Wednesday, April 23, 2008

First Impressions - Spring Anime Season (part 1)

It's been a week and I've started watching a handful of the spring season lineup additions. Keep in mind that my computer has had a meltdown and my backup is an older model that can't play files encoded with the H264 codec. To put that in layman's terms, shows that are being released strictly in HD will not be reviewed (or watched) for an indefinite period. Now moving on, let's jump right into the early impressions (which is all these are so let's not read too much into them).

Code Geass:! Easily the best show of the season. I'll eat my hat if this ends up not being the best show of the year (and I love my hat!). I can't remember ever anticipating the next episode of a series week after week like I do with Geass. I'll leave all the spoilers for the formal review in the fall but I'll say that Geass does a fabulous job reconciling the incredibly high-tension cliffhanger ending of last season and starting off the new season at a fabulous pace. The adjustment is done very cleverly using flashbacks to fill in the gaps left over from last season without slowing down the action. The Code Geass franchise is shaping itself up as the series of the decade and if there's only one series you can watch, make it this one!
Early Impressions: GOD STATUS

xxxHOLIC kei: A decent start to a very good show. I just noticed I've never written a formal review of the original xxxHOLIC so I'll give you a quick impression of that since this season is shaping up very similarly. Holic is an entertaining show with nice characters and good stories but with very little to no character development and plot development. After a mystery is solved or a curse is removed, the characters come back the next week and take on their next challenge. We don't learn a lot about the characters and many plot lines go undeveloped like romantic interests or supernatural abilities. xxxHOLIC is a great show that is unwilling to take risks to elevate its product, a common flaw in CLAMP works.
Early Impressions: Great but flawed and unambitious.

Kanokon: A surprisingly good harem that is unapologetic about it's genre. Kanokon features insanely over-the-top amounts of ecchi and fan service. In fact, it's practically all that happens. The character design for our lead female is attrative and fresh. Add in a dash of funny material like the thoughrougly abused onii-chan, the Yuki Nagato-like(from Haruhi Suzumiya) rival character's deadpan deliveries and the classroom comments from the sideline cast and you've got an enjoyable show.
Early Impressions: Rare decent harem series.

To Love-Ru: A definitely lesser ecchi series. It feels like the material is more recycled, the character designs are a knotch lower and the comedy attempts are more hit and miss. To love-ru will need to go more outrageous and do less switching between funny and heartfelt moments.
Early Impressions: A more common, lesser example of the harem/ecchi genre.

Itazura na Kiss: This kind of series irritates me to no end. Girl confesses to jerk-guy. Jerk rejects her. Girl forced to move in with jerk's family. Girl doesn't give up on jerk and uses extorsion, confrontation and tenacity in an attempt to bag the guy. Sound like fun?
This is a romantic comedy that is unfunny with two unlikeable characters. The animation and character designs reek of low-budget and the setting is the furthest from unique. I will probably struggle to make it through this series if I do at all.
Early Impressions: Bad romantic comedy.

I've only watched the first 3 episodes of these series so my judgement is reserved only to them. That's it for now. I'll watch some more and get back to you with more early impressions and reviews for Clannad and Bamboo Blade in the coming weeks. Bye-bee!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

~Early~ Spring Anime Season lineup

This is an early list that is likely to be significantly altered once all the series have begun and have been picked up by fansubbing groups.

-Code Geass R2
-xxxHOLIC kei
-Vampire Knight
-Kyouran Kazoku Nikki???(The only reason I'm considering it is because it has been picked up by the excellent joint fansub group SS-Eclipse)
-To Love-Ru(same reason but picked up by moetaku which did a great job on True Tears
-Allison to Lillia
-Itazura na Kiss
-Wagaya no Oinari-sama
-Soul Eater
-Real Drive
-Library Wars

A lot of these are liable to be dropped for personal reasons (i.e. they suck or are boring me or both) or for production reasons (i.e. no fansub group is releasing it to my satisfaction) or logistic issues (i.e. I have too much on my plate).

