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Saki: Achiga-hen – Episode of Side-A Ep. 1

Initial impression – pleasing, but lacking impact (5/10)

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (more info)

While I think Saki is nice, I’m not sure what else I can say about it.  I know next to nothing about mahjong and I find it hard to swallow the idea that there’s a large enough community of players in a rural junior high school to warrant a dedicated club that is nationally ranked (though I’ve been wrong before).  More acceptable might have been an underdog story similar to what was introduced in Chihayafuru, as cheesy as that sort of premise might be.  I do like the nice variety of characters and their natural acceptance of the paths their lives are about to take.  Instead of focusing on what they’re losing by going their separate ways as they grow up, they want to cherish the time they have together in the present and that’s definitely something to value.  I imagine from here this anime is going to turn into some sort of reunion story as the three friends meet up again through the game that originally brought them together as children.  I’m optimistic this series isn’t going to turn into a “sports anime,” based on some weird super-mahjong theme, but there just doesn’t seem to be a very energizing conflict to keep things interesting.  So even if Saki seems to be a pretty, well-thought and laid-back slice of life story centered on mahjong, I’m unimpressed by the nonconfrontational start.

Acchi Kocchi Ep. 1

Initial impression – fuel for the moe inferno

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (English synonym – All Over the Place, title literal translation – Here and There) (more info)

If Lucky Star can be thought of as moe crack, then Acchi Kocchi is probably closer to moe sugar.  It’s such a sweet anime that I’m sure most people are going to get a sour taste in their mouths unless they’ve properly conditioned themselves for this kind of style (as I have =P).  I like how the two main characters Tsumiki and Io clearly care for each other with a slight, awkward honesty.  While they are not in a serious relationship, unlike most anime romances they aren’t vehemently denying their love; instead going for a sort of soft consensus with their mutual feelings.  It’s not an atypical friendship between hero and heroine and that simple novelty is more than enough to give this series a nice flair of originality.  Integrating males into a moe series is also a rarity and when it is done it often isn’t done very well with focus always going to the girls and leaving the guys to the sidelines.  But Acchi Kocchi gives both genders fairly equal measures of presence, which is inspiringly daring.  It’s a kind of delightfulness that has gotten my moe passion burning brightly and I’m salivating at the thought of what the future holds.

Tasogare Otome x Amnesia Ep. 1

Initial impression – an aura of fun

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (English title – Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) (more info)

Tasogare Otome has a really playful, refreshing attitude about how it tells its story.  Yuuko, the ghost president of the Seikyou High School occult club, doesn’t remember everything about her past, but she’s determined to enjoy her unlife as much as possible nonetheless. That’s where Teiichi comes in.  He’s a kindhearted young man, but perhaps a little over accommodating to Yuuko’s poltergeist pranks.  He also has the …fortunate?… distinction of being Yuuko’s object of affection, but perhaps it was inevitable because he’s the only one who can touch her.  This is a genius, nearly tangible way of creating empathy for Yuuko’s existence because of the very emotional response it generates to the concept of having only one person in the world you can be close to.  Where Tasogare Otome’s plot goes from here is up in the air, but it has already demonstrated very clearly that the setting concept is solid with a great air of mystery and some really likeable characters.  I particularly enjoyed how it started out showing everything from Momoe’s perspective to creatively establish that she can’t see or hear Yuuko and the naturalness of her reactions was made all the funnier when the scene was revisited from Teiichi’s point of view.  If Tasogare Otome continues this way, I expect great things are to come.

Senki Zesshou Symphogear Ep. 1

Initial impression – action, music and variety

Winter 2012 (13 episodes) (title literal translation – Senhime Stunning Vista Symphogear) (more info)

I’m not sure if it’s magic girl, mecha musume, idol singer or some strange mix of the three that transcends label, but Symphogear impresses on how it manages to balance several different themes quite well.  It all starts with a pretty standard anime cliché for discovering the main character has superpowers.  Some time ago a traumatic encounter left a lingering, latent potential in Hibiki only to have it awaken a year later at the moment when the ability is needed most.  But something that sets Symphogear apart is the extent to which it plays up the theme of singing being a crucial part of the characters’ fighting abilities.  It even goes as far as to call the enemies of humanity, “Noise.”  The music isn’t bad, but it doesn’t come close to reaching even K-ON! levels of catchiness or quality; it’s just sort of there for the ambiance.  The girls’ suit designs are delightfully crazy and impractical-looking, but the story thus far is moving along with focus.  There’s a potential in this anime for something exciting.

K-ON! Movie (summary)

Back on December 3, I watched the K-ON! Movie.  Below are the notes I took while watching the movie detailing a summary of the major events and plot of the film.  Be warned, the following text contains major spoilers.  Additionally, I’ve composed this article under the assumption that readers will already be familiar with the TV anime’s previous two seasons.  The events of the movie take place close to the end of the story of the second season, but before the anime’s final episode.

