Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
We’re a few weeks into the Winter 2012 anime season, and I decided to give Crunchyroll.com’s free streaming service a proper work out by watching the first episodes of (most of) the season’s new shows! I picked shows from a variety of genres, including ones I wouldn’t normally give the time of day. Furthermore, I tried to limit myself to shows on their first season, but one sequel did manage to sneak in here! I couldn’t cover everything, though, and for a list of exclusions (as well as the reasons I decided to pass), please see the foot notes at the end of this piece. Otherwise, enjoy this quick look at what this anime season has to offer!
Ano Natsu de Matteru
On a balmy summer evening, Kaito Kirishima takes his camera out for a test drive in order to capture some film of the night sky, only to have his shoot rudely interrupted by a crash-landing alien vessel. Kaito remembers being severely wounded by the collision, but wakes up in his room with nothing more than a little bump on his neck. At school, however, a new student named Ichika Takatsuki has arrived, and her actions continually cast her in a suspicious light. Through the intervention of a few friends, Kaito and Ichika are united under the idea of making a movie over summer break, and Ichika ultimately moves into Kaito’s home. Fanservice-y hijinks ensue.
This series makes me long for my college days, when I had an entire anime club to sit down and watch these sorts of shows with – it strikes me as one of the properties that would do better in a group setting than it does watching it by yourself. I can’t say that the level of fanservice that is going to arise is necessarily my cup of tea (by the end of the first episode, Kaito has already had his unconscious face pressed firmly against a pair of naked breasts), but it’s the sort of thing that would be mitigated by having a group of people with whom to laugh it off. If the opportunity arises for me to get some anime fans together in the same room, this show will probably be on my list; otherwise, I might just let it pass for now.
In 1972, a popular student named Misaki died mysteriously, leaving behind a legacy of tension and tragedy that would dog the students of Yomiyama North middle school even into the present day. Transfer student Kouichi Sakakibara has never heard the rumors and is surprised at the strange behavior of his new classmates. It doesn’t help matters that there is a Mei Misaki in his class whom none of the other students will acknowledge, and she warns Kouichi to stay away from her. She claims that his name is associated with the senseless death of the 1972 Misaki, and that only tragedy will come of him trying to befriend the one who stands before him.
I’ll be the first to admit that horror shows aren’t typically my thing – I scare ridiculously easily, and the pace is often too slow and methodical to keep my attention. Another might be the show that breaks that trend. I like the premise, and the character designs are simple and well animated (much better, in my opinion, than the cotton-candy wind tunnel hair from fellow horror show Shiki). If I do decide to continue with this show, it will be after the season has run its course. It just feels like it would be better to marathon and get the whole story in one go, rather than having to wait for it all piecemeal. But then again, I have no patience.
Bodacious Space Pirates
Bodacious Space Pirates is kind of a weird breed of show: it obviously wants to have some spectacular space battles, but the first episode is all about going to high school and working in a maid café. Marika Kato is just trying to get through school – she’s a member of the yacht club (which, this being a science fiction anime, has her flying small vessels in the upper atmosphere) and works part time at Club Lamp, a retro café. Her life is turned upside down, however, with the arrival of three suspicious people: Misa Grandwood, a medic of the space pirate cruiser, Bentenmaru; Kane MacDougal, the Bentenmaru’s helmsman; and Chiaki Kurihara, a transfer student who seems to know more about Marika’s heritage as a pirate than Marika herself.
At least, I’m assuming Marika’s life gets turned upside down – the first episode is a pretty low-key affair with very little in the way of action. It ends with a burst of activity that might speak to a grand plot in the works but ends before any questions get answered and any curiosity is piqued. Ultimately, the first episode doesn’t give me a lot to work with in regards to recommending or denouncing it. The show just kind of seems to sit there, spinning its wheels, when it should be exploring the characters or the history it has put forward. I’m not entirely certain I’ll be continuing with the unfortunately titled Bodacious Space Pirates; at this point, it’s going to depend on the reviews I read as the series progresses.
Isanami is a beautiful young shrine maiden; Saizo Kirigakure is an Iga ninja. Their paths cross when Isanami’s shrine is attacked without warning and all of its followers slaughtered. Isanami escapes with only her life and a mysterious gem, and Saizo is forced to protect her when he becomes an unwitting target of her assassins. The pair then travels to Ueda castle, home of warlord Yukimura Sanada, only to run afoul of Sanada servant and Koga ninja Sarutobi Sasuke. The show takes place in the waning years of the Sengoku era and its immediate aftermath in a world where politics are very much decided by how much strength you bring to the battlefield.
The first episode lacked the balls-to-the-wall intensity of something like Sengoku Basara, and I doubt this show is ever going to ascend into the ranks of the anime classics, but it’s a perfectly serviceable action premise that is sure to appeal to fans of shows like Naruto and Bleach without the need for a six hundred episode investment. There’s a chance for some supreme fight scenes and showy ninjutsu, so I recommend giving it a watch if you’re looking for some pretty but brainless battles. The show also serves as a kind of unintended sequel to Sengoku Basara, at least in spirit and time frame.
