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Tag Archives: summer 2011

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.

The iDOLM@STER (review)

Final impression – above average is really the best that can be said (6/10)

Summer 2011 to autumn 2011 (25 episodes) (title synonym – The Idolmaster)

The innocent Yayoi, Ami and Mami the twin combo, Hibiki the animal lover, soft and timid Yukiho, Miki the flirt, Makoto the tomboy, serious Chihaya, Iori from a wealthy family, Azusa the plucky boob, Takane the foreign flavor and Haruka the stable pillar are the team of aspiring idols working for the studio 765 Pro.   In order to manage the human resources of the growing, young company, the president hires a producer to get the girls in top shape to start their careers.  They each have special traits that need the careful attention of their new supervisor to properly highlight their strengths.  But as they start to get noticed and their popularity begins to rise, the president’s old partner turned rival isn’t about to let 765 Pro attain success without resorting to dirty tactics.  These young women, guided by the leadership of their producer, will face this challenge with the strength of their convictions and a terrific display of talent.  As individuals they shine brightly, but together they begin to sparkle even brighter and nothing is going to get in the way of their path to stardom.

I’m not sure how to really categorize The iDOLM@STER.  It’s not a harem anime, as its major themes are nearly devoid of romance of any kind.  It has some music elements as a recurring theme, but it also touches on other topics such as TV, acting and photography.  With so many girls on this cast, you’d think there would be a lot of temptation to sneak in some fan service from time to time.  But The iDOLM@STER scoffs at the notion of doing anything risqué.  So given a lot of compounding factors, this anime could have been a really lowbrow feature that just melted into the background without finding any identity for itself.  So it manages to avoid a destiny of mediocrity, but in my opinion just barely.  The huge cast is well managed and everyone gets a chance to have some time in the spotlight.  The characters all have clearly defined goals and personalities, but for all it does right I just can’t call The iDOLM@STER a good anime.  It’s just so underwhelmingly mediocre.  Everything is so feel-good there’s never a chance for something to really grip the heartstrings and move you.  And when it does finally start to develop and mature into something meaningful, it’s over too quickly and we’re back to sugary happiness.  All in all, The iDOLM@STER’s best moments are too few and far between to be impactful in a 25 episode series.  It succeeds in setting itself apart with some original character composition and storytelling as well as the occasional catchy beat, but there’s nothing to make it truly memorable.

Dantalian no Shoka (review)

Final impression – a pleasant diversion (7/10)

Summer 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Dantalian’s Bookshelf) (alternate title – The Mystic Archives of Dantalian)

In 1920s Europe, Heward “Huey” Disward is given a large mansion and library as inheritance by his late grandfather.  He is also given a key to which he does not know the lock it opens.  Living in the mansion is the library’s keeper, the lolita-fashion-wearing Dalian.  She explains that as the library’s new owner, it is now Huey’s duty to track down books that have gone missing from his grandfather’s library.  These books are dangerous items that hold forbidden knowledge that can easily be twisted towards nefarious ends.  In order to fulfill his new role, Huey makes a contract with Dalian, giving him access to the library of cursed books she holds locked in her heart.  Thus begins his mission to tie up the loose ends of his grandfather’s book obsession (and help a bunch of people along the way).

In my experience at least, Gainax just doesn’t seem to do very much middle ground. They’re either filling my recycling bin with the likes of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt or gracing my all-time-best list with gems like Gurren Lagann.  So I’m pleased to say they’re finally starting to fill in the middle of their spectrum with titles like Dantalian no Shoka.  I’m also happy that it’s weighted towards the good, rather than the bad, because when it comes to Gainax, you just never now what you’re going to get until you start watching.  The concept of using works of literature as tools to move the world in fantastical ways, while a little dull at times, is nonetheless fascinating.  Through this, we get treated to quite a few wonderful views of pride, love, generosity and humility among other traits of the human condition.  Additionally, the banter between Dalian and Huey never gets old and is an example of well-orchestrated comic relief in an otherwise serious setting.  But while Dantalian no Shoka is certainly a fresh idea, it is hindered slightly by the all too common problem of having an annoyingly nebulous conclusion.

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).

Hanasaku Iroha (review)

Final impression – entertainingly forgettable (6/10)

Spring 2011 to summer 2011 (26 episodes) (title literal translation – Blooming Fundamentals)

When Tokyo girl Ohana’s single mother decides to elope with her boyfriend, she leaves Ohana in the care of her grandmother who runs a hot spring hotel in the sleepy town of Yunosagi.  The culture shock is immediate as Ohana is put to work right away, cleaning rooms and waiting on guests.  She’s assigned to be trained by the introverted Nako—a waitress who does her job well, but struggles to be as cheerful as Ohana.  Then there’s Minko, Ohana’s easily irritated roommate, who aspires to become a chef.  Her glass-half-empty mentality continually butts heads with Ohana’s glass-half-full optimism.  But overlooking the whole operation is Ohana’s grandmother, the hotel’s manager.  Unless they can meet each other halfway, her strict adherence to maintaining tradition is going to lead everyone to a battle between generations.

I never found myself getting caught up in the pace of Hanasaku Iroha.  It was always slow and disengaging.  It certainly has its moments, but they don’t happen often enough to keep me entertained except for a few short bursts.  Many of the characters are so wishy-washy as to be barely likeable.  How am I supposed to pick a side when the characters themselves don’t even have a clear motive?  While Ohana is always “festing it up” and she’s everyone’s heroine, in reality she’s more like a support character in the cheerleading section rather than a main character I can like or even relate to.  The emotions it evokes really start to lose their charge after the first episode’s punch wears off.  The story would have been paced much better in a 13 episode series.  It’s all severely lacking any meaningful impact.

Mayo Chiki! (review)

Final impression – Sometimes fun, mostly just empty (5/10)

Summer 2011 (13 episodes)

Jirou is a high school student with a fear of women.  It can’t be helped.  His mother was a pro wrestler and this little sister seeks to emulate her.  So she uses Jirou as a punching bag, which has led to a condition where if a female so much as tries to touch him, he gets shivers down his spine and a desire to run away.  Things are rough for an adolescent boy who can’t get too close to girls.  But things go from bad to worse when he finds out that Konoe, the school’s most popular boy, is actually a cross-dressing girl.  She’s doing this in order to train to become a butler for the aristocratic Kanade, because after all…only men can be butlers.  Kanade wants very much for her dream to be fulfilled, so in order to ensure that Jirou keeps Konoe’s identity a secret, she insists the two of them become friends.  Otherwise, she’s going to make Jirou’s life a living hell.

The trope of someone being allergic to the opposite gender has been done many times and it’s really starting to get tired.  Mayo Chiki! can basically be summed up as poorly orchestrated ecchi moe with a side order of comedy.  Not the best set of priorities when you’re choosing a theme for your anime.  It watches like a cross between Hanaukyo Maid Team and Maria+Holic as told by Hayate no Gotoku with the drawing style of Ookami-san & Seven Companions.  It has funny and clever moments, but it’s all just so transparently contrived and unimaginative.  That’s not to say there aren’t any fun moments.  There are a few clever plays on Japanese words that the fansub groups neglected to explain to the 99% of their audiences who will not appreciate the puns without a significant understanding of Japanese.  I found myself cheering for the characters occasionally, but that gets old fast—especially when they don’t grow an inch in thirteen episodes.

Kamisama no Memochou (review)

Final impression – A really compelling drama (8/10)

Summer 2011 (title literal translation – God’s Notebook)

Narumi just wanted his high school life to pass by in an ordinary, orderly fashion so he could become an ordinary, orderly adult.  But when his cheerful classmate Ayaka insists that he be involved in extracurricular activities, any hopes of his life remaining quiet disappear.  She introduces him to a group of young men who work under the command of hacker genius and self-proclaimed NEET detective, Alice.  Under her guidance and the assistance of her friends and subordinates, Narumi finds the desire to grow beyond his pitiful goals of mediocrity into someone capable of changing lives.

Kamisama no Memochou is an excellent example of what can be done with anime as a story-telling medium.  It depicts genuinely good people facing incredibly trying dilemmas.  Anime with similar tones include Durarara!! and Eden of the East, but those two anime go into supernatural or science-fiction themes that Kamisama no Memochou stays very far away from.  Even the drawing style and character designs of this anime take on a style of realism seldom seen in anime and when it’s done this well…that’s really cool.  It watches like a regular, well-written drama with a wonderfully varied and eccentric cast.  Characters have complementary little quirks with well-established motives and designated strengths that give them a nice team cohesion.  Each mini-arc of the story is dynamic, interesting and spans a range of tones from mysterious, dramatic, suspenseful, romantic and even comedic where appropriate.  For a no-nonsense drama, you can’t go wrong with Kamisama no Memochou.

