Anime of Tomorrow
Tag Archives: summer
Initial impression – more refreshing than expected
Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (24 episodes) (full title – Eureka Seven Astral Ocean) (more info)
All too often these days I’m seeing sequels to series that don’t really need a follow up story to make them feel complete. Eureka 7 was an epic that I feel did everything it needed to and ended without any indication that a sequel was necessary. But despite this small reservation, I’m optimistic about Eureka AO because it’s different enough from its parent series that I can see very clearly that it’s not attempting to fill the very big shoes of its predecessor. And while it does make a great many references to Eureka 7, it is already using its first episode as an opportunity to step out of the shadow of past successes and do its own thing. How much it’s actually related to the original only time will tell, but I’m already seeing a lot of inconsistencies with the main story that indicate to me that this will be more of a spin-off like the Pocket Full of Rainbows movie than a true, continuous sequel to the original plot. This makes me happy because that’s the sort of direction I’d prefer Bones to take the rich material they have to work with. On that note, the best part that surprised me is how much Eureka AO still manages to feel like Eureka 7. It’s successfully capturing the tone, style and pacing that made its parent series awesome, but is making every effort to seek its own identify and prove that it is capable of standing on its own. That alone is a remarkable quality for a sequel to possess and my optimism on this series is much higher after watching the first episode than it was before.
Initial impression – deliberately hazy (4/10)
Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (24 episodes) (title literal translation – Scarlet Fragment) (more info)
If an anime can’t make its story clear within the first episode, I worry about the pacing of events to come. Hiiro no Kakera does a decent job setting up some suspense and mystery and I see Tamaki Kasuga headed in a definite direction that is going to be full of challenges. However, not knowing the exact role she is to play in this murky, spirit-infested, backwater village leaves me just as confused as her. Just who is she and why is she so important that she requires high-class secret service hidden among her classmates to keep an eye on her at all times? On that note, the biggest thing I’m relieved to see is that this series does not seem to be the pretty-boy anime that it superficially appeared to be at first glance. The focus is all on Tamaki and while she may be a tad harsh on some of her male guardians, at least she isn’t fawning on them like some weird, reverse harem. I see the potential for something interesting in Hiiro no Kakera, but there’s just not enough substance there to hold my attention.
Final impression – a magnificent, philosophical escapade (10/10)
Summer 2009 to spring 2010 (15 episodes) (title literal translation – Monster Story, English synonym – Ghostory)
During spring break of his final year of high school, Koyomi Araragi had an encounter with a vampire. Fortunately, he was able to mostly restore his humanity through the aid of the supernatural specialist Meme Oshino, who was able to intervene before things got worse. As part of a way of thanking the man who saved him from becoming a vampire himself, Koyomi has begun helping people he encounters rid themselves of their unnatural afflictions. And it’s a good thing he retains some of his vampiric traits, because most curses are not willing to go down quietly.
Bakemonogatari is an amazing masterpiece of wordplay. I’ll come right out and say that if you don’t like dialogue-heavy anime you’re not going to enjoy this series because its strongest attribute is the way it twists language and and plays with our perceptions of humanity. But if you revel in the intellectual—the sociological—then you’re going to have a hard time finding anything better than this. And the awesomeness doesn’t stop with its writing. It has a great cast of voice actors including Kana Hanazawa and Yui Horie who are masters of their craft and depict their characters’ personalities perfectly down to every nuance. Then, if you thought my praise was over, the music is absolutely spectacular with a fresh opening theme for each of the female protagonists, sung beautifully by their skilled voice actresses. Dealing with such topics as love, hopelessness, responsibility, desire and lust, Bakemonogatari is passionate and insightful. If you let yourself get caught up in its pace, your blood will start to boil with the brilliant energy radiated by this incredible anime.
Final impression – imaginative and fun (7/10)
Summer 2010 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Ookami and Her Seven Companions)
Otogi Bank is a student service organization that deals in favors for the service of assisting with any problem they are asked to solve. Sometimes this involves dealing out a little pain to deserving bullies and that’s when Ryouko Ookami gets called upon to dish out some punishment. But Ookami has a secret admirer hiding in the shadows and watching her back. Ryoushi Morino is a shy young man who goes to the same school as his crush, but always manages to keep a low profile because he is overcome with fits of nervousness if he becomes the center of attention. One day when he finally manages to work up the courage to confess to Ookami, he instead finds himself being recruited by Otogi Bank. It didn’t turn out quite the way he expected, but now he gets to be close to the person he admires the most.
While vaguely referencing old children’s fairy tales in its character and story design, Ookami-san weaves a delightfully random plot that never really finds a consistent pace or tone. There’s a couple of stories that clearly reference classical literature, such as the smartly written swimsuit contest that puts a twist on the tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare” as two childhood rivals compete to see who has matured into the better woman. The main story that hides in the background for most of the series is a very convoluted redux of “Little Red Riding Hood” that sort of loses itself along the way in favor of a generic action-romance. At times it takes itself way too seriously, especially when going into the details of Ookami’s back story. But the bottom line is that it’s moderately fun and when it occasionally trips over itself it manages to do it in a way that’s endearing and comedic. With good music and a colorful style, Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi won’t wow, but it also will not waste your time.
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.
Final impression – heartwarming and funny, but oversold
K-ON! (8/10) Spring 2009 (13 episodes) (title literal translation – Light Music!)
K-ON!! (6/10) Spring 2010 to summer 2010 (26 episodes)
K-ON! Movie (7/10) Autumn 2011
When spacey Yui Hirasawa started high school, she decided she wanted to become a more involved and engaging person. Carefree Ritsu Tainaka and pushover Mio Akiyama had a long standing pact to start their own band. The warm and friendly Tsumugi Kotobuki wanted to be in choir, but when she bumped into Ritsu and Mio, she decided to stay and make new friends. These four crossed paths in their first year of high school and the light music club or “K-ON” was born (if you’re wondering how light music becomes K-ON, the Japanese words for light music are karui ongaku, hence K-ON). Through a few stumbling blocks, they managed to make it through their first year when the serious Azusa Nakano joined the club to help give them all a better team cohesion. From there, it’s an adventure of playing music and goofing off as only the five girls’ band, After-school Tea Time knows how to do.
K-ON! and I have a somewhat flimsy relationship. I’m a big fan of the moe subgenre of anime and the first season of K-ON! delivered terrifically. It was fast-paced, funny, clever, insightful and most importantly not a second was wasted. It all added up to an entertaining experience. The music was at times lackluster and a little over the top, but it all fit together beautifully to set up the phenomenon that would come later. Then the second season began to air and it immediately became apparent from the much slower pace that this was not going to have the impact that the first season had. It was really quite sad to see something fresh suddenly get turned into a vacuum; sucking away the value that the first season set up by putting the viewer through drawn-out, drudging, pointless story arcs. Admittedly, the second season’s music was much improved over the first season, but that’s little consolation for the huge sacrifice that happened to the story.
So does the K-ON! Movie breathe life back into the franchise that had become a bloated, empty appeal to the fan base? The short answer is no, but I’ll add a caveat that the movie has much better pacing than the second season did. There are equal measures of story, punch lines and character development that were seriously lacking in K-ON!! However, this gets undercut by a distinct lack of new music which would really have helped keep things fresh. The product is a icon of compromise and mediocrity, fighting its desire to pander to the established fans while creating enough new material to keep everything afloat.
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.
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).
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.
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.