Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
That’s right, Madcaps! It’s another new season in the anime world, and that means it’s time for one of my season previews. In other words, I watch the first episodes of the new shows so you don’t have to! (Or so you can only watch the good ones! Or so you can completely disregard my opinions! Whatever works!) This season’s crop includes romance, fantasy, and a surprising abundance of mature science fiction. Those sound like my kind of genres! 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. That means 15, possibly 16 shows this year.
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 third and final post, so if you don’t see your favorite show this season, I’ll tell you why in a couple days!
That covers all the bases, so first we have:
My Little Monster
Plot: For Mizutani Shizuku, grades are everything – she’s got no time for friends, which is why her teacher has to bribe her into taking a packet of schoolwork to delinquent classmate Yoshida Haru. It doesn’t help matters that Haru was suspended on the first day for beating the crap out of a gang of upperclassmen, solidifying his reputation as a terror. But what Shizuku sees when she arrives at Haru’s house is not just the bully, but a surprisingly earnest young man who just has trouble making friends. Despite her best efforts, Shizuku finds herself getting dragged into Haru’s triumphs and messes, but the resulting chaos may mean more to Shizuku herself than even she realizes.
Review: I… This… This show is so damn cute! Fluffy! Romantic! By all accounts, I should be gagging in the corner from the sugary sweetness, but I loved every minute of it. A lot of my enjoyment has to do with the protagonists, especially since neither of them fall into strict clichés or archetypes. You’d expect at least one of them to be a raging tsundere type, for example, but My Little Monster deftly avoids that by giving them both more than two notes to their personalities. With regards to the plot, it actually reminds me, oddly enough, of Sekaiichi Hatsukoi, though obviously the heterosexual version there-of. It’s got the same sort of conflicted love (though more comical and less dramatic), the same sense of humor, the same hilarious facial expressions. But it’s all lying overtop a genuinely cute (and relatively unique) love story. Firmly shoving My Little Monster over onto my good side are the character designs and the art style: simple, clean designs, well-animated, and with a bright, pop-y color scheme that is a delight to stare at. We’ll see if successive episodes can keep up the pace and quality, but My Little Monster has set the bar high for this season’s anime, which is going to make watching the inevitable chaff that much harder.
Verdict: I don’t think I can issue a more emphatic “More episodes, please!”
From the New World / Shin Sekai Yori
Plot: 1,000 years into the future, our world is vastly different. New species of animal have sprung up, and humans themselves have developed psychic and telekinetic powers that they can harness at an early age. In fact, being visited by a “blessing spirit” and earning one’s powers is a sign of adulthood. Watanabe Saki is the last member of her class to be visited by her blessing spirit and thus the last to begin learning the truth behind her “cursed power.” But things in the town are not what they seem: what happens to those who are never visited by a “blessing spirit,” and what of the rumors of a Trickster Cat that stalks and eats members of the village? And what of Saki’s parents, whose growing nervousness and terror only abates once Saki has finally been granted her powers?
Review: You’d never know it from looking at the promotional artwork, or even from reading a generic description, but this is one sinister show. From the first minute to the last, you’re never allowed to feel comfortable, never allowed to let down your guard and enjoy yet another show that has shallow pretenses of being about kids in school. That to me was a master stroke: making the setting somewhat familiar, and then undercutting the entire foundation by throwing in psychic abilities and a dark conspiracy. Unfortunately, so much rides on the direction the show’s director/producers take in the next few episodes: do they continue to expand on the sinister and paranormal elements, or will the show focus more on the characters and their relationships? Neither is necessarily the wrong choice, but I know I’d be much more interested in the former. The art style is fairly unique, using dramatic angles and camera cuts to evoke emotion and suspense, and using stylistic effects like silhouettes to great success. The show’s ending is a beautiful art piece in and of itself, and I recommend finding it on YouTube to kill a few minutes of your time. The music choices in general for Shin Sekai Yori are very eclectic and help drive the atmosphere home. (A lot of things about this show remind me of the Fatal Frame games, for those of you familiar with and fans of that series.)
Verdict: This is already high on my list for this season, I can tell. Is it as sure a thing as My Little Monster? That’s up for debate, but I certainly want to unravel a few more of Shin Sekai Yori’s mysteries.
Plot: Mysterious towering edifices known as Dungeons have sprung up in the various corners of the world, taunting all with their promises of wealth and glory. Alibaba is one young man struck dumb with the dream of conquering a dungeon and rising out of his relentless poverty. But luck has never been on Alibaba’s side, and a job meant to earn money for his expedition turns sour when a young brat with a golden flute eats half of the fruit Alibaba was meant to deliver. Now even further in debt, Alibaba is all but a slave to an arrogant merchant. But the brat who ate the fruit is more than he seems – his name is Aladdin, and his flute is the home of a djinn named Ugo. Aladdin has promised Ugo that he would help him find other djinn, which means his goal is the same as Alibaba’s. Can the two put aside their differences – and stop getting into trouble – long enough to reach the top floor of a Dungeon?