WARNING!! SPOILERS!!

Yui wakes up in her bedroom to the sound of her alarm.
The five HHT girls are going to school.
After classes they go to the club room and they can be heard upstairs
playing hard rock.
Azusa arrives in the club room.
Ritsu and Yui argue about the kind of music HTT typically plays as
being too light, fluffy and carefree.
She’s lamenting the end of the light music club because the four
seniors are all graduating.
Azusa pushes the play button on a boom box nearby to discover the hard
rock track that everyone heard downstairs wasn’t actually HTT.
Azusa wants to practice with everyone, but Yui decides to take a tea break.
Mugi takes out a baumkuchen cake to share with everyone, but has
trouble opening the packaging.
Sawako appears at the table out of nowhere and surprises the girls.
Yui says she wants to do one last senior-like thing before she graduates.
Back at Yui’s house she talks it over with Ui.
Maybe the four seniors should give a present to future members of the
light music club.
Ui suggests a bunch of other ideas that Yui doesn’t like.
Ui then suggests they go out on a senior trip and bring Azusa along as
a gift to their only junior.
In class the next day they comment on how Mugi’s hands are warm, but
Mio’s hands are cold.
Other seniors in the class are talking about going on trips around to
different places in the world with their clubs.
The class discusses what kind of gift they should get for Sawako
because she’s their homeroom teacher.
The four seniors ask Azusa where she would want to go if they went on
a senior trip.
She says anywhere is fine.
Ritsu suggests Hawaii.
Yui wants to go to Europe.
Mugi would be fine with a hot springs inn.
Mio really wants to go to London.
They use an amidakuji (a lottery ladder) to decide where they will go.
Yui wins the game but Azusa catches her cheating, so she has to sit
out any future decisions.
Mugi thinks it was really clever of Yui to cheat like that.
As a penalty game, they make her wear a piece of paper over her face
that has a funny expression drawn on it.
They decide to let Ton-chan decide where they should go by putting
teacups in his tank with names of the destinations written on them.
After a really long wait he touches London.
Mio is very happy.
Yui is sad, but when everyone reminds her that London is in Europe,
she admits she didn’t know that.
Mugi invites Azusa, but she hesitates because she’s not a senior.
Yui wants Azusa to come, too.
Azusa finally accepts the invitation after Mio invites her, too.
Azusa leaves the clubroom and calls her parents to check if it’s ok to
go on a trip to London.
Azusa returns to find the other girls calling their families as well.
Back at Yui’s house, Nodoka is helping pack and wishes Yui a fun trip in the UK.
Yui tells her they’re going to London, not the UK.
Nodoka tells Yui that London is in the UK and once again, Yui admits ignorance.
They go to a travel agency to pick out their hotel and sightseeing destinations.
Back at school, Yui talks with the members of the occult club and asks
them if they want a souvenir.
They ask her to take a picture of Nessie.
Yui tells this to the other HTT girls and they explain that the occult
club was just joking.
The four seniors still want to give a better present to Azusa as well as Sawako.
Maybe they should write a song?
Azusa returns to the clubroom and nearly blows their cover.
She becomes suspicious about it later when she recalls their serious faces.
Yui’s parents help her finish packing.
We only see their faces briefly when Yui departs for the airport.
The five girls meet up as they near the airport.
They have their instruments with them aside from Mugi.
Mugi asks everyone to double check to make sure they didn’t forget anything.
Yui jokes that she forgot her passport.
Azusa says they’re going to leave her behind.
At the airport the girls check their instruments and Yui says a long
goodbye to Gii-taa.
Yui talks about how amazing airplanes are, but Azusa points out that
it’s just a vehicle, not a time machine.
The girls are flying JAL (Japan Air Lines).  Product placement much?
For a while, Yui and Azusa practice their English on the flight.
At night during the flight, Yui wakes up to write lyrics for Azusa’s
song, but she falls asleep while writing.
Azusa wakes up and starts to read Yui’s notes, but Yui stops her just
in time to make sure the secret is safe.
The theme for the song is “World Wide.”
The immigration officer in the London airport is a black man.
They are visibly nervous.
The girls answer his questions with decent, if clumsy English.
On the luggage rack they can’t find Mio’s bag.
Ritsu jokes that Mio is going to have to get by without any underwear.
They find Mio’s bag off in a corner for unclaimed luggage.
Yui and Mio are amazed by all the English and begin taking pictures of
everything they see.
They have some difficulty telling their cab driver where their hotel is.
Yui comments that everything is so much bigger than in Japan.
They end up going to the wrong hotel.
Turns out this hotel chain has several places around London.
They consider taking the bus.
Azusa bought new shoes for this trip but her feet hurt.
The shoes are probably too small.
They buy Azusa new shoes.
As they head to their hotel on foot they see a conveyor belt sushi
restaurant and they decide to eat.
The store’s manager thinks the girls are a Japanese band he hired.
Yui can’t understand his English and just keeps answering “Yes” to all
of his questions.
By the time they realize the mistake it’s too late to back out.
