Macross Delta – 01

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Note: This is a repost of my January review of the preview special, updated with the rest of the episode that more recently aired.

Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the Sheryl Nome-esque star Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty leader, Kaname.

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

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So…what does the newly-aired episode add to the preview? Nothing that changes my original score of an 8. Right after Freyja runs off, Hayate commandeers a partially-wrecked mech to back her up. As Walkure detects Freyja adding her voice to theirs (and it’s a nice voice), Hayate takes out baddies with the grace of a dancer.

Eventually, he gets lost in the song, and he and Freyja spend a little time in Glowing Naked Blue Sky Land before enemy fire snaps Hayate out of it, and the two start plummeting to the Earth. With their fates uncertain (though not really; they’ll be fine) the episode really just replaced one ellipsis with another, only now Walkure and Delta Platoon have seen a little of what these two crazy kids can do.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enjoyed the simplicity of Natsuki Subaru’s transition from one world to the next: after buying some food at the Mini Stop, he rubs his eyes, and when they open, he’s simply there, in a medieval-style fantasy world filled with humans and demi-humans. Being a shut-in NEET, Subaru rolls with it, confident he’s seen this kind of world in games he’s played and can thrive if he plays his cards right.

And it’s a lush, detailed world. Like Grimgar, Re:Zero takes its time building out the world and its rules, but in a different way. Instead of providing long pauses in dialogue or action for us to admire the world and become attuned to its slower rhythms, Subaru is in the middle of a bustling city and bounces from one strong personality to the next.

Subaru also makes no bones about the fact he’s dead broke and lacking in magic or other skills. All he has is the physical training he put himself through to guard his home back in his own world, and that only takes him so far. He expects a cute girl to save him, but it’s not the first one (a tiny, fleet thief in a hurry), but the second (an silver-haired ethereal maiden with a spirit cat).

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The girl—a half-elf who calls herself Satella (and voiced by Takahashi Rie, a favorite here at RABUJOI)—and her spirit-cat Puck are looking for the person who stole her jeweled insignia (probably the tiny thief), and Subaru decides to help her on this mission after she stayed by his side until he woke up from his injuries.

The insignia hunt gives Subie and us the chance to explore the world further, and as the sun goes down it only seems to get more and more beautiful, especially when Satella entreats with a mass of lesser spirits on a bridge. We’re in firm Final Fantasy territory here, stylistically speaking.

But as the sky gets dark, so does the show, as Subaru enters an apparent loot house and finds a bloody corpse, then he and Satella get run through by a killer in the shadows.

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Then…things reset. Subaru is back where he started when he first arrived in the fantasy world. Instead of trying to locate Satella again, he continues his search for her insignia without her, ending up at the tavern where he was killed and meeting Rom, the man he found dead there before.

It isn’t long before the thief, Felt, shows up with the insignia, and Subaru offers to trade his cell phone for it, demonstrating with its camera that he can “freeze moments of time with it, to their amazement.

Then the planned buyer of the insignia, Elsa, arrives, and it’s clear from her voice and face that she’s the one who killed Subaru and Satella. Subaru manages to win the insignia in negotiations with Felt and Rom, but when he says he’ll be giving it back to its owner, Elsa turns deadly once more.

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She dispatches Rom, Felt, and Subaru without much difficulty—she’s just too quick and stealthy for a novice like Subie—and he returns to the street vendor once more, as if a reset button had been pushed. That being said, he has the memories of the last two times he was there, but not knowing what the heck is going on, he passes out from exasperation.

Shortly after awakening, he spots Satella passing by, and calls her out by name, apologizing for getting himself and her killed before. Satella, to his surprise, reacts with hostility to Subaru calling her by the name of an infamous “witch.”

A lush alternate fantasy world, a fish out of water and a clash of cultures, a pleasant friendship seemingly domed by murder most foul, and mysterious time looping—Re:Zero serves up quite a bit in its ambitious double-length debut, and even though it wasn’t even on my list initially, now it’s at the top of it.

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Kuma Miko – 01 (First Impressions)

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I like a good balance of complicated (Mayoiga) and uncomplicated shows on my list, and Kuma Miko certainly fits the latter. You’ve got your bear, your girl, and your tiny sleepy village she wants to leave for the big city to attend school. The “Girl” in Girl Meets Bear doesn’t actually meet the bear; she’s always known the bear since she was a tyke; he’s her guardian.

