The Sakura are in the Air! Spring 2011 Anime Impressions

It’s that time again! Our season preview is back and better than ever! We’ve even managed to fit it all in one post! How about that?

Nana to Kaoru (bonertown)

Ryuta Amazume’s manga gets adapted into an OVA. The plot is fairly standard: the beautiful honor student Nana Chigusa lives next door to Kaoru Sugimura, a bumbling underachiever and social outcast. However, after a turn of events one night, Nana and Kaoru grow closer after engaging in the pleasure that is bondage and S&M.

Wait, what?

Yes, it’s trashy, stupid and mind-boggling. It’s also lavishly animated; there’s a great attention made to every bounce, jiggle, sway, and lick of the lips. The designs are incredibly faithful to Amazume’s artwork. AIC PLUS+ delivers the goods on that front. Even so, this is just way too ridiculous for me. Even though I’ve kept up with the manga, it’s because I want to see how outlandish the situations get (and trust me, they are outlandish). Anything in excess is a bad thing, and that especially includes guilty pleasures. The manga’s way more than enough for me. Besides, all the moaning from Kaoru Mizuhara’s performance is more than my penis can handle.

Well, at the very least I now have an icebreaker topic for my upcoming Women’s Studies class.

X-Men (bonertown)

Third time’s the charm, it seems. The third collaborative series between Marvel and Madhouse, X-Men succeeds in staying true to the source material and character designs while also injecting that distinctive flavor that comes with Japanese anime.

The X-Men have more or less disbanded after the death of Jean Grey, who sacrificed her own life to prevent her Phoenix persona from destroying the world. Professor Xavier looks to reunite the X-Men for a new mission: to investigate the Tohoku region in Japan, where mutant presence seems to have entirely vanished. Reuniting the team hits a snag though when Cyclops doesn’t show up, and both Wolverine and Storm are sent to convince him to return. After a bit of prodding, Cyclops rejoins the X-Men, where they board the X-Jet to start their mission.

Story wise, not much really happens; it’s basically to introduce the Japanese audience to the cast, sometimes with clunky results. For instance, I found it odd that Wolverine attempts to get through metal detectors at airport security, and even odder that he had such a confused reaction to the whole ordeal. I realize you got amnesia, but dude, you got metal bones. That shit ain’t gonna fly. Another odd thing was Storm’s use of her mutant powers on a yacht to prevent a pirate attack. Everybody is grateful here, but the typical reaction would have been a mixed bag at best, and outright fear in many cases in other media. Still, these are minor things in the grand scheme, as everybody’s personalities are still intact: the gruff Wolverine with a hint of sarcasm; the brooding Cyclops, still in mourning over his lost love; the calm, calculating demeanor of Beast; the strong will of Storm; and the observant Professor Xavier, deftly able to handle all these personalities and get them to gel together as a unit. The show gives the Japanese audience a clear vision of the characters, from their personalities to their powers.

Speaking of which, the character designs here fare much better than they did in both Iron Man and Wolverine; everybody actually looks like they’ve been transplanted from the Astonishing X-Men comics with minor tweaks. Storm is hands down the best design of the bunch; she looks great here, and I hope this design gets used by comic book artists in the future. Animation is wonderful too, but that’s to be expected from Madhouse.

Willing to watch more, and I hope for two things: not to be disappointed, and for the dub to not get any stunt casting here; Milo Ventimiglia wouldn’t work as this incarnation of Wolverine at all.

Tiger & Bunny (bonertown)

I’ll phrase this succinctly: the only excuse you have for not watching this right now is if you’ve already watched it. No other excuses are valid. And nothing else needs to be said.

Nichijou (wah)

Another 4koma comedy by way of Kyoto Animation, but this one feels more Pani Poni Dash! than K-ON! Well, Pani Poni stripped of all its references, running at about half a tank. But it has a similar brand of off beat humor that allows it to side-step that sometimes dreaded “slice of life” label. After watching Episode 0, I was quite surprised by this episode’s inclusion of gags such as people bringing about Akira caliber explosions upon bumping into each other, and school girls shooting fellow students in the head just so they can call them stupid. At first the inclusion of such elements feels out of place, but then you realize that’s exactly why they’re funny. I mean, it took me a while to process the Akira explosion. Then I laughed.

