Gokukoku no Brynhildr – 02

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Brynhildr alternates between silly and dark, intriguing and repetitive this week, and a familiar pattern emerged: Vexed by her resemblance to Kuroneko, Ryouta tries to make nice with Neko; Neko rejects him and tells him to stay away; Ryouta persists and learns more about her; rinse, repeat. I was annoyed with Ryouta because he was being nosy, but I was also annoyed by Neko’s feeble attempts to keep him away, since at the end of the day she’s probably glad to have an ally.

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Frankly, if I was saved from dying by someone using magic who resembled an old friend whose dead body I never saw, a few “Go Aways” wouldn’t be enough to discourage me from trying to get some answers. That might be a selfish position to take—don’t worry about how you were saved, just be grateful and move on—but it’s a human one. Sometimes it isn’t enough to know something, we have to know why, even if knowing that isn’t in our best interests.

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And if there’s one thing the episode makes nice and sparkling clear, it’s that Ryouta would be better off turning around and forgetting about everything he’s seen these first two episodes. Neko, her paralyzed companion Kana, are military experiments on the run from their tormentors. One of their friends was captured (or two, as we get a look inside the transport) , and when she doesn’t talk, they eject her neck plug and she liquifies in a cloud smoke, which…eww.

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In one of the stranger juxtapositions of tones I’ve encountered in a while, the episode shifts from horrifying flesh-melting to Neko and Kana oging pastries Ryouta has brought them, which Neko proceeds to whiz in a blender so Kana can swallow it. This is more than a little jarring, but also shows that Neko’s determination to keep Ryouta out of her business was weak enough to be forgotten with sweets.

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That should be a little worrying for Ryouta. It’s nice that he’s helping out these girls and all, but I’m not sure he’s aware of just what a nasty business he’s stuck his nose into, and from which there’s probably no going back at this point. I did like how he experienced firsthand the satisfaction of having saved someone, and came to understand how Neko would feel responsible for deaths she knew would happen but was too late to stop.

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Mekakucity Actors – 01

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Kisaragi Shintaro is a hikikomori haunted by two girls. One is a mysterious dark-haired girl in a sailor fuku who talks to him in strange, melancholy dreamscapes. The other is the puckish Ene, a boisterous computer program he downloaded out of curiosity, but has since become a constant (and often quite irritating) presence in his life. When Ene causes him to spill Coke all over his keyboard, he must brave the outside world and a crowded department store to procure a new one.

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That store is taken over by terrorists who hacked the computer-controlled security, and he suddenly finds himself a hostage the first time he’s left his apartment in a year, which seems to confirm many hikikomoris’ worst fears. Despite their apparent proficiency with technology, the crims don’t bother taking away Shintaro’s smartphone, which also contains Ene. When two game fellow hostages arrange a diversion, Shintaro springs into action, hooking Ene into the store’s computers and canceling the lockdown.

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Leaving aside the fact those looked like display units in an electronic store (and hence normally wouldn’t be connected in any way to the store’s security system), this was a low-key yet engrossing introduction to this world, which looks like a city just a few towns over from Naoetsu, the setting for most of the Monogatari Series. Like that and other SHAFT shows, we’re shown a plethora of bumper cards, wide shots, detailed expressive close-ups. I’m a fan of this precise, schematic aesthetic.

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Unlike other first episodes this season that lay out fairly clearly what they’re about through various kinds of exposition, Mekakucity prefers to present most of its first episode without excessive comment or explanation. I know how Shintaro and Ene “met”, that there’s something to that girl in Shintaro’s mind, and that he’ll surely cross paths with the hooded people he meets in the store; but why he’s a hikikomori, who he was before, and where all of this is going are things the show decided not to reveal from the get-go.

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As if to underline its deliberateness, we get what will likely be the show’s OP presented as the ED (a fairly common first episode thing to do), and a rainbow cornucopia of cool-looking characters flash across the screen, most of whom only appeared in this episode for a moment, if that. It’s a little overwhelming, but also enticing and invigorating, like getting used to the interface of a new video game you just cracked open. My questions are many, but answers are sure to come…along with more questions.

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 02

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Vice President Hattori is neither grateful nor impressed with Tatsuya’s neat little bit of diplomacy, but Tatsuya earned the gratitude of two other Blooms, as well as the attention of Disciplinary Committee Chairman Watanabe Mari. By the end of this episode, both the positive and negative ramifications would play in his favor.

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When President Saegusa Mayumi offers Miyuki a spot on the student council, its another opportunity for Miyuki to demonstrate her fierce and unwavering loyalty to her brother by begging them to somehow bring him aboard too. But they can’t, because he’s a Course 2 student. That’s when Mari comes in, offering him a position on the disciplinary committee. When he hears of this, Hattori bristles, believing a lowly weed would be in over his head.