Inu x Boku Secret Service
Ririchiyo Shirakiin is a self-confessed tsundere – a girl with an outwardly frigid personality that distances her from all potential friends. She moves into the extravagant Maison de Ayakashi in order to lose herself in solitude. Living in the lavish building comes with a catch, however – each tenant is assigned a personal bodyguard from the elite Secret Service. In swoops Soushi Miketsukami, Ririchiyo’s own SS agent, like a knight in shining armor. Unfortunately, Soushi turns out to be more of a watery-eyed puppy than a stern forced to be reckoned with, throwing Ririchiyo completely out of her comfort zone. After all, as Ririchiyo herself says, Soushi is just so darn hard to abuse. After that, however, this standard class-based drama takes a surprising and supernatural twist. The SS agents and their wards all belong to families than can channel the power of demons.
I can’t decide if I completely buy into this particular turn of events – it smacks of what one of my coworkers likes to call “unnecessary anime weirdness” – but perhaps an extra episode or two would truly sell me on it. After all, I certainly want to see Soushi become more of a Black Butler style bad-ass, and I imagine it will be interesting to meet the full complement of the Maison de Ayakashi’s occupants and their SS bodyguards. I had high hopes for this show because of the art style and the sparkly pretty boys. I’ll just have to wait and see if those hopes are upheld or dashed. Your move, Inu x Boku SS.
The Knight in the Area
Kakeru Aizawa loves soccer – he lives, sleeps, and breathes it, and it doesn’t hurt matters that his older brother Suguru is Japan’s top rising soccer star. But living in your brother’s shadow can be difficult, especially when a traumatic event prevents you from rising to your own full potential. Finding himself in just such a predicament, Kakeru decides to settle for being manager of the soccer club, a decision that pleases no one. But perhaps the stern guidance of his brother and the cheerful enthusiasm of a childhood friend can help Kakeru overcome his phobias and become Japan’s newest soccer star. Such is the plot of The Knight in the Area and, well, just about every sports anime ever made. This show isn’t breaking any new ground.
Luckily, it doesn’t really need to – the first episode of The Knight in the Arena is a surprisingly well-executed, realistic, and heart-felt look at the sport of soccer and some of the people who play it. Sure, the show dabbles a bit more in melodrama than is strictly necessary, and it takes short cuts on animation that seem to speak to a small budget, but at the very least I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes every five seconds at the cheesiness of it all. Kakeru is a likable enough character from the get-go. Maybe I’m just excited to see a show about soccer (I played the sport for the vast majority of my life, after all), or maybe I’m on a slice-of-life sports kick lately, but I’ll definitely be continuing Knight to see where it goes.
Prince of Tennis II
One good sports anime deserves another, but whereas Knight only occasionally dips its toes into melodrama, Prince of Tennis takes a reckless, headlong dive. Ryoma Echizen is a middle school tennis player famous for helping the Seigaku Academy team win the Japanese National Championship. After a stint in America (where he disrupts the flow of mass transportation through the sheer power of tennis), he returns to Japan to compete for a spot on the U-17 national tennis team. Forty-nine other middle schoolers were invited as well, making the try-outs both a reunion and an all new challenge.
Now, let’s be honest here – either you already know what Prince of Tennis is, or you don’t want to start here. But I’m a shameless, shameless fangirl and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to gush about the return of a show I love! This is not a show you watch for a factual representation of tennis. The original Prince of Tennis anime had Seigaku captain Kunimitsu Tezuka killing the dinosaurs with his serve, and every match has the feel of a life-or-death showdown. The show’s animation has definitely benefited from the passage of time; the movements look cleaner and the colors are crisper. The character designs are definitely showing their age, though. It’s not that they look bad, but they definitely stand out from the wide-eyed moe standard of today. Another disconnect that still makes me laugh is the fact that the middle schoolers are all obviously voiced by adult men. It’s… kind of bizarre. But Prince of Tennis is a fun show, and I intend to stick around for what will probably be another long, long series. I hope at least a few of you out there are willing to join me.
Shows That Were Excluded (And Why)
Beelzebub, Bleach, Chihayafuru, Fairy Tale, Familiar of Zero F, Gintama, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto: Shippuden, Natsume Yujin-cho Shi, Nisemonogatari, Sket Dance – All sequels or second/third/eighty-ninth seasons.
Cardfight Vanguard, Digimon: Xros Wars – If the property exists solely to sell toys to kids, I’m going to pass (though I did once love me some Digimon, no lie).
Kaasan Mom’s Life – I didn’t know anything about this before logging into Crunchyroll, and the synopsis didn’t inspire much faith in me.
Listen to Me, Girls, I’m Your Father – It’s labeled a “heart-warming romantic comedy” about a college age boy who becomes the guardian of his sisters’ daughters, but I have the sneaking suspicion things are going to go the way of creepy fan service very quickly. I could be wrong, but it wasn’t worth it to me to investigate.
Recorder and Randsell – It didn’t seem worth my time to watch just one three-minute episode. Furthermore, the premise of an elementary school kid with the body of an adult just kind of creeps me out, like with Listen to Me, above.
There are also a lot of Winter 2012 shows not hosted on Crunchyroll, so they’ve been temporarily axed from this post as well. I’m definitely interested in things like Black Rock Shooter, however.
Have any of the aforementioned shows caught your attention? Are you disappointed in some of the season’s offerings already? Are you a rabid fan of one of the properties I decided to skip? Let me know in the comments!