Saturday, October 28, 2006

Autumn 2006 Anime Rundown II

Here’s the second half of the alphabet for fall 2006 anime (Part I is here)…

Lovely Idol
With a title like “Lovely Idol,” there isn’t much room for doubt about the contents of this show. The character designs are appropriately ultra-moe, and reasonably animated. The voice actresses are treacly. And there’s lots and lots of idol music; literally about a quarter of the first episode is musical interlude, and most of that comes before the main characters have even been introduced. If you like this sort of thing, go for it.
Watching?: no.

Negima!? Magister Negi Magi
Negima’s original author, Ken Akamatsu, is one of the biggest names in modern manga. So, it’s one of the great mysteries of anime that the TV adaptations of Akamatsu’s works have been so uniformly inadequate. Looking at the 2005 version of Negima, for instance, one is struck by the low-rent animation, limp OP, and most critically, the insertion of god-awful Wacky Highjinks in place of anything that might have been funny or charming or slightly naughty in the manga.

In general, Negima!? is a step up from the 2005 version: the usual problems are still there, but they’re not quite as serious. The animators have cleverly decided to pretend that the earlier series was never made, and start over with boy wizard Negi’s (image, center) arrival in Japan, and first day at his new job teaching middle school. The characters look odd in stills, but when animated manage to sustain a certain resemblance to Akamatsu art, if you squint. I’ll stick with the manga, thanks.
Watching?: probably not.

Otome wa Boku ni Koi Shiteru (That Maiden Loves Me [with “me” written as “older sister”])
High-powered interpersonal politics and convoluted yuri (girl’s love) relationships are de rigueur for anime set at the (purely imaginary?) elite parochial boarding schools of Japan. Modern examples of the genre, probably taking their cues from Shoujo Kakumei Utena, have much of the external form of shoujo anime, while also being tailored, in whole or in part, to a male audience.

Oto-Boku” is this fall’s closest approach to the girl’s school yuri genre, though it contains certain heretical elements. First and foremost, the possibilities for yuri frisson are much reduced by the fact that the main character, Mizuho (image, left), is really a boy disguised as a girl. As an aside, I have discovered that you can get a fairly gratifying reaction out of figure-collecting friends, who have bought Mizuho models solely on the basis of cute design, by informing them of this plot twist. The tone is relatively light, and the fanservice, while thin on the ground, is more of the prancing-around-in-sheer-negligee-type, as opposed to the traditional blushing-during-awkward-silence-type.
Watching?: maybe.

Pumpkin Scissors
Not that the title provides any indication, but this is a military action show set in an alternate post-World War I Europe. Alice is the enthusiastic young lieutenant leading Pumpkin Scissors, a war relief unit. She takes in Oland (image), a shell-shocked gentle giant who was formerly part of a shadowy and much-feared group of tank-killers. Alice, Oland, and comrades are under-funded and ill prepared for the work, but they set out to right wrongs and protect the weak in the lawless, burned out mess of a world that the war has left behind.

With a grittier atmosphere and more visual inventiveness, Pumpkin Scissors would have been an easy recommendation. As it is, the animation is kind of flat, and the mood is cheerier than it has any right to be. Oland’s corpse-candle lantern, which he unshutters when it’s time for some evildoer to get blasted to hamburger, is a memorable touch, at least.
Watching?: maybe.

Red Garden
Set in New York City, or a close Studio Gonzo approximation thereof, Red Garden starts with the mysterious death of a highschool student, and follows four classmates who have lost their memories of the fatal night. Our heroines start to see butterflies that are invisible to everyone else, and are led to a woman who informs them that they have been drafted as werewolf hunters.

Based on past Gonzo experience, I fear that Red Garden is going to devolve into a cheesily-animated sequence of meandering, pointless storylines and grotesque bloodbaths. In a less-crowded season I might stick around to see if it goes anywhere, but there are too many superior viewing possibilities out there right now.
Watching?: no.

