Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 01

The age of man revering the gods has ended.

Bold, resonant words from a leader of humans invading and destroying the godly sanctuary of Temple Ark. That’s right, it’s not the gods and demons going at it, but humans, all hepped up on power they’re not supposed to possess. Now we’ve gotten to the good stuff…Shingeki no Bahamut has returned, and it’s just as lush, gorgeous, and engaging as I remember it.

Whither Favaro Leone? That’s one of many questions left unanswered in the season two premiere of Virgin Soul. Instead, we have a new heroine in Nina Drango, who is as adorable as she is tough as nails. She has superhuman strength, speed, and stores of energy, which not only make her very popular in the burgeoning Royal Capital of Anatae, but also give her the idea to take up some bounty hunter work, provided by Bacchus and Hamsa, who grudgingly allow her to crash there.

Nina also has an interesting little quirk that seems like just that at first: she’s extremely bashful around handsome men. And who’s more handsome than King Charioce XVII’s right-hand man Kaisar Lidfort? For chrissakes, he’s got better eyelashes than Nina. The two meet while both on the lookout for the “Rag Demon”, a wanted vigilante who seems to be in the business of freeing his fellow demons from bondage, and also bears a striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite fallen angel, Azazel.

The Rag Demon literally bumps into Nina, sending her flying through the air, and we’re treated to a steadicam shot of her appearing still as the world around her spins around and around and she realizes who it was who bumped into her.

The gorgeous setting is matched by even more masterful direction and camerawork, with lovely organic sweeps, zooms, pans, yaws, pitches POV shots…look, I’m not a cinematographer, okay? I don’t know all the jargon. But I know what’s good, and this is very very good stuff.

Turns out, that little quirk of Nina turns out to be much more than that. Climbing to the top of a tower inspired by the Canpanièl de San Marco in Venice, she comes under attack from the city’s dragon knights, beleiving her to be in cahoots with the Rag Demon. She falls and is caught by Azazel, and her close proximity to him finally causes her to blow: streaking through the sky in a pink flare that lands in a building, then emerging…as a really cute, precocious, cool-looking red dragon.

The city defenses give her a fight, but she’s ready for one, and gives as good as she gets in a virtuoso display of destruction. Even the mecha-like giant fighting suits the humans have are little match for her power, which is just as considerable in dragonform as it was when she was in the form of a 16-year-old girl trying to make it in the city to support her mom back home.

The carnage and destruction continues, until suddenly everything goes quiet and white, and Nina wakes up on an operating table, fan blades spinning above her, and none other than Rita at her bedside, sporting her characteristically ambiguous expression. Bored, tired, unimpressed? Probably none of the above; Rita seems aware she’s got herself a rare specimen on her hands: a girl who can become a dragon.

As for the illustrious and well-loved King of Anatae, Lord Charioce XVII: he is the man we see in the beginning, raiding a sanctuary of the gods and no doubt pillaging divine tech, ignoring warnings that humans will never be able to control such power. Nina, in her naivete, goes along with her fellow citizens in voicing her gratitude for the king.

There’s lots of juicy meat to sink our teeth into in this new Shingeki no Bahamut. Familiar faces and places, an instantly rootable new heroine and a fantastic battle combine to get things off to an auspicious start.

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Saekano 2 – 00

Saekano is back, baby! And it has not changed its ways, no sir. In its Episode 00 special, it doubles down on the enticing Episode 00 of its predecessor, piling on the fan service thick and garnishing with witty banter.

We arrive in the middle of an argument between Eriri and Utaha about an anime they disagree about, and again they seem to be talking about the very anime they’re in, and whether it’s deserving of a second season. After this first taste, I’d tend to agree with Eriri.

Like the hot springs episode 00 of last season, all the girls are after Aki’s attentions in one way or another, and everyone remains consistent in their respective approaches: Michiru with the cousin angle, Eriri with the childhood friend angle, Utaha with the Mr. Ethical schtick, and Megumi with the stealthiness and running commentary. Saekano 2 adds Hashima Izumi, another childhood friend of Aki’s and a fan of Eriri’s, to the mix, because hey, why not?

At a hotel in Odaiba overlooking the Rainbow Bridge and Statue of Liberty (yes, Tokyo has its own small one) the game-making group has gathered, and donned swimsuits because Megumi wouldn’t pose in a bikini unless everyone else was so attired. Aki has zero designs on spending the night, but when all the girls but Utaha end up in the room and she’s nowhere to be found, it’s clear she’s used her power of the purse to arrange things so she’d end up alone with Aki.

