Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Ah, here we are again: a new year, a new anime season. I enjoyed my little vacation at the beginning of this month immensely, but it’s time to get back into the swing of things. And what better way to do that than to look ahead into the future of anime with this season’s bright new offerings? But before we jump in, let’s set the ground rules:
1) Each show gets one episode – and one episode only – to sink or swim. I’d love to give every series the tried and true three-episode test, but time is a cruel mistress.
2) New (first season) anime only, and only those that are being legally simulcast in North America. A couple of spin-offs wormed their way in, bringing the total up to 20 shows this season (including shows whose episodes are only 3-minutes long).
3) I’ve listed the series in the order I watched them because I found that my opinions of shows were directly challenged or outright altered by the ones I watched before and afterwards, and this method best illustrates the instances where that occurred.
4) I’ll explain which shows were left off my preview list at the end of the fourth and final post, so if you don’t see your favorite show this season, I’ll tell you why in a couple days!
Got it? Good. Let’s begin with:
Plot: War has raged between demons and humans for years, shattering the peace of both nations and destroying lives across huge swaths of land. A human Hero rises up to challenge the Demon King, and forgoing his own safety and the companionship of trusted friends, he rushes to the castle of the Demon King in order to strike him down and return peace to the land. But the Demon King is not what the Hero expected. In place of a terrifying warrior, clad in armor, he is greeted by a beautiful young woman who declares, “You shall be mine, Hero.” Together they strike a deal: because the sudden end of the war – either through their deaths or their surrender – would cause turmoil for the human race (famine, in-fighting, plague, and more), the two of them will see the war through to a beneficial conclusion. Thus is struck an uneasy truce between two young dreamers, but there are darker forces at work than even a Demon King, and these forces would sooner see the world end in flames than their war profiteering come to a close.
Review: It’s funny – real life politics horrify me, but I adore their medieval counterparts, and I’m always quick to get behind a fantasy show with substance. Maoyu delivers on that front: it promises a thesis of sorts on war, an examination of the costs associated with and the benefits that result from it. It’s possible, of course, that Maoyu will get lost along the way and lose sight of this deep story that it’s promised, but at the very least the show seems to be trying to support some sort of deeper message. The opening and many of the scenes in the first episode itself hint at an expansive cast, and that gives me reason to hope as well. With regards to the visual aspects of the show, the artwork is simultaneously modern (in character designs) and painterly (in backgrounds and some textures), creating a dichotomy that is odd but beautiful to watch in motion. It’s not the most gorgeous anime ever produced, but again, Maoyu is trying something rarely seen before, and I like it. And ultimately, despite the Demon King’s huge… tracts of land… Maoyu avoided many of the fanservice pitfalls into which I worried it would stumble. There were so many chances for the camera to linger on her breasts, so many opportunities for her to treat them like the get-out-of-jail-free card they are in anime, but instead the camera kept panning and the Demon King relied on different wiles to get her way. What a refreshing change of pace!
Verdict: Well, you surprised me Maoyu. Please, sally forth and show me more!
Plot: Eita Kido doesn’t have time for love. First of all, his parents abandoned him in middle school, splitting up their marriage and running off with their respective lovers. Second, they left him in the care of a relative who struggles to support them both. Finally, he wants to get into a prestigious medical school on a full ride scholarship in order to repay the kindness that his relative has shown him. Privy to Eita’s goals is his childhood friend, Chiwa Harusaki, whose kind-hearted ramblings are intended to cheer Eita up and to draw him out of his self-imposed study solitude. But all of Chiwa’s cheerfulness can’t compare to the arrival of Masuzu Natsukawa, a beautiful girl who’s just returned from years abroad. Masuzu takes an interest in Eita, even if Eita only has time for his books. But is Masuzu’s interest genuine, or are there unknown depths to the school’s most popular girl? And how far will she go to obtain what she wants?
Review: Let me just say, I’m so damn glad Masuzu isn’t another freakin’ tsundere. In fact, she’s pretty much the opposite: a manipulative person willing to fake love and affection for the sake of achieving what she wants. Oreshura has cleverly twisted the most common tropes of anime romantic comedy and presented something surprisingly fresh. Masuzu and Chiwa aren’t chasing after Eita because he’s irresistible in some unquantifiable way; Masuzu is just using him and Chiwa has legitimate childhood-friend related feelings for him. And Eita has an actual personality and goal in life. Praise the anime gods! That said, it’s a little slow-paced for my taste, but now that Oreshura has established its main premise, that might pick up. Similar to The Pet Girl of Sakurasou from last season, this show is heavy on the pastel colors, particularly pink, purple, and light blue. It’s a nice effect, especially as the characters are outlined in compatible colors instead of harsh black. (But part of me still wishes the show were actually about Eita’s opening dream sequence, in which he is a wyvern-slaying knight.)
