I sample new shows on Crunchyroll as they appear. Usually I lose interest within five minutes, but occasionally something surprises me, such as Flip Flappers last year or, more recently, ACCA. I found another surprise today, Alice to Zouroku, in which Sana, a young escapee from a nefarious research institute, meets Zouroku, a prickly old florist who takes no guff from anyone, be they yakuza, police or mahou shoujo.
Sana, called the “Red Queen” by the staff at the institute, has strange powers. She can teleport away from trouble, and she can look inside your mind. She has other talents as well, as do other young residents at the institute. She also has poor social skills and little knowledge of how the world works, consequences of never being allowed outside all her life until her escape.
Flip Flappers is the most interesting series I’ve seen since Kill la Kill and Shin Sekai Yori, conceptually and artistically. Each episode is different from every other episode. Much of it is pure fun, with frequent shout-outs and parodies, but there are depths and eccentricities and mysteries enough to inspire reams of speculation and analysis in the otakusphere. If there are twelve episodes, there are only three left to explain just what is going on. While the writers seem to know exactly what they are doing, I’m still concerned that it could fall apart at the end, or end with nothing resolved. We’ll see.
I reviewed the first episode, looking for Mimi. Do you see her in any of these screencaps?
Something else I wonder about: Is Cocona asking the right question above? Consider these names: Cocona, Mimi, Papika, Toto, Yayaka, Yuyu. One doesn’t fit the pattern. Throughout the show, Papika’s behaviour has reminded me of a playful Labrador retriever, sniff sniff. What is she? What would happen if the band around her ankle were removed? She and Cocona may be a complementary pair, but a pair of what?
In Flip Flappers, serious-minded student Cocona sees a red-haired girl flying on a powered surfboard. Later the girl pops up behind Cocona, sniffs her, and introduces herself as “Papika” before they fall down the rabbit hole concrete pipe into Wonderland “Pure Illusion,” accompanied by a small yellow robot/cyborg. There they find themselves in a winter landscape, but it’s apparently not very cold, and the snow is sweet. More odd things happen for no obvious reason. Cocona loses her glasses, which Papika retrieves with considerable difficulty. Cocona’s eye change color, her short black hair becomes long and purple, and she finds a glowing blue object in her hand. A variety of other characters are introduced, including some who observe Papika remotely through laboratory equipment.
Flip Flappers reminds me of Kyousougiga in its anything-can-happen eccentricity, but whether it’s as well thought-out as the earlier series remains to be seen. Masumi Itou is part of the music crew; her presence is clearly discernable in the ending theme. I’ll probably keep watching Flip Flappers unless it turns stupid.
Update: You can also watch Flip Flappershere. The translation is different from Crunchyroll’s and makes a little more sense in some places.
Three of the students in Miss Bernard Said read a lot; the fourth one would rather talk about books than read them. It’s a flimsy framework even for a short, but it is about books, which compensates for a lot.
I know I watched Kiitaro’s Yokai Picture Diary, but I don’t remember anything about it — which might be all you need to know.
Against my better judgement, I tried ClassicaLoid but didn’t last long. It was a dumb as I had feared.
I watched three minutes of Drifters, which was a bloody mess, and I mean that literally. Ick. It seems that the gore might not be its greatest failing. Other shows that I quit in five minutes or less include Soul Buster and Occultic;Nine.
In Matoi the Sacred Slayer, men get silly when they see a little cleavage, and women take advantage of it. Meh. There might be a good mahou shoujo story beyond the fanservice, but I don’t have the patience to find out. (Steven has a more positive take.)
The protagonist of Nazotokine is a flat-chested secretary at an advertising agency who finds herself trapped in a strange place until she solves some riddles. She’s no longer a kid, but she nevertheless undergoes a mahou shoujo-style transformation into a decidedly non-secretarial outfit. Suddenly she is no longer flat. Even though it’s another short, it felt stretched out. I might watch another episode to see if the riddles are of any interest.
Sengoku Chōjū Giga is yet another short. This one uses the style of the proto-manga Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to tell silly tales of Odo Nobunaga. Here Nobunaga is a cuckoo, and is cuckoo. The art is distinctive, but otherwise this is an ordinary gag anime.
Many more screencaps below the fold. Click to embiggenate.
I looked at random first episodes of the fall shows debuting on Crunchyroll. Overall it looks like another season for watching old favorites and working on my backlog, but a couple show promise.
Easily the best is The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Chise, a girl without a family who sees yokai, lives with a sorcerer in the English (I think) countryside. Her guardian/owner/future husband has an animal skull for a head, but he seems to be a decent, caring fellow who enjoys a cup of tea. At various times I was remineded of Spirited Away, Natsume Yuujin-cho, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman and The Twelve Kingdoms. It’s worth checking out if any of these names mean something to you.
