to dealing with romance a lot more than your typical romance series deals with the topic.

Quite often, love isn’t something that happens at first sight.  It’s a gradual process of discovery that starts with simply spending time together as good friends and colleagues—eventually culminating in a realization that the bonds between you have blossomed into love.  This more natural growth of friendship really seals the deal for the rest of the series’ grander designs.  On the surface it’s a tale of very exciting lives of curiosity and intrigue, but the people are just ordinary Joes and Janes who happen to be in the right place.  That’s something which is hard to capture and Hyouka does it like it’s second nature.

As much praise as I’ve lavished on Hyouka, there are a few episodes that felt a bit flat.  That’s something of a letdown in a series that’s only 22 episodes long (plus a mild fanservice OVA).  But unlike other mystery anime like Baccano, Gosick, UN-GO or Kamisama no Memochou, the puzzles are actually solvable before the end of the episode.  If you’re interested in that sort of “challenge while you watch,” it’s a style that really sucks you in and holds your attention.

I’ll say it again, this is the only mystery anime I can recall that’s ever gotten it right, which gives it a very novel distinction.  And while the series doesn’t have a shred of moe in sight, leading heroine Chitanda has an adorably enrapturing personality that I simply couldn’t get enough of.  The pace can be slow at times, but I think Hyouka has a little of everything a serious drama needs to please anyone who enjoys the extraordinary ordinary.

Acchi Kocchi (review)

Impression – a dance of love and comedy in a moe candy shell (9/10)

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Here and There)

Tsumiki has a huge crush on her naturally gentle, gentlemanly to a fault, nice guy classmate, Io.  However, her shy, tsundere personality prevents her from confessing her gushing love for this paragon of a man; whose only shortcoming is being a little slow on the uptake around his diminutive, female cling on.  But Tsumiki takes this all in good grace because despite wanting more from their relationship, it’s enough to keep her satisfied for now.  She even has a cheering section consisting of mad scientist Mayoi, the plucky and innocent Hime and Io’s good buddy, Sakaki.  But while their assistance is usually appreciated, Tsumiki wants to win Io’s heart on her own.

One of the best measures of any comedy is its ability to put a funny spin on real things its audience can relate to.  Another method is to occasionally be ridiculous in stark contrast to a generally serious premise.  Acchi Kocchi manages to do both, creating some incredibly high highs balanced by a very solid framework of friendship and unrequited love.  The series has a great many awww moments that never feel too sugary or forced and empty.  Aside from a couple of punchlines that feel a little flat, the rest of the anime is very genuine.  Each character has a purposeful role to play and feels necessary without ever being overbearing.

What impresses me greatly is the integration of male characters into this series that have real personalities instead of dry, formulaic clichés that serve no other purpose than to feed the ladies’ ambitions.  Io in particular is one of the most naturally suave and likeable characters I’ve ever seen.  Even his flaws add to the remarkable depth of his cool personality and it’s very clear why he’s a natural fit as the kind of person a large group of friends tend to gravitate around.

I was very worried at first that this series would be another one of those boring love triangles that make you want to rip your hair out for the characters’ inability to be honest with themselves.  And while there’s more than a few moments when a bit more honesty could have moved Io and Tsumiki’s relationship to the next level, it never stops being fun or lacking in creativity.  Acchi Kocchi isn’t just enjoyable to watch, it knows how to simply enjoy the moment and cherish the little things—a precious gem of writing that should not be taken for granted—and then poke fun at said little things.

What sets Acchi Kocchi apart from most other moe anime is its incredibly balanced formula that mixes comedy and romance into a seamless package of goodness.  A must-watch for moe fans such as myself; I think it could also appeal to the tastes of anyone who is interested in a funny drama with really good writing, absolutely no ecchi and complimentary friendships.

Haibane Renmei (review)

Impression – close to a perfect calm (9/10)

Fall 2002 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Charcoal Feather Federation)

A young woman bursts out of a giant dandelion puff in the Haibane house, Old Home.  She awakens stricken with amnesia, unable to remember her own name.  But it’s explained to her that this is normal for newly emerged Haibane.  Reki, the unofficial leader of Old Home, names the confused newcomer Rakka (the Japanese word for “falling”) because while she was in the dandelion cocoon she dreamed she was falling through the sky.

This is tradition and something of a rite of passage for Haibane—followed by bestowing her with a halo, and then the small wings that soon sprout from Rakka’s back.  However, even after that ordeal is over, the mildly comfortable walled world of Grie she finds herself in holds secrets that may be too dangerous for none to know but a select few—the hermetic Haibane Renmei.