SumomomoMomomo: Chijou Saikyou no Yome
(Both Sumomo and Momo: The Strongest Bride on Earth)
Momoko (image, center) is the heir to a family of ninjas, and engaged to marry Koushi, also of ninja extraction. Momoko’s father has decided that a woman can’t take over his school of martial arts, and that the best option for preserving the family legacy is for Momoko to produce a son, as soon as possible. Appallingly, Momoko agrees, and starts trying to seduce Koushi. The running joke here is that Momoko is actually very powerful, while fiancĂ©e Koushi thinks only of his dream of becoming a lawyer. Handled with great skill, this premise might be pretty funny, but handled poorly, as it looks like it is being handled, it will get annoying very quickly.
Watching?: no.

Super Robot Taisen OG: Divine Wars (Super Robot Wars OG: Divine Wars)
Back in the heyday of the Sega Saturn, I spent many a late night playing the Super Robot Taisen games. The games’ strategic play was addictive, but the real attractions were the robots: a buffet of justice-dispensing mechanical demigods, taken from most of the major robot anime up to that point, awaiting my commands. Add to that cutscenes of beloved characters from the various shows—picture Bright Noah and Gendou Ikari bitching at each other about how they’re going to fight the final battle with Dr. Hell—and you’re in robot fanboy Valhalla.

Anyhow, there will be absolutely nothing like that in Super Robo OG, because the OG stands for Original Generation, meaning all-new, non-anime, game-original characters and robots. Unless you’re a fan of the recent OG games, I can’t imagine any reason to subject yourself to this show.
Watching?: not unless someone pays me, which seems unlikely.

Tokimeki Memorial: Only Love
Coincidentally, the other videogame that laid waste to vast chunks of my youth in the mid to late ‘90s was Tokimeki Memorial, one of the first bishoujo games, and an important source for the conventions of modern bishoujo games and anime. Tokimemo: Only Love is based on a recent sequel, Tokimemo Online, with which I am unfamiliar, but which sounds intriguing. How exactly does an online dating-sim work? Do players from all over Japan compete for the affections of the virtual young women? Or do some play as the girls (as the website tagline “boys & girls school community game” would seem to indicate)? The mind boggles.

In Only Love, Riku is the name given to the Hero, with Sayuri (image) playing the role of Shiori-tan. Kirameki High alumni such as myself will be amused to see old game standbys like the dorky friend of the hero who keeps track of biographical information on the girls; the uninitiated will probably find these touches distracting. I can’t say I much care for Only Love’s comic moments, which run towards the frantic, as opposed the low-key, distinctively strange sense of humor I recall from the 1990s games.
Watching?: yes, but mostly for nostalgia value.

Tenpo Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi [~translation beyond me~]
It’s 1800’s Japan, and refugees, fleeing from starvation and monsters in the countryside, are overrunning Edo. Yukiatsu, a warrior with a connection to the red-lit Other World of the demons, is laying low among the refugees, but is forced to come out of hiding in order to protect a mother and child.

Ayakashi Ayashi is the latest from studio Bones, so you can be sure it will be a solid production, with some interesting visual elements, such as the portrayal of the Other World as an animated silk painting. Samurai drama/action is not really my thing, but fans of the genre will probably do well to look into this one.
Watching?: probably not.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (Seven Apparitions of the Traditional Japanese Beauty)
Four handsome but impoverished boarders at a fabulous mansion are challenged by their landlord to transform the heroine, Sunako, into a true lady. There are complications, of course: Sunako looks and acts like one of the pale, stringy-haired ghouls from Ju-on (The Grudge). Wackiness ensues.

Yamato Nadeshiko is basically a harem show for girls, and is burdened by the same canalization of story and character that affects all harem shows. It might still have been a lot of fun, though, even for male viewers (cf. Ouran Host Club). The whole J-horror parody aspect, for instance, has proven to be a rich source of laughs for other anime (cf. Muteki Kanban Musume). It just doesn’t click here, at least in part because of what looks to be a pathetically low budget.
Watching?: no.

Yoake Mae Yori Ruriiro na Crescent Love (Brighter than the Dawning Blue: Crescent Love)
Yoake Mae…etc. begins with a flashback to a devastating space war between Earth and her Lunar colonies, portrayed in stylin’ Gunbuster-esque black and white. The plot picks up many years after the war, when Earth civilization has rebuilt itself exactly to the level of early 21st century Japan. And then all of this backstory becomes irrelevant, as Moon princess Feena (image, right) moves in with ordinary Earth boy Tatsuya (image, left) as a homestay student, and Yoake Mae turns into a fair-to-middling harem show (of the male oriented variety). Among various issues that plague this show: the intricate, game-derived character designs are nice in theory, but were apparently more than the animators could handle on a consistent basis.
Watching?: probably not.

