Sakamichi no Apollon – 01

It’s 1966, and Nishimi Kaoru has move to Kyushu to live with his aunt while his dad is away at work. He is a shy and asocial kid who manages high grades and plays the piano, but makes a prime target for bullies. The most notorious is Kawabuchi Sentaro, who actually takes an odd liking to him after fighting three seniors over the key to the roof. Kaoru also quickly makes friends with class rep Mukae Ritsuko, Sentaro’s childhood friend, whose family owns a record store with a practice room in the basement. Kaoru is inspired when he hears Sentaro play jazz on the drums.

It’s series like this that make us feel like we’re seriously wasting our time on drivel like Shining Hearts or unfocused dreck like Dusk Maiden, shows we’ll gladly drop to spend more time on something like this. First of all, when we learned both Shinichiro Wantanabe and Yoko Kanno were working on this, a light went on in our head; it’s doubtful this would be a dud. This whole episodes swings, and has a really nice lived-in feel to it. None of the characters are over-pretty or over-huge; though Sentaro looks a bit like Archie.

Most importantly, everyone is likeable, from the kind and friendly Ritsuko to Kaoru himself, who may be a bit angsty but at least has a reason to be. Sentaro is a big, lovable goof, who can handle himself in a fight and lay it down at the drums. The animation of his drumwork (both on drums and with twigs earlier on, before we even meet him) are a highlight of the episode, as is the promise of more excellent jazz to accompany the series. We’ve already got a nice nucleus of friends, and it looks like Kaoru is going to be just fine judging from the way he jaunts down the hill with Ritsuko by episode’s end.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan – 03

Rick and Amil find a strange girl washed up on the shore with a stranger pendant that glows eerily. After leaving her in a doctor’s care, they prepare for another day of baking, but the chimney is blocked by a fallen branch, and the pressure destroys the oven. The gang pays a visit to Hank in the Dwarven mountains, who demands steep upfront payment. That night the military orders a townwide curfew and blackout, as a fleet of pirate ships approaches the island. The girl wakes up, knowing little but her name – Kaguya. The light of her pendant attracts angry soldiers. The ship fires a devastating blow near the town, but an automaton Hank has in his shop returns fire, destroying the ship.

Finally, this series starts to show a little excitement! Sure, none of it makes any damn sense, but still. Where to begin? The doctor seems like a quack. Rick, the girls, and Hank have a very odd, tense negotiation over furnace repairs that ends with no deal. Perhaps Hank is curt beause he doesn’t want his sexy invention (?) discovered by some meddling kids, but until further notice, Rick & Co. can’t bake any bread, which means they can’t make any money. This is a problem, but it’s not the most pressing one.

Just like Rick, this girl washes up, in strange garb, with no apparent memories but her name. The girls took Rick under their wing and taught him how to bake in lieu of his old life which he didn’t remember anyway. But this Kaguya girl might remember something, if only she could stay awake for more than a few moments. As for her pendant, it just screamed “Laputa.” We weren’t quite sure about the connection between the pendant and Hank’s “doll” weapon, or about what a bunch of guys with swords expect to do against a fleet of what look like advanced dreadnoughts. Like we said; not a lot of sense in play.

Rating: 4 (Fair)