Not that they even know enough English to point out the manager’s mistake.
In an attempt to explain the situation, Ritsu says “I love sushi.  We
are okyakusan (customers)”.
But the manager can’t understand them, so they decide the best thing
to do is to just go with the flow.
The manager introduces their band as Love Crisis, which Ritsu
recognizes as the name of her friend’s band.
They play some songs and the customers like the music.
HTT doesn’t get to eat any sushi.
Ritsu’s friend Maki from Love Crisis shows up.
They explain the mistake to the manager.
HTT finds their hotel.
Yui is tired and hungry
It’s a good thing Ui packed food for everyone.
Yui plugs in her hair dryer, but it shorts out because of the voltage
difference.
Azusa has a bad dream about Yui.
The next day in a park, Yui sticks her hand into what she thinks is a mailbox.
It’s actually a waste bin for dog poop.
Everyone wants to ride the ferris wheel in the park but Mio.
After some forceful coaxing, Mio gets on board and enjoys the ride.
Back at the hotel room Yui rushes to give Gii-ta a hug, but Azusa
thinks Yui is trying to hug her, so she elbows Yui painfully.
The four seniors have another meeting to work on Azusa’s song after
she falls asleep.
Azusa awakens in the night to find Yui missing.
Azusa knocks on the door, but the peep hole is too high for Ritsu to
see through.
Azusa is looking for Yui, but she had already left to go check on Azusa.
Azusa returns to her room while Yui returns to the other seniors to
report that Azusa is missing.
The two then start running in circles through their two hotel rooms
looking for each other.
The next day they go to a music store.
They get a surprise call from Japan.
It’s the owner of the live music house HTT played at.
Maki and the manager of the sushi restaurant want them to play at a
Japanese culture festival the next day.
They’re worried they might not be able to do it because there won’t be
enough time to make their flight.
That night they attempt to translate the lyrics of “Rice is not a side
dish,” into English with little success.
Azusa has another strange dream about Yui.
Mugi gets her keyboard airmailed to London.
HTT is playing on an outdoor stage at the Japanese culture event.
They’re going to play wearing their school uniforms.
Yui remembers shorting out her hair dryer the first night and worries
that plugging Gii-ta into the UK-made amp will hurt her guitar.
Then Sawako shows up and reminds Yui that her guitar wasn’t made in
Japan and everything will be ok.
Sawako made samurai outfits for the girls but they refuse to wear them.
They play Fuwa-fuwa time and Gohan.
Yui attempts to sing the last verse of Gohan in English, but fails.
They’re running out of time to make their flight.
Azusa falls asleep in the cab ride to the airport and Ritsu takes a
picture of her sleeping.
It starts snowing.
Back in their club room, they start sorting through all the English
tea they bought in London.
Their classmates are impressed that they went to London and played there.
The class wants HTT to play a final graduation live performance.
The senior girls of HHT go to the teacher’s room to ask Sawako if it’s
ok to do a final live performance.
At first she thinks it’s a good idea, but when the principal walks in
she has to feign prohibition to keep up appearances.
She recalls back when she was in the light music club, the principal
was her homeroom teacher and got really upset with her playing music
in his classroom.
The class makes a stage for HTT with their desks while the senior
girls go to get Azusa to come join them.
Upon hearing the music start, the principal heads off to stop the
performance, and Sawako attempts to restrain him unsuccessfully.
After seeing everyone having a good time, the principal relents and
allows the performance to continue.
Their classmates push the teachers into the classroom to better enjoy the music.
Later, the four seniors continue to discuss Azusa’s song.
Mugi has written a melody everyone likes and suggests they each write
a verse for the song.
Azusa is suspicious and discusses the issue with Junko and Ui during
gym class while they play table tennis.
She laments the other girls are going on to university together without her.
While writing lyrics in her room, Yui must hastily hide her notes from
Ui so her cover doesn’t get blown.
Yui thanks Ui for giving her the idea of going on a trip with everyone.
Yui is lost in thought and absentmindedly asks Ui, “since we’re all
going to the same university, we’ll still be able to have after school
tea, right?”
Next day on the roof, the four seniors are having a group huddle
before their performance for Azusa.
The lyrics aren’t quite finished yet, so they need one last brainstorm.
A bird flies away.
The seniors liken Azusa to the bird because she gave the group a set
of wings and helped keep them all focused.
Without the serious Azusa, they never would have gotten this great.
Azusa is their guardian angel.
It’s a little embarrassing, but they decide that’s the best choice for
that section of the lyrics.
The light music club has their last after school tea together and
Azusa comes in for the performance of her song.
They play.
Azusa claps.
Yui smiles because Azusa liked it.
The four seniors are university students now.
They go home.
Yui asks everyone where they should all go next year for Azusa’s senior trip.

THE END

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.

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