And that’s another 20% of the latest TV anime. For various reasons, I’ve missed a few things that I meant to cover, like Kujibiki Unbalance (the DVD release of which will include bonus Genshiken episodes!), Happiness, and Black Blood Brothers. Overall, while there probably isn't anything in the S-ranked, Instant Classic category this fall, there are plenty of potential entertainments. Death Note and Kanon are the best and most obvious examples, but there are others, as well as plenty of guilty pleasures.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Autumn 2006 Anime Rundown I

It's another busy anime season this fall, with more than 50 new shows starting up. Imagine: it would be more than a half-time job, with no lunch breaks, just to keep up with the anime that started airing in the past month, let alone the longer series from the summer, or stuff that's been going since the Silurian, like One Piece. Horror anime are overrepresented, which I suppose is a sign that Halloween is catching on in Japan. The association of October with ghost stories and spooky goings-on is (or was) mostly a British and American idea, with late summer being the traditional height of ghost season in Japan.

Here's a sample of what's coming out this fall, with my commentary based on the first episode or two. At the end of each entry, I indicate whether I plan on following the series or not.

Asatte no Houkou (The Course for the Day After Tomorrow)
Hiro and his little sister Karada live by themselves in a small town out in the country. Shouko (image) arrives from the city, apparently with some sort of past connection to the town, and to Hiro. Karada, who is worried that she's a burden on her brother, makes a wish at a roadside shrine while Shouko looks on, and the shrine grants her wish in an unexpected way...

That description is pretty concrete, and it doesn't really capture the feel of this show, which is peculiarly laid-back and vaporous. I get the impression that I'm missing something important as Asatte no Houkou goes through its languorous paces, though there might not be anything to miss: I suspect it's a mood piece, as opposed to one of your more traditional plot-oriented anime.
Watching?: maybe.

Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage
The "Baddest Motherfuckers in Asian Seas"--as the dustjackets of the first couple of volumes of the manga proclaim, in English--return, nearly three months after the original Black Lagoon ended its run. It's a delayed continuation of the first series, starting with episode 13, and using the same OP and ED as the original. No big changes in the content, either: Revy (image) scowls and looks good in short shorts, things explode in creative and interesting ways, Triad goons and colorful Russian mafia characters give each other a hard time, and salaryman-turned-bounty-hunter Rock acts as the Voice of Reason. Essentially, it's a John Woo-inspired Hollywood bone-cruncher done as anime. One critical difference from the first season to take into consideration: this time around there are way many more incestuous vampiric child-soldier twins.
Watching?: probably not.

Busou Renkin (Alchemic Arms)
What is it with anime heroes who get killed, symbolically or literally, in the first episode, then are resurrected to fight for justice, as happens to Kazuki (image, at right) in Busou Renkin? Is it just that people liked Yuu Yuu Hakushou, or is there something deeper going on? I smell fodder for a comparitive literature dissertation.

Busou Renkin is looking like a fairly mediocre example of this genre, with Kazuki and Tokiko (image, with pointy bits) using the power of alchemy to defend the world from homunculi. People liked HagaRen, too.
Watching?: no.

D. Gray-man
Lurid horror and fighting anime meet, by way of a Shounen Jump manga. Allen Walker (image, center) is an exorcist in 19th century England, battling the Millennium Earl (image, left) and his legion of Akuma (devils). The highlight here is the crazy Victorian/sci-fi ambiance, which I rather like. However, any chance for the development of tension, or an atmosphere of supernatural dread, is pretty much thrown out the window in the first episode, which includes a detailed explanation of what is going on and who needs to have his ass kicked. As near as I can tell (and I haven't read the manga), D. Gray-man is going to be an Akuma-of-the-week show.
Watching?: no.

Death Note
Death Note chronicles a deadly game of cat and also cat--as one of my Venture Brothers-watching friends put it--based on the manga by Tsugumi Ooba and Takeshi Obata (half of the Hikaru no Go team). "Light" (image, left) is an ambitious and talented highschool student, bored with his lot in life. Ryuk (image, background) is an ambitious and talented shinigami (death spirit), bored with his lot in the afterlife. Their paths cross when Ryuk leaves his Death Note--a notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written inside--in the human world, and Light picks it up.

You can imagine how most people would use a Death Note, if they used it at all, so Ryuk and the viewer are kinda surprised when they catch up with Light, who has written hundreds of names on its pages in just a few days. Light has come up with a plan to make the world a better place by killing off as many criminals as he can, in a way that makes it clear that the Wrath of God, or something close, awaits anyone who seriously violates the social contract. Interpol gives their greatest mind, luckily known to the public only as "L," the task of tracking down the mysterious killer. Thus begins a titanic intellectual struggle, in which both Light and L race to be the first to discover the other's true identity. Death Note is gripping in its morbid logic, with smooth and richly detailed animation. It'd be perverse to deny it a spot among the best anime of 2006, if it maintains anything like the quality of the first episodes.
Watching?: yes.

Galaxy Enjeruun: Galaxy Angel II
The latest of what have actually been half a dozen Galaxy Angel shows, courtesy of Broccoli, the Halliburton of the moe-industrial complex. There's a new cast of characters, though they map neatly onto the old cast of characters, and the premise of cute-girl troubleshooters having silly adventures in space remains the same. Some of the gags are fairly amusing, and the animation looks nice (I like the newsprint-style halftone opening), but at the end of the day it's hard to escape the fact that Galaxy Angel II is geared towards viewers who found Dirty Pair Flash a little hard to follow.
Watching?: no.

Ghost Hunt
Kazuya Shibuya, boy paranormal investigator and head of Shibuya Psychic Research, is staking out a haunted school building. Mai, a student of the school, stumbles onto the scene and injures Kazuya's assistant. Mai gets pressed into service for the investigation, and is joined by a motley collection of spiritualists, mediums, a miko (shinto shrine maiden, though none of the characters quite believe that she's a maiden), and a pretty-boy Catholic priest. Ghost Hunt, at least in the first episode, nicely balances character development, comic relief, and understated creepiness, and should be worth keeping an eye on. As of the first episode, it's somewhat unclear whether there even are real ghosts; it'd be amusing if the plot took the Scooby-doo route (i.e., old man Takada is using a movie projector and mirrors to scare people off, so he can tear down the school and build a maid cafe).
Watching?: maybe.

Hataraki Man (Work Man)
I don't think I'm clever enough to describe this show in a way that doesn't make it sound incredibly dull, but trust me, it's worth checking out. Matsukata (image) is an earnest young reporter who summons the spirit of Hataraki Man when she's got hold of an important story, enabling her to go without food, sleep, bathing other important things, until the job is done. The cast of characters is strong and carefully fleshed out, the animation is solid, and there are plenty of grown-up themes, including a pervasive but not overblown idealism about the role of a free press. One jarring element in an otherwise mature and sophisticated anime is the sexism inherent in the Hataraki Man phenomenon: in order to reach her full potential, Matsukata must adopt a masculine persona.
Watching?: probably.

Jigoku Shoujo: Futakomori (Hell Girl: The Two Prisoners)
The sequel to last year's Jigoku Shoujo serves up similar fare: stylish, beautifully gloomy animation, traditional Japanese chills in a modern setting, and heaping servings of ice-cold Revenge. Ai (image, manning the oar) is the Hell Girl of the title, a spirit forced to wander the Earth, exacting vengeance upon the wicked on behalf of those who contact her through her website. All that she asks of her petitioners, is that they join her for the boat ride to Hell after their natural deaths.

Jigoku Shoujo is more or less episodic: I'm guessing we'll see one act of revenge per episode most of the time, and not many continuing characters besides Ai and her lackeys. Still, there is more psychological complexity to this show than you might expect, and I'm finding it to be one the most enjoyable of the many new horror anime available this Halloween.
Watching?: yes.

