Sunday, 7 April 2013

Spring 2013: part the first

It's the first week into the new anime season, and thus as usual necessitates my need to blog about how first episodes have panned out so far (excluding Railgun and Henneko which begin in a weeks time).

So far the season has got off to a fairly mediocre start with most of the shows seeming bland. Thankfully though, there are at least some shows that have entertained me on first viewing - of these my favourite so far is Date a Live which is a mecha bodysuit/harem/comedy. It's pretty hard to directly compare it to other series (it has some similarities with the Muv Luv visual novels and other similarities with Infinite Stratos, but these are only vague approximations) the main thing that matters is that it kept me laughing for the duration of the episode, and entertained with the mecha fights.

"Gouf". The name of a mobile suit. Also
the noise MC makes when kicked in the balls.
The plot is a little flimsy: genocidal spirits are invading Earth and the main character has the task of seducing them. There isn't anything wrong with that, and indeed if you must watch a harem this season this is a pretty safe bet. The manga is good too so I'll stake my bet for continued enjoyment on that, and pray that they don't choose to make an original ending.

Susei no Gargantua is another mecha series, and one which likewise really impressed me. It was scripted by Urobuchi Gen (Madoka etc), a writer whose work varies considerably in quality; it was great to see him hit the mark on the first episode of this.

Woop woop.
The programme follows the stylings of space-real-robot, beginning with a pilot who is participating in an all out war against intergalactic alien blobs. On his return through an intergalactic wormhole he gets thrown offcourse only to wake up six months later on an unknown planet; curious humans are inspecting his mech, and they appear to be quite disconnected from the space war at large. Rather than spoil the remainder of the episode, I implore the reader to view it for themselves and enjoy just what happens.

As a side note I really should mention the character designs for Gargantua, because these really are
fantastic. They somehow find this nice halfway point between cartoon and realistic proportions, and are very visually appealing for it.

Sadly pleasing character design eludes Majestic Prince - another mecha show - which sadly has some of the ugliest designs courtesy of Hirai Hisashi (Gundam SEED). This falls more into the realm of super-robot and hot blooded Reaganistic characters battling against alien blobs again. If that's more your kind of mecha show, maybe try that one.

Oreimo decided to continue where it left off 2 years ago with a reintroduction episode. It was OK I guess, but after a 2 year gap I've lost interest in the characters and find the continuing tsun-tsun of various characters rather grating for a first episode.

Muromi-san is an entertaining smutcom about a mermaid and a fisherman who deliver jokes through a manzai routine. It's amusing enough for 12 minutes once a week.

Character designs are nice and polished.
Yahari SNAFU is yet another "guy gets roped into working with a girl" show (I guess this is becoming a thing now) with a billy-no-mates MC whose rotten personality is to be melted by a prim
and proper lady. On paper this sounds terrible, but once you see it motion and get to enjoy the interaction of the characters it's pretty enjoyable. If you do pick Yahari SNAFU up, be sure to use FFF and not Commie.

Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge is a pretty weird show. I want to label it the weirdest show of the season, but it may well be dethroned from that title by other weird shows that are currently airing. Unfortunately the strangeness isn't helped by the pitifully poor pacing and total lack of character development: the main character appears at a girls window like a creepy stalker for no reason at all, she welcomes him in as if he were a best friend, he offers to cut her hair. Just watching it feels so wrong and shameful.

Red Data Girl is an unremarkable if nicely animated show by PA Works - a studio which I am keen to emphasize as one which repeatedly lets me down with bad direction and scripting. It's about a girl who breaks anything electrical when she touches it and a guy who is forced to protect her... it's something that should be so much better than it is.

Hataruku! Maou-sama is another weird show, albeit on this occasion actually good. The first 10 minutes offer a beautiful battle between the minions of hell and incoming crusaders, with the forces Satan being duly subdued by the invading army. Using the last of his magic the devil transports himself to a different realm: modern day Earth, and thus the tone of the show switches from Shakugan no Shana to that of Spongebob Squarepants. There's something strangely amusing but also incredibly tragic about seeing Satan working as a fry cook to make ends meet. I wonder just where the show will take itself and what sort of genre it'll choose to settle in...