It’s a difficult setting to immerse yourself in at first, because like Rakka we the viewers are also just plopped in with almost no context about what’s going on.  On some level, you have to go into this series knowing that its power lies not in storytelling, but in emotional impact.  There are few anime that make you feel for the heroine with greater power than Haibane Renmei.  After the opening confusion has worn off and Rakka starts to get settled, we are introduced to a segment that’s very slice of life as the town and the habits of this closed-off culture become apparent.  But things are definitely not as simple as being reborn and finding a way to live happily.  Some come into this world with tremendous burdens to overcome before they can achieve the peace they have been promised.

Flying in the face of all the niceties that generally dominate much of the series, the whole setting has an interesting bit of Orwellian vibe to it with the censorship of all information of what lies outside the wall.  However, there’s never an indication that there’s some kind of dirty conspiracy, but a genuine safeguard to protect the town’s inhabitants from…well…from something ominous to say the least.  And although this world is very clearly all about supporting the Haibane, it somehow manages to revere them with a sort of melancholy neglect.  This mixture of conflicting impressions and feelings is what gives Haibane Renmei a very unique aura that you can only truly understand by experiencing it.

I’ve given up trying to solve the mystery of Rakka’s crow. Really, I don’t think there’s an answer.

Where the show missteps is in its inability to fill in the large number of missing pieces.  Initially I had the idea that this series was a fanciful interpretation of the Roman Catholic view of purgatory—a sort of halfway house of purification on the afterlife’s path to heaven.  The imagery of the angel-like Haibane was certainly inspired by western religion, but at the series’ conclusion I didn’t feel like that intent was made clear.  It’s more like the characters’ goal is not finding redemption or spiritual cleansing, but a journey of rediscovering their true selves after becoming lost on the twists and turns of life’s winding path.  Interestingly, Angel Beats parallels a lot of the general broad strokes of Haibane Renmei in its overall concept and themes, and anyone who likes a good philosophical conundrum is going to enjoy this beautiful anime immensely.

The triumphal opening, “Free Bird,” has no lyrics.

Speaking of beautiful though, the music is a perfect match to the slow and peaceful setting with melodies that conjure an image of floating gently and putting a flutter in your heart when the moment is right.  But then things get serious and the mood darkens; the light and airy steps turn into a dreary dirge that help you to feel the weight of the circumstances.  All the same, I think it’s only a fair warning to note that Haibane Renmei is starting to show its age a bit.  And while it has a very artful style for 2002, there are a few very stiff moments in the animation that remind you you’re watching something that’s 10 years old.

Really, so much of the story goes unexplained that it’s hard to reach any kind of definite consensus about exactly what’s going on.  And for the most part that’s alright.  It’s a brave creative choice on the part of the writers to leave so much of the setting blank for the interpretation of the viewer.  Perhaps like the Haibane themselves you have to let the mysteries of the world stay hidden and enjoy living peacefully.  In that way, this may be the anime that epitomizes the slice of life genre more than any other—with the notable exception of Kino’s Journey.  But maybe the logical side of my brain just can’t shut itself off, because I was left wanting something more concrete after getting my emotions put through the ringer.

Fate/Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works (review)

Fate/Stay Night

Impression – a multifaceted, well-thought campaign (9/10)

Winter 2006 to spring 2006 (24 episodes)

Shirou Emiya is lucky to be alive.  Ten years ago he was the only survivor of a terrible fire that tore through a large suburb of Fuyuki City.  After his near brush with death, it seemed his good fortune couldn’t run out.  Kiritsugu Emiya, his adoptive father, was a magus who discovered Shirou had a talent for a curious kind of magic that involved fixing and reinforcing broken objects.  Even when Kiritsugu passed five years later, he continued to be taken care of by his kind, energetic neighbor, Taiga Fujimura.  But before his death, Kiritsugu didn’t just teach the young Shirou the basics of magic.  He also instilled in him a capacity for kindness and courage, prompting him to declare his goal in life to become a hero of justice.

But the enigmatic calamity that rocked Fuyuki city a decade ago is about to happen again.  Unknown to most, hidden in the shadows, a war is taking place between seven magi who will make use of contracted servants—avatars of heroic figures of the past—all for the purpose of having a chance to ask a wish of the powerful artifact, the Holy Grail.  When Shirou inadvertently witnesses one of the battles, the law of the magi is clear—onlookers must be silenced by any means necessary.  After being stabbed through the heart by the spear of one of the servants, he awakens surprised to find that he’s still alive. After realizing that his quarry survives, the spear-wielding servant makes haste to finish the job again.  But when cornered, Shirou subconsciously summons his own servant who drives back the attacker. However, he’s now become embroiled in the Holy Grail War where only the strong and clever survive and only the strongest and cleverest will attain the ultimate prize.

