Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

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Persona 4: The Animation (review)

The cast of Persona 4: The AnimationFinal impression – play the game first (7/10)

Fall 2011 to winter 2012 (25 episodes)

Yuu Narukami is a city boy, who for various circumstances at home, ends up moving out to the countryside to live with his uncle and little cousin.  But being a naturally suave and likeable guy, he’s quickly able to shake off the aura of being a transfer student and makes some friends.  But when the tiny town of Inaba he finds himself in is rocked by a series of bizarre murders, he gets caught up in a creepy cold case where the victims are seen on a mysterious TV program called the Midnight Channel that airs on foggy nights when you have your TV turned off.  In the face of such unbelievable circumstances, Yuu and his friends become the only ones capable of rescuing the victims by diving into the television and fighting the bloodthirsty monsters that live there using a manifestation of their psyches called Persona.

Yu calls IzanagiWriting an objective review on P4 was difficult for me since I’ve played the game it’s based on.  This isn’t the same as reading the manga that serves as the source material for an anime since both of those media are non-interactive.  Video games on the other hand are and being put in the position of having no influence on the characters’ decisions or the pace of the story was a little unsettling.  I wonder if many other people feel this way about adaptations of video games that aren’t a loose reinterpretation of a concept, but instead a faithful retelling of the same story.

The girls can't cookThat being said, P4: The Animation recreates the events of the game as closely as is possible, with a few changes made that were probably necessary for the transition to TV.  This includes obvious things like completing a side character’s story in a single episode rather than the game’s slower progression that might be spaced out over the course of the entire play time (or even not completed at all if the player neglects that particular social link).  But one thing that always disappointed me about P4: The Animation was the fight scenes.  The game is something of a visual novel built around the framework of a really solid RPG.  That setup should have been a natural cue that the anime ought to be an action / drama.  And while the drama does well, the action is dry and has an air of inevitability to it that never feels the slightest bit suspenseful.

"Welcome to the velvet room."All in all, it makes me sad because, because I loved the game and my hopes were high that the anime would live up to that same level of quality.  If nothing else, the soundtrack for the P4 anime is even more amazing than the game and includes all of the original music in addition to new and expanded tracks with terrifically-written English lyrics that really gets me fired up.  In the end, Persona 4: The Animation is a supplemental anime for fans of the game, but still a very solid series.

Robotics;Notes Ep. 1

Initial impression – really just…eh

Autumn 2012 to winter 2013 (22 episodes) (more info)

The first episode of Robotics;Notes reeks of Tari Tari.  Does this sound familiar?  Unpopular club is in a pinch because of a stuffy vice principle and a charismatic student who wants to accomplish something big has to rally support to save the day—which includes finding new members, proving the club’s value at a small venue before being allowed to attempt the bigger challenge later and acquiring funding for their big project, which is already on a tight schedule.  Yeah, this is already feeling too close to the disappointing Tari Tari with the focus of mecha substituted for music.

The only character that even approaches likeability so far is female protagonist Akiho Senomiya with her go-getter attitude, overflowing optimism and willingness to literally get dirty.  Her male support in the form of Kaito Yashio is a die-hard gamer with so little interest in what’s going on I find it hard to believe he’d even join this club in the first place.  As much as this anime has been hyped and advertised over the past year or so, I was hoping for something much better.  It’s not bad at least, but if Robotics;Notes can’t differentiate itself in some way really soon, I’m not going to have any regrets about dropping it early.

Hayate no Gotoku! Can’t Take My Eyes Off You Ep. 1

Initial impression – it’s back and who knows? it could be the best one yet

Autumn 2012 (?? episodes) (synonym – Hayate the Combat Butler) (more info)

Hayate no Gotoku has always intrigued me.  It’s bursting with references to other anime almost to the degree that you have to be an extreme anime connoisseur like me to understand all the humor that’s going on.  It’s also just got a weird premise.  Hayate from a poor family gets strapped with his parents’ debt when they flee the country to avoid loan sharks, leaving Hayate to fend for himself.  Through a series of misunderstandings, he ends up the personal butler of a rich girl named Nagi Sanzenin.

Nagi is a paradox of character traits.  She’s an otaku who usually does nothing but watch anime, play video games and skip school when she can get away with it, but she’s also a genius prodigy who has skipped several grades and is currently enrolled in high school.  Her only sources of motivation are the constant nagging of Hayate and her maid, Maria, to coax her into going to school, or she’ll be inspired to try something she saw in an anime and an adventure will ensue.

