Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Anime -- Brief Reviews and Early Favorites

Eden of the EastThere are too many good new shows this season. Heading the list for me are Eden of the East, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, and Ristorante Paradiso.

K-On, Guin Saga, Hanasakeru Shounen and Pandora Hearts aren't too far behind. Here are brief reviews of most of the new shows, from my own fairly idiosyncratic point of view. (mouseover images for captions, click to enlarge; titles link to more info in English or Japanese)

Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden) (jp: 東のエデン) The best new show of the season. Craziness, mystery, romance, real English from American voice-actors, accurate views of Washington DC…. All that and top-notch Production IG animation and strong voice-acting from Hayami Saori and Kimura Ryouhei, who give us wonderful chemistry as the leads.

Despite being shown in the Noitamina time-slot, which is aimed largely at a female audience, this show is designed to appeal to a wide range of anime fans, and seems to be succeeding. First-rate OP and ED, from Oasis (!) and School Food Punishment, respectively. The ED has especially interesting animation, although I myself prefer the OP.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom (jp: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom) The dark and deadly tale of two assassins. People who know say they can see that the original has been "Bee-Trained" by director Mashimo Kouichi. Whatever the case, this is a slick, well-paced, and emotionally moving show.

Takagaki Ayahi is one of the young seiyuus I think of as a future voice goddess. She confirms my opinion in this role as a hardened young assassin. It’s a role I could easily imagine Toyoguchi Megumi in, and I think Ayahime does at least as good a job. And she is surrounded by such voices as Hisakawa Aya, Sawashiro Miyuki, Irino Miyu, and Houshi Souichirou. Fabulous OP by Kokia.

Ristorante ParadisoRistorante Paradiso (jp: リストランテ・パラディーゾ) A fascinating josei show, following a young woman who comes from the countryside to Rome to the restaurant owned by the partner of her mother, who abandoned her as a child.

Through three episodes, it is the story of her desire for one of the handsome bespectacled older gentlemen who staff the place, as she seeks a path toward her future and begins to understand her mother. Not your average anime.

K-OnK-On! (jp: けいおん!) More comic moe from Kyoto Animation. Once again, as in Lucky Star, they have recruited a cast largely made up of unknowns and newcomers and have enabled them to give hilarious comic performances. Overwhelmingly popular among otaku in Japan, as Lucky Star was.

I found my own enjoyment waning slightly after ep3, but this show does have a continuing plot to carry us forward, so it may not fall into the category of "good shows that give you all they have in a couple of episodes." And ep4 brought me back on board.

Mio is terrific: a great moe character, super-tsun and SUPER-dere. She's reaching the popularity level of Yuki in Suzumiya Haruhi or Kagami in Lucky Star. Excellent OP and ED by the main cast hit the charts at numbers 3 and 4, but are up to numbers 1 and 2 as of Friday.

Guin Saga (jp: グイン・サーガ) Classic fantasy. The first three episodes hold out great promise. War. Capture. Dungeons. Magic. A strong and tragic hero. A beautiful princess (played by Nakahara Mai). And I adore Kanon's ED.

Hanasakeru ShounenHanasakeru Seishounen (jp: 花咲ける青少年) Endou Aya has become the go-to girl for mistress of a reverse harem. She did it in the most recent Angelique series, and she's doing it again here. And she is outstanding. Her breathy voice is so beautiful, and she gives the character charm and strength. As she did Sheryl in Macross F.

In this show, she is Kajika-sama, a boyish teenager who is the cherished daughter of a tycoon and has been raised in isolation on a tropical island. She is bold and handsome, like the leopard that was her constant companion growing up. Outstanding OPED from J-min.

Pandora Hearts (jp: パンドラハーツ) I had no idea I would like this show as much as I do. Kawasumi Ayako gives one of the best performances of the year so far as the lovely monster Alice. Good background music from Kajiura Yuki, and a good OP from her group Fiction Junction.

Cross Game (jp: クロスゲーム) One of the better new series, a shounen baseball (and maybe romance) anime with great work from people like Irino Miyu, Tomatsu Haruka, and Kanda Akemi. A huge twist in the first episode that sets us up for the rest of the story. Too shounen in style for me (humor, characters, character design), but fairly subtle and restrained. Good OP by Kobukuro and ED by Ayaka.

Saki (jp: 咲-Saki-) A yuri moe sports anime about mah jong. I kid you not. I'm enjoying it all, right down to the dramatic music and lightning flashes as tiles are played. Ueda Kana, Koshimizu Ami, Kugimiya Rie, Itou Shizuka, Shiraishi Ryouko, Fukuyama Jun. Mmmm.

