The Summer season is in full swing, and… it’s pretty average. Which may actually be a blessing in disguise since I got totally burnt out trying to cover the insanity of Winter. I ended up taking all of Spring off, which Euphonium almost immediately had me regretting. I would have liked to write about that show more, but I just couldn’t drum up the motivation. To try and combat the problem, I’m probably going to be nixing weekly write-ups in favor of a first impression/midseason/final impressions format, with extra stuff like reviews and editorials in-between. I still haven’t got the whole blogging thing ironed out yet, so I want to experiment with some stuff. At least until I can find a schedule I can function on, and still produce content I’m actually happy with. But enough about that, let’s get on with the cartoons!
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Ostensibly based on a series of famous Japanese mystery novels, though Ranpo seems closer to its cousin Danganronpa(also Directed by Seiji Kishi) than anything. Ranpo is the story of cute little androgynous boy, Kobayashi, who gets thrown into a sort of Holmes/Watson relationship with an emotionally-tortured teenage detective who comes to investigate the murder case our adorable hero is framed for. Kobayashi doesn’t mind being accused of murder, though. The cute little sociopath is actually thrilled to finally have a break from his mundane life. Kobayashi’s murdered teacher is then replaced by a loli catgirl with self-mutilation scars on her wrists. Needless to say, the characters in this show are pretty out-there. But so is everything else, so it kinda works. Kobayashi’s detective-noir monologues are theatrically stylized with spotlights and props, and background characters remain silhouetted until they’re relevant to Kobayashi or the story. Ranpo is basically all style and no, well, anything else at this point. It’s not exactly an exciting or well-crafted show, but it is weird as hell. And that at least has me a little interested.
Verdict: 3 Pieces of Human Furniture out of 5 – Average
At some nebulous point in the future, mankind has left Earth to terraform the solar system. Within the Mars-based Japanese district of Tokyo 4 lies Kirishina Corporation Academy, a kind of combination Dormitory/School/Research Lab. It is here that Kaitou Sera teaches a class of young engineering prodigies building space-faring racers for their parent corporation. The gimmick of Classroom Crisis seems to be “Let’s do Planetes, but in Anime High School!” and the results are understandably mixed. On the one hand, the Interstellar Techno-Future being a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of giant mega-corporations seems like it’s deliberately in the realm of all too on-the-nose social commentary, but the actual tone is much more in line with a typical school comedy. Complete with bugglegum-colored hair, overreactions, and overblown set-ups. The “joke” of the first episode is that Sera and his class spring into action rescuing their new transfer student from disgruntled miners, only to have him chastise them for wasting so many company resources on the operation. The show has decent production values, and some pretty sharp execution, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a little hollow. It’s a bit unfair, but the comparisons to Planetes seem inevitable here. And if you’re going to watch one show about the horrors of Space Capitalism, I think I’d pick Planetes every time.
Verdict: 2.5 Experimental Spaceships out of 5 – Mediocre
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers
Rokka seems pretty set on being the swashbuckling action blockbusters of the Summer line up, and it’s doing a bang-up job of it. Rokka is a good-looking action show, but it’s distinctive as well. The Aztec/Mayan aesthetic of this first episode makes me wonder why it’s not more common in media, let alone anime. It’s greatly effective visual shorthand for Ancient Mystical Civilization, and establishes a lot about Rokka’s world without the need for exposition. Which is something that Rokka unfortunately ignores. But before I get to that, I want to mention Rokka’s characterization, which was actually pretty graceful. Like the fact that Adlet could tell from just a single encounter who the strongest fighter in the tournament was, establishing that he is in fact an experienced warrior, and not just pure bravado. Or establishing the Princess as a respected, but clearly rebellious young woman by having her sneak in to visit Adlet in disguise, and even aid in his escape. Coming back to the exposition though, it’s a pretty significant mark against the show. The second act of the episode grinds to a halt as one character explains what feels like the entire history of the world to Adlet in excruciating detail. It doesn’t kill the episode, but it feels completely at-odds with the swift action-movie pacing of the beginning and end. Rokka so far is a unique little adventure with fun characters and an interesting world. If the show can just hurry up and get to the actual exploring of said world instead of sounding like a documentary about it, it could be one of the stronger shows this season.