[Prelude video on YouTube] Mmmmm... pretty. The Kanon franchise began in 1999 as a PC bishoujo game, regarded by connoisseurs as one of the all-time greats, with a powerfully affecting story and memorable cast of characters. It was ported to various consoles, and in 2002 received a respectable though abbreviated anime treatment. Anticipation has been running high for the present remake, from production house Kyoto Animation, who ruled the spring 2006 season with the delightful Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Kanon does not disappoint.

Highschooler Yuuichi Aizawa moves to the snowy north of Japan to stay with his cousin Nayuki, and gradually begins to recover some not-entirely-happy memories of his time there seven years ago. Exploring his new school and town, amid snow squalls and wan winter sunlight, Yuuichi meets the people with whom he shares a dimly-remembered past, including Mai, the local demon hunter (the supernatural battles are going to be insanely well-animated, if Kyo-Ani's work on Haruhi is any indication), and Ayu (image), taiyaki thief and She of the Winged Backpack.

Everything about Kanon--animation, voice acting, backgrounds, music, everything--is top-notch, simply orders of magnitude better than the other romantic comedies/dramas airing right now. The character designs look like complex constructions of colored glass, and they move, too. Settings are lovingly portrayed, with glorious attention to detail. Even the slapstick comic relief is outstanding: the scene where Makoto gets a gelatinous slab of konnyaku down the back of her PJs just about killed me. I only expect it to get better as it moves into more serious territory.
Watching?: oh god yes.

OK, that's 20% of the autumn anime. Check back soon for part II: Lovely Idol through Yoake Mae Yori Ruriiro na~Crescent Love.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Summer 2006 Anime Rundown

Just in time for the start of the fall anime season (well, not even on time for that, really...), here are reviews of some of the summer season shows:

Binbou Shimai Monogatari (Tales of the Poor Sisters)
Kyo and Asu are young sisters trying to get by on their own--living in a run-down one-room apartment, working odd jobs, and keeping a close eye the sales fliers from the local shops--after their saintly mother dies and their lowlife father abandons them. This sounds a bit depressing, but the mood is generally more hopeful than otherwise. The pacing of this show is nothing if not deliberate; really, nothing much happens in a given episode, with a representative plot being: Kyo decides to attend parents day at Asu's school, and struggles to rearrange her schedule and aquire some nice clothes in order to do so.

I have a weakness for these sorts of slow, calm stories about bohemian poverty, probably as a result of my own ca. 15-years in various university settings, so I'm possibly enjoying Binbou Shimai more than most will. It's not quite in the same class as Yoshitoshi Abe's efforts along these lines, like Niea _7 and Haibane Renmei, but still recommended.

Coyote Ragtime Show
Anyone who's been following anime over the past 10 years will be able to intuit about 80% of what goes on in Coyote Ragtime Show, just from knowing the title and the fact that it's set in a space-faring society in the distant future. Certain things are a given: the setting on wild-west frontier planets; the busty and heavily-armed government agent Angelica; Angelica's earnest but slightly dim partner Chelsea; and "Mister," the manly super-criminal, who is rumored to be hiding out at a top security prison. So far, so good.

The 20% of Coyote Ragtime Show that you couldn't have predicted manifests itself about 3/4 of the way through the first episode, when, in the middle of the hunt for Mister, 12 gothic lolita androids parachute from the sky and start slaughtering everyone who's not a named character, to no obvious purpose. This show's a train wreck, if a well-animated and modestly entertaining train wreck.

Chocotto Sister
It's Christmas morning, and a somewhat trashy-looking woman identifying herself as Santa hovers up to the Audience Identification Character's window on an air-bike, and leaves a present for him. The present is a 10 year old girl, who claims to be the A.I.C.'s new little sister, and who the AIC names Choco. Abunai, abunai! That premise, like a lot of things about Chocotto Sister, emphatically does not warrant closer examination. Taking its cues from one of the creepier subgenres of bishoujo game, Chocotto Sister's tenuous veil of innocent respectability is constantly fraying. Still, there is a certain fascination in watching it teeter at the edge of the abyss...