TayutamaTayutama: Kiss on my Deity (jp: タユタマ -Kiss on my Deity-) I hate to admit how much I'm enjoying this show. Another clumsy adaptation by the team behind Lovedol, Amenaideyo, School Days, and Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka. But it's doing a great job of the familiar meme of the goddess who suddenly moves in and declares herself the protagonist's bride. I like Miyazaki Ui's ED. She gets better every time out.

Before Green Gables (Konnichiwa Anne) (jp: こんにちは アン) Definitely World Masterpiece Theatre. Well made, although with barely adequate animation. Some people may find the story of Anne before Green Gables a bit old-fashioned. I find it almost too intense to watch.

Jewelpet (jp: ジュエルペット) Surprisingly enjoyable little tie-in meant to sell a line of stuffed toys to little girls. The cast is fascinating: Hirano Aya, Sawashiro Miyuki, Sasaki Nozomi, Saitou Ayaka -- and two idols doing their first seiyuu work: Kamei Eri of Morning Musume and singer/photo idol Akina. The stories are for kids, complete with morals about friendship and courage. But the truth of those morals is hard to deny, and the script and characters have something for adults, too.

Kin-iro no Corda - second passo (jp: 金色のコルダ ~second passo~) A good start to a two-episode OVA series of the reverse-harem classical music anime. I enjoyed the first series, and this show, too, does a nice job of what it does.

kissxsis (jp: kiss×sis) Incest comedy. If those words repel you, don’t watch. If they attract you, you will enjoy this show a lot. Totally over the top, as two sisters compete to get into the pants of their (non-blood-related) younger brother.

Koihime†Musou (jp: 恋姫†無双) If you liked the TV series, you'll like this. More ecchi moe ancient China.

07-Ghost (jp: 07-Ghost) I didn't expect to like this show, either. But I'm enjoying it so far. Saiga Mitsuki is strong in the lead role. And the story has some punch and some mystery.

Asura Cryin' (jp: アスラクライン) I love both the OP and ED songs by angela. A real singer. The anime itself seems a bit limp, but the eps are getting better. The mechas and fights look good to me, though I'm no connoisseur. All this and spirits, too. Irino Miyu, Tomatsu Haruka, and Nonaka Ai are good as the leads.

Basquash! (jp: バスカッシュ!) Well-designed mecha. Great backgrounds. Love the OP by Hayami Saori, Tomatsu Haruka, and Nakajima Megumi. And the ED by Yamada Yuu. The character design is good. The story, involving heroic mecha basketball games still hasn’t hooked me, however. This show may have everything except the most important ingredient: interesting writing.

Fullmetal Alchemist 2 (jp: 鋼の錬金術師) Appreciated by many, but not by me. I couldn't get through the first series, and this one is just as uninteresting. I can't figure out how to care about the protagonists. A waste of great voice talent, for me (and maybe me alone, lol).

Marie & Gali (jp: マリー&ガリー) A trifle, but worth watching for the smart script and interesting animation.

Souten Kouro (jp: 蒼天航路) Madhouse gives us the Three Kingdoms from Cao Cao's point of view. Uneven but fascinating. As an OP that gives a good intro to its show, this show's OP may be the best of the season. Some great images and rhythms, and good shouting rock by Tribal Chair. The ED by Ogre You Asshole is also strong.

Valkyria Chronicles (jp: 戦場のヴァルキュリア -Gallian Chronicles-) I was enthusiastic at first, but this is bogging down for me. WW2-style small-scale war as a small nation tries to recapture its territory from a greater. A bit of romance. Some tanks. Not exceptionally logical fighting. Good voices.

Shangri-La (jp: シャングリ・ラ) A fairly clichéd science fiction adventure that is beginning to be interesting with episode 3. Life in jungle Tokyo after ecological disaster. I love Takahashi Mikako's voice as the heroine. Good OP by May'n.

Natsu no Arashi! (jp: 夏のあらし!) Too shounen for me. I just don’t get the humor, and find the lead boy repulsive. But the voices are good (Sanpei Yuuko, Shiraishi Ryouko, Nazuka Kaori), and the show has some interesting aspects: time paradoxes for the win.

Shin Mazinger Shougeki Z-Hen (jp: 真マジンガー 衝撃!Z編) A feast for smart mecha fans with a sense of the ridiculous. Over the top, but with great fights and mecha designs.

Tears to Tiara (jp: ティアーズ・トゥ・ティアラ) Watchable sword and sorcery shounen fantasy set in a version of ancient Britain and Ireland.

Sengoku Basara (jp: 戦国BASARA) Beautiful battles, but feels stupid to me. Probably just not my thing.

Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica Crimson S (jp: 神曲奏界ポリフォニカ クリムゾンS) A big improvement over the first series, but still not that interesting. Tomatsu Haruka's Corti is great, though.