Every line is like this. I'm not kidding.
Shingeki no Kyoujun, otherwise known as "Assault on Titan" was garbage. Absolute drivel. I haven't been so offended by mediocre writing in a long time, but this really was awful. Set 4000 years in the future it focuses on a world where giants the size of Godzilla roam the Earth and eat humans for breakfast - which for some reason people decide to battle against on horseback. Right off the bat we're introduced to a cast who all suffer from a chronic case of being Kevin the Teenager, angry with the world being against them and stopping them from staying up all night and feeling a need to grump and grouch at every turn. The whole thing stinks of teenage fanfic writing, something that isn't helped by the ridiculous melodrama it throws at every corner. Avoid it at all costs.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

OreShura / Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru

I previously mentioned this series in passing, not expecting it to exceed anything more than being average. I'm writing this post now because this programme has far exceeded my expectations to become a firm weekly favourite.

So what exactly makes Oreshura so good that it deserves a second post? First and foremost is that it's a great parody series, poking fun at the harem genre whilst also enjoying harem antics of its own. The writer is clearly aware of typical stylisms of the harem genre, which they lure the viewer into thinking will happen before slapping them in the face and doing the exact opposite.

One characters reaction to chuuni antics.
It's easy to think that Oreshura is a parody of Chuu2Koi (it isn't: the light novels predate Chuu2Koi by some time), but nevertheless the timeliness of parodying the "chuunibyou condition" right after Chuu2Koi makes this a pleasing pick up. Like Chuu2Koi, the main character of this series is a former chuunibyou embarrassed by his past behaviours and is also blackmailed by a wily woman - such is the similarity that Chuu2Koi was labelled as plagiaristic upon release (not that western viewers will be aware of this). Unlike Chuu2Koi though, this has never made any derivation into serious drama - there's always well placed humour to prevent that from ever happening, usually in the form of the one character going full chuunibyou.

Speaking of characters, those are the second great asset of the programme. I have few complaints to make about them (although a character whose personality matches Rikka from Chuu2Koi is rather pathetic), most of them are parodies of regular harem personalities: the childhood friend; the stalker; the dandere; the tsundere. The fact that none of them conform exactly to stereotypes contributes to OreShura avoid being just another seasonal harem. Even the MC isn’t a complete moron – unless if comedic effect requires him to be.

Lastly, it's probably worth noting that this series is full to the brim with JoJo references: central heroine Masuzu likes making a point of recreating scenes from that series (right down to the poses). Some understanding of what JoJo is all about will be required to fully appreciate that, in the same way that you'd need to have seen Initial D / etc to appreciate parts of Lucky Star (though OreShura is more explanatory and less obtuse).

It’s rare to find a series that gets better the more you watch it, but I seem to find myself laughing more with each passing week. It goes without saying that I strongly recommend this – though do note that the first episode takes a little while to get going, once the harem antics kick in the fun begins.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Winter 2012-13 anime

Time for another anime season. This being a much welcome one after the mediocre preceding one, with thankfully a variety of strong first episodes from numerous shows.

The show doesn't take itself too seriously
Maoyuu Mao Yuusha has so far been a great fantasy show about economics - which naturally brings comparisons to Spice & Wolf, though this has a good deal of overt romance from the get go. The heroine of the series is a demon queen who for reasons unknown, has been awaiting a human hero to arrive and ravage her castle (no pun intended, this is how it goes). She quickly presents herself as a romantic interest, which I'm hoping will mean the series can focus on an actual relationship in progress rather than the usual starting a relationship most series never go beyond.

Money is good.
But back to economics. It's interesting how the show draws inspiration from medieval agricultural economics and the political structures which existed (at least in Europe) at the time, and how war is a good way drawing out a population that cannot sustain itself.

The animation for the show is pretty nice, though the backgrounds and occasional use of CG do occasionally jar a little - if that's something that may bother you, then maybe waiting for the BDs would be a good idea. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to watch it at some point!

The first show of the season was Nekomonogatari. It was a pretty short miniseries (4 episodes, and already over) which served as a prequel to Bakemonogatari. As someone who felt indifferent to Bakemonogatari (though I always liked the Neko arc) I found this to be pretty enjoyable, focusing on the better characters of the series to give some amusingly scripted puns; there were also some pretty decent battle scenes.