I'm hoping my premature feelings are wrong since I haven't watched any of these yet but so far the number of good series this season seems to be alarmingly on the low side. I'm hoping there are quite a few pleasant surprises here and that my ominous impressions are unfounded. If they are bad though, you can expect funny, insulting reviews that are sure to entertain you even if the series don't.

Gundam 00 (Season 1)- Completed Review

What is it?
Come on, you're kidding right? This is a Gundam series.
What's good about it?
Epic storytelling involving the whole world. Big cast of characters. Above-par gundam mecha designs. Well animated. Exciting battle scenes.
What's bad about it?
A lot of the story seems unnecessary and most of the major plot turns happen in the first handful episodes. Some characters (I'm talking about you, Saji and Louise) contribute nothing to the series except context as ordinary people and others are barely developed and if they happen to die, there is no real feeling of impact because of their blandness. When comparing it to the last Gundam series (Seed [Destiny]), the story seems less enthralling and the characters less likeable or memorable. I've just finished watching 00, yet I'm sure I can name more Seed characters off the top of my head.
Final Verdict
I always seem to find Gundam series are bad, yet I continue to watch them, year after year. Even against the gundam standard however, Gundam 00 is not very good. I believe that a major problem is that the focus is more on organisations then the individuals. Despite everything, the series ended on a strong note and there is hope for the second season. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to recommend it. Gundam is a niche series anyways so those likely to watch it aren't going to let this review sway them from watching it. Since it's been split into two seasons, the jury is still out on this one but it's so far shaping up as a forgettable gundam series, which is unfortunate since they certainly are due for a good one.
FYI- I'm sick of writing reviews for the moment so you'll have to wait a week for my Bamboo Blade review.

Hayate no Gotoku! - Completed Review

What is it?
Comedy about a teenage boy who works off a ridiculous debt left to him by his parents by working as a butler for an even more ridiculously wealthy little girl.
What's good about it?
Great comedy packed full of diverse and likeable characters. Many episodes revolve around creative themes and settings. Packed full of clever references to other anime, manga and other copyrighted material. Makes a point of shamelessly providing service shots to fans. Light fare without many continuous plot stories.
What's bad about it?
Nothing really. It's 52 episodes long - absurdly long for solid, thin-plotted successful comedy- so it's understandable that some of the jokes and character reactions get somewhat predictable and repetitive but for the most part Hayate rises above that trap. Admittedly, some weeks were slower and less creative than others, which is always the challenge when your stories are episodic in length and you don't really follow a continuous plot.
Final Verdict
The butler/maid setting has been used to a ridiculously obsurd degree in comedies in the last few years. However, I only hold that against series which are bad. If you're going to make a bad comedy, at least make it different so as to at least have novelty on your side. Hayate no Gotoku! was one of the most-watched series of 2007 and with that success will undoubtably come a whole new slew of maid/butler series in the coming anime seasons. However, I won't hold that against it because Hayate is a funny, accessible and pleasurable watch that I recommend for anyone looking for light-fare comedy. As always in these types of series, general knowledge of modern anime series is a plus for enjoyement purposes but not critical.
FYI- I've got a couple more reviews in my plate( Gundam 00 Season 1 & Bamboo Blade) for the upcoming week and I'm still in the process of picking my spring season lineup.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Kekkaishi - Completed Review

What is it?

The teenage successors to two clans of technique-wielders called "Kekkaishi" spend their nights exterminating demons ("Ayakashi") from the sacred land upon which their school is built on.

What's good about it?

I'll start off by saying I haven't read the Kekkaishi manga so I can't compare the anime production to the original. I tend to think anime series should be based on their own merits anyways so it shouldn't really matter for this review.

The plot is basically one story arc that goes full circle, providing us with a conclusive ending. For the fighting shounen genre this is nothing less than a tour de force. Most of these series feature one of these problems: many arcs of the hero going up after the ultimate vilain, only to have to face an even stronger vilain afterwards(Samurai X, Bleach) or the heroes fight the ultimate vilain over and over again, only to have him survive somehow and return to fight them, sometimes in a different or evolved form(Inuyasha, Dragon Ball). To be fair, those series were all considerably longer than Kekkaishi, but the effect is refreshing nonetheless.

Kekkaishi also has a nice, large cast of characters. The main characters do a fairly good job of rising above the stereotypic mold of characters that is quite common to the genre and offer some surprising depth.

What's bad about it?

Many of the Ayakashi are of the minion variety, quite undistiguishable the ones from the other. The first dozen episodes or so are peppered with filler stories, mostly revolving around other students at their school or friendly ghosts (lame!). I'm not too excited about the whole kekkai technique in general. It seems a bit too defensive to be exciting, though this aspect improves as the series progresses and the characters get better at wielding their powers. The main characters fall into the stereotype trap at times. I've grown weary of the simplistic "I want to protect everyone important to me" and "I don't want to see anyone get hurt" statements.

Final Verdict

Kekkaishi isn't breaking any molds or stepping out of the box. However, those accomplishments aren't the goal of shounen series. Shounen series are about exciting confrontations between likeable heroes and sinister vilains. These series are considered a success if they can provide you with that without containing serious flaws, and under that criteria, Kekkaishi makes the cut. At 52 episodes, Kekkaishi isn't the commitment of other epic shounen series and leaves you relatively satisfied.


FYI- In the coming days I intend to give you the basic outline of my exciting fall lineup. Also, my next review will be the excellent comedy, Hayate no Gotoku!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

True Tears - Completed Review

What is it?

A number of love triangles come together. While the 3 guys each like a different girl, all 3 girls like the same guy.

What's good about it?

Plenty of delicious teenage angst. Well written plot turns and scenarios. Interesting and unique characters coupled to attractive character designs.

What's bad about it?

The pace seemed to slow dramatically in the second half of the series. My biggest gripe is the metaphoric language that seems to used quite a bit. I find this to be a common trend in all Japanese television and movies, but it just seemed forced and not like something these characters would ever say in real life. In case you don't understand what I'm alluding to, it's lines like: "you can fly", "I can't fly", "I want your tears". ****SPOILER WARNING**** Also, I still don't understand how Ando and Shintaro's friend got back together after she dumped him and admitted she never liked him and had a crush on his best friend. That plot branch thinned into nothingness towards the end. They were always secondary characters anyways. At least they can deal with fact that nobody cares about them with each others help. Just a sidenote; Ando was my favorite character design. Hot! ****End of spoiler*****

Wow, I really went off on a tangent there. Let's call it bonus commentary!

Final Verdict

True tears was probably one of the best series in this sparingly quantity-thin winter anime season. The first half of the series was crazy addictive and enjoyable while it sputtered a bit towards the end. Nevertheless, true tears is a great romance series overall and well worth the watch.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rosario to Vampire - Completed Review

What is it?

School harem anime with a twist. The guy is a human in a school for monsters.

What's good about it?

The character designs for the girls are unique and attractive(though the loli character didn't do anything for me). The animation is nice. The school-for-monsters setting was ok.

What's bad about it?

The formula for every episode is very repetitive. The male protaganist is the kind of lead character I hate. Whiny, weak, deceivable and bland. Definitely a notch in the "against" column when analyzing this series. There was some recycled animation for the vampire transformations. How shows still get away with recycled animation in this day and age baffles me.

Final Verdict

The problem with Rosario is that beyond some cute character designs, it has nothing interesting to offer. These harem-schoolife series are a dime a dozen and the setting wasn't enough of a sell to differentiate it from the competition. I predict that 3 years from now Rosario to Vampire will completely be erased from my life, as my brain judges it to be useless.

With all that being said, Rosario's faults aren't that deep and the series remains quite watchable. With a shortage of new winter series, I was comfortable freeing up 20 minutes a week for a few months to a series that isn't breaking any barriers. It's junkfood for an anime addict. The casual fan has better material they haven't seen yet.



The spring anime season is beginning as we speak. While I'm devoting most of my resources to ending series and prospecting future ones, I've already settled on a couple of anticipated sequels and a promising(maybe) new series I'm certain will be covered here in the future.

-XXXholic: Kei (Awesome!)


-Code Geass Season 2 (I can't wait!)

I've also got a few reviews in the works, the next being of True Tears, which was a pleasant surprise.