Friday, December 01, 2006

Addendum: Autumn 2006 Anime

I've caught some additional fall series since October, and a couple of new anime have started up. Here are a few thoughts:

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
It doesn't bode well for an anime when it starts up with an involved explanation of near-future conflicts, complete with pseudo-archival footage and maps of troop movements. Code Geass takes place sometime after the 2010 invasion of Japan by the Britannia Empire, who enforce a repressive, borderline genocidal occupation with powered suits called Knightmare Frames. Lelouch (image, right) is a Britannian student with a grudge against his countrymen, who obtains mind-control powers and, shortly thereafter, his own Knightmare Frame, via the usual route to such things: releasing a mysterious girl (image, left) from a tube that was stolen from a top-secret military project.

Code Geass clearly owes a lot to Gasaraki, from mechanical designs (handsomely animated, by the way) right down to the strong theme of Japanese nationalism. Unlike Gasaraki, Geass doesn't seem to have a whole lot going on upstairs. Character design duties were given to--wait for it--CLAMP, possibly in an attempt to attract some kind of female audience to a Sunrise robot show, frequently a tough sell for the XX chromosome set.
Watching?: no.

Kekkaishi (Barrier Masters)
For centuries, the Sumimura and Yukimura clans have been patrolling the site of a castle that was overrun by evil spirits, and feuding with each other over who is the true successor to the guardianship of the location. In the present day, a school has been built over the ruins. Yoshimori (image, right) and Tokine (image, left)--the newest kekkaishi from the two families--compete every night to see who can seal and destroy the spirits that are constantly trying to sneak onto the school grounds.

Watching Kekkaishi is probably the most fun I've had with a shounen fighting anime since the early episodes of Bleach. All the elements you expect from a good shounen brawler are there--appealing characters, inventive visual setting, creative ass-kicking, and old fashioned storytelling skill--along with surprisingly high production values. Strongly recommended, if you have any interest in the genre.
Watching?: yes.

Kujibiki Unbalance (Lot-drawing Unbalance)
"Kujian" is the anime-within-the-anime that the characters in otaku-comedy Genshiken watch, which, in an alarming bid to retcon reality, has now become an actual TV anime. Three random episodes (the Kujian OAVs), from a hypothetical 26-episode series, had been made for use as props in the Genshiken anime, and were included as bonus material on the Genshiken DVDs. The OAVs are good fun, hinting at a show that is a brain-damaged melange of anime set-pieces, from cooking contests and RPG-ish adventure to hard-boiled gunplay and mahjong tournaments with the Yakuza.

With 12 episodes to fill, Kujian TV is more or less forced to develop a coherent plot, and to forego many of the stranger elements of the OAVs. It succeeds tolerably well: I like the new, more subdued character designs, and the less-insane personalities of the characters. It's kind of bland, though; for example, I'm really missing the manic OAV opening theme, which came courtesy of the chipmunk-voiced musical group Under 17. In an amusing touch, the cast of Genshiken narrates the previews, and the DVD release will include all-new bonus episodes of Genshiken.
Watching?: maybe.

Soukou no Strain (Strain, the Play of Light)
The simplistic character designs and stiffly-animated 3D CG robots of Soukou no Strain don't hold out a lot of promise, but then along comes the opening scene, where young Sara Werec (image, the blonde) bids a tearful farewell to her big brother Ralph, who is heading off to fight an interstellar war, and won't return until centuries after Sara is dead. Gunbuster sense... tingling! It's been four long years since Hoshi no Koe, and I've been jonesing for some hot relativistic combat in a new anime.

Sara joins the military as a candidate "Reasoner," which is nicely evocative jargon for giant robot pilot (the robots are called "Strains"). A disastrous betrayal during her training forces Sara down a different path to the place where her brother has gone; to say any more would spoil the plot. It's hard to tell whether Soukou no Strain is going to be worthwhile. The budget is low, and the pacing is funny, with much of the potential melodrama expended abruptly in the first episode. Then there's Emily, a doll containing cultured neurons, which (whom?) Sara needs in order to pilot her Strain. Is Emily endearing, or just creepy? I haven't decided. The space-opera aspects have been weak so far, but I'm holding out hope for future developments.
Watching?: probably, just in case. Damn, I need my subtitled Gunbuster DVDs.

Briefly Considered:
Gift: Eternal Rainbow. Bishoujo anime of the childhood-friend variety; the sort of thing that Kujian parodies.
Happiness!. More bishoujo game-based anime. The character designs are some of the best of the fall, or rather the most congruent with my tastes in moe, but the character animation is extremely uneven.
Kateikyoushi Hitman Reborn. Instantly and profoundly obnoxious kids' show about a pint-sized Sicilian assassin who frees people from their inhibitions by shooting them in the head with a magical handgun. Chances of this getting licensed in America: zero.

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