Sci-fi about some kind of robotic/alien menace, and the Saishuu Heiki Kanojo-esque heroine who is the only one who can stop them. Told in 4-minute (!) episodes, with one minute devoted to the OP (!!), Hanoka dispenses with the niceties of atmosphere, character development and plot, and gets straight to the military jargon and stuff blowing up, which is probably rendered about as well as it could be, given that this is supposedly the first Flash animation ever to be broadcast on Japanese TV.

Hachimitsu to Clover II (Honey & Clover II)
Charming and stylish anime J-drama, centered on a group of eccentric art students, and their byzantine webs of relationships. The first episode is a recap of H & C, but after that it appears to be all new material, though the look and feel of the original remain, right down to the distinctive earth-tone palette of the animation. Even the OP keeps its art-project theme, although I was relieved to see that the inexplicably disturbing stop-motion food tableaus of the original did not return. I love this show, though at times my asocial otaku brain stuggles to keep it all straight.

Hoshizora Kiseki (Miracle of the Starry Sky)
A one-shot, half-hour amateur OAV released by CoMiX Wave, who are famous for handling Makoto Shinkai's Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star). An ordinary girl on a camping trip to view shooting stars, meets a mysterious boy who is confined to a bulky pressure suit and involved in a secret investigation of an orbiting alien spacecraft. It's pretty impressive for doujin anime, but all kinds of loose ends are left when everything wraps up, and the development of the two characters is predictable and unsatisfying; good effort, but this is not a new Hoshi no Koe.

Innocent Venus
Bandai Visual's slick new action-thriller is set in a gloomy dystopian future, where the elites live in a walled city amid the ruins of Tokyo, and tanks of explosive gas are left lying around the abandoned subway stations. Said subway stations are the backdrop for the spectacular machine gun and powered-suit battles waged between fascist goons and our heroes, Jin and Jo, who are protecting a little girl named Sana (no, sadly not THAT Sana) who is wanted by the government for some nefarious purpose. There's a street-smart ragamuffin, as well, and I defy you not to wish that he would wander into one of the streams of depleted uranium that are constantly sweeping across the scenery.

The 3D-CG battle sequences are definitely where the money went, and they're done with a level of technical excellence heretofore associated primarily with CG mecha extravaganzas from studio Gonzo. They're also on the gory side, and can feel out of place if not downright distasteful: Innocent Venus does not really have the gravitas (what with the annoying urchins and all) to match its sky-high body count. It doesn't help that bits and pieces of the action are lifted directly from Metal Gear Solid games... I got to the end of ep. 2 (snickering through the chaff grenade sequence), but doubt I'll proceed any further.

Muteki Kanban Musume (Invincible Pretty Daughter of the Shopkeep, Used to Attract Customers) (more or less.)
The latest addition to the Shopping Arcade Martial Arts genre of anime. Our anti-heroine is Miki, the violent, vulgar, easily distracted, and generally reprehensible daughter of the owners of a blue-collar ramen joint. Her rival is Megumi, who works at the French bakery across the street, and puts on a good show, at least, of being more classy and cultured than Miki. A typical episode follows Miki and Megumi as they fight a lot, egg-on the neighborhood delinquents, beat the snot out of punks, engage in absurd shopping district competitions, fight some more, get freaked out by the gym teacher who looks exactly like you-know-who from The Ring, and finally call it quits after Miki is beaten into submission by the only force she fears: Her stocky middle-aged mother. Shakespeare it ain't, but I'm enjoying it.

NHK ni Youkoso! (Welcome to the NHK!)
The first episode of NHK consists largely of following Satou--a young man who is a hikikomori (self-imposed shut-in)--as he kills time within the cramped apartment that he has hardly stepped outside of for the past three years. Satou is slowly being driven insane by boredom, cheep beer and cigarettes, isolation, and the soul-crushing barrage of noxious anime themes seeping through the walls from the unseen occupant of the apartment next door. The sole interruptions come from an odd girl named Misaki, who shows up claiming that she knows the cure to hikikomorihood. Satou decides to play along, if only to humor the cute and appealingly unreadable Misaki. Things mainly go downhill from there... lordy, just wait until the episode where Satou discovers ero-games.