Even though Fate/Stay Night is often more spectacle than substance, it has an air of refinement about it that creates an atmosphere of nobility.  This feeling is primarily reinforced by “Disillusion,” the gorgeous title track that carries a lot of power in its gentle tones that rise up into extravagance as it finishes and each episode starts.  I know it’s a little strange to open a review about an anime by praising its choice of music, but that’s a fine example of the biggest strength of Stay Night.  Everything has a lot of depth and feels heavy and substantial—a clear indication that this is all part of something that’s much bigger than the sum of its parts.

The story is full of twists, turns and a few smart surprises that keep you on the edge of your seat; always leaving you wondering how things are going to proceed next.  A few of the quirkier events feel a little out of place for my taste, such as the episode where Shirou and Saber go on a date, but whatever.  I take it with good grace because it never feels conciliatory or done simply for the sake of following established formulas—even when I wish it could have been a little more ambitious or a little less obtuse with explaining what’s actually going on.

Yes, the writing takes a page from Evangelion’s playbook by giving the viewer an exercise in observing subtle clues to try and figure out things on their own.  While this isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that you’re probably either going to have to rewatch some of the more confusing episodes a couple of times or just cheat the hole process and read a wiki so you can discern what just happened. Personally, I enjoy this style of storytelling on occasion—something that challenges your intellect to track down the complicated, unseen intricacies that shape events.  But there are others who would prefer a more straightforward approach.  To that, I say this sort of thing fits for Fate/Stay Night and works with the plot rather than against it—a formula that keeps things moving and glosses over the dry parts that it can do without.

One of its main failings is that battles feel a little overpowered and broken, usually relying more on the servants arbitrarily powering up by increasingly roundabout methods that feel conjured out of thin air rather than something that’s actually relevant to their history, legend or personality.  But every so often the unique strengths of the seven different types of servants get played up to great effect and some really good moments of divide and conquer strategies and originally inspired teamwork give a few of the battles a very solid style.

All in all, Fate/Stay Night is a judicious anime and overall is very well-rounded in almost every aspect.  Tone-setting music, a diverse cast of characters with hard-to-read motives and some suitably epic battles all come together to form a complete work with little to complain about (unless you’re a hopeless fanboy who can’t let go that this is a for-TV anime that can’t stay true to every detail of the  visual novel).

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Impression – an action-packed, side-adventure (8/10)

Winter 2010 (movie)

Unlimited Blade Works follows an alternate storyline in the Fate/Stay Night visual novel that focuses on Rin’s Archer as a more important, main-ish character than the role he played in the anime’s TV plot, while very much downplaying the importance of Saber.  So if you’re one of those people who never figured out who Archer was in the original anime and you’ve managed not to spoil yourself in the intervening time since the series ended, you should definitely check this out.

I liked Unlimited Blade Works just about as much as I liked Stay Night TV.  It’s done in the spirit of the series, so pretty much everything good and bad about the anime can be said about the movie with a few caveats.  Namely, it’s a movie rather than a twenty-four episode series, so there’s some serious crunch time with the fine details that made Stay Night so polished.  I can overlook that because it manages to keep things tight and stays focused on the important details that drive the plot.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that it pushes a bit too hard and fast to get to the content that deviates from the original series.  This won’t be a problem for people who already know what’s going on, but that means Unlimited Blade Works doesn’t work too well as a standalone story.

I don’t really think it’s worth saying much more than that.  If you liked Fate/Stay Night, Unlimited Blade Works is likely to satisfy (unless you’re one of the aforementioned purist fanboys).  If treated as a supplementary companion, it is a wonderful alternative ending to a great series.

Amagami SS and Amagami SS+ plus (review)

Amagami SS

Impression – finely tuned and sagacious (9/10)

Summer 2011 to fall 2011 (25 episodes + 3 OVAs)

Usually I start my reviews with a plot summary of the first episode or two to give a general impression of the story, but I can’t do that for Amagami SS. This series is a real revolution for the standard formula for harem/romance/dating genre of anime. Instead of following the girls’ individual stories through the series organically (which usually just makes the protagonist look like a playboy) Amagami gives each girl four episodes to tell their story with the main character before wrapping things up and moving on to the next girl without a shred of continuity between the two.

It’s really refreshing to see an anime deviate from the default storytelling method for romance series and try something new.  And the best part is that it’s awesome.  It’s hard to believe that nobody thought of this idea sooner, but this formula is just enough time to get to know the characters, introduce a conflict and resolve said conflict in a very tight space of time that allows for absolutely no waste.

The cast is your usual harem mix—the hard-nosed class rep, the whimsical upperclassman, the tomboy, the airhead, the shy girl and the athlete—but they all have enough unique traits to keep them fresh and nonstereotypical.  If it seems like I’m having trouble giving this title an adequately in-depth review it’s because there’s so many unconnected plotlines in this series that I couldn’t hope to discuss them at length without just giving away the whole story because everything is so concise.

I can definitely say that this is a series for people who like romance anime and are looking for something different that sets itself apart from the masses and Amagami definitely fits that bill. But I also think this series could impress people who usually stay away from harem anime because the quality of the writing in Amagami really hits home with how effectual it is at getting the point across in so little time.

Amagami SS+ plus

Impression – an ideal, if somewhat inflexible sequel (7/10)

Winter 2012 (13 episodes)

Probably the biggest failing of Amagami Plus is that it will have absolutely no chance of pulling in new viewers for this franchise. Just like season 1, the writing is short and to the point without an inch of dead time—which of course means there can be no chance for a recap to get fresh eyes up to speed with the stories already in progress.  This basically dooms it to being a nice little bonus package for people who enjoyed the first season, though the necessity of some of this extra content is sometimes questionable.

With only 13 episodes this time around, each girl only gets 2 episodes to squeeze in a little epilogue (plus a bonus episode for Junichi’s sister, Miya).  They all have their own charm and fit nicely onto the end of their previous plotlines. While I was somewhat neutral on why we needed more screen time for Tsukasa, Haruka and Ai, I think Kaoru’s extra content actually stagnated her story from where it left off in the main anime. The two girls that I felt actually needed expanding on were Sanae and Rihoko and Amagami Plus did a great job continuing and finishing the romance that Junichi started in season 1.

Amagami is easily one of the sharpest anime I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The music is really good too, with the opening setting a wonderfully cheerful mood and the ending themes done by the voice actresses in the themes of their respective characters. Essentially free of any ecchi or fanservice to speak of, this is a strong, confident, romance franchise that knows how to handle itself.

C3 Cube x Cursed x Curious (review)

Final impression – spectacularly human (9/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (alternate titles – C^3 – C Cubed)

When Haruaki received a mysterious package from his father, he should have guessed it might turn into a girl.  Fear-in-Cube is a cursed torture device that has accumulated centuries of hate and death, allowing her to manifest as an intelligent being in her own right.  She was sent to live with Haruaki so that she might escape the cruel destiny that has compounded into the misery of her existence.  But that’s not going to be easy when the slightest trigger of violence can send her into a blood frenzy of flying guillotines.  On top that, she’s the target of underground organizations of all colors.  Some see her as an abomination to be destroyed while other seek out the power she possesses to use for their own misdeeds.  Either way, she’s going to have to depend on wise-beyond-his-years Haruaki to make sure she stays true on her path to rehabilitation.

When I started to brainstorm for my review for C3, my first instinct was to start with something defensive that made an effort to excuse some kind of shortcoming.  But then I realized that the brilliant composition of this anime needs no excuses to protect it from simple-minded twits who only want to focus on perceived shallowness when all they’re really seeing is the reflection of their own bias on the surface of a vast, deep ocean.  And C3 is splendidly deep.  It is a story about the human qualities of our tools—the extensions of ourselves we create in order to enhance ourselves to either our benefit or our detriment.  When we use a tool long enough we often start to apply human characteristics and personality to it as it becomes an augment of our bodies; even taking on a share of our own souls. Thus are our tools extensions of our own creative or destructive tendencies.

Yukari Tamura gives a sparkling performance as C3's heroine, Fear.

The theme of C3 is societal responsibility—we must clean up our own messes as well as the messes that happen to cross our paths rather than pass the blame or hope someone else picks up the slack.  It’s an uplifting triumph of chivalry and of people who genuinely wish to make the world a better place. Additionally, Haruaki is one of my favorite male characters in recent anime because he’s not perverted, introverted, spineless or shy around women.  The overused trope of the weak male lead finally gets tossed out and that makes me incredibly happy. Given this anime’s style, I could very easily have seen it devolve into some ecchi harem show like Mayo Chiki or Boku wa Tomodachi.  But C3 decidedly stays away from that territory and keeps things classy, even avoiding an obligatory swimsuit or onsen episode that populate so many anime that seem to lose their creative sparks halfway through.

