Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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Zetman Ep. 1

Initial impression – too niche (4/10)

Spring 2012 (13 episodes) (more info)

Zetman doesn’t seem to have much going for it.  It’s already very clear what the story is going to be about and I fear it’s going to stick to such a standard formula it won’t be able to deviate into something more creative.  I’m also not fond of the very cliché “Dragonball hair” moment during the climax of episode one, but despite my misgivings there’s some great action and the plot builds on some very formative moments that will clearly shape the characters’ futures in the coming episodes.  The art style also isn’t my favorite with a very “Japan hero-show,” design for the appearance of the superhero suits reminiscent of Power Rangers.  It’s very unimaginative and childish for something that clearly wants to market itself to a more mature audience.   So it seems Zetman is firmly going to be a sort of hyper-shounen anime that isn’t strictly bad.  Unfortunately, it has such narrow appeal that the people who like it will really like it, but everyone else is just going to say, “meh.”

Shakugan no Shana (review)

Final impression – a triumphant beginning (10/10)

Autumn 2005 to winter 2006 (24 episodes + 1 OVA) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)

High school has started and Yuji Sakai is already making the most of his youth.  But on his way home one day he steps into a sealed zone that is separated from the normal flow of time.  In here, he is attacked by monsters intent on devouring this strange human who can move within their trap.  But at the last second he is saved by a beautiful girl with flaming red hair; easily overpowering his attackers.  But despite protecting him from the monsters, it turns out Yuji Sakai is already dead.  His existence was eaten by a denizen of the Crimson World some time ago and all that remains of him is a tiny spark that will soon burn out.  He decides to spend his last few days before he disappears in the company of his savior, aiding her in any way that he can before he is gone without a trace.  However, a fortunate turn of events may give him an unexpected reprieve from oblivion.

Shakugan no Shana is a spectacular story.  It starts with the initial, horrifying concept of the enemies of humanity consuming people’s very existence as energy, leaving nothing behind to remember them by.  It’s a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that is dramatically mitigated by Yuji’s ability to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation.  He never despairs and is always thinking about how he can best make use of his limited potential.  It’s a testament to the tremendous strength of character people can exhibit when cornered by the most trying circumstances.  The series expands on its intellectual, action-filled beginning and moves into a more romantic theme as the steely Shana realizes that she’s not an emotionless killing machine and her feelings for Yuji go beyond mere camaraderie.  Even the final battle is more than it superficially appears to be because the plot never misses a chance to include a thought-provoking discussion about the characters’ inner motives.  And then to top of the amazing writing is the gorgeous art style of Ito Noizi and excellent music courtesy of Mami Kawada, KOTOKO and several other bands and singers who knew just the right style to set the mood for this epic series.  In short, the first season of Shakugan no Shana struck a perfect balance between fighting, philosophy, artistic tone and romance to create an amazingly profound first season.

Nisemonogatari (review)

Final impression – satisfyingly philosophical (8/10)

Winter 2012 (11 episodes) (title literal translation – Impostor’s Story)

A short time after the events of Bakemonogatari, Koyomi Araragi’s life is beginning to return to normalcy.  He’s studying hard for college entrance exams, playing games with friends in his free time, trying to impress his overbearing girlfriend and being a generally annoying, but loving brother for his two younger sisters, Karen (火憐) and Tsukihi (月火). But things are not going so smoothly at the junior high where his sisters go to school.  Calling themselves the Fire Sisters because their names both contain the kanji for fire (火) they’ve made it their personal vendetta to find out who has been spreading curses and rumors among their classmates.  But ultimately, it’s going to be Koyomi who will have to make sure their mission of justice isn’t something that is beyond their capabilities.

First off, don’t watch Nisemonogatari without first watching Bakemonogatari.  The masterpiece’s sequel includes little refresh time to get new viewers up to speed and there’s a few points where you’re going to be lost if you just jump right in.  Second, while it follows the gorgeous, intellectual writing style of its parent series, the pacing is not as good as the original.  Where Bakemonogatari was focused and Koyomi was always on a mission to help someone, Nisemonogatari is more of a fluid, slice of life story.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a very different tone.  But one of the less understandable attributes of the sequel is the degree to which it was touted as the adventures of Karen and Tsukihi and how little emphasis is given to them.  All in all, it feels more like an epilogue than a sequel because there’s never a big climax to accentuate the plot and in some ways that’s a very refreshing way to compose a follow-up series.  So while Nisemonogatari may not be quite as powerful as its source material, it’s a nice follow-up companion that will satisfy fans of the original series.

