Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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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.

Black★Rock Shooter (review)

Final impression – not a second wasted (10/10)

Winter 2012 (8 episodes) (TV series)

It’s the first day of junior high school and Mato Kuroi decides she’s going to be friends with the gloomy girl who has a funny name, Yomi Takanashi.  The two soon discover they have a shared love of a children’s storybook and it looks like they’re going to get along great.  But when Yomi’s spoiled, childhood friend Kagari butts in to push them apart, Mato isn’t going to just give up accept this bleak turn of events.  She makes it her mission to liberate Yomi from Kagari’s possessive personality.  But doing so will have greater consequences than she knows.  In another world, the girls’ voiceless souls are fighting their own, very real battle with life and death on the line.  And when the results of their battles become reflected in the real world, it’s going to change the course of their lives in ways they cannot possibly anticipate.

Quality in writing is often not about a story’s content, but about how well that story is told.  Sometimes the best plot is the simplest and Black Rock Shooter tells a fabulously creative adventure about the subtleties of relationships and how the most well-meaning intentions can have unexpected, unintended consequences.  It’s a wonderful metaphor about allowing ourselves to be close enough to our friends that we can fight with them honestly and without inhibitions.  We must accept that we occasionally hurt people and that we are hurt by others; how we deal with that pain shapes our character and the ultimate fate of our relationships.  Balancing this emotional drama between real people and their actions mirrored by their duplicate selves locked in gallant combat is a poetic dichotomy flooded deeply with incredible metaphors.  Kana Hanazawa is perfect in her role as Mato Kuroi, depicting her exceptional personality and growth from naivety to strong, determined young woman.  But what’s most amazing about Black Rock Shooter is that it probably would never have existed if it wasn’t for the Vocaloid song by the same name, popularized by casual anime fans who wanted to know the story behind the music.  For something so spectacular to come out of simple fandom and not from a novel, manga or video game is truly remarkable.

Guilty Crown (review)

Final impression – pretty but unpolished (6/10)

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (22 episodes)

In 2029 an outbreak of a mysterious disease known as the Apocalypse Virus hit Tokyo causing cancerous crystals to emerge from people’s bodies, reducing them to dust that blew away in the wind.  Now it’s 2039 and much of Japan’s policies are under the control of the GHQ—an organization devoted to researching and preventing another pandemic.  However, under the guise of public safety, the GHQ restricts the freedom of the Japanese people, which naturally makes them rather unpopular.  To counter this stifling new branch of government that sometimes descends into spontaneous martial law, the terrorist group Undertaker seeks to liberate Japan using covert, guerrilla tactics.  Shu Ouma is just an average high school student living in Tokyo who laments the current state of affairs and feels there’s nothing he can do to change things.  But he gets thrust into the heart of the conflict when his path crosses with the indie singer, Inori Yuzuriha.  On the run from the GHQ, she entrusts him with delivering a stolen package to Undertaker.  But an accident along the way imbues him with the power to change the course of fate.

Guilty Crown is very beautiful both in its crisp drawing style and harmonious music, which create a terrific setting with awesome potential.  This optimism further gets bolstered by the growth of Shu’s character as he goes through a transition of ordinary to mighty, then misguided and finally culminating in noble selflessness.  The flow of his personality follows an organic development that is as natural as it is elegant.  But looking past the artfulness and the excellent character development of Guilty Crown, the writing of this anime is thick and muddy.  As much as it wants to be epic and tell an amazing story of realizing your own weakness and overcoming your preconceived limits, it fails to accomplish this goal eloquently.  Whether it’s relying on misplaced tropes like a swimsuit episode, contrived plot points such as reviving a character who was supposed to be dead or some overused quasi-romantic sort of martyrdom, there’s plenty of wasted potential.  To its credit, Guilty Crown never goes so far as to allow its clumsier episodes to break up the flow of the plot.  But some of the characters’ motives are so unreasonable that it feels like they’re puppets of the writer rather than real people with free will and personalities.  So while Guilty Crown is easy on the eyes and ears, its story is frustratingly forced and rushes to finish in its shorter-than-average run.