Verdict: 3.5 Vaguely Meso-American Princesses out of 5 – Decent
Everyday Life with Monster Girls
Three years ago, the government revealed the existence of not-quite-human Monster Girls to the public, and began a systematic integration campaign. By an act of bureaucratic oversight, hapless everydude Kimihito is charged with taking in and looking after a busty Lamia named Miia, much to his chagrin. Of course, it isn’t long before Kimihito manages to slither his way into Miia’s heart. Which would be great, if only she wasn’t attached to a 15-foot anaconda tail capable of crushing human bones into dust. And also if letting her milk his venom-sac wouldn’t get him thrown in the slammer. This is obviously a pretty rote harem set-up, with the exception of the girls themselves. Which as it turns out actually goes a long way towards making the whole thing feel pretty fresh. The fact the much of the first episode is dedicated solely to the logistics of “What if your Girlfriend was part Snake?” is not only genuinely funny, but gives the show a kind of self-awareness that is pretty rare in this kind of show. Not the smug “Look guys, we’re an anime! Isn’t that hilarious?” kind of self-awareness you tend to see in its contemporaries, but more of a general understanding that the whole thing is just one big absurd joke. That the show is also an obvious set-up for commentary on discrimination doesn’t hurt, but I honestly hope it doesn’t lean too hard on it. I feel I must admit to my personal affinity for Cute Monster Girls, but all bias aside, I actually had a pretty good time with this episode.
Verdict: 3 Confused Boners out of 5 – Average
For a show I would tentatively describe as “Baccano meets Black Lagoon”, I was surprisingly lukewarm on the first episode. Mafia-controlled slums? “Fixers” for hire? Ambiguously dark-skinned anime babes? This show seems like it has everything I could ask for, but maybe that’s the problem. Gangsta feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s trying too hard to be gritty, and comes off more juvenile. It’s trying too hard to be sexy, and comes off as sleazy. And it’s trying way too hard to be cool, and comes off mostly as just ridiculous. The inclusion of Idiosyncratic Proper Nouns also has me a little worried this will quickly devolve into Urban Fantasy Battle Shounen. Still, it’s a good-looking show with a trio of interesting leads. The inclusion of deaf and partially-mute Nicolas is certainly a unique element. I have to wonder how long the show can keep up animating his sign-language and facial expressions before it necessitates a switch to internal monologues. Gangsta promises overly-bloody and gratuitously violent mobster hijinks, and that’s something I can at least get behind on a weekly basis.
Verdict: 3.5 Bloody Katanas out of 5 – Decent
Chaos Dragon is like Garzey’s Wing having an orgy with every bland, rightfully forgotten JRPG in history. And it is almost glorious to behold. This first episode was legendarily bad. Chaos Dragon was cobbled together from the D&D sessions of several big name anime creatives, including Gen Urobuchi and Kinoko Nasu of the Fate series. And boy, does the show reflect that. The experience of Chaos Dragon can only be described as “a bunch of dorks screaming over each other to tell you how awesome their D&D character is”. The show jumps from scene to scene with nary a second thought about flow or pacing. It dumps unintelligible swaths of exposition at every possible opportunity, even including actual on-screen footnotes. Everything is overdesigned and clashes with everything else. The show doesn’t even have the decency to at least have the garish-looking characters stay on-model. I mean, just about everything that could possibly go wrong with a show, Chaos Dragon seems to embrace with shameless abandon. Calling this show a clusterfuck is almost insulting to clusterfucks. The only thing Chaos Dragon really has going for it is that it’s mostly harmless. It’s bad, but it’s not horrifying or offensive. But I can’t really praise a giant pile of garbage for not also being on fire.
