Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Another season, sixteen more shows to check out! There’s always something exciting about having a bunch of untested anime properties thrown at my feet for me to devour and judge—er… watch and review! For Summer 2012, this means I’ll be bringing you short, one-episode reviews of the sixteen (new) shows being legally simulcast this season, spread out over the course of three days. But first, a few rules:
1) Each show gets one episode – and one episode only – to sink or swim. It’s not that I think I can judge shows that well, or that a show with a slow or bad start has no chance of improving. I just don’t have nearly enough time to give each one the tried-and-true three episode test.
2) Only shows in their first season will be covered. Except for Hakuouki Reimeiroku (third season). I like that series.
3) I’ve listed the shows in the order that I watched them, rather than alphabetically as I have in the past. This is because I found that my opinions of shows were directly challenged or outright altered by the shows I watched before and afterwards, and this method better illustrates the instances where that occurred.
4) I’ll explain which shows were left off my preview list at the end of the third and final post, so if you don’t see your favorite show this season, you’ll know why soon enough.
So, without further ado, the first installment of the Summer 2012 Anime Preview!
La Storia Della Arcana Famiglia
Plot: At first glance, the island of Regalo is a peaceful Mediterranean locale full of charming locals and pristine seaside vistas. But smugglers and other ne’er-do-wells are always looking for a way inside. Enter the Arcana Famiglia, a group of men and women who don matching black suits and take up arms in order to protect their island home. All is well within the Arcana Famiglia, at least until the order’s leader announces his imminent retirement as well as his plans to choose a successor. There will be a tournament, and all those members of the family who wield the magical powers of the Arcana are forced to enter. The prize is not only the title of “Papa” of the Famiglia, but also the hand in marriage of Felicità, the current leader’s daughter. Felicità, however, refuses to accept her fate as a prize and swears to forge her own path. Friends and rivals alike will fight to either claim Felicità for their own or set her free.
Pros: First and foremost, this is a very pretty show with character designs that play right to my little fangirl heart: it’s got bishies with hats, bishies with glasses, bishies with sunglasses, and bishies with eye patches. I’m practically swooning (so I’m probably not the most impartial judge on that particular front)! The sharp, bright colors have universal appeal, though, and the animation is perfectly serviceable and even shines in a few places. Furthermore, while the story may not have anything particularly inventive going for it – it’s going to have a tournament, it’s got a pair of hot-headed rivals who happen to work best together, and it’s pretty much a reverse harem show from the get-go –it strings enough clichés together that what emerges is just bizarre enough it might work. Felicità helps things by not being a wishy-washy protagonist and by having motivations of her own.
Cons: Some voice actors are trying way too hard in this one, making things come off as cheesy or funny rather than serious or threatening. Also, the first episode had a promising hook, but the “next episode” teaser hinted that things might be going very generic very quickly. It involved the main trio chasing down a cat. Yay. And while it’s possible that all of the clichés will become more than the sum of their parts, it’s equally possible that they’ll become more insufferable, instead.
Verdict: I’ll watch a few more episodes, but only because I like the character designs and can see myself enjoying this show as mindless (bishie-filled) entertainment.
Plot: Konatsu Miyamoto just wants to sing – she’s even a member of her school’s choir group. But she has spent the last year turning pages of sheet music for the pianist rather than on stage with the rest, and when harsh words are dealt to her by the school’s vice principal, Konatsu decides to quit rather than be taken so lightly. Determined to prove her worth, and even more resolved to make up for the devastating mistake she made at last year’s recital, Konatsu starts a new choir group. Unfortunately, she needs five members to make it happen, and so far, only her best friend and her (blackmailed) brother have signed up. A talented but troubled classmate, the lone member of the badminton club, and an exchange student from Austria could round out the ranks – but will they choose to do so?
Pros: I’m not normally a slice of life fan, nor do I know enough about singing to typically get invested in shows like these, but Tari Tari kind of snuck up on me. The characters are so earnest and likable – especially Konatsu – that it’s impossible to find much fault with them, and the premise doesn’t stretch credulity when it comes to the characters’ musical ability. On top of that, the struggles that they’re facing ring very true. I can remember struggling with acceptance and the fragility of dreams when I was that age. (Hell, I still struggle with those half the time!) Tari Tari is like the K-On! I can watch without wanting to stab out my own eardrums. The music, at least in this first episode, was pretty good as far as your typical pop far goes, and the voice acting was perfect for each character. Asami Seto as Konatsu is particularly good, capturing the young girl’s optimism and righteous indignation very well. Also, the first episode has the most adorable ending ever, and the subbers even managed to work in the forever alone meme!
Cons: There’s not much going for it in terms of character or setting designs; it’s the same group of five students and the same school hallways we’ve all seen a hundred times before. I suspect that this is the sort of show that’s going to be enjoyable enough the first time one watches it, but which offers little to no return on investment in a second viewing.
Verdict: I wasn’t expecting to like it, but Tari Tari may be just the show I’ll need after a long day of work. It’s a tentative “full steam ahead!” from me!
Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi / Utakoi*
Plot: Dramatic adaptations of the stories behind the “Hyakunin Isshu,” an anthology of 100 classic Japanese poems found in the traditional card game, karuta (of recent Chihayafuru fame). The show’s narrator is Fujiwara no Teiko, the historical figure who compiled those poems, and whose preference for romantic poetry is heavily noted. Ultimately, the show is an examination of romance in ancient Japan.