I don't know if I'd call NHK exactly "funny." It's probably the cleverest thing on Japanese TV this summer, with one brilliant piece of black humor after another, but the material is too awful and too real to be classed simply as comedy. As with its spiritual predecessors Otaku no Video and Genshiken, watching NHK frequently gives rise to the uneasy feeling that one has been in 3-D versions of the situations and conversations on the screen. This is my pick of the summer; probably the only new anime that comes close is Honey & Clover II.

Night Head Genesis
Naota and Naoya are brothers with psychic powers, taken from their parents to be raised in a research facility sealed off from the outside world. After many years, the death of the facility's director allows the brothers to return to civilization, with potentially catastrophic results. If you can suppress the taglines from X that will be periodically springing to mind ("There are two Naotas."), and ignore the goony title, Night Head shows a good deal of promise.

Project Blue Chikyuu SOS (Project Blue Earth SOS)
Retro-futuristic sci-fi created by animators in the year 2006 imagining what writers in 1959 would think that the year 2000 would be like. Boy geniuses Billy Kimura and Penny Carter--along with a cast of assorted scientists' daughters, ace pilots and loyal dogs--shoulder the responsibility of defending the Earth's capitol city, Metropolitan, from a fleet of UFOs that conventional military forces are powerless against. It's all good, clean, old-school fun, but it feels forced-- you may be better off watching Giant Robo again on the shiny new region-1 DVDs that are now available.

Main-character-type highschool girl Kazuki is still vaguely pining for the boy who lived in the house next door many years ago, when she learns that his family is moving back in to their old place. However, Yuuji (the boy) has changed since childhood, reaching almost Ataru Moroboshi levels of adolescent letchery. Eh... I've seen it before, and I don't care for the place where it is inevitably going.

More highschool romantic comedy shenanigans, this time involving an all-tsundere female cast. It seems like the sort of thing that I could get into, but I can't remember much of anything about the show, from a viewing a few weeks ago, beyond the bare-bones description above. I have to assume that it didn't impress me.

For those not in the loop (like me, until recently), "tsundere" is a highly useful bit of modern anime-fan slang, describing the personality of a girl who is haughty, easily-angered, sharp-tongued, and maybe a bit aloof (that is, tsun-tsun), but with a softer, caring side that surfaces under the right circumstances (the dere-dere phase). Think Nadia or Souryuu Asuka Langley, the Ur tsundere-girls.

Zero no Tsukaima (Zero's Familiar)
An amusing bit of fluff, apparently based on a fairly racy novel that received the Bakuretsu Hunter treatment. Louise "The Zero" Valiel is an arrogant but inept young sorceress, whose magic academy is given the task of summoning familiars. Most of the students come up with your basic toads, ravens, snakes, etc., but Louise manages to summon Saito, an ordinary schmoe from Japan. Fish-out-of-water comedy ensues, mostly driven by Louise, who is so tsundere that she owns a riding crop. The crop sees a fair amount of use, both within and outside of legitimate equestrian situations. It is, by the way, an entertaining exercise to imagine what Maison Ikkoku would have been like if Kyoko had owned a riding crop. Or what Gundam would have been like if Char... wait, Char DID own a riding crop, didn't he?

That's most of the important shows for the summer. Also worth noting are couple of longer series continuing from the spring that I've been following avidly. Ouran High School Host Club, a sort of reductio ad absurdum of shoujo manga plot devices, is consistently hilarious, if also consistently episodic. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When the Cicadas Cry) is an elaborate murder mystery, with isolated mountain villages, ancient Shinto festivals, baleful local gods, trackless swamps, and cute girls with machetes. Higurashi is so much like my dreams, it's scary. Other than that, I'm pretty much twiddling my thumbs waiting for a US release of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the extravagantly animated philosophical/theological school-comedy/social-commentary piece from Kyoto Animation. Haruhi is ultra-recommended.

The autumn season looks like it might include a few items of interest. KyoAni's Kanon remake will be jaw-droppingly beautiful, at the very least, and the Kujibiki Unbalance TV series--based on the previously imaginary TV anime that the characters in Genshiken watch--might be fun. Death Note, based on a popular manga by the Hikaru no Go guys, is certain to be a big deal. Until then, give Welcome to the NHK a try, and remember: Tsundere is the new moe.