Mirai Nikki (ongoing)

Impression – sometimes clumsy, but always inescapably exciting

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (26 episodes) (more info)

It’s a satisfying accomplishment that Mirai Nikki manages to create a compelling scenario that keeps two very different people together for a common goal—even when one is a boring, weak, down-to-earth average Joe and the other is an obsessive, willful, crazy, psychopath.  But while the necessity of Yuno and Yukitero staying together feels like a match made in hell, it doesn’t help the rest of the anime when so many of the other characters keep passing on their chances to win this survival game.  It usually boils down to massive personality flaws borne either of a pretentious and overconfident nature or simply overindulging in the thrill of their admittedly finite powers of prediction.  Either way, the end result causes them to foolishly forfeit the opportunity of an unbelievable reward.  But setting aside that niggling little shortcoming, Mirai Nikki is dramatic and unpredictable, which keeps everything tense and thrilling.  The twists of this often painfully engrossing anime always leave me wanting more.

Mashiro-iro Symphony (review)

Final impression – slow and quiet (5/10)

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

Shingo and his sister Sakuno are participating in a school merger program in their small town.  They’re attending an all-girls school and this is the first time young men have set foot in this school for some time.  The girls school student council president is naturally against a change as large as introducing male students to campus.  When push comes to shove, Shingo is the kind of guy who isn’t going to get flustered by a stubborn female rival.  He slowly starts to make inroads with some of the less temperamental girls and shows that he’s capable of being a friend and ally.  Things are tough, but he’s making good progress as an ambassador for his school and probably more importantly for his gender.  But when he is assigned to be the men’s representative on the student council, that’s when things are going to really get interesting.

I’m glad the year of the inept male is finally over and we can get back to anime where the main man has a likeable personality.  Unfortunately, all the women around him are completely dependent on his motivation and leadership if they want to be successful.  It starts to get really annoying because it’s dragged out way too long. Watching the middle of this anime feels like a chore.  All the same, I’m pleased that Mashiro-iro doesn’t give away the main heroine until the very end.  It manages to keep relationships fairly natural and believable, even if that means it has to take things slower than I’d prefer.  But the fact that I wanted very much to know who Shingo ended up falling in love with kept me motivated just enough to finish it.  Considering its easygoing pace and balance, Mashiro-iro is one of those quiet anime that’s nice and relaxing to watch every once in a while.

Shakugan no Shana III (ongoing)

Impression – finally living up to its legacy

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (24 episodes) (more info)

For Shana fans who endured the disappointment that was season two, the third and final season started pretty rocky and didn’t look very favorable as a contender to redeem the series.  There was a lot of really confusing, unnecessary summarizing of the previous season that I’m fairly certain didn’t succeed at getting new viewers up to speed and only served to delay new content for a couple episodes.  But once that got out of the way the story really started to take off and there wasn’t any sign of the romantic quagmire that stifled season two’s first half.  Once again we get treated to the thought-provoking scenario of existence itself being a harvestable resource and the continuation of the secret war that is to determine the fate of not only lives but memories as well.  The changes that have happened in the characters’ personalities are huge and could have had disastrous consequences if they hadn’t been so carefully constructed to match the growing ambitions of the young people as they begin to find the adults they are to become.  There’s a lot of names and faces to remember as the war reaches its crescendo, but if a slow start is my only other complaint, then I’ll gladly give Shana III my seal of approval.

Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! Ep. 1

Final impression – scattered and uncoordinated (3/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (Japanese title – Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai!) (title literal translation – Listen to Papa!) (more info)

I don’t have any idea what this anime is supposed to be about.  Themes, clichés and subtext fly in from every direction and add to a mishmash of confusion.  Is it just a story about an unlucky college student, a spunky love interest teasing his sexual preferences or his quirky niece who has daddy issues?  There’s really no reason all of these themes couldn’t flow seamlessly into one another or even become mixed into the characters as their personalities become more developed.  But Listen to Papa! seems to only be able to do one theme at a time and the transitions from one idea to another feel really unnatural.  There’s a lot of unestablished history that we’re just expected to accept without explanation.  A much more gradual introduction would have really helped the process of getting to know everyone satisfactorily.  But probably the biggest niggling detail about Listen to Papa! is its nonsensical title.  It’s very clear that the male lead has no children and all of the young girls are his nieces.  This gets even more poignant when you take into consideration the subtitle, Listen to me Girls, I’m your Father!.  A better title would have been, “Listen to Uncle.”  But no matter what you call it, this is just a poorly constructed anime right down to its most basic foundations.

