Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring 2008 Anime Rundown, Part II

Nabari no Ou (The King of Nabari)
Genre: ninja, action
Overall Rank: B+
MJ Rank: C+

A struggle is brewing to determine who will rule Nabari, the hidden society of ninja. One important player turns out to be Miharu Rokujou, who is heir not only to his family's okonomiyaki restaurant, but also to a dangerous sealed power. Classmate Kouichi Irie is aware of Miharu's potential, and sets about recruiting him for a school club that is a front for the local ninja organization. Nabari no Ou borrows a lot from Naruto, or at least makes use of the same underlying mythos, but is aimed at an older audience. Action sequences are slick in Nabari, and the impressionistic watercolor backgrounds stand out. It's unlikely that Miharu will replace He of the Orange Windbreaker in the imagination of fans, though, which is a bit of a shame.

RD Sennou Chousashitsu (Real Drive - Occult Brain Research Office)
Genre: science fiction
Overall Rank: A
MJ Rank: A-

The year is 2061, and Masamichi Haru is living in a nursing home on an artificial island, after emerging from a 50 year coma. The coma was caused by an accident during a psychological experiment, that for some reason involved free diving at great depths in the ocean. Haru and his volunteer assistant Minamo Aoi start noticing phenomena similar to what occured during the incident, and there is trouble on the island. The phenomena may be related to the Metal--a virtual simulation world created by cybernetic implants--or they may be part of the simulation, or it could be that something else entirely is going on.

Real Drive is of the school of science fiction storytelling that throws the viewer headfirst into a sea of jargon (thank you, original creator Masamune Shirow) and mysterious events, and hopes he or she learns to tread water, fast. This technique is often abused, but my initial impression of RD is that the story has been thought out, and that everything will fall into place, eventually. RD's animation--courtesy of Production I.G and veteran director Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Rurouni Kenshin, Chevalier D'Eon, etc.)--is impeccable. This is definitely the serious anime choice of the spring.

Special A
genre: comedy, romance, shoujo
Overall Rank: B+
MJ Rank: B-

Hikari Hanazono excels at everything she does, and is ranked second in the hothouse environment (literally) of the elite Special A class at her private academy. However, she always seems to be outdone by the dashing Kei Takishima, who has no qualms about rubbing it in. The romantic tension between Kei and Hikari is thick, and their good natured sparring looks like it will be a lot of fun. Special A is shaping up to be the superior shoujo anime option for the season.

To Love-Ru - Trouble -
Genre: science fiction, comedy, fanservice
Overall Rank: C+
MJ Rank: B

Rito Yuuki can never manage to confess his love to girl-next-door Haruna Sairenji, but through various fanservicey circumstances, he manages to get engaged to fugitive alien princess Lala. Vast swaths of the modern anime scene consist of fifth generation Urusei Yatsura clones, but To Love-Ru is one of the more straightforward attempts to reverse engineer Rumiko Takahashi's classic that I've seen recently. The differences are telling: gone is UY's adolescent swamp of hormones, jealous rage and topless nudity. In its place, we get pretty characters who are politely accommodating, and a lot of artful concealment of naughty bits. Times have changed in the bishoujo anime world. I'm still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that the To Love-Ru manga runs in Shounen Jump, where the times are apparently also a-changing.

Vampire Kishi (Vampire Knight)
Genre: supernatural, shoujo
Overall Rank: B
MJ Rank: C

Yuki Cross attends a boarding school with ordinary day classes, as well as a special night class, which consists of vampires who are theoretically learning to get along with humans. As a Guardian, Yuki attempts to keep the peace between the day and night classes, and prevent the norms from learning too much about their nocturnal school mates. Attending night class is Kurau Kaname, the gothically handsome vampire who saved Yuuki's life when she was a child. Vampire Knight is not at all my sort of thing, but it's well done, with a lighter touch than I would have expected from something in this genre.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama (Our Home's Harvest/Fox God)
Genre: supernatural, fighting, kitsune
Overall Rank: B
MJ Rank: B+

Tooru Takagami is being targeted by evil spirits, so his brother, Noboru, titular head of the Mizuchi clan of Shinto priests, is asked to unseal the guardian of the Mizuchi lands. Fox spirit Kuugen "Kuu-chan" Tenko defeats one of Tooru's supernatural tormentors, with some help from the shrine maiden Kou, but the boy is still in danger, and Kuu-chan follows the brothers back to their home in the city. On a technical level, Oinari-sama is not overly impressive, and I worry that it is going to settle into a monster-of-the-week rut, but the interplay between the Takagami brothers and the haughty Kuugen is zingy enough to convince me to keep watching, for at least a few more episodes.

That's it for me so far, though I still need to check out a few more new shows, notably Soul Eater and Code Geass R2. I'll probably hold off on Code Geass and wait for the Bandai Entertainment DVDs... I haven't seen much of the first series yet, and I just recently worked my way through the stack of Gundam Seed DVDs that had been sitting in a corner gathering dust. So, I have the sense that I've done my civic duty watching Sunrise scifi melodramas for the time being.

From the current crop, I'll be following Maid Guy, Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, Real Drive, and maybe a few others. I've seen some more of Kyouran Kazoku since writing my review, and I'd probably bump my assessment up to an A- now: the proceedings have been leavened with a healthy shot of drama and character development, while maintaining a suitably high level of crazy. The Op is catchy, too.

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