Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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Blue Exorcist (review)

Final impression – a blast of awesome (8/10)

Spring 2011 to summer 2011 (25 episodes) (Japanese title – Ao no Exorcist)

Rin Okumura, an orphan raised by a catholic priest, has a terrifying secret hidden in his past.  He’s actually the son of Satan.  His old man also has a secret – he’s the world’s strongest exorcist and works to keep the dark lord of hell from discerning the whereabouts of his lost son.  But few secrets this big can be kept hidden forever, as Rin accidentally uncovers the truth of his identity when he gets into a fight with a delinquent and subconciously releases a bit of his power.  Faced with the risk of being captured by Satan and dragged to hell as well as the loss of his adoptive, human father, Rin decides he’s going to use his demonic powers towards the goal of following in his old man’s footsteps.  He commits to becoming the world’s strongest exorcist in order to kill Satan with is own hands.

Blue Exorcist marks the triumphant revival of shounen anime.  With the unending, filler-saturated, steaming piles that Naruto and Bleach have become over the past several years, I’d pretty much all but given up on this subgenre.  But then Blue Exorcist arrived and helped clean things up.  It’s got action, comedy and story all in equal measures.  The cast is just the right size to provide a nice variety of roles without spreading everyone too thin; characters are likeable and their motivations are clear and concise.  I do have one complaint, and it’s that there are several “fooling around,” episodes whose existence completely ruins the flow of the plot at a few very crucial moments.  Besides that though, Blue Exorcist was a real treat to watch and I recommend it to anyone who misses the days when mainstream shounen anime were still good.

As an interesting little aside, I’m an English teacher in Japan and one of my students is named Yuuki Okumura (a coincidentally similar name to Rin’s brother, Yukio Okumura).

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Ep. 1

Initial impression – a theme that is close to the heart

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – I Don’t Have Many Friends) (more info)

Boku wa Tomodachi takes inspiration for its graceful art style from Denpa Onna and gets its spunky character personalities from Oreimo—not a bad foundation if you ask me.  It gets better from there with some particularly deep character traits that remind me of the kind of person I was in high school—jaded, without friends, content with my solitude but at the same time longing for a true companion I could trust.  Surely, there must be a way for people with those kinds of personalities to find friends.  And that’s what Boku wa Tomodachi is about.  A group of socially awkward young people brought together by their loosely shared trait of being socially awkward.  Who would’ve guessed such a formula could work so well?  The characters are nicely diverse with lifestyles from very different paths, which creates a setting that is ripe for enjoyable conflicts.

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.

Mirai Nikki Ep. 1

Initial impression – subtly beckoning

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (26 episodes) (title literal translation – Future Diary) (more info)

What would you do if you were given a diary that tells the future?  Well, if Yukiteru is anything to go by, you’d use it as a cheat sheet to get all the answers correct on your tests.  But other people would surely use their future diaries for more nefarious ends.  These characters include a killer who uses the info to track down his victims and Yukiteru’s female stalker Yuno, who uses hers to keep tabs on his daily life.  But underlying all the shenanigans the character’s future diaries allow them to do they’ve just been entered into a game by Deus Ex Machina, the god of time.   This game pits the players against each other in a survivor-style, winner-takes-all contest with the reward being nothing less than Deus’s throne.  Given the diverse cast that’s been hinted at, there are definitely going to be many different paths intertwined in an attempt to achieve the prize.  It’s really compelling and keeps you invested in the events, especially when Yukiteru becomes god’s chosen favorite after cheating his foretold death.  How will he end up using this incredibly versatile power?  Will it corrupt him or can he turn it into a tool to help people?  And how will Yuno play into the proceedings when the winner must off all the other competitors to become the heir to the god of time?  Mirai Nikki presents itself terrifically in the first episode with good pacing that keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you wanting more.

Kimi to Boku Ep. 1

Final impression – different, but not different enough (5/10)

Autumn 2011 (13 episodes) (more info)

Kimi to Boku is a school drama about a group of childhood friends who have become high school students and are now relying on their shared pasts and camaraderie to enjoy their youth and shape the adults they are going to become.  This sort of description would typically characterize a moe anime with an all-female cast, but that’s where you’d be wrong.  It is refreshing to have an entirely male cast in a scenario that most people would shove into a trope that gets done way too often.  However, what’s most pleasing is that this gender reversal actually works to create something that is a moderate success.  As many good things it has going for it, Kimi to Boku is one of those pleasant anime with some fun moments that gave me a good chuckle, but I just can’t see it becoming anything particularly interesting.

I don’t recall it having always been this way, but J.C. Staff has really been cranking out anime over the past few years.  Seemingly, about two anime each season now.  And the more this pattern has increased, the more it feels like they’re sacrificing quality for quantity.  They still put out good stuff like Kamisama no Memochou, but the trend seems to be leaning more towards average stuff like Kimi to Boku.

Mashiro-iro Symphony Ep. 1

Initial impression – a quiet little drama

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Pure White Symphony) (more info)

Mashiro-iro Symphony is this season’s h-game turned anime and early indications are good.  The art style mirrors Akane Iro ni Somaru Saka (the two anime have the same character designer) while the writing style goes with an Ai Yori Aoshi atmosphere that glows with a kind of innocent sincerity.  The setting then takes inspiration from the premise for Kaichou wa Maid-sama except with a gender role reversal; having young men integrating into an all-girls school—rather than the other way around.  It’s not a bad flavor and I’m interested in seeing how it develops.  The plot doesn’t seem to be rushing anything, which is either a sign of future stagnation or good pacing—only time will tell how that turns out.  Another point Mashiro has going in its favor is how it introduces the lead heroine without being too in-your-face about it.  If Mashiro continues with this trend in future episodes, I see potential for a decent series.

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.

Chihaya Furu Ep. 1

Final impression – interesting premise, uninteresting characters (4/10)

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (25 episodes) (title literal translation – Chihaya Swoop) (more info)

Chihaya Furu has a familiar feeling to it.  It reminds me of a lighthearted Shion no Ou—a story of a group of friends brought together by their passion for a game.  But unlike a sports anime, the focus is on the people and not on the sport, which is where most sports anime go wrong.  Nobody has any obscure superpowers nor is there any banter analyzing boring technique.  However, the game that’s bringing them together is karuta.  For those of you not in the know, it’s a game where cards are placed on a table in front of you and as an announcer calls cues, you have to slap your hand down on the correct card the fastest.  As the characters themselves comment, it’s not well known outside of Japan.  So Chihaya Furu puts a very interesting spin on this idea of being the best in the world at something that isn’t very popular.  It’s a cool concept, but I’m not convinced the characters have any lasting appeal, even though I’ve only watched one episode.  This may be an anime I might revisit in the future, but for now there’s other titles I’d rather be watching.

Guilty Crown Ep. 1

Initial impression – powerful

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (22 episodes) (more info)

Right away, the first thing Guilty Crown presents to its viewers with a wonderful music masterpiece.  I have not heard anime music this good since Angel Beats! ended.  After that, the rest of the first episode is followed up by just enough background to give me a sense of the setting.  Then, the lead hero is introduced as a believable, relatable high school student.  It finishes with an action sequence that doesn’t hog the spotlight when compared to Guilty Crown’s other cool elements and injects enough intrigue into the plot to leave me salivating for more.  The balance of focus in just this one episode leads me to believe that this is going to be the-must-watch anime for autumn 2011.  Or at the very least, I’m seeing some serious potential for this competitor to give Fate/Zero a run for its money.

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