Queen's Blade (jp: クイーンズブレイド 流浪の戦士) A boob parade. This is one of those shows that assembles a large cast of great seiyuus and then wastes their talents: Kawasumi Ayako, Tanaka Atsuko, Hirano Aya, Noto Mamiko, Kugimiya Rie, Gotou Yuuko, Itou Kanae, Takahashi Mikako, Kitamura Eri, Mizuhashi Kaori…. However, it doesn't waste their talents in the ED, which is done very well by Kawasumi, Noto, and Hirano.

Hatsukoi Limited (jp: 初恋限定) Beautiful but boring. Others seem to like this show, but through three episodes, I find it cliched, shallow, unfunny…. Shall I go on? If you liked Tokimeki Memorial, maybe you will like this. I hated that show, too. It's just not my style, I guess. Good OP from Sphere (Tomatsu Haruka, Takagaki Ayahi, Toyosaki Aki, Kotobuki Minako) and ED by marble.

Hayate no Gotoku!! (jp: ハヤテのごとく!!) Well made, magnificently voiced, sometimes funny, and of little interest to me. I got through only a few eps of the first series, so your mileage may vary. Great OP by Elisa, good ED by seiyuus Itou Shizuka, Nakao Eri, Yahagi Sayuri, and Asano Masumi.

Gokujou!! Mecha Mote Iinchou (jp: 極上!!めちゃモテ委員長) Trying to emulate the success of Shugo Chara, but it doesn’t work for me. Stiff animation and rough voice-acting. I do appreciate the educational aspects of the show, however.


guriguriblog said...

You might be interested to know that a lot of people are disappointed with the new FMA series as well. Anyway, you've watched pretty much everything I have this season but I see that our tastes differ a little bit. My favourite by far was Cross Game, and I really liked Souten Kouro and Marie and Gali. It's nice to see another people following Marie and Gali though because no one seems to.

tj han said...

"I love Takahashi Mikako's voice as the heroine. "
What! Everyone hates her, she's the most annoying shit since shit itself.

Repeat, "NE NE NE NE" in a high pitched voice while in a gunbattle and that's her.

Btw, you have exceptionally strange tastes for a guy, or at least that's what the blogosphere thinks you are. FMA is far better than the original adaptation, but might not be everyone's cup of tea I guess. You seem to be quite accomodating, even liking shows that I found horridly unwatchable such as Tayutama. I quite disagree with some of your opinions but at least you gave every thing a fair crack, like I did for the first episode at least. INatsu no Arashi is horrible, Shaft and Kobayashi are both lousy these days.

The thing is, no amount of voice work from stars will save bad shows.

Hime said...

found your blog cause i was looking into Kamiyama Kenji (thanks to Higashi no Eden). I'm always interested in hearing tidbits about people involved in anime, the things they have to say, etc. So hopefully you continue to mention more (such as Umino-sensei's blog, who I didn't originally realize was the artist behind Honey & Clover and Higashi until i read your blog - i was wondering where i had seen the character styles before in Higashi..)

your quick reviews are a good opinion guide, i wasn't going to watch Cross Game but i guess i should check out at least episode one. and the mahjong one i thought "ehh" but i guess i will take a look at ep 1 too =) will try to keep coming back to visit!

Serakah said...

I haven't gotten around to watching at least one episode of every anime out this season but I'll watch it eventually.

My hands down favorite is definitely K-ON! I just can't quit grinning every time I watch the damn thing. Second and third goes to Saki and Higashi no Eden.

Cross Game turned out enjoyable surprisingly but FMA 2 unexpectedly disappointed me. It's basically just a rehash of the first season, or at least that's what it seems like so far.

Got past the first episode of Asura Cryin' and just couldn't stomach it any longer after the first 10 mins of ep 2. Guin Saga, Valkyria Chronicles, Queen's Blade...mediocrity everywhere!

dingmajiao said...

i haven watch all and dun intend to due to time constraints..

but apart from queen's blade, i believe i quite enjoy all the rest of those i've watch..

higashi remains the best out of those i've watch so far, easily my favourite

Omisyth said...

Pandora just has some sort of dark, macabre air going for it. If only the animation was better, I'd think it would be one of the heavy hitters of the season.

RP said...

haha, I can see we have fairly different tastes. :-P

FMA2 - for better or for worse - is a rehash of FMA1 - or will be for probably the first 1/2 of the season or so. If you couldn't get through the 1st, the 2nd probably won't appeal to you either.

On the plus side, I did really like Eden's 3rd episode. I'm finding the mystery/drama parts to be much more interesting than the lighthearted romance parts. I just hope Saki eventually gets an important role to play, beyond random romantic interest.

moritheil said...

I'm hearing from others as well that Restorante is surprisingly good. I may have to check it out.