Verdict: 1 Hideous CGI Dragon out of 5 – Atrocious
Gatchaman Crowds Insight
Hazzah, more GatchaCrowds! Crowds was one of my favorite shows of 2013, and I was pretty excited to see where they’d take the show for a sequel. Thankfully, Crowds doesn’t seem to have lost its sharp wit in-between seasons. Where the first season was all about dealing with the dehumanizing anonymity of the internet and the gamification of culture, S2 seems to be addressing the publicity of mass-communication and the empowerment it gives individuals. S2 seems to essentially be “What to do if you become a meme”. It’s a compelling hook in its own right, but certainly more interesting in the wake of Crowds’ first season. We’ve already been introduced to two new characters, a hot-headed young Gatchaman recruit named Tsubasa and the alien visitor Gelsadra, who has the power to manifest peoples’ emotions as a kind of thought-bubble emoticon. Crowds was already a dense show, but this episode was full of all kinds of implications. Like the fact that Tsubasa doesn’t seem to be able to transform under normal circumstances, spontaneously transforming during an emotional outburst. Or the hostile Red Crowds, lead by a mysterious masked man who sees humanity as little more than noisy apes. Insight has a lot of ground to cover, and a helluva legacy to live up to, but it’s off to as good a start as I could have asked for.
Verdict: 4.5 Alien Lolis out of 5 – Phenomenal
Snow White with the Red Hair
The shoujo fantasy entry for the season, Redhead Princess may be the best-looking show of the Summer. This show boasts gorgeously-colored backgrounds, attractive character designs, fluid animation, and some pretty striking cinematography. I only wish the rest of the show was on par with the visuals. I mean, it was perfectly competent episode, all things considered. Telling a nice little self-contained introduction and establishing working dynamics and charming fantasy world, but it wasn’t terribly exciting. There’s just no way around it, the two leads just did not have the strength of personality to carry the episode. And that definitely doesn’t bode well for the rest of the show. Lead heroine Shirayuki is a perennial nice-girl whose only defining traits seem to be “skilled apothecary” and “has red hair”. Not exactly the most complex or nuanced heroine I’ve ever seen… While leading lad Zen is a purely archetypal Handsome Rogue with a Secret Heart-of-Gold. The show has plenty of time to flesh them out certainly, but when the arrogantly eccentric Evil Prince is the most memorable character in your prologue, that might be a bit of a problem. Still, AkaGami is undoubtedly confident, even if it is boilerplate. For now though, I’ll continue waiting around for somebody to finally find the perfect mixture good ol’ Shoujo character-writing and sweeping fantasy-adventure.
Verdict: 4 Suspicious Apples out of 5 – Solid
Hachimitsu Academy has opened its doors to male students for the first time in its history, a fact that five awkward dolts have decided to try and take full advantage of. Much to the dismay of the shadowy Underground Student Council, who have forbade any contact between male and female students. But that doesn’t deter our intrepid “heroes”, they’re just gonna peep on the girls in the changing room! Wacky sex-comedy hijinks ensue! So very wacky! Seriously though, this episode took me almost an hour to get through. Every two minutes, I had to pause and cringe uncontrollably. Whether it be from the horrendously unfunny comedy, or the incredibly stiff animation, nothing in this show seemed to work for me. I don’t think I hated it, I just got absolutely nothing out of it. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t even all that gross or shocking. It just… was. Prison School is desperately trying to be a raunchy 80s comedy set in Anime High School, and I guess it’s at least pretty good at it. The episode-ending cliffhanger involves the main character falling out of a tree into an extremely fresh puddle of urine. If that sounds like appointment TV to you, Prison School is the show you’ve been waiting for. As for me, I think I’m gonna jump off this crazy train while the jumping’s good.
Verdict: 2 Unlicked Boots out of 5 – Poor