Verdict: I’ll probably pick up another episode or two down the line, if only to see if Oreshura can capitalize on some of the goodwill they’ve earned by dropping the tsundere trope.
Cuticle Detective Inaba
Plot: Cuticle Detective Inaba follows the exploits of “former police dog werewolf detective with a hair fetish” Inaba Hiroshi, a man whose sense of taste is so powerful he can deduce the identity of and track down the perpetrator of a crime simple by tasting a single strand of their hair. Different color hair also gives him different powers, such as the soul-crushing depression he unleashes when he has black hair in his mouth. And Inaba will need all of those powers – not to mention the aid of his former police partner, his cross-dressing assistant, and his surprisingly sane part-time worker – to stop the evil Don Valentino. A master counterfeiter and robber of banks, Valentino also happens to be… a goat? It’s wolf vs. goat in the strangest showdown of the season.
Review: Dafuq did I just watch? Dafuq did I just write under “plot”? It’s like I threw some Twilight-themed magnetic poetry at a refrigerator and wrote down what stuck… That having been said, Cuticle Detective Inaba isn’t a bad show, but it is very, very weird. Most of the humor comes from fourth-wall-breaking hijinks, such as when Inaba’s depression-inducing powers affect even the animators of the show, or from straight-laced part-timer Kei trying to make sense of the chaos. I laughed more often than I expected to, but I can’t recall many of the specific jokes, nor did any of the characters really grab my attention. As expected from a show with such frenetic energy, the animation is quick, colorful, and full of chibi elements. Cuticle Detective Inaba evokes memories of Excel Saga – including its choice of ending theme, in which Don Valentino performs underneath the spotlight – though without that series’ underlying charm.
Verdict: Unless hair fetishes, werewolves, or counterfeiting goats are your thing, Inaba shouldn’t be at the top of your list.
Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman
Plot: Roman is a get-backer, a man who takes back what’s been stolen, and in the midst of the chaotic Bakumatsu period, there’s never a dull moment for a man in such a profession. Immediately after stealing back (and redistributing by firework) a large sum of gold coins from a corrupt official, Roman finds that the official is retaliating against the townspeople by hiring thugs to attack people in the street, then demanding protection money from the scared and helpless. With the aid of his assistant, a German doctor, an old man, and a shrine maiden, can Roman right the wrongs in the Bakumatsu, or are there far more dangerous forces afoot?
Review: It’s very strange seeing that well-known Lupin art style applied to anything that isn’t Lupin, but it works really well in spite of that (not the least because this show is pretty much just Lupin with a change in time period). The bright colors are a nice change of pace from the dull tones of most modern historical shows, and the humor is spot on as well. Roman is a loveable lout, full of those all-important flaws that make him relatable, and the rest of the cast occupy a nice variety of styles and personalities. Sure, it occasionally left me scratching my head wondering, “Where are on earth are they headed with this?” (for example, Roman’s Power Rangers-esque transformation at the end of the episode), but I’ve got a lot of faith in this show to keep on track and keep the quality high.
Verdict: I definitely want to see more, especially with the tiny flashes we got of the villains.
Plot: Tamako Kitashirakawa is the well-liked daughter of a mochi shop honor. She’s cute, polite, and a fixture in the shopping arcade where her family’s store is located. One day, while loitering in the neighborhood flower shop, Tamako is stunned to find a funny-looking bird amongst the new floral arrangements, and is even more startled to find that the bird can talk! His name is Dera Mochi’Mazzui, a bird descended from a long and noble lineage, on a quest to final an island princess. His quest may be at an unexpected end, however, when he’s taken into the Kitashirakawa home and fed so much mochi he’s too fat to fly!
Review: I was prepared to not like this show, I really was. I usually don’t care for “cute girls doing cute things” shows, and nothing I had read about Tamako Market led me to believe it would be anything but that. And… I was wrong. Or, well, partly. It’s still a “cute girls doing cute things” show, but there’s also a talking, full-of-himself bird on a quest to find an island princess. Mochi’Mazzui really wins me over – so much personality in such a little body! Tamako’s neighbor Mochizo is also fun to watch, as he frets about his feelings for Tamako. The art of this show is bright and poppy and colorful, and if you can stomach the moe character designs, then it’s well worth your time to give Tamako Market a try. Man, it’s just all so… damn… cute.
Verdict: … I guess I have to amend my moe show rule: if you want me to like it, add tanks or a talking, narcissistic bird. Apparently. Also, I really freakin’ want some mochi now.
Is… is the moe show really my favorite of the season so far? Will someone check my temperature, please!?
Ah, but there’s so many more shows to go this season, and I look forward to sharing some of them with you tomorrow!