Daily Lives of High School Boys Ep. 1

Final impression – a guy’s anime for sure (5/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (Japanese title – Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou) (more info)

The Daily Lives of High School Boys is not a flattering depiction of males.  Not all men are wolves jealously guarding the familiar safety of their pack from the encroachment of femininity.  The idea of “men must band together to protect each other from the poison of women” creates an overarching concept that is an interesting twist on how you might write an anime about a group of unrefined, young guys as opposed to an assortment of cute, moe girls.  But with all this talk about how High School Boys emphasizes men, it’s not exclusionary to women.  In fact, I particularly like the portrayal of the girls because there’s some really fun personalities among them and the awkwardness of the boys’ youth is reflected in way they act towards the opposite gender.  It transcends the usual dry stereotype of male-female relationships where the girl is always a possible love interest.  The flow of well-constructed guy jokes does a really good job of making light of some of the aspects of the psyche of young men and puts a few new twists on classic pranks teenage boys play on each other the world over.  I was ok with the anime until the last story arc devolved into toilet humor, at which point I decided I wouldn’t be watching any more.  I try to avoid being indecisive in my reviews and give an honest opinion one way or the other, but this time I’ll say that a lot of people would probably enjoy High School Boys.  It’s just not for me.

Nisemonogatari Ep. 1

Initial impression – if you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari, go watch it so you can fully enjoy its sequel

Winter 2012 (11 episodes) (title literal translation – Imitation Story) (more info)

Perhaps I simply received bad information or maybe I read it incorrectly, but I had the distinct impression that Nisemonogatari was going to be primarily about Araragi’s little sisters.  But so far we’ve only seen Tsukihi berating her older brother for his cluelessness when it comes to women’s hearts and Karen is thus far completely absent.  It all starts with Araragi’s free spirit getting reigned in by Senjougahara’s pure black, oppressively sadistic affection.  Then the lion’s share of this first episode is Araragi and Hachikuji playing with semantics in the Japanese language to great comic effect that feels like something straight out of this anime’s predecessor, Bakemonogatari.   The distinct lack of a mission for Araragi to pursue in Nisemonogatari leaves an empty feeling of directionlessness.  Maybe this is going to be the new facet that sets Nisemonogatari apart from its roots and will allow it to just indulge in its hilariously reckless tempo.  Bottom line, if you liked the original series, then Nisemonogatari is definitely going to please because the spirit that made Bakemonogatari Anime of the Year for 2009 is still alive and well.

Ano Natsu de Matteru Ep. 1

Initial impression – an interesting story that deserves a closer look

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Waiting in the Summer) (more info)

Ano Natsu has a bit of a cliché boy-meets-girl anime.  But I like how it keeps things lighthearted and doesn’t attempt to ruin the awkward, teenage atmosphere by putting up some sort of serious facade—or more detrimentally, forced comedy.  It’s pretty clear that Takatsuki is an alien and she saved Kaito’s life during some kind of accident, but is there more to their relationship than that?  As “alien arrives on Earth” character backgrounds go, Takatsuki isn’t some inept, unhousebroken bimbo that’s relying on protagonist Kaito to keep her out of trouble.  She has a believable level of wonder, curiosity and simple lack of knowledge that might be expected of a new visitor who possesses basic knowledge of the fundamentals, but not any of the specifics.  It has an attractive art style that strongly references Ano Hana and it’s no coincidence that the two anime have similar titles because Ano Natsu and Ano Hana both have the same director and character designer.  It unfortunately doesn’t escape some of the staples of the harem anime genre with a cast of several other girls vying for Kaito’s attention and the obligatory ladies-man sidekick.  All in all there seems to be enough freshness to warrant giving Ano Natsu a chance to prove it can set itself apart from the crowd.

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