Unfortunately, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is an OVA rather than a regular series. There will be two more episodes released six months apart. If you want more, the manga might be worth tracking down.
Izetta: The Last Witch is yet another alternate history of WWII. This time, the principal characters are a strong-willed and capable princess from a small country in central Europe, and a “white witch” with red hair. What particularly interested me was the music. One scene is set at a performance of The Magic Flute, and we hear parts of both of the Queen ofNight’s arias. It’s probably too much to hope for more Mozart in future episodes, but I’ll likely will watch another episode or two to see how the story develops. The ending art hints that there will be yuri; if that happens, I’ll drop the show.
Other shows I sampled:
Nyanbo! features CG cardboard cats doing cardboard cat things during its brief episodes. A character I would rather watch appears momentarily at the end.
Kaiju Girls is a sort of mahou shoujo parody with very short episodes, except that the chibi girls transform into chibi monsters. It’s almost too light to call “fluff,” as is Ninja Girl and Samurai Master.
I watched five minutes of Tiger Mask. Ugh. The hell with it.
To my astonishment, I made it all the way through the first episode of the latest iteration of Time Bokan. It straddles the border of silly and stupid, but it might be tolerable for those who occasionally enjoy a little dumb humor.
Magical Girl Raising Project looks like an attempt to be another Madoka Magica, this time pitting the girls against each other in a battle royale. Without Shaft, Akiyuki Shinbo, Gen Urobuchi and Yuki Kajiura, though, it’s not likely to work. The black and white parti-colored mascot is probably a shout-out to Danganronpa, a show I have zero interest in. Ubu is watching it; I’ll check in a few weeks to see what he thinks of it.
Magical Girl Raising Project is populated by girls. (People obsessed with “gender identity” will be pleased to learn that one of the girls is not a traditional female.) Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru is populated entirely by young men with pointy chins, many of whom also wear red eyeliner or dangly earrings. Gee, I never realized that swords are so effeminate. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, and it’s rendered innocuous by horseplay and slapstick, but it’s not for me and probably not for you, either.
One curious note: both Time Bokan and Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru deal with historical revisionism. Neither do it as well as Peabody and Sherman.
Additional screencaps below the fold. Click to embiggen.
I sampled a few of the summer offerings on Crunchyroll. Classroom Crisis‘ chief distinction is that every single one of its characters is annoying. It also make unreasonable demands on one’s willing suspension of disbelief. Pass.
GATE, on the other hand, might be very good if it doesn’t overplay the otaku card. See Steven for comments and screencaps. Update: There’s a more detailed discussion of the first episode here, with lots of screencaps.
I eventually dropped every spring series, though I might yet finish Rin-ne and Etotama. Mostly when I watch anything, it’s either an old movie — Airplane! and This Is Spinal Tap are still very funny — or neglected anime — Shounen Onmyouji deserves a license rescue, and Un-Go, though partly spoiled by too many novelties, provides something to think about and warms my cold, cynical heart.
I recently discovered that Hulu has The Avengers from the 1960s, with Diana Rigg and the late Patrick Macnee in glorious black-and-white. I’m pleased to note that Steed and Mrs. Peel remain excellent company. Checking just now, I see that Patrick McGoohan’s Secret Agent is also available. I’ll have to see how well it corresponds to my memories.
Re-Kan — Another Shinto 101 show, like Natsume Yuujin-cho and Mokke. It reminds me of Pupipo, but here the girl who sees things that other people don’t has generally supportive classmates. While there’s no hint of fanservice, there is a cat who behaves like the reincarnation of Mr. Kimura, and that might limit its watchability. I’ll probably watch more.
Shokugeki no Soma — Three minutes into it there were tentacles. Forget it.
Houkago no Pleiades — Formulaic mahou shoujo. However, the girls have distinct personalities, and some of the events take place in a conservatory I’d like to visit. There’s also no hint of fanservice, even in the transformation scene. ((except perhaps for the excessively detailed eyecatch.)) I’ll probably continue watching.
Hibiki! Euphonium — I didn’t find the story and characters as enthralling as Ben, but I wasn’t in band when I did time in high school. I gave up about half-way through the first episode. I might give it another try sometime when I’m less preoccupied.
Update: I sampled a couple more.
Etotama — The first episode seemed like a gag manga adaptation, but apparently it’s an anime original. It was energetic and sometimes funny, but it made very little sense. I might watch another episode to see if the writers have anything in mind beyond chibified kemenomimi, but I don’t have high hopes.
Punch Line — noitaminA has given us probable classics (The Tatami Galaxy, Mononoke), curiosities (Moyashimon) and lots of pretentious drivel (pretty much everything else). And now noitaminA presents outright trash. I made it half-way through, and that’s enough.