Pros: This show is a bit of an odd bird: it’s educational, but it’s not as blatantly so as Folktales from Japan from last season. It’s this emphasis on classic poetry and romantic love that’s going to serve this show best, as it’s going to be luring in a subset of the anime audience that might be getting sick of broad comedies and formulaic action shows. The picture I’ve chosen for this post doesn’t quite encapsulate the series’ unique art style, either (I just liked it the best). The show itself favors much brighter colors and a heavy black outline indicative of ink paintings. The style also reminds me of Gankutsuou just a little bit in that is uses screen tones on clothing that move independently of the clothes themselves. It’s used more subtly here (your eyes will thank you for that), but it still stands out nonetheless. With regards to music, the opening and closing songs are both pop-y tunes that feature artists with unique voices; it’s surprising how much they both complement and contrast the show itself. Finally, it’s nice to finally have an anime that deals with sex and sexuality in a mature way, and isn’t afraid to delve into a little comedy on the side.
Cons: The subject matter isn’t going to be for everyone. Romantic love and poetry do not exciting thrills make, and viewers more accustomed to battles and demons may find their attention wandering. Furthermore, the nature of the show’s premise means that each episode is going to be standalone, without any real defining thread tying it all together. That might make for a good time-waster on a rainy afternoon, but it’s not going to be keeping anyone on the edge of their seats.
Verdict: I hesitate to say I’ll continue watching, if only for the education it’ll give me in classic Japanese poetry. After all, I said the same thing about Folktales from Japan last season. But I do really like how the first episode handled its characters and plotlines, and the art style definitely stands out from the other shows this season. It’s a big ol’ maybe.
*I don’t know why Crunchyroll has this show listed only as “Utakoi,” but it’s impossible to find other information or images simply by entering that into a search engine. If you want to look more into the show yourself, you’ll have to use the (long) full title
Humanity Has Declined / Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita*
Plot: Time has passed, and the glorious technologies of our modern age have come and gone – along with the vast majority of the human population. Now, diminutive creatures known as Faeries are the dominant species, and they survive on a steady diet of cuteness, naivety, and delicious sweets! The main character – nameless, though occasionally referred to by the fairies as Ms. Sweets – is a human girl assigned as a mediator between the Faeries and the human race, and she must use her wiles and kind disposition to solve the problems that sometimes arise between two very different cultures.
Pros: The art is bright and poppy. Not as distinctive as Utakoi’s, but it makes great use of light pastels to give a sense of peacefulness to the countryside that Ms. Sweets and company inhabit. The show has a non-confrontational sense of humor that will give the audience a few light chuckles without raising any hackles. Also, you get to see a chick get whacked in the face by a fully skinned, headless chicken, so there’s that.
Cons: This show can’t determine what it wants to be: serious or lighthearted? Creepy or life-affirming? Candy-colored pop fuzziness or a thoughtful examination of the extinction of mankind? The episode begins as a cute little character driven slice-of-life anime with an interesting post-apocalyptic setting, then ends with a synthetic loaf of bread committing ritualized suicide in a criticism of the modern food industry. I… what the hell did I just watch? It trips along from happy to sad to angry to adorable so quickly that I felt like I was having a bipolar episode or watching bits and pieces of other shows stitched together into some sort of Frankenstein monster. Ms. Sweets also has no concrete personality, flip-flopping as the nonsensical plot requires her to at any given moment. Finally, to complicate matters even further, the faeries are drawn with the most creepily static, exuberantly happy faces of all time – they stare into your soul as they no doubt contemplate how best to kill you and consume your corpse.
Verdict: I’m going to have to pass here, unless someone can give me a reason to come back after that bread-committing-bloody-seppuku thing…
*Crunchyroll calls this show Humanity Has Declined; pretty much everyone else uses the Japanese title. Know this if trying to find more information.
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse
Plot: In the 1960s, humankind made contact with its first extraterrestrial species on Mars. The BETA – shown only as devastating shadows – do not come in peace. By the 1970s, they have overrun not only Mars but the moon; by the late 1990s, they have taken over half of Earth. The only technology able to truly combat the BETA is the Tactical Surface Fighter, a mech the size of a building that nonetheless requires a human pilot at the controls. Yui Takamura is the daughter of the man who developed one of the TSFs, and she’s a promising candidate for pilot herself. But the horrors of war have no mercy to spare on a young girl thrown into the conflict ill-prepared, and Yui must find it in herself to stand up to the BETA, or risk losing everything she loves and wants to protect, not to mention her own life.
Pros: It has flashes of brilliance, namely in its darker moments when characters are forced to face the hopelessness of their situation and the horrible realities of war. When it wants to look into its own depths and produce something of substance, it definitely can – but one or two minutes’ worth of watchable material isn’t worth slogging through the rest. I will say that the next episode teaser – a single line of emotional dialogue over the still image of a blood red eclipse – was perhaps the best I’ve seen in a long time.
Cons: Bland, with a side of ecchi. Seriously, what does Total Eclipse offer that any number of mecha series haven’t done a dozen times before? If I want to watch a group of cute moe girls coming to grasp with the darkness of war, I’d probably just watch Soranowoto again; if I want science fiction and mech action in space, I’ll pop in any of the Gundams; and if I want to see the lovingly drawn outlines of a girl’s breasts, I’ll watch hentai. Seriously, those skin-tight pilot suits are the most off-putting outfit designs I’ve seen in a long time. But hey, I’m obviously not the target audience there. The pacing on this first episode is also off, to the point that I wish they’d just dropped us into the middle of a battle and let us sort everything out on our own. And finally, considering the high level of quality of the promotional artwork for this show, I fully expected some better animation. The mechs are all right, but lip flaps don’t synch up with dialogue and everything feels stilted instead of fluid.
Verdict: You gave it a good shot, Total Eclipse, what with that expertly executed next episode teaser and all, but I’m dropping you like a bad habit.
Day one down! Two more to go! See you tomorrow, space cowboy!