Ro-Kyu-Bu! (review)

Final impression – So average it hurts (5/10)

Summer 2011

When the boys’ high school basketball team gets suspended because of their coach’s misconduct with a minor, rising star player Subaru doesn’t know what to do with himself.  At his aunt’s urging, he is invited to coach an elementary school girls’ basketball team.  He’s reluctant to do so at first because he’d rather be a player than a coach.  But the girls have a desire to improve, which motivates a part of him that he didn’t even know was there.  Their energy inspires him, which he’s going to need, because if their team doesn’t improve before their next match with the boys, the girls’ basketball club is going get canceled.

There’s not a whole lot of overlap between sports and loli anime, so Ro-Kyu-Bu! wins points for being unique at least.  It isn’t a very interesting anime, but given its wacky premise, it could have been much worse.  This is helped by the fact that it deviates greatly from the more boring tropes found in sports anime such as superpowers or long, drawn out commentary analyzing a particular character’s stats.  Additionally, it stays away from the “it’s a trap” tropes found in loli anime (for the most part, at least).  Ro-Kyu-Bu! also isn’t afraid of portraying a more realistic view of life’s challenges.  Sometimes, no matter how much we cheer for the underdogs, they don’t always win.  With all the praise I’m lavishing on this anime, when it comes down to drawing a conclusion, it’s only mediocre.  Just because something deviates from stereotypes doesn’t suddenly make it good.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (review)

Final impression – Not what I was expecting, but pleasantly satisfying (7/10)

Summer 2011 (title literal translation – Crossroads of a Foreign Labyrinth)

In the late 1800s, Yune, a young Japanese girl, stays in the sign shop of Claude Claudel as something of a housekeeper.  Claude’s worldly grandfather brought her to Paris to expand her experience of the world.  At first, Claude is unaccepting of this quiet little girl with strange clothes and an incomprehensible personality.  But as time passes, he begins to open up to Yune when he realizes she’s much more perceptive of the world than he had initially given her credit.  Additionally, he must also protect her from getting too close to the bourgeois Alice, who is obsessed with all things Japanese.

To start, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée led me to believe it was going to be a slice of life comedy and focus on the cultural differences between the west and Japan.  But little by little it turned into a simple slice of life story with an unlikely premise.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I do feel a little betrayed by the clever lead in that I was given during the first few episodes.  Even with this change in pace as the story unfolds, Yune continues to be innocent and adorably naïve to western customs and ways of thinking through the whole anime, which are accented by some nice character development with her two main foils, Claude and Alice.  In all, they learn to accept and at times adopt each other’s cultures.

Kamisama Dolls (review)

Final impression – incomplete…waiting for season 2 (7/10)

Summer 2011 (title literal translation – God Dolls)

Kyouhei came to Tokyo to escape the traumas of his past in the remote Karakami Village, a place where the elite families control powerful, supernatural mecha called Kakashi.  He used to be an amazingly talented Seki, one of the keepers of these devices some of the villagers respect as gods.  However, he passed that responsibility to his litter sister, Utao, who wants nothing more than to live up to the strength of her brother.  But nowhere is far enough away to escape from Aki, the Seki who went on a rampage with his Kakashi many years ago.  He is indignant at the circumstances of his troubled life and is obsessed with the fact that Kyouhei abandoned his former strength in an effort to deny what Aki believes to be his true, much darker nature.

This is probably my own bias speaking, but I’m getting sick of these ~13 episode anime that can’t come to a semi-decent conclusion.  Instead, their loose ends resemble a frayed ship mooring cable and the viewer is left wondering if a second season will ever even be made.  Kamisama Dolls at least has the decency to leave us with the message that it will in fact be returning to wrap things up, so I give it a moderate level of forgiveness in that aspect.  Waiting for a second season done properly is certainly better than enduring years of filler arcs I could point to in certain shounen anime.

Complaining aside, Kamisama Dolls is a pretty decent show.  Although we meet the characters well after the traumatic events that shaped their current relationships, their reactions to each other are well founded and set the stage for the plot to unfold, so the characters are never reduced to tropes.  The Kakashi, the “god dolls” that the story revolves around, also give some interesting metaphors to explore as each character has a unique view of just what these enigmatic devices are and what their purpose should be.  Because it intrigued me sufficiently (unlike the similarly loose-ended Yumekui Merry) I’m going to allow Kamisama Dolls a bit of reprieve and bank on its potential second season giving just as much to look forward to as this season provided.

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