There might be several shows worth watching this fall, after several seasons of slim pickings.
The protagonist of Madan no Ou to Vanadis is an archer and honorable noble from a minor province in a corrupt kingdom. He is captured on the battlefield by a “war maiden,” who dislikes boring battles, and who doesn’t wear armor, or much else. It’s too soon to tell where the story is going; my guess is that Tigre will have to choose between his homeland in the decadent kingdom of Brune, and the apparently more healthy kingdom of Zhcted where the bright and comely war maiden lives. The series is written and directed by Tatsuo Sato, the man man responsible for Shingu and Mouretsu Pirates, two of my favorite shows. It looks a bit boobalicious for my taste, but I expect that Sato will tell a good story. There are screencaps below the fold.
Amagi Brilliant Park could very well be the first Kyoto Animation series I watch all the way through since Suzumiya Haruhi I. The protagonist, an abrasive, narcissistic former child actor, is drafted, at gunpoint, to reform a decrepit amusement park lest the fairies who live there lose their homes. Although Seiya is an unpleasant character as the story begins, the writer is careful not to make him repulsive, and the fairies are not the cloyingly sweet sort that bore children and nauseate adults. Two episodes in, it looks like it will be at least good.
In Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu, a high school boy with a fascination for girls with paired ponytails becomes a warrior in a powered suit with twintails himself. It’s as silly as it sounds. It might be fun, as long as it doesn’t turn stupid and the writers quit with all the double-entendres. There are screen caps below the fold.
Gugure! Kokkuri-san is the oddest show I’ve seen in quite some time. A little girl who lives alone declares that she is a doll. She summons a fox spirit with a Japanese variant of a ouija board, and Kokkuri, the fox, decides to haunt her, i.e., be her guardian. Sometimes Kohina, the girl/doll, is drawn as a human, sometimes as a doll. I think it’s intended to be a cutesy comedy, but it’s a rather unsettling one. Probably during the course of the series Kohina will gradually become more human while acquiring other supernatural friends, but there’s a danger that the show could lurch into something like the final episode of Bottle Fairy. There are screencaps below the fold.
Update: Gugure! Kokkuri-san is off my watch list and is not recommended.
The human mind requires regular doses of absurdity to maintain sanity. Not just any nonsense will do, though; otherwise, you could obtain your recommended daily allowance of absurdity by perusing the editorial page of any newspaper. The best nonsense is as rigorously logical as it is absurd, e.g., Lewis Carroll. The anime industry supplies much nonsense every season, and winter 2014 looks to be particularly rich. Here’s a quick look at some first episodes to see which might be properly silly and which are likely just dumb.
A recent genre of anime is travesties involving Oda Nobunaga. There are two this time, Nobunagun and Nobunaga the Fool. One involves a military-otaku girl who wields a gun embodying the spirit of Nobunaga; the other has mecha. Both feature random historical characters, from Joan of Arc to Jack the Ripper, and both feature lots and lots of action. Yawn.
Silly/dumb rating (enjoyably absurd = 10; just plain stupid = 1): 3 (both shows)
An imperious little girl riding a pink bicycle with training wheels intends to conquer the world in World Conquest Zvezda Plot, and she just might do it. There are lots of explosions, and many strange people wearing masks run around, acting threatening and shouting slogans. So far, it makes no sense at all — which is not necessarily a bad sign, but I do expect some exposition in the second episode.
Silly/dumb rating: 7
I sampled three separate shows about people with magical powers, two of them in high school settings. Magic is more contagious than the flu in Magical Warfare. Norio Wakamoto is a frog familiar in Wizard Barristers. A young man learns that he is a princess in Witch Craft Works. There are also giant armored bunnies.
Silly/dumb ratings: Magical Warfare, 5; Wizard Barristers, 6; Witch Craft Works, 5.
Space Boobies Dandy is nothing like Cowboy Bebop. The first episode was pure farce. This could be fun if the writers are deft, but Dandy is a flake who could easily become tedious. I suspect the dub is unwatchable.
Silly/dumb rating: 6
Robot Girls Z is an improved Love Pheremone (not recommended), in which the not-quite-competent heroines present a greater threat to their city than do the villains they fight. It could be fun, but the third short episode was too off-color for my taste.
Silly/dumb rating: 5
In Tonari no Seki, a student maintains his sanity at school by undertaking various complicated projects at his desk in the back of the classroom, such as building a Pythagoras-Switch arrangement using erasers as dominoes. This annoys the girl at the next desk over, and she annoys me. The best part was the music, which reminded me of Masaki Kurihara.
Silly/dumb rating: 4
Hell is a complicated place in Hozuki no Reitetsu. Hozuki is the demon king’s right-hand oni, handling crises, solving problems and raising goldfish flowers (which are nothing like Nematanthus). I usually find “slice of life” series tedious, but this slice of afterlife has promise.