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One thing I’m enjoying about how consistently the characters’ traits are portrayed; whether it’s Tatsuya’s calmness, Miyuki’s loyalty, Saegusa’s amity, Mari’s open-mindedness…or Hattori’s haughty assholishness. He’s the kind of snobbish creep you love to hate, and while he’s outnumbered this week, he still brings the hate strong and fast, spitting on weeds like Course 2 and glibly accusing Miyuki of nepotism.

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Miyuki knows aspects of her bro neither we nor Hattori know, that the established practical tests couldn’t detect (hence his low scores), and which Mari caught a tantalizing glimpse of. So if Miyuki says he’ll win against anyone, she may well be speaking the truth, unclouded by affection. This is confirmed when Hattori is soundly beaten in a simulated battle.

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Hattori may be a powerful magician capable of acing the same practical tests where Tatsuya struggled, but in an actual fight, he put himself at a disadvantage by assuming Tatsuya would simply go down exactly as he envisioned in his head, ignorant to his skills. Now Tatsuya will be the first weed with the power to discipline blooms. The times are changing, but I don’t see Hattori and his ilk blithely falling in line.

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Akuma no Riddle – 02

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I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the sketchy guy who wears sunglasses in a dark office and is always rolling dice, talking to himself, and occasionally texting Azuma riddles. But despite the ridiculousness of its premise, the show is keeping me invested with it’s thick, threatening atmosphere, and a few interesting twists that surface this week.

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Four of the assassins decided to be fashionably late—literally, as there’s no apparent dress code for the Black Class—and a fifth waits all the way until the assassins’ orientation to introduce herself, and mention how she only sits on her own furniture. It’s weird quirks like that I hope to see more of as the other eleven girls besides Azuma come into focus (assuming they won’t start dying off right away).

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But first, Haru invites Isuke, whom we met last week, over for tea, which Isuke provides and is poison, of course; hoping to get a head start on the assassinating. But the first twist occurs: the poison doesn’t kill Haru. There’s some kind of spell (or curse) keeping her alive. When Azuma storms in we get a nice spot of hand-to-hand combat, but Azuma can’t close the deal, leading to the second twist: she’s never actually killed anyone. Furthermore, it seems as though a distant memory is keeping her from doing so.

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When Azuma arrives at the assassin’s meeting, she drops a third twist: she’s siding with Haru, and won’t let anyone hurt her. Events this week, and the emotions they stirred up, propelled her to abandon her original mission far earlier than we (and possibly Kaiba) thought she would. So, we’ve got a target who can’t be killed (or at least is determined not to be) and an assassin who can’t kill (or at least has considerable difficulty) surrounded by eleven assassins who can. The lines are drawn; let the battle commence.

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Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 01

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When the show cut from three schoolgirls running through an Indiana Jones-style treasure dungeon to a sardonic Kyon wannabe arriving at the umpteenth “academy city on an island,” I’ll admit I let out a bit of a groan. But when Yama Juugo moves triumphantly into his first apartment and finds the ghost of one of the island’s seven elite founders, things started to look up.

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The ghost, the titular Ryuugajou Nanana, is a purple-haired girl voiced by Tanabe Rui right on the heels of another purple-haired girl voiced by Tanabe Rui I just finished watching. That’s okay, her innocent yet forthright voice is a good match so far. Nanana spends her days playing video games and eating pudding in the room she’s been bound to ever since she was stabbed ten years ago.

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Anoher member of the “Great 7” and a fiend of Nanana’s happens to be Juugo’s landlady; and in addition to not letting a haunted apartment go to waste, she’s glad Nanana will have a young lad to keep her company. Juugo’s sympathy, as well as the not-unattractive ghost’s promise to play his live-in girlfriend, compels him to agree to help solve the mystery of her premature demise.

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There’s also the little matter of much of her vast treasure of unknown billions of yen being hidden somewhere on the island, of which the broke, ramen-scarfing Juugo would certainly not mind a share. But whether it’s for money, love, compassion, or all of the above, there’s a lot laid out for Juugo to accomplish while he’s not attending high school. I’ve been itching for a nice breezy ghost story, and so far this hits the spot.

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No Game No Life – 01

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I wasn’t planning on watching this as I’ve never heard of it, but that seems to happen about once a season here at RABUJOI. Unlike WizBar, I’ve caught this right at the beginning. If every episode hence appoaches being as good as this first one, this could be a hell of a show. Here’s hoping this doesn’t crash and burn in the production values department in episode 11, too, because the visuals rock.

The show stars Sora and Shiro, a brother-sister pair of NEET shut-ins (or hikikomori) who are as otherworldly good at gaming as they are otherworldly bad at living in the real world (or caring about it, for that matter). The visuals establish their primacy right from the get-go: the outside world is bright, bleak, washed-out; the Lain-like interior (no coolant pools though) of the siblings is dark, but far more vivid in hue.

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They already have one foot out of the world they were born into, defeating 1200 elite MMORPG players while controlling only four mid-level players themselves, when they’re contacted by a stranger who knows far more about them than they should. This isn’t Heartbleed at work though, it’s Tet, the god of the world where Sