Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spring 2008 Anime Rundown, Part I

It's kind of a slow spring, anime wise. There are 46 new shows premiering, which is, admittedly, too many for any normal human to follow. But, that's down by a third from spring seasons a few years ago. There are a couple of big deal, big budget projects, such as Macross Frontier and Code Geass R2, but as spinoffs from popular franchises, these smell like safe choices for production companies shell shocked by broad economic woes as well as the corrosive effects of illegal downloading. While I'd say there are no truly outstanding new anime this season, a fair number of solid shows are coming out, and most viewers should be able to find at least a few items of interest.

Rankings are based on the first episode or two and range from S down to F (with B- or C+ being about average). I give an attempt at an objective rating, then provide a wildly subjective Moetic Justice rank.

Bus Gamer
Genre: Action, Fighting, Shoujo
Overall Rank: B-
MJ Rank: C

Three mismatched hip urban pretty boys respond to a seriously suspicious piece of junk mail, and wind up entering an underground tournament called Biz Game, where teams representing corporations fight it out for trade secrets, using whatever means they think are necessary. Once you get past the improbable premise, Bus Gamer doesn't look half bad, and promises some interesting tactical machinations, as well as the possibility of good red-in-tooth-and-claw fight sequences.

Druaga no To - The Aegis of Uruk (The Tower of Druaga)
Genre: Sword and Sorcery
Overall Rank: B+
MJ Rank: B+

Tower of Druaga is based on an RPG, and follows newbie adventurer Jil, whose seemingly impossible quest is to reach the top of the eponymous tower, and defeat the eponymous evil god. Normally, a description like that is my cue to find something else to watch, but Druaga has a couple of factors working in its favor: studio Gonzo has apparently decided that this is a show where they are going to spend the money needed to make it look good, for one thing. Druaga also has a much needed sense of humor about itself. The opening sequence alone, which features the cast of characters mysteriously transposed to Tokyo, is worth the price of admission, and handily wins the Op of the season award. Druaga is notable for being available for legitimate download, subtitled, at Crunchyroll.

Itazura na Kiss (Mischievous Kiss)
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Shoujo
Overall Rank: C
MJ Rank: C-

Kotoko Aihara is a plain girl who has a crush on the cool, wealthy and smart Naoki Irie. Kotoko asks Naoki out, and is shot down. To add insult to injury, her family's new home collapses in a minor earthquake, and the Aiharas are forced to impose on an old friend, who turns out to be--you guessed it--Naoki's father. There's nothing new here, if you've seen the superior Marmalade Boy, or any of a dozen similar shoujo romps, and the Itazura na Kiss take on the genre looks to be thoroughly mediocre.

Kamen no Maid Guy (Masked Maid Guy)
Genre: Comedy, Fanservice
Overall Rank: C+
MJ Rank: A-

Naeka Fujiwara and her brother, whose parents are missing, are doing their best to survive on their own, but wind up living in squalor. Their grandfather, worried about the family reputation and the fact that someone seems to be killing off his heirs, decides to provide a pair of maids to clean up Naeka's act and protect her. One of the new hires, Fubuki, is pretty much what you'd expect from a maid show heroine, though handier with a nail-studded baseball bat than most. The other is the Maid Guy of the title, Kogarashi, who closely resembles a Hokuto no Ken villain in drag. Senseless violence and abundant fanservice (surprisingly explicit for a modern TV anime) ensue. Kamen no Maid Guy is morally reprehensible, but immensely entertaining.

Genre: bishoujo, kitsune
Overall Rank: B
MJ Rank: B+

It isn't clear yet if it's a trend or random chance, but fox maidens and cat girls seem to be all over the place this season. In Kanokon, the kitsune (fox spirit) turned busty human is Chizuru Minamoto. For reasons that are unclear as of this writing, Chizuru is constantly draping herself over inadequate-looking high school freshman Kouta Oyamada. Well, Kouta may be a late bloomer, but as the screencap demonstrates, he does have a nigh heroic capacity for maintaining eye contact. The character designs in Kanokon, based on illustrations by Koin for the original light novel, are clearly the main draw. The visuals in the anime are on the simple side, but consistent and relatively fluid.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki (Diary of the Frenzied Family)
Genre: temporal lobe epilepsy simulation
Overall Rank: ??
MJ Rank: B+

Within five minutes of the Op sequence in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, we meet the perpetually smirking Kyouka, who claims to be age 20, and is apparently the daughter of the legendary monster Enka. Befuddled government paranormal investigator Ouka Midarezaki brings Kyouka to his HQ, where the two are summarily married, and instructed to adopt the remaining children of Enka, with the hope that family life will mellow them. Or at least give Midarezaki the opportunity to keep an eye on the Hell spawn, and kill any that show inclinations towards destroying the world. For the remainder of the episode, the newlyweds track down the other children, who turn out to be a little girl, a jellyfish, a lion, an armored biological weapon, and a metrosexual guy who may have the hots for Midarezaki. This could easily degenerate into tedious weirdness for the sake of weirdness, but I'm watching closely for now.

Macross Frontier
Genre: robots, idol music
Overall Rank: A-
MJ Rank: B

Back in the day, the rule of thumb was that every other Macross sequel was worth watching, starting with Macross: Ai Oboeteimasu ka?, which is the most perfect possible earthly expression of the Platonic ideal of the franchise. By my reckoning, we're due for something good this time around, though it depends on how you count all the fiddly little Macross 7 offshoots.

Alto Saotome is an impetuous rebel without a cause who dreams of being a military pilot. In the chaos of an alien attack on the Macross Frontier space colony fleet, he crosses paths with galactic idol Sheryl Nome, and stumbles onto a Valkyrie transforming robot whose pilot has been killed. Parts of this may sound familiar: Macross F incorporates bits and pieces of characters, visuals, and plots from previous Macross series, with an emphasis on Macross 7 and Macross Plus. It's looking really solid so far, though, with my only technical complaint being the detailed but rather poorly integrated 3D CG sequences.

Mnemosyne no Musume-tachi (Daughters of Mnemosyne)
Genre: science fiction, action
Overall Rank: B
MJ Rank: D

Rin Asougi and her assistant Mimi are freelance troubleshooters--a la Gunsmith Cats--in an alternate 1990's world. Rin seems to be immortal, which comes in handy, because she's always running afoul of people who want to do terrible, terrible things to her. Mnemosyne is a not exactly congenial mix of female buddy anime and survival horror elements, but what really drags it down into the "actively avoiding" category is the show's pervasive recreational sadism. It's disconcerting to see fairly mainstream anime creators sipping the same torture porn Kool Aid that's all the rage in Hollywood lately, and I hope it's not a sign of things to come.

That's all for now; reviews for Nabari no Ou through Wagaya no Oinari-sama will be coming shortly!

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