Ben-to (review)

Final impression – quirky fun with a touch of gallantry (7/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Boxed-Lunch)

When you’re going to high school and money is tight, you learn to shop for bargains on food.  Late in the day at the supermarkets, the boxed meals—Japanese bento—get marked down to half price.  This is when the bargain hunters come out to battle each other for the best deals on the day’s dinner.  Called “Wolves,” they go all out in a free-for-all battle royale of punches and kicks to claim their prize and newcomers like Satou are given no quarter—it’s sink or swim for anyone who steps into the ring.  But a cheap meal isn’t the only motivation for the newbie protagonist.  He admires the beautiful Sen Yarizui whose skill as a wolf has earned her the title of “Ice Witch.”  Upon further investigation he finds that Yarizui is a grade above him at his school and in order to get closer to her, he joins the “Half-Pricer’s Club,” which she is the president.  Little does he know he’s gotten involved in a warrior’s adventure that’s going to teach him the value of upholding chivalry even in the most adverse circumstances.

The flow of Ben-to feels pretty good for the most part.  But this anime’s main selling point is its freshness.  Fighting anime of all kinds come and go without any unique attributes to set them apart from the crowd.  Ben-to stands out by doing things its own way and not caving to established norms.  That’s not to say that this anime made very good choices in its effort to be itself—particularly in the pool episode—but the fact that it tried its best is something to take note of when you look at the big picture.  Another noteworthy facet of Ben-to and nearly all anime of the entire fall 2011 season is the depiction of Satou as a strong, but down-to-earth young man when it comes to his interactions with girls.  I’ve grown tired of the male protagonist who has absolutely no backbone when it comes to women.  All the same, I’m not sure if Satou qualifies as being a favorable exception to that overused male character attribute.  On one hand he’s usually just caught in compromising situations from which there is no favorable escape.  On the other hand, despite is more chivalrous side, he never has the presence of mind to find a way to simply avoid those dilemmas in the first place.  So aside from its slightly ecchi side, Ben-to was a lot of fun.

Maken-Ki! Ep. 1

Final impression – worthless  (2/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Maken Princess!) (more info)

What a worthless pile of plot devices.  A cast of girls with huge boobs—aside from the single flat-chested girl who will undoubtedly be the target of clichéd jokes.  The girl archetypes include the childhood friend, the tsundere rival and the inexplicable fiancé out of left field.  The setting is another battle high school like Majikoi and I say since we already have one very similar, badly concocted battle high school story this season, Maken-ki doesn’t need to exist.  What exactly are the origins of these superpowers, anyways?  Freezing did the courtesy of explaining the purpose of its training program.  You would also figure that if this high school is famous for its martial arts curriculum, someone would have clued in the main character on this fact before he enrolled.  Instead he’s completely blindsided and portrayed as a weak pervert who has to rely on the girls around him to save his life.  I can’t remember another male lead with such a weak personality since Keitaro from Love Hina.  How does anime this bad even make it to air and who actually wants to watch this vacuous waste of time?

Majikoi – Oh! Samurai Girls Ep. 1

Final impression – plotless  (3/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (Japanese title – Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!) (more info)

At Kawakami High School disputes between classes are resolved with grandiose battles.  It reminds me of those two combat episodes of School Rumble.  You know…the one where they did the cavalry game at the sports festival and the one where they fought with air rifles.  Then add a touch of the Olympic combat of Dog Days and you’ve got the less than mediocre Majikoi.  The first episode just drops the viewer right into the middle of a battle with no setup or reason to care who wins.  The course of the fight wasn’t even constructed with any kind of development besides some contrived epic mercenaries who were there for no other reason than for the underdogs to win against the atypical, cocky top seed.  It’s a thinly veiled, juvenile sports story that’s been done a million times and Majikoi does nothing to revolutionize the trope.  Since I can’t tell what else this anime is about, I’m completely uninterested.  It makes absolutely no room for plot development and if this first episode can’t construct the most basic elements of a story I have no hope for the future.

Ben-to Ep. 1

Initial impression – so weird it’s good

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Boxed Lunch) (more info)

Every once in a while I stumble upon an anime with a completely absurd premise that manages to surprise me with the quality of its presentation.  Sometimes an anime needs a little bit of quirkiness in order to make the overall concept really pop in a way that can catch your interest and hold it for the duration of the series.  Ben-to shows signs of being one of those types of anime.  It’s a super-fighting anime at heart, which would have no chance of grabbing my attention.  But the characters are fighting over boxed lunches (bentos for those who speak Japanese) and that’s funny without being too stupid.  Throw in some girls that are easy on the eyes, but stay away from flagrant ecchi and you’ve got Ben-to.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this wacky series unfolds.

Yumekui Merry (last thoughts)

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.

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