She claims to have only poured ginger ale for Aki and herself, but he has the sneaking suspicion it’s actual alcohol, and we know how that turned out for him and the girls at the hot spring. Unfortunately for Utaha (but fortunate for everyone else), while she turned her phone off, Aki’s remains on, and the gig is up. Utaha has not given up, but I wonder how far she realistically thinks she can get with such schemes.

At first Michiru only seem to be here to do pool suplexes on her cousin and put him in holds that mean something a lot different now that they’ve both grown, but it turns out she’s been working hard like Eriri and Utaha, writing not one but ten pieces of BGM for the game so far. As she gives the others a sample, her work has a motivating effect on the artists and scriptwriter, and they whip out their own tools of the trade and get to work as Izumi looks on in awe.

That leaves Megumi free to slip out and admire Tokyo Bay with Aki, among many other couples. For all the attempts of the others in the harem, it’s clear who truly has the upper hand, and she makes it look effortless as usual. For all the inappropriate contact Aki endured from Michiru, the advances from Utaha, the hugs from Izumi, and the reminiscing with Eriri, simply standing close but not too close beside his heroine seems to be ideal for Aki.

The other girls may be shapely and beautiful (and the camera never lets us forget it) but Megumi’s appeal just seems to run deeper and fuller. I look forward to seeing how she, Aki, and the others traverse their relationships with each other as the development of their dating sim progresses. And the only people who would sit there and find faults in someone’s hard work are pathetic losers who have forgotten how to enjoy life!!!

Re:Creators – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Souta Mizushino has pretensions of being a creator. He has the software to draw and sources of inspiration litter the room and world around him, but the spark hasn’t quite hit. He’s only a high school student after all.

Then, while watching the most popular anime of the season on his tablet, he finds himself transported into that world. Right in the middle of a fight that is not going well for show heroine Celestia Yupitilia and her ornate mecha. But the enemy isn’t what Celestia has come to expect from her world and, eventually noticing Souta, they aren’t in her world for very long.

Back on Earth, neither character quite knows how to act. Celestia quickly understands that, to some degree, she is a fictional character and, to some degree, Souta is not responsible for whatever has happened. Just ask quickly, her previous opponent has joined them on Earth and clearly has a grander understanding of what is going on.

Mystery, car chases, a third fictional character with magic rocket launchers appears, and a trip to the convenience store ensues. This. Show. Rocks.

You absolutely should watch this show because it takes all the conventions that could be cliché and does them so right. While we don’t know what exactly is going on and how, there’s a strong implication that human creation is the source of other worlds where people face the triumphs and hardships we imagine, and that even though magic from that world can carry over to our own, Souta himself (and humans in general) are not gifted with magical properties. Nor does Souta get the Re:Zero / Konosuba other-world adventure.

Souta describes himself as the Narrator and, right from the get go,  Re:Creators makes the point that this is the story as he remembers it, full of consequences, action, and thought.

But what really lofts Souta and Celestia above high above expectations is how they respond to their situation visually and through dialog. Anime is full of confused male leads who just repeat whatever ‘unexpected thing’ they hear right back as a question, and confused leads who ask idiotic questions or take an absurd amount of time to accept what is going on around them.

Sure, Souta spends a lengthy walk with his mouth hanging open in shock with a confused look, and has no particular goal moving forward, but he gets what’s going on around him, which lets the world show itself to us, without being overly expositioned in the process.

Celestia fares about the same, processing the evidence she sees and moving through a range of reasonable emotional and tactical responses until some of it is obvious. Her behavior just makes sense, and that makes me tremendously happy as a viewer.

The Verdict: Solid writing, fantastic voice work and music, extreme density of content (especially in the epilogue-as-prologue, where a mysterious girl commits suicide by train), and top shelf animation put this very very close to a perfect 10. It only falls short in comparison to my other 10s (Re:Zero’s emotional roller coaster or the pure splendor of Fate or the originality of FLCL). Give it time though, it may just get there.

For now, go right now and watch it!

Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angel – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Amatsuki Meguru is a rural island girl who’s moved to Tokyo. She dreams of becoming a super hero. Kisaragi Sumire is a tsundere who’s secretly already a hero fighting power ranger style villains, and she doesn’t seem to like it. There’s a magic hedgehog too, and magic coins, and a transformation sequence, and a boss-bady to defeat right out of the gate.

You can skip KTTA because nothing of remote cleverness happens in it. The plot is completely by the numbers introduction of a magic world and a wide eyed novice quickly stumbling into a place of importance, and a partner who doesn’t want to be a partner. It’s wrapped in a blanket of safe, optimistic characters, acceptable but unremarkable animation and design, and a complete lack of humor.

