Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle – 02

With the Armband of Orpheus, Kaito is able to quickly solve the sage puzzle, saving himself and Nonoha. He then passes out, and she carries him home. Principal Kaidou tells him he is now a “chosen solver” with the title of Einstein. He meets Galileo, a loud, bombastic windbag; the two develop an instant dislike for one another. When Kaito heads to his next assigned puzzle with Nonoha, Galileo is already there. Kaito solves the puzzle with the help of the armband again, and decides to accept his new title.

This was a pretty good episode, though not as strong as the first. If nothing else, it’s because of this Galileo clown who really grinds our gears. For chrissake, nobody acts like this. Except Black Star. If they did, people would call the cops. At least their food-ordering contest was pretty amusing. It’s also the greatest boon of having a title thus far; free meals as large as you like? Sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Oh, and his “baka” morse code was pretty funny too, once we realized what it was. Still, cops.

A couple other things: Jikugawa is always hiding in the shadows with a juice box, which is…weird. Also, Nonoha is turning out to be a really badass, loyal character. Carrying Kaito home on her back, then holding him in a full nelson to avoid a brawl? Maybe that armband thingy will allow Kaito to open his eyes and see the future wife in front of him, amirite? Finally, Kaito had a flashback whose only purpose was to tell us the white-afroed guy who shows up in the end as a POG bigwig was a childhood friend of his. Hopefully the remaining three characters will be more appealling than Galileo.

Rating: 3

Mobile Suit Gundam AGE – 01

Flint Asuno is a boy genius building a new mobile suit called Gundam, using plans his mother gave him before she died in an attack on their home colony fourteen years ago. That same enemy – known only as UE – launches a surprise attack on his new home, Nora, and the city’s defenses are inadequate. He launches in Gundam, and is able to defeat one of the UE mobile suits threatening him, his friend Emily, and her uncle Vargas, but the UE regroup and press their attack on the city.

Having seen 00, Seed, Seed Destiny, and Unicorn, we consider ourselves more than a little familiar with Gundam tropes, and this new Age series has yet to distinguish itself after its debut. It dutifully follows a lot of those tried(tired?)-and-true Gundam conventions: genius kid with a traumatic past, with a goal to save the world, and a space colony surprise attack. Haro hopping around. The UE aren’t very interesting as enemies yet; unless Flint cracks one open to reveal a dead pilot, they come off as mindless automatons killing and destroying indiscriminately.

Our favorite Gundam series of the ones we’ve seen is Seed, which was darker and grittier than the Gundams that followed. This looks like the cleanest, most sterile one yet. Flint and is sickly-cute friend Emily look more like elves than humans, and Vargas and their friend Dique are extremely stylized. However, this series does promise a multigenerational story, with Flint just the first of those generations. That may be the trump card that eventually sets Age apart from previous Gundams. But so far, it’s been-there, done-that.

Rating: 3

Ben-To – 01

15-year-old freshman You Satou walks to his second day of high school from the hospital, with no memory of how he got injured, nor of the girl Hana Ohiroi that meets up with him. The previous night he awoke on the floor of a store near the bento. He then helps a silver-haired girl with enormous bags of bento containers, who tells him to stay away from that store. Curious, he returns and is beaten severely when he goes for the half-priced bento. He returns a third night with Hana and this time waits until a battle royale for the food breaks out. The silver haired girl turn out to be the “Ice Queen”, the Top Dog in the store’s ‘bento fight club’, and president and only member of the Half Price Food Lover’s Club, which she invites Satou and Hana to join.

Rarity of something always carries the potential for conflict, whether it’s diamonds or cheap bento. The premise of this show is ridiculous (though it’s well aware of this): that something as trivial as half-priced bento will cause riotous battles among otherwise normal citizens. They will spill blood for the deal, and for the taste of victory that comes with it. But is it so far-fetched? Bento are everywhere in Japan, it’s true, but it does cost a lot. 420 yen is equal to $5.50, which is a lot of cash for not much food. Half-price bento mitigates that injustice…but it’s rare. If there are less available than there are people who want them…there will be blood.

After Bantorra and Level-E, David Production continues to impress with its quality series. Ben-To distinguishes itself with high production values, including excellent detailling, quick, sharp fight sequences, beautiful color, and a top-notch soundtrack, where even the muzak helps create dramatic tension. The character design is simple but effective, and even the fanservice isn’t annoying. Bumper cards feature art with a character in a bento tray, With this series, RABUJOI is now reviewing a great many Fall 2011 series that take place in a high school and/or club, but among them, Ben-To is one of the more creative ones, and we wouldn’t missing out on it.

Rating: 4

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – 01

All of Kodaka’s classmates think he’s a delinquent due to his eyes, hair, and their assumptions. Do to their fear of him, he hasn’t been able to make friends. But he isn’t alone; one day he catches a raven-haired girl named Yozoro talking to herself after class. She admits she too can’t make friends, and has settled for imaginary “air friend” named Tomo. Kodaka believes suggests joining a club may help, but Yozoro takes that ball and runs with it, starting a new “friendship club” to essentially help its members make friends. She enlists Kodaka and posts flyers, and they soon have a surprising third member: Sena, the beautiful daughter of the school president who has only doormats, no real friends.

That preview was incredibly misleading; starting right in the middle of this story, while this first official episode starts that story at the beginning. It also features a guy who mostly keeps to himself until an oddly-alluring, eccentric girl starts a club and makes him join with him. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it resembles the formula of one of the most popular animes in recent times: Suzumiya Harurhi. We quite liked the melancholy series (both versions) and the Disappearance film is one of our favorites, so it isn’t a bad formula to start from. But the similarities pretty much end there. Rather than deal with time travel, espers, and world-changing powers, this series raises questions about a far more down-to-earth issue: society’s current importance on making friends, and how friends are made.

Millions probably get along just fine without any friends, and our world is built to support them perfectly fine. But that doesn’t stop the rest of society from muttering things under their breath or giving looks of pity or even disgust. Yozoro may say she doesn’t want any friends, but nor does she want those looks, those mutters, or the shame. It was pretty clever to set this in a Catholic school where one could (theoretically) start any club you want as long as you somehow tie it to God’s message (Love Thy Neighbor). It was also clever to immediately make their first neighbor, Sena, somebody very hard for Yozoro to love, but no less in need of real friends. As for Kyon Ryugi Kodaka, he’s there under protest, to observe and likely referee. But some part of him seems to want this club to succeed too.

Rating: 3.5