The show generally takes things over-the-top enough for the weirdness to work, but at times the humor kind of falls flat and just feels like unfocused randomness. I’m going to assume the manga gets better over time, and if that’s the case, this anime will turn out to be a pretty good comedy.

Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen (wah)

I typically don’t write about sequels in these season reviews, but the last time we saw Kaiji’s mullet grace the small screen was in 2008, so it’s worth talking about his new show. That said, there isn’t too much to say. As you can see from those screencaps, Madhouse still knows what they’re doing as far as making anime about dudes with big noses who gamble. The stakes are higher, as Kaiji is now ear-deep in debt, and is being forced to work jive jobs for chump change. The gamble this time around is completely luck based, but Fukumoto’s writing still manages to turn the whole thing into a tense battle of the minds. It’s as desperate as it can get, and that’s what makes Kaiji great.

Maria†Holic Alive (wah)

It’s been a while for Maria†Holic, as well.

Watching a SHAFT show with character designs I actually find attractive and a pace I can stand is a welcome change from Madoka, but while this first episode looks especially great with all of SHAFT’s signature stylings, I’m quickly reminded of why I didn’t take too strongly to the first season of Maria†Holic: it’s just not that funny. That said, things were actually looking good near the end of season one with the introduction of a few good gags, but Alive’s first episode brings us back to square one. I think the issue with Endou’s writing is that she gets way too caught up in absurd, elaborate setups and forgets to deliver much in the way of a punchline. I mean, she has a few, her most favorite being “Kanako ends up on the floor, sometimes surrounded by her own blood.” I’m going to watch the whole thing because I’m a SHAFT fan, but I hope Denpa Onna offers up something a little bit more interesting.

Honestly? I enjoyed watching this first episode raw and missing a few details way more than I did watching it with subtitles. Probably not a good thing.

Astarotte no Omocha (wah)

For two episodes I was beginning to wonder what Astarotte no Omocha was trying to do by blue-balling me with a premise that can only work in a porno, populated by a set of character designs tailor-made for erotic doujinshi. It suffices to say that I expected Omocha to be the kind of thing I could get my rocks off to, so when the first two episodes were more or less boring setup I was somewhat disappointed. However, in addition to the titular Lotte, episode three introduces the show’s other principle character–the loveable Asuha–in a big way. Her interactions with Lotte and the others are quite fun, and bestows this show with some manner of… dare I say… heart. I guess this is what the show is really about.

And I have to say, I like that a lot better.

That said, I’m still confident this show will end up being a throw-away affair, but I suppose I can afford at least one of those per season. The girls are cute, and the show actually manages to become interesting with the introduction of new characters in its third episode, so hopefully it can manage to be a cute diversion while I tough out my remaining days as a NEET.

Oh yeah, our buddy Shinbou Akiyuki is on this show as “Series Composition Cooperation,” which I assume means he showed up at the studio and let off a quiet fart. But there’s another big name on this show in the form of Okama, and his design work on the backgrounds shines through incredibly well.

Denpa Onna to Seishun no Otoko (wah)

Saying I fell in love with Denpa Onna to Seishun no Otoko at first sight would be particularly egregious hyperbole, but it’s certainly better than what I expected it to be. The show hits all my weak spots, between the slightly otaku-tinged narration, strange characters, and a setup with slight allusions to Evangelion, right down to the sexy onee-san’s hair color. Well, that last part is kind of a stretch. I mean, Meme actually cooks her own food. Anyway, at two episodes strong, Denpa Onna clicks for me on multiple levels. Where things don’t click are in the visuals; something particularly strange for a SHAFT show. Yes, the character designs are up to the studio’s usual high standards, there are occasional instances of neat framing, and particular attention is paid towards lighting as per usual. But outside of the studio’s characteristic application of patterns to certain objects, the show doesn’t really exude a bold visual personality.

While the writing is probably one of the stronger hooks for me, it’s certainly not up to the standard your Bakemonogataris out there. The show does seem like it may touch upon some particularly intriguing ideas surrounding Erio’s obvious mental instability, but overall Denpa Onna only seems slightly above average for what it is. It’s comfort food made specifically for people like me, I suppose. Perfume to Bakemonogatari’s Capsule, if you will.

That opening is red hot, by the way.

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