The only downside - as with many other SHAFT series - is that the animation is very sparse and unexpressive with most of the keyframes being spent on fanservice. Apparently SHAFT usually improve the visuals a lot for their BDs, I just can't help but still feel this series would benefit much more from actual motion and fluid character movement. Regardless, the series will be continuing this summer for a 24/26 episode series - hopefully it'll be similarly enjoyable to Neko.

The heroine of the series
Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru (or OreShura for short) utilizes a similar sort of humour to that of Bakemonogatari, though the premise of this is radically different: the protagonist is a guy whose parents have divorced, and as result of which he has decided to forgo any interest in romance whatsoever. This draws the attention of a girl who is fed up with the unwanted advances from other guys, and so seeks to have a sham relationship with the protagonist to keep the hounds at bay (so to speak).

It's pretty plain to see where the series will go, but all the same I'll stick with it since it seems to be pretty amusing so far - how enjoyable it will be depends upon how much drama they throw at the viewer (which I'm hoping will be none).

My poor heart
Speaking of drama, Kotoura-san began with an unexpectedly depressing first episode. The first 10 minutes were quite possibly the saddest and most heart wrenching thing I've seen on film - which for something billed as a comedy was not what I expected; you wouldn't think seeing a character get broken down in such a short time frame could be so affecting, but in this case it really was.

Thankfully the comedy does kick in mid way when the main character (Kotoura) is introduced to the carefree Manabe who quickly becomes something of a rock for her. The key plot device of the show is that Kotoura is able to read peoples minds (the root of much of her depression, since she is able to read the dark and unspoken thoughts of people), yet in Manabe she finds someone whose thoughts seldom get any worse than lewd imagery and likes her for who she is.

I do strongly recommend this, but do be prepared for manly tears if you watch it!

Kuro Usagi, the magical bunny girl
A nice pick-me-up after Kotoura was Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? which I'm not quite sure was about, but seemed to be about battling low tier gods / monsters for gambling or something. I'm not sure exactly, but it was great.

Thus far a group of characters with superpowers have been transported from Earth to a supernatural realm where they can battle gods / monsters in return for rewards given by a bunny girl. It's every bit as fantastic as it sounds, and since the bunny girl is a great character I'll be sticking around to see what shenanigans the cast get up to.

Another amusing show to watch is GJ-bu (Good Job) which does the usual club-room type thing, though it doesn't take itself at all seriously (perhaps making it somewhat similar to Seitokai no Ichizon). The result of this is that the characters begin mundane tasks that somehow get twisted into hilarious antics - there isn't any plot to speak of (yet), but for now a group of girls and one guy (see where this will go?) is pretty hilarious to watch.

Senran Kagura is a show that by rights shouldn't be as entertaining as it is: on the surface it appears to be a generic fanservice adaptation of a fighting game - but when you begin watching this you quickly find that it isn't just that. I'm not saying that this is a deep or meaningful show in any way, rather that it's an amusing parody of what you expect it to be.

In spite of it being a parody it also has some pretty nicely animated fight scenes: characters move fluidly whilst also delivering visual humour, backgrounds (dodgy CG boat aside) are mostly nicely detailed. And whilst it does parody fanservice, it does also deliver some in the form of yuri pairings. No complaints here - for now - it's a fun show to watch. /Edit/ I got bored with Senran Kagura, so disregard everything I said a while back.

I've run out of time here, but I also recommend that people check out Tamako Market, KyoAni's latest production. If you like surreal, slapstick and boke/tsukommi humour (see also: Gintama et al) then you should like this; it's quite unlike any of the other productions KyoAni have produced to date (though perhaps similar to Fumoffu) and makes a nice change from the usual moeblob.

Lastly, I'll just say that people should avoid Sasami-san. It's bad. Really bad. Sadly SHAFT really half-assed the adaptation leaving a hollow shell of creepy fanservice and unfunny lolrandom "jokes". I'm sad to say this should be avoided like the plague, which is a shame since I feel any other studio could have done a much better job of it.