Invade!? Squid Girl 2 (review)

Final impression – good fun that’ll invade your heart (9/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (Japanese title – Shinryaku!? Ika Musume)

After emerging from the ocean and failing to invade the surface world, Squid Girl has managed to make a wonderful assortment of friends.  She’s currently employed at the beach-side restaurant “Lemon” and works under taskmaster Eiko and the frightening owner Chizuru.  She constantly fends off clingy assaults from Sanae while teasing the easily frightened Nagisa.  Her popularity with little kids sometimes puts her in a charismatic leadership position and her squidly abilities make her a star team player at any task she attempts.  She must also contend with Cyndi, the American scientist who is convinced Squid Girl must be an alien lifeform, worthy of study.  Between work, friends and other, sillier problems, Squid Girl manages to keep her tentacles busy with all manner of ridiculous and exciting adventures.

These English and Japanese subtitles were used in the original TV version; not added by a fansub.

Squid Girl 2, like the first season, follows the format of three distinct plot arcs in each episode.  If you liked season 1, then you’re going to like the second season as well.  It’s a good pace that covers a nice amount of content that’s good at holding your attention and keeping things fresh.  My personal favorite episode this season was the English-learning mini-story because native speaker Laura Post was brought in for the voice of Cyndi Campbell.  However, with the rapid come-and-go stories, this means that some of the better ideas may end before they fully come to fruition.  The trade off is that the less interesting plot devices also go before they overstay their welcome.  In the end, Squid Girl is like watching an animated comic strip that jumps around to all kinds of interesting diversions and occasionally revisiting old ideas that are typically a welcome return.  But the key point that sets this anime apart from the crowd is its innocence and straightforward no-nonsense approach as it goes about its delightful humor.  So while Squid Girl 2 isn’t always a constant barrage of laughs, it’s a unique format and style that definitely made the best of its second season.

No. 6 (review)

Final impression – a grand metaphor 9/10

Summer 2011

In a world ravaged by wars that deprived the land and reduced the habitable zones of the planet to only a handful of areas, humanity has constructed utopias in those places to preserve peace, life and knowledge.  But here in No. 6, personal freedom has had to give way to policies that quell dissent and unrest to keep the system perfectly in line.  When the youthfully naïve Shion sheltered the dark, young fugitive Rat, he was expelled from his prestigious school and his future seemed to be destined to be that of a boring public servant, working for the government.  Several years later however, he’s once again unlucky enough to become caught up by the unseen system that is No. 6 when Shion witnesses the bizarre death of one of his coworkers.  To keep him from speaking out about what he saw, he’s arrested and accused of crimes he didn’t commit.  As he’s taken to the correctional facility, hope seems lost until Rat comes to the rescue.  However, as Shion escapes from No. 6, he must now come to terms with a sobering fact.  There are big problems in paradise.

No. 6 is probably going to go into my record book as a grossly underappreciated anime.  However, that’s probably just my own personal experiences talking.  For me, this anime watched like a metaphor for delusion and what a person may go through as they escape that kind of thinking.  The plot basically transitions from paradise, to darkness for Shion as his perceptions of reality get turned upside-down.  He then must decide if he’s going to follow Rat, the man who saved his life and seeks to destroy No. 6.  Or will he simply adapt his opinions on the gilded paradise he lived for his entire life and attempt to save it from itself?  This dichotomy plays out well and is capped with a satisfying conclusion.  In short, my advice for viewers of No. 6 is to look for deeper meanings than what you’re watching on the surface.

Shinryaku! Ika Musume (review)

Final impression – Delightfully comedic.  A must-watch. 9/10

Fall 2010 – (title literal translation – Invade! Squid Girl)

Humans beware!  You’ve polluted, overfished and scorned the ocean for the last time!  Fear the powers of Squid Girl, the invader from the deep!  Or at least that’s what she’d have you believe when she attempts to seize control of the beach-side restaurant, Lemon, as her base of operations.  But the young owners Eriko and Chizuru have plans to put her tentacles to work waiting on the customers.  From there it’s a series of missteps from her original goal of world domination as she slowly comes to the conclusion that not all humans are so bad, after all.

It’s too easy to make comparisons between Ika Musume and Sgt. Frog.  They’re both anthropomorphic denizens who have come to society to conquer the world.  However, their missions get sidetracked by adventures, new experiences and little realizations that the world they’re trying to subjugate is actually quite nice as it already is.  For me at least, the themes of Ika Musume strike a little closer to home because of my love of the oceans and the story plays nicely with fun, original and most importantly, interesting ideas.  The art style stays away from moe or chibi themes that might turn away some viewers and goes with a bright, colorful, cheerful, cartoony style that’s distinct and creates a perfect tone for the story to unfold.  Ika Musume is a humorous, feel-good anime loaded with tons of squidding fun!

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