Silly/dumb rating: 8
I’ll probably watch more of Hozuki no Reitetsu and World Conquest Zvezda Plot, and maybe Space Dandy and Wizard Barristers. The rest — meh. At least there’s more Kill la Kill.
In the ninth episode of I Couldn’t Think of a Proper Title, Fino, the daughter of the Demon Lord, receives her first paycheck in the human world and goes shopping. (If the pictures are not visible, click on the boxes where they should be.)
Episode seven of Arpeggio of Blue Steel was mostly just plain silly, with the “mental models” of the warships behaving like infatuated adolescents. The show is partly about about artificial (or alien) intelligence, as embodied by the models, acquiring human-like emotions and behavior, but this was ridiculous. Oh, yeah, it was a beach episode, too. It was set on Iwoto/Iwo Jima, and, as I anticipated, there was no indication that the writers had any awareness of the geological nature of the island.
Episode seven of Kill la Kill was also subpar. All the absurd invention and energy couldn’t redeem the trite moral: wealth isn’t necessarily a blessing. (I would like to verify that for myself, though. Would anyone care to subsidize a few months of luxury for me?) It’s still worth watching, but I expected something better.
Incidentally, I recently discovered that Kazuki Nakashima, the “series composition” guy for Kill la Kill, also wrote the play that Oh! Edo Rocket was based on.
Five episodes in, the story in Kyousougiga is taking shape, and it looks like that underneath the Carrollian whimsey and name games, it is exactly what it purports to be, a fairy tale of love and rebirth in the Kousanji family. It’s difficult to encapsulate the show beyond that. ((Crunchyroll’s description of the show is “Enter a description.”)) Instead, here are a bunch of screen caps from the second episode, “Episode 1,” to give you an idea of the flavor of this willfully eccentric series.
Jonathan said the magic words “Alice in Wonderland” in his notes about Kyousougiga, so of course I had to take a look. A few minutes into episode zero, I wondered if I was back in Kenji Nakamura Land. Not exactly, it turns out, but some of the designers had indeed earlier worked on Mononoke and other Nakamura projects. If you liked the art in Gatchaman Crowds, check Kyousougiga out.
About Kyousougiga itself: after watching episodes zero (surrealistic verging on psychotic; prestissimo) and one (in which the story actually begins; allegro ma non troppo), I can say that it sure is lively, inventive and fantastical, and very, very busy — you can’t let your attention wander for an instant lest you miss a vital clue. Whether all the bright colors and incessant activity ultimately add up to a story that makes sense remains to be seen.
Kill la Kill rockets along like a psychobilly song, proudly lowbrow and defiantly tasteless. There might be a political message and sociological commentary lurking beneath the outrages and the breakneck pace, but through the fifth episode it hardly matters. Kyousougiga and Coppelion show how artsy anime can be; Kill la Kill reminds you that you’re watching cartoons. Before there was Miyazaki, there was Tex Avery.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel has been a pleasant surprise. Given the elements — kids in the navy, sentient ships and submarines with “mental model” avatars that look like pretty girls, a powerful but vaguely-defined enemy, glowing hexagonal grids — I expected a Strike Witches ripoff. However, the focus has been on battle tactics, politics, and the puzzles human behavior presents to non-human minds. Fanservice has been minimal thus far.
For a while it seemed that I couldn’t be bothered to come up with a real title was going to be the comic counterpart of Divergence Eve: a very good show nearly spoiled by a surfeit of jiggle. Possibly the makers realized that; I didn’t notice any buy-the-BD moments in the fifth episode. However, while it was mildly amusing, it was never more than that, and Raul’s outbursts are increasingly grating. Unless the next few episodes are markedly better, I’ll probably drop it.
I likely will also drop Outbreak Company. Our hero crossed the line from raving otaku to blithering idiot in the fourth episode, and much as I would like to see what elves and dwarves make of human culture as presented in manga and anime, I’m losing patience. Update: Ken the Brickmuppet reports that the fifth episode is a disaster. The show is now off my watch list.
The ideal audience for Kill la Kill is a bunch of drunken male college sophomores. The show really is too tasteless to recommend, but if you can stomach the inexcusable extremes, you might find it compulsively watchable. I can hardly call it good, but if the creators can maintain the berserk energy of the first three episodes without veering into stupidity or pornography, Kill la Kill could very well be great.
While I wait to see how well Kenji Nakamura pulls everything together in the concluding episodes of Gatchaman Crowds, I’ve been again re-watching Mononoke, his first full series and still his best. Above is a screen capture from the fourth episode, in which an ayakashi with the unmistakable voice of Norio Wakamoto visits the passengers of a ship sailing seas stranger than any in Yellow Submarine.