Review: I guess Fall of 2012 is the season of bright colors! Magi has a visual style that’s easy on the eyes, and which doesn’t skimp on special effects (at least in this first episode). But while the action and adventure in this show is a treat, the comedy is more hit or miss. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of ugly prostitutes and breast jokes, and Magi has pretty much run through all of it in under thirty minutes. There’s a hint of a really good action story blooming here – and Alibaba is a refreshingly sympathetic protagonist with his fair share of flaws – but those pros may be overpowered by a juvenile sense of humor and the oddly unlikable Aladdin. The kid manages to be both innocent and condescending, and I found his lawful-good shtick to be grating after a short while. The opening does hint at an extensive cast, and the brief introduction of the first villain at the end of the first episode left me at least a little excited for a second episode.
Verdict: I’ll pass for now in favor of waiting to see what other reviewers have to say on this one.
Plot: Nanami Momozono is cursed with a father who loves to gamble. Once his vices lose their home, he disappears and leaves Nanami poverty-stricken and alone. With nowhere to return to, Nanami finds and saves a man who was up a tree, hiding from a barking dog. The man introduces himself as Mikage, confesses that he too once abandoned his home and family, and offers Nanami a place to stay rather than return there himself. What he doesn’t tell Nanami, however, is that his home is a Yokai Shrine, and Mikage himself was a land god responsible for granting the people’s wishes. Now those responsibilities have been passed on to Nanami, who must also contend with the spiteful and arrogant inari yokai Tomoe.
Review: Another surprisingly cute romantic comedy. Whereas My Little Monster has the more relatable cast, Kamisama Kiss has the more frenetic pace as well as the supernatural edge that’s so popular right now. Unfortunately, I suspect that the plot of this one is going to be more clichéd as well, hitting the usual beats of the tug-of-war relationship between Nanami and Tomoe, culminating in her decision to free him from servitude but his decision to stay by her side. Oh, and there’ll be some competing love interests along the way. Kamisama Kiss also isn’t as distinct visually as most of the other shows I’ve already seen this season. I closed out the show minutes before typing this, but I’ve already forgotten Nanami’s general look. Tomoe is more distinctive, but still pretty standard for an inari character. The things that stick out most in my mind are the show’s opening and closing songs. The former is a pop-y, cheerful thing that feels like it might have been written for the show, whereas the ending is a soulful, morose spin on the same themes.
Verdict: I wouldn’t be averse to watching more Kamisama Kiss, but I suspect it’ll fall by the wayside as I explore other, more promising shows.
Plot: Sakura Sakurakouji is minding her own business, riding the bus, when she happens to catch a glimpse of blue fire through the trees. A closer look reveals that within those dancing flames are people, burning alive in brutal agony. Watching from just a few feet away, the apparent attacker is a young man with cold eyes. Sakura calls the police, but once they arrive, there’s no evidence of any bodies, only small billows of ash. Sakura is forced to recant her claims, and returns to school the next day questioning whether or not what she saw was even real. But her suspicions only grow when a new transfer student arrives at her school: the young man who watched the bodies burn.
Review: God, I am getting pretty sick of every high school kid in Japan being a secret government agent badass. Why can’t we get some awesome adults up in here? This complaint has got to be tied in pretty tightly to the fact that I’m not only out of high school, I’m out of college – I want to have protagonists that I can actually identify with. That having been said, Code:Breaker isn’t the worst anime I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot. It’s got good production values, fantastic animation, and attractive characters. But the series is both too heavy and too light on the melodrama. It needs to either fully commit to the horror and violence it’s trying to portray, or it needs to stop treating the other half of the episode so lightly. Also, it needs to find itself some likable protagonists, rather than Mr. and Ms. Perfect. There were hints of interesting developments at the end of the episode (and I do mean the very end), but I don’t know that it was enough to redeem the fifteen or twenty minutes I spent squirming from the awkward, stilted, exaggerated dialogue.
Verdict: I think Code:Breaker and I are parting ways, at least until I see some improvement.
Whew, day one complete! I think it’s pretty safe to say that this is the most consistently “good” start to an anime season I’ve had since beginning these season previews, and that makes me a happy madcap indeed! But, there are still 10 (or 11) more shows to go. Can they keep up the high quality? Come back tomorrow to find out!