When I explain the premise in such dry terms, even I think this doesn’t sound like a very good idea.  But this is a case where a very off the wall compilation has been saved by good writing and terrific voice acting.  Rie Kugimiya always shines her brightest when she plays tsundere characters and Nagi is as tsundere as they get.  Hayate also has a great actor in Ryoko Shiraishi and her coy, almost motherly tones coming through the male lead creates a funny role reversal.  The cast also has a lot of other good names in the lineup including Shizuka Itou, who plays the role of student council president and Hayate’s confidant, Hinagiku.

Even as this series indulges in tropes that feel somewhat dry and overused, considering that I’ve relished every other previous iteration of Hayate no Gotoku, I’m in no doubt that Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is also going to be loads of fun.

Persona 4 The Animation (ongoing)

Impression – straightforward, yet philosophical

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (more info)

As good as the Persona 4 video game was, I wish its anime series would deviate more from the default script or fill in some more fine details that have thus far flown under the radar.  Arguably, fans of the video game are going to be the primary fanbase of the anime, but if there are no surprises for us we’re not likely to give very good opinions to more casual viewers who may only have a passing interest.  So the plot of Persona 4 is stuck in a weird catch-22 where it needs enough new material to keep the old fans interested but it also needs to stay true to the original story.  In some ways, it’s suffering from some of the same problems as Fate/Zero.  But it’s more than worth it to watch Persona 4 just for the killer music and sharp art style that is an intrinsic quality of Atlus.  One of the things the anime does get right that is a perfect mirror of the video game is the pacing of events to match real dates and create a tangible passage of time.  And while the story may have felt more natural in video game format, it’s still totally awesome.  Its best points are a cast of varied, loveable characters, a good sense for spinning elaborate mysteries and an overarching theme of emphasizing the importance of the bonds we share with our friends.  When you think about it like that, there’s not much else to be desired.

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.

Zero no Tsukaima F Ep. 1

Initial impression – you already know if you’re going to like this show

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – The Familiar of Zero) (more info)

And so begins the final season of Zero no Tsukaima, the anime that contains the entire core voice cast of Shakugan no Shana and is unsurprisingly produced by the same company, J.C. Staff.  It’s a safe bet that if you’ve been following this series since it started back in 2006 then you’re going to want to watch the end of the story.  But if you’ve never heard of Zero Louise or her human familiar Saito, then you’re going to be completely lost.  Unlike Shakugan no Shana III, there is no introductory backstory to allow new viewers to transition into the adventure already in progress.  I prefer that style of sequel personally—especially since this is the fourth entry of Zero and I can’t imagine any amount of recap short of rewatching the whole series providing adequate information.

Shakugan no Shana III Ep. 1

Initial impression – excited

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

And so begins the final season of one of the greatest anime series.  Already in this first episode we have a wild twist that shakes up the ending to Shana II and allows for some wild speculation as to just what the future may hold.  It’s difficult to tell what’s going to happen or what the tone of this season will be compared to Shana I and II.  The drawing style and composition seem to lean towards a more Shana II style, but that may just be due to advances in animation technology since this all started back in 2005.  However, I can’t see how the plot could take the slow and boring route that Shana II‘s first half became infamous for.  The characters are just not set up to have time to be taking it easy.  At the same time, this new arrangement of motives and positions also has nothing in common with Shana I, either.  I think we’re looking at a whole new creation that’s going to watch very differently from any Shakugan no Shana that we’ve experienced thus far and I can’t wait to see more!

Hyakka Ryouran – Samurai Girls (last thoughts)

Final impression – refreshing, but could’ve been better 8/10

Fall 2010 – (title literal translation – Blooming Flowers – Samurai Girls)

The young samurai Muneakira returns from his travels around Japan to find the wanted criminal Yukimura being hunted by his childhood friend, Princess Sen Tokugawa.  Yukimura is a diviner and has come to the capital to warn the country’s leaders that a calamity is on the horizon.  However, Sen’s brother, the de facto leader of Japan, has written off the prediction as heresy and has ordered her capture.  However, things get messy when Muneakira’s chivalrous nature leads him to take Yukimura’s side.  When the battle is looking bleak, a mysterious samurai girl named Jyuubei descends from the heavens to defend Muneakira with her otherworldly strength.  Who is this monstrously powerful young woman and what is her relationship to Muneakira?