Wacky friends from left to right — A girl dressed like a lamb who ends every sentence with “bah,” a fortune teller, the ‘normal’ girl… and a Trap.

The Verdict: like many shows this season, Twin Angels isn’t terrible. Rather, it’s built with the minimum necessary effort to make a functional story. It relies heavily on convention but, even though the villain’s minions almost look like they are wearing costumes and explode into sparkles when defeated, there’s no sense of irony or fun here.

Oddly, this is the third show I’ve seen this season about a girl from the country side trying to make it in Tokyo. While that doesn’t have any meaningful impact on the story so far, it’s a weird thread to see repeated. Regardless, I have no desire to watch, let alone review, this show.

Hinako Note – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Hinako is a very shy girl moving to Tokyo to attend her dream high school. She’s so terrified of everything, she regularly devolves into a scarecrow. Also, she’s about to live in a used book store with a bunch of other weirdos. (A maid-otaku, a girl who eats books, etc.)

The Verdict: while not exactly like a colonoscopy through the eyeballs, Hinako Note isn’t more than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts aren’t trying very hard to begin with. It’s emptily cute, with conventional safe humor and an acceptable art style. If you typically pour extra sugar on the ice cream that you use instead of milk when eating a bowl of deep fried lucky charms, then maybe this is a show for you. Otherwise? You’ve seen a million shows like it before.

Renai Boukun – 01 (First IMpressions)

The Gist: A mysterious girl appears on Aino Seiji’s doorstep with warnings of his impending doom…unless he kisses someone in the next 24 hours. Magic is involved, as are the heavens, but the only girl Aino has an interest in is Hiyama Akane, the most popular girl in school, who probably doesn’t know he even exists…

Stop reading this review right now and go watch Renai Boukun because it’s fast, clever and expertly timed comedy. It pokes fun at conventions left and right and it’s utterly hilarious. But you have to watch it right now because the humor relies on unexpected twists and complications and almost any forewarning will ruin it.

The Verdict: While RB is a subpar looking show, from the terrifying human-faced house cat, to the fate of Aino’s parents, to the recurring gag about cosplay, the sheer joy of its antics quickly won my heart. Go watch it now—and I promise to talk about it in greater detail next week!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 01 (First Impressions)

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Tsuku ga Kirei, or As the Moon, So Beautiful, is a quiet, wholesome little tale of tender love blooming with the cherry blossoms. It’s the story of a guy and a girl who like each other but have no clue how to initiate contact. The girl, Mizuno Akane, steels herself by kneading her ever-present “squeezie” and attempts said contact; the guy, Azumi Kotarou, is mostly passive, hiding either among his mates or in his books, but observing nonetheless.

In a stroke of dumb luck (or a meet-cute, if you will), both Akane and Kotarou’s families decide to eat out at the same restaurant (sadly, not Wagnaria). From the moment they notice each other’s presence to their closer encounter at the beverage counter, the dinner scene is suffused with tension.

It’s a tension that reminds Kotarou of one of his favorite writers, Dazai, who said “how excruciatingly arduous and unbearable it is to live,” mostly because he just hasn’t mustered the guts to talk to the girl he likes. Not that Akane is having any more success.

Their mutual concession to the acknowledgement of each others’ existence is for Akane to kindly ask Kotarou not to tell anyone at school about their encounter, and her gratitude that he’s in agreement. They continue to exist in close proximity, unable to make a connection right away; waiting for the other person to make a move, or return a glance.

In another stroke of luck, Akane and Kotarou are assigned to the same sports festival task group. Akane is in charge of coordinating communications through LINE (the real-life ‘LIME’ of ReLIFE), but neglects to contact Kotarou, landing him in trouble with the group leader. She makes up for it by helping him with his gruntwork, giving him her LINE ID and even making a bit of physical contact by patting the dust off his back.

That night, she receives a message from Kotarou, who starts batting his light switch cord in celebration of the progress he’s made. When Akane gets the message, she beams like she’s never beamed before in the episode, equally glad that finally she’s made a connection with the guy she likes. Even teasing from her big sister can’t knock her off this high.

The seiyuu of Tsuki ga Kirei’s lead couple put on a clinic of wordless sounds. Sounds of reluctance, tentativeness, disappointment, and frustration. But all the tension pays off with the genesis of a relationship, and one can’t help but root for both of them, as their joy at the end is palpable; the proverbial speck of gold, glimmering faintly at the bottom of a river of grief.

The message from Dazai is clear: anything worth having is something that’s hard to get.