Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
And so we come to day three of my four-day Winter 2013 anime extravaganza, full of pop idols, ESP-weilding terrorists, and hair festishist werewolves! Oh, and don’t forget those talking birds. (There are actually multiple talking birds this season, but more on that in a second.) To those we add immortal children, mind-readers, and flirtatious cats!
Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East
Plot: Five years ago, a great plague ravaged a small Japanese town, and the homes and corpses of the slain had to be burnt to prevent the disease from spreading. However, three people survived the massacre – dependable Sosuke, irascible Shino, and sweet Hamaji — and have made new lives for themselves in a neighboring village. But their new neighbors are wary of their arrival, believing that they bring the plague with them. But while the three do not come bearing sickness, they do carry with them a different sort of trouble. Supernatural things begin to happen; people begin to disappear; and the three survivors and their strange cadre of spiritual allies seem to be at the center of it all.
Review: I spent the whole runtime thinking, “Man, if I were younger, I’d be eating this up.” It’s like a faster-paced Bleach, and it reminds me strongly of 07-Ghost with its pseudo-Christian protagonists. But, because I’ve been around long enough to see some of the best and biggest that anime has to offer, Hakkenden just left me feeling a little underwhelmed. This first episode didn’t give me enough (non-cliché) mysteries to hold on to in order to make me want to keep watching. Also, the action in Hakkenden faces the same pitfalls that a lot of shows without an enormous budget also face: jerky transitions and cost-cutting measures, like only showing the flash of the blade to stand in for an attack. Even Senran Kagura spent some time and money animating it’s fanservice-laden combatants in mid-fight. But the character designs and even their personalities aren’t ugly or painful to watch, so Hakkenden is sitting (somewhat) pretty in the “meh” pile.
Verdict: I think it might have only fared as well as it did because the winter anime season is usually a wash, but a person could do much worse than Hakkenden to kill some time. (Maybe if the talking crow in Hakkenden had the personality of Mochi’Mazzui…)
Plot: Kotoura always walks to school alone. She hasn’t had a friend in years, and both her father and mother left her when she was just a child. All of the tragedies in Kotoura’s life can be pinpointed to a single cause: Kotoura can read minds. In fact, she can’t turn the ability off, and she always knows what someone is thinking, even when they try to lie. It’s how she discovered her parents’ affairs and ruined their marriage; it’s how she alienated the few people who tried to get close to her; and it’s how she earned the mistrust of all the adults in her life. In a last ditch effort to escape her reputation, Kotoura transfers schools and tries to start fresh, only to find the cycle starting up all over again. That is, until she meets Manabe, the perpetually cheerful and absent-minded classmate who refuses to leave her alone. Even knowing the extent of her ability, Manabe swears to stick by Kotoura, no matter what happens. Can this be the human connection Kotoura has been hoping for her whole life?
Review: … This show has the single most depressing opening for a comedy ever. I cried. I’m not even joking. It is a powerful fifteen minute set up for what becomes a surprisingly nuanced little comedy in the second half, a set-up that completely makes the anime. Had Kotoura-San just been another tsundere-girl and cheerful-boy fall in love romcom, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. But instead, it wasn’t afraid to go dark – thought-provokingly so – and for that reason it’s earned a ton of good will from me. Even the bits and pieces of sexualized imagery that creep in here and there have my stamp of approval because they’re inserted within context and add to the larger picture of the story. So much will ride, however, on how Kotoura-San continues in the next few episodes: if it will continue to take chances with its storytelling, or choose to devolve into the usual tired jokes instead. With regards to the visual side of things, this show has a very simple style, but it suits the story well and doesn’t stick out for being too extravagant or too cheap. The ending animation in particular is a bit minimal, but the art is really playing second-fiddle to the plot here, anyway.
Verdict: Kotoura-San flew under my radar at first, but it overwhelmed me with such a strong beginning!
Problem Children Are Coming From Another World, Aren’t They?
Plot: Sakamaki Izayoi, Kudou Asuka, and Kasukabe You aren’t your normal human high-schoolers – each possesses a singular power that sets them apart from their peers and neighbors. Izayoi has his super-human strength; Asuka can bend minds to her will; and You can talk to animals. Because of these gifts, the three teenagers are summoned to the world of Little Garden by the cute and mysterious Black Rabbit, a bunny-girl who explains that the three have been given a chance to compete in Gift Games. Great wealth and prestige can be won in the Gift Games, but all betting comes with great risk, and Black Rabbit may not be telling the new arrivals the whole story.
Review: Problem Children could have been a lot worse, but man, it doesn’t quite understand the concept of pacing, nor the art of crafting likable characters. Izayoi and Asuka are both arrogant twats, and while animal-loving You is nice enough, there’s not much to her yet. Black Rabbit is perhaps the most sympathetic, but she’s too little too late when you’ve already started to loathe the main characters. There’s also really nothing to write home about with regards to the artwork, unless you’re particularly fond of water effects (which were admittedly nice). Not ugly, but not special. I will say that, Black Rabbit aside, the fact that the female characters are dressed pretty sensibly is a mark in Problem Children’s favor. I did enjoy the ending theme music, for how little that matters in a review of this nature. And once again, an animal sidekick stole the show. In this case, it’s Calico Cat, the calico cat whose only line is, “Hey, girl, you’ve got some cute ears and a nice bent tail. I’ll be back to play-bite a bit the next chance I get,” said to a cat-girl. Smooth moves.
Verdict: Problem Children just left me feeling like I’d been here and done this a hundred times before. Sorry, but I’ve got better things to do to fill my time.
Err, well… that was a short post. There were going to be two other shows reviewed today, but neither Vividred Operation nor Sasami-San Ganbaranai went live (for us freeloading poor people, anyway) before I completed these season previews. There’s always one or two shows that fall this way, and I just don’t have the patience this time around to promise a bonus post for these two alone. If I get to them, great. If I don’t, ah well…
Even though we’ve got one more Winter 2013 post to go (for which I have something… unique planned), I’m going to go ahead and list the shows that didn’t make it into my season preview and why:
Monchicchiisu, Hiyokoi, Line Offline ~Salaryman~, GJ-bu, Beast Saga, Ganbare! Lulu Lolo – None of these were legally simulcast, and thus were off limits. Luckily, none of them had really caught my attention, anyway.
Doki Doki! Precure, Hetalia: the Beautiful World, Chihayafuru S2, Cardfight!! Vanguard: Link Joker-Hen, Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai NEXT, gdgd Fairies S2, Da Capo III, Minami-Ke Tedaima, AKB0048 Next Stage, Puchimas!, Nekomonogatari (Kuro), Tantei Opera Milky Holmes Alternative Two, Saki: Episode of Side A S2 – All sequels/crossovers/spin-offs of previously existing properties and thus not eligible by my own rules. Most of them were also not legally simulcast, making them doubly ineligible. (I’m kicking myself, though, for never having seen Chihayafuru and Bakemonogatari, and I still have a weird fascination with wanting to see AKB0048 in action…)
So, one more day of Winter 2013, and then it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming (and update pattern) here at the Armchair Madcap!