Samurai Girls is set in a fantasy-style modern Japan, in a world that experienced a very different end to World War II.  As I often do when a specific plot element excites me, I’m going to mention that I have a soft spot for alternate history stories, so this anime may rank higher on my scale than others might rate it.  Given the excessive ecchi, even I would have expected my own rank for Samurai Girls to be a much lower score.  But there’s a lot of innovation throughout the anime that is very fresh; resulting in the ecchi being more icing on the cake than excessive sugar.  Using inkblots to censor the anime’s TV version was a stylistic stroke of genius.  Unnatural rays of light that censor other, similar anime like Koihime Musou are getting cliché and tacky.  But enough about the ecchi.  Samurai Girls as a concept isn’t anything new.  Attractive women with superhuman abilities is common enough, but it gets executed very well in Samurai Girls.  There is a great balance of story and action, with pretty much every character having likable, relatable traits.  The art style is also refreshing, with very sharp shading and thick lines that makes the entire anime look like it was painted with a wide brush.  Excellent opening and ending theme music round out a surprisingly awesome anime.

Dragon Crisis (last thoughts)

Final impression – …a little disappointing 6/10

Winter 2011

Ryuuji Kisaragi’s hot cousin Eriko, is a treasure hunter and she’s recruited him to join her new organization to search the world for obscure curiosities.  But to start out, it’s just the two of them retrieving a box of stolen items from a shady underground organization called Fang.  Upon opening it, Ryuuji finds that it contains a beautiful blonde girl who seems to recognize him.  When they take her back to his apartment, Eriko finds scales on the girl’s hand, revealing that she’s an infant dragon who has transformed into a young girl.  Lacking a name, Ryuuji decides to call her Rose because of the scale pattern on her hand.  Becoming involved with dragons may have been a deadly decision when Rose’s fiancé Onyx arrives to reclaim his bride.

The plot of Dragon Crisis feels very forced in many ways.  Most of the characters don’t seem to be doing anything because they want to.  It’s more of an obligation to fill the roles they’ve been assigned and isn’t natural.  This is tempered a bit by Rie Kugimiya’s talent for portraying some of the most fun girls in anime.  We typically see her in the role of tsundere, but Rose is much less tsun (aloof) and much more dere (loving) than many of Rie’s past roles.  The dramatic opening for Dragon Crisis is sung by Yui Horie, but oddly enough her role as a voice actress in the anime is fairly minor.  If you’re not interested in watching Dragon Crisis, I can understand, but please at least watch the fun, chibi ending theme.

Astarotte no Omocha! (last thoughts)

Final impression – facepalmingly delightful 6/10

Spring 2011 (Alternate title – Astarotte’s Toy)

Astrarotte (a.k.a. Lotte) is a young succubus princess in the world of Alfheimr who is nearing the age when she needs to start assembling a male harem.  The only problem is she hates men.  Her attendant, Judith is worried Lotte is not going to grow up to be a proper lady.  When Lotte says she’ll only accept a human man, Judith sees to it that she must reopen the Yggdrasil gate between the worlds and bring a suitable male to help cure Lotte of her androphobia.

Naoya is a young, single father seeking a job to support his two-person family.  When a strange woman named Judith approaches him with a job offer, memories from his early teens come rushing back.  When he meets Astrarotte, he knows he’s on the path to finding his daughter’s missing mother.  This job in the kingdom of Ygvar is going to be more important for him than just the money.

Astarotte no Omocha does a fantastic job of walking the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate and this accomplishment is (in and of itself) very entertaining.  One minute you think the plot is going to take a really bad turn and suddenly make things very uncomfortable, but then everything heads in a different direction.  The level of surprise you feel at the change of pace is just hilarious.  But there’s an aspect of fun in Astarotte’s Toy that comes from the natural flow of events; despite the preposterous setting and plot.  Everything fits and nothing feels wasted as the bond between Lotte and Naoya grows.  Because of that, Astarotte no Omocha is a small success worth checking out if you want mix things up with a quirky anime that gets 100% for effort (also worth checking out if you want to hear Rie Kugimiya’s wonderful tsundere voice).