So when the two meet in the forest in the cold open, it’s set up like some kind of hazardous clash about to befall the poor unsuspecting girl, but like Hobbes in Calvin & Hobbes, the bear is simply putting on an act in welcoming his companion home.

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Machi, a 14-year-old shrine maiden (Miko) has outgrown her paltry, unstimulating surroundings. She longs for road signs, cell reception, and 24-hour convenience stores. Natsu, her bear guardian, is cognizant of the fact his baby bird wants and needs to spread her wings, but isn’t hapy about it, so sets up a quiz designed to confound Machi on urban matters.

How Natsu got information about Suica cards and the OIOI sign is beside the point, and adds to the slightly surreal comedy of an anthropomorphic bear sparring with a teenage girl on the matter of independence.

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The second half introduces us to Machi’s civil servant cousin Yoshio, who deems his three nine-year-old charges old enough to hear the true story of Kumade village’s relationship with bears. It involves a bear, a broad, and the birds and bees. Suffice it to say, the bears in Kumade are tame and can speak like humans, as per a long-standing agreement.

Beyond the absurd places the depraved mind of a nine-year-old boy takes such things (especially when he meets Machi and Natsu), it’s kinda cool to think that in some isolated village somewhere people and bears can coexist and converse with one another, only it’s a secret so there’s no outside proof. I also like how kids are also duly impressed with Machi’s status as Miko, even if she can’t wait to be rid of it and living in the city.

Kuma Miko is a fun, quirky, uncomplicated little show with a neat little comic duo in Machi and Natsu (voiced by Chad!), a picturesque rural setting, and very dope and catchy OP and ED. Worth a look!

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My Hero Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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A world where humans develop superpowers and a government-sanctioned hero industry that battle villains? With a comedic bent? We’ve seen this premise before. We’ve even seen this art style applied to this premise before, with One Punch Man, a bona-fide future classic covered by Zane last Fall.

Of course, that might be a dumb statement: most premises of new anime are premises we’ve seen before. Anime’s been around a while, and there are some premises that endure and continue to be relevant as long as there are talented people to put a new twist or their personal touch to them.

Does the well-worn familiarity hamper the freshness of My Hero Academia a little? Yes; that’s unavoidable. But if it doesn’t contribute anything new or groundbreaking, is it at least diverting entertainment? Most assuredly; and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

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We’ve seen weird heroes fighting weird villains before (and heroes fighting each other for the credit). But we haven’t seen these weird heroes and villains, vying for attention through the use of brute strength, speed and maneeuverability, or plain ol’ sex appeal.

The most “conventional” superhero also happens to be the top hero in the business, All Might, an amusingly grotesque Superman caricature who is blonde, burly, and perpetually grinning from ear to ear. This is the guy who inspires our protagonist, the pint-sized, “quirkless” Midoriya”Deku” Izuku.

He wants to be like All Might. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the genes. A third-year in middle school, he still has no powers, and doctors have told him not to hold his breath. Still, he takes careful notes of all hero/villain clashes and studies hard in hopes that he can enroll at the prodigious U.A. High (which no longer prohibits quirkless).

Izuku doesn’t just have his lack of powers to contend with, but also the universal general awfulness and cruelty of his peers, chief among them Bakugo Katsuki. Your typical bully with his corps of toadies, Katsuki wants to be the only one from his school to get into U.A. High, so threatens Izuku to forget about following him.

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That’s a nakedly petty position that is sure to set up a scenario in which Izuku somehow ends up with the power to oppose/surpass his Katsuki (or possibly lead to the two developing a grudging friendship).

The first brick in the foundation of Izuku’s rise is laid by an unexpected (and thoroughly disbelief-suspending) encounter with All Might himself. Izuku is wobbly-kneed in his presence, but is still able to grab on for dear life as Might flies away to his next gig.

Here, we see All Might cough up some blood, suggesting A.) his heroing days may be numbered and B.) Izuku is uniquely positioned to possibly succeed him. We must be content with this first brick, for My Hero Academia chose not to convert its loser MC to hero status in the first episode. But it’s a very promising first brick in what looks to be a fun Spring romp.

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