Well, I watched exactly one episode of most of the new season, and it’s time to do what Americans do best– jump to conclusions! Time to thin slice!
I don’t think I’m any different from anyone else in the regard that when a new season starts, I have no clue what to watch. I hope this stack of episode one reviews will help give people a good impression of what’s out there this season.
Because I have a finite amount of time and I’m just not interested in a few series, here’s some quick impressions of series that I’m not reviewing in this post: Canvas 2 (H to normal anime conversions generally fail), Aria (YKK in space), Gin Ban (shoujo with poor animation), Solty Rei (I can only handle one Gonzo series at a time), Beet (I didn’t watch the original), Animal Yokocho (looked like a kiddie show), Ginga Densetsu Weed (dogs? no chix0rs? pass.), and Paradise Kiss (too shoujo). Happy 7 and Noein… I know nothing about.
#8. To Heart 2 Episode 1
I haven’t played the games nor do I really care to. I enjoyed the original series quite a bit (even with the eyebeams); I felt it was a nice, slow, slice-of-life show and less of a harem clone. Besides the unique feel to the story, the strengths of the original included aesthetically pleasing character designs as well as the solid drawn animation. Sadly, Remember My Memories tried to “improve” on the original with highly angular character designs and a bit more comedy and drama. The character designs were a disaster, generously put, and the comedy and drama were so tame, it made Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~ seem like Lord of the Rings by comparison. To Heart 2 features okay character designs as I’m not really impressed with either Tara or Konomi though the inclusion of Tamaki and twins save it from being a complete disaster. The animation quality is subpar… about the level of Da Capo SS.
The first episode introduces Konomi, as she is graduating from middle school, and the typical harem male lead, Tara, who looks bummed that this isn’t an H-series. They do typical bishoujo game stuff like share a moment on the school roof, walk home, and go grocery shopping. Since he’s living alone, it’s only natural that Konomi agrees to cook dinner for him, clean his house, and sleep over. Tara ends up bedding Konomi, and, by this point, I’m folding my laundry as there’s nothing to capture my attention. Very bland. Very vanilla. Very boring. The feeling of the show carries none of the original To Heart charm. In fact, it feels very unentertaining compared to Da Capo SS‘s train wreck nature, Mahoraba‘s warmness, Girls Bravo‘s fanservice, or Belldandy’s Belldanding. From a “Keep me entertained standpoint,” To Heart 2 fails. This first episode has been just inane and forgettable, and I rank this show dead last for the new season based on my thin slicing, and the prognosis for this series isn’t good– I only hope Tamaki and her bra can save the day.
#7. Cluster Edge Episode 1
Whoa. I am ranking a bishounen title ahead of a bishoujo one, though Cluster Edge‘s first episode is only marginable better. The first episode is very muddled as there seems to be too much going on– first a war, then a discussion of clone soldiers, then a trip on a train, then an aerial dogfight, and lastly a bar brawl. Needless to say, none of it flowed very well, and, generally, a first episode is supposed to do two things: grab the viewer’s attention and introduce the characters. Cluster Edge‘s first episode did neither as the action is scarce and the characters, well, I’m not sure if they have names because they sure don’t use them.
The premise seems to be a world where two major countries just ended hostilities after a war involving artificial soldiers, and the main character is going off to some school called, “Cluster.” Along the way, he meets a rich bishounen, and they, uh, share a Y4L moment. I stopped taking the show seriously at this point. The highlight of the show seems to be the aerial dogfights where they roam the sky in odd flying contraptions. This world has jeeps, warships, and trains that mimic our world’s, but the planes look different. So the main character hears on his radio that the military is trying to apprehend a renegade flyer, so, of course, he flies out to try to save him. He is immediately awarded a Darwin Award. The rich bishounen then suddenly becomes a little too concerned about the boy he meets on the train and engages an entire military squad in hand-to-hand combat trying to find out what happened to his Y4L friend. I’m not impressed with any segment of the show, as the poor animation quality really detracts from the series, and bishounen action isn’t really my cup of tea. (Would it kill them to introduce one female character?) It doesn’t help that all the bishounen all look more or less the same. Fans of Kyou Kara Maou would probably enjoy this series. I’m just not one of them.
#6. Mai Otome Episode 1
Mai Otome is a pseudo-sequel to Mai Hime in the sense that Final Fantasy 10 is a sequel to Final Fantasy 1 through 9. Yes, there’s chocobos… airships… Bahamut… moogles… etc, but they’re always a bit different game to game. Remixed if you will. That’s what Mai Otome is to Mai Hime: the characters are back, just not how you remembered them. Instead of “Hime” fighting against “Hime,” it seems to be “Otome” fighting against “Otome.” The summons, weird weapons, and mild lesbianism seem present and accounted for, and that’s all that matters, right? Mai Hime was a guilty pleasure, and I don’t see Mai Otome being any different.
In the first episode, we are introduced to the new plucky heroine trio of Arika (the lead), Nina (the butch), and the princess (the princess) as well as re-incarnations of old favorites, including Mikoto, who seems to be needing some dieting and de-nekofication, with Mai and her ample bosom missing. The story starts in some world that is besieged by monsters, and a lady floats a baby down a sewer with a pendant. Fourteen years later, we see Arika doing her best Sunabouzu impression as she tries to get to Galderobe academy in Wind Bloom. On her trip, she bumps into Nina, literally, and after reaching the city, Arika is like a country bumpkin. The two then meet up with the princess and run into a monster that Shizuru pwns. Arika decides that she wants to become an Otome and attend Galderobe academy. The end.
The animation seems better than the original series, and the character expressions are more SD and cutesy than before. The story? If you liked Mai Hime, it’s more of the same. It seems to be more of a sequel in the 2nd Gig mold than a Destiny, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Unfortunately, it also works against the show– I’m docking it some points for that “Been there, done that” factor. Steady, not great.
#5. Black Cat Episode 1
I keep telling myself, “It’s Gonzo. They’re going to defile the story like what they did to Chrno Crusade.” And, guess what, the “improvements” to the manga have already started fast and furious. Black Cat, the manga, is about Train and Sven, two bounty hunter types who battle a shadowy organization called, “Chronos.” The manga starts with the characters already introduced and buddied up, but Gonzo is taking a different approach and starting with how Sven met Train in episode one. Train is a member of Chronos, and he is assigned to kill someone whom Sven is trying to capture for a bounty. Train comes off like a complete bad-ass (think Spike) while Sven comes off like a clumsy womanizer (think Trigun) who fights with a briefcase that would make Doraemon proud. Eve is inexcusably doing nothing with her screentime. This first episode, oddly, felt like an episode of Getbackers due to Sven’s eyeball power and that he’s so hungry, poor, and hanging out with waitresses.
For people who don’t normally follow my rantings, I don’t like Gonzo. I feel that they always put style over substance, and while ideas like, “Hey, let’s remake Seven Samurai, only let’s pit the samurai against huge Gundams, and, just for kicks, make one or two of the samurai gay. Hard gay!” may seem cool, I’m sure Kurosawa is crying somewhere. Gonzo is also horrible with romantic storylines and sexual tension, and I still feel that they have been regressing since Gatekeepers in that regard. Black Cat is no different as the show is very pretty and very stylish… stylish to the point that I have a hard time following the action and story. Gonzo also choose to chibify the characters, and they look a lot less serious than they were in the manga. Luckily, from what little of the manga that I have read, I can fill in the blanks. How long can this continue before I curse Gonzo again? I don’t know, but, right now, Black Cat is entertaining and enjoyable, and I just love the two songs at the end of this episode. I’ll be curious to see if Black Cat turns into another enjoyable gem like Gatekeepers or a boring but “cool” mess like Trinity Blood.
#4. Blood+ Episode 1
The first two minutes were almost as bloody as the first two minutes for Elfen Lied, except, uh, Blood+ is airing in Gundam Seed Destiny‘s old 6PM timeslot. From the mastermind behind Ghost in the Shell comes yet another rehash of an old movie, and I’m thinking they’re trying to create another Stand Alone Complex. The original Blood didn’t have much going for it beyond: (1) incredible animation, (2) English, and (3) a loli, gothic, katana-wielding girl. The original movie was way too short and too muddled, and it is not on the same level that Ghost in the Shell is on. How does Blood+ fare? The first episode is coherent enough to keep me interested and wanting to see another episode, but I’m not sure what the relationship of the series is to the original movie.
In any case, Saya is back, and she lost her memory. Apparently, blood sucking bats exist in our world, and the good old American army is hunting them down. At least it’s more realistic than a Valley Girl hunting them down. The first episode introduces Saya, who seems to be a normal high school girl, and her “family.” She forgets her track shoes at school, so when she returns to pick them up, she sees one of the blood sucking bats kill a teacher. The bat chases after her, and she is saved by a mysterious man who says hello by kissing her. That’s it. Part of the appeal of the original movie is that competent English work done, and that’s all gone now. The Americans all speak fluent Japanese. Then there’s the katana-wielding Saya, which I guess we’ll have to wait for another episode to see. Luckily, production values are extremely high for this series, and I’m shocked in the disparity in animation quality between this and Gundam Seed Destiny. Okay, maybe not that shocked. I don’t, however, like the designs for the bats. They look terrible and not very menacing.
It’s a bit early to pass judgement on this show since there’s a lot of unrealized good points to it. But the first episode didn’t impress me as much as the following series, so I’m sticking it here in my ranking.
#3. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s Episode 1
Nanoha and Fate returns to battle more bad guys in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s. I was expecting lots of slick weaponry, properly spoken English, and underaged nakkidness, and A’s delivered. The new conflict centers around a wheelchair-bound girl, Hayate, as she discovers an ancient book. I’m guessing that the book came alive and spawned magical girls of its own, and these slightly more evil magical girls are roaming the world now trying to fully repair the book by stealing other people’s magical powers.
So one such evil magical girl, Lita, decides to draw out a powerful magical source, and it turns out to be Nanoha. Like any other do-gooder, instead of fighting back at first, Nanoha just keeps asking, “Why?” (Reminded me of Kira Yamato vs. Athrun Zala in Gundam Seed… honestly, if someone is trying to kill you, it’s best not to ask, “Why?” and focus on attacking or running the hell away.) Eventually, Nanoha starts to get serious, and the battle is highly enjoyable. I always liked the ways weapons are handled in Nanoha. Their fight ends predictably with Shinn impaling Freedom with an anti-ship sword. 違います.
I’m always fond of sequels that know what the original did well and just provide more of it. The first episode was a great start. Animation quality is very good, and I hope the series can continue bringing us copious amounts of
underaged nakk… err… magical girl on magical girl acti… err… Fate in black thong pan… err… good storytelling and battles. Yeah… that’s the ticket. In terms of sequels, A’s is the strongest of the bunch, but I still prefer fresh blood, so the higher ranked series are originals.
#2. Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl) Episode 1
A lot of people seem pumped for this show, and when I first heard of the concept, I kept thinking, Paranoia Agent… Shounen Bat… Paranoia Agent. Jigoku Shoujo is about a little girl, Ai, (who reminds of Yukino from Gatekeepers) and her team who help people in dire straights take revenge on others for the low, low price of one eternal soul. The first episode involves a middle school girl who gets blackmailed and bullied to the point where she’s about to kill herself. She overhears of this website,
Sea Slug Team, Hell Correspondence, that offers to take revenge on anyone in exchange for their eternal soul if a name is inputed into the site at midnight. So the bullied girl tries this, and Ai pops up to help the middle school girl take the bully to hell, and everyone lives happily… ever… after?
The show has tremendous production values and looks fantastic. I think even better than Blood+. The character designs, music, everything, and the creepy mood fits the series well. My only complaint is how similar it is to Paranoia Agent… Ai is like Shounen Bat, and the episodes are the “people who get hit by a bat or ferried to hell of the week” variety. (I think they’re forced to watch Gokujo Seikotai on that ferry to hell.) Paranoia Agent started strong too, but the middle was slow due to the repetitive nature of shounen bat’s attacks, and the end became a mind-blowing mess that even Gainax could be proud of. Fantastic start, hence why I rank it highly, but I’m not sure of the shelf life… um, revenge for 26 episodes? Is this a good idea? But, for now, you have my attention, so now please keep me interested, Miss Hell Girl.
#1. Shakugan no Shana Episode 1
Shakugan no Shana follows a world in which humans are food for crimson monsters. After feeding on the human souls, the people on Earth do not die– instead they are replaced with objects that carry on in the human shell– sorta like the perverted teddy bear in Bleach only these flames only last a finite amount of time. Afterwards… poof! The main character, Yuuji, just started high school, and one day he sees the world freeze and a monster appear to gobble up people, including the cute girl in his class who probably has a crush on him. About to be consumed himself, a mysterious red-headed katana-wielding girl saves him, and he discovers the truth about himself: that he was not only eaten a long time ago and his soul is no longer in his human body but his soul was replaced with some sort of treasure.
The first episode was very impressive in that it managed to set forth the plot in an enjoyable manner while creating suspense and mystery for more episodes down the line. The characters all seem likable, and they are much more aesthetically pleasing than To Heart 2. In fact, let me start demanding a harem series involving some of the girls in Yuuji’s class. The character designs, which were done by Mai Otsuka, who also who did Melody of Oblivion‘s, are adorable. Since it’s JC Staff, the animation is smooth with natural tones while the story progresses in our world and red in the other world, and all the characters have that adult-loli look to them (think Mahoraba). Of course, loli, gothic, katana-wielding girls addicted to melon bread = hawt. Mmm… that forumla doesn’t seem quite right.
The voice acting is solid, though I fear that Yuuji may end up pulling a Shinji Ikari on us once his cute classmate’s flame extinguishes. It does remind me a bit of Melody of Oblivion‘s beginning in the sense one cute classmate gets eaten by a monster and a mysterious girl appears out of nowhere to warn him of impending doom. Mmm. There’s a lot of upside to this series, and, at worst, I feel it could become a Bleach clone as the worst case scenario. A strong candidate to become this season’s Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo, a great, entertaining series that people didn’t initially know about.
Well, there you go. A bunch of episode ones thin sliced for easy consumption. I find it weird that there’s a lacking of harem comedies or comedies in general this season (luckily, Pani Poni Dash is still on-going), a lacking of giant robots, and that two shows feature katana-wielding heroines. To Heart 2 is easily the most disappointing for its blandness, and Shakugan no Shana and Jigoku Shoujo are the most pleasant surprises. I had to pick a top spot, and I gave the nod to Flame Haze over Hell Girl, even though they’re both solid debut episodes and both had a 4TW moment, just that Shakugan no Shana shows more promise in the extended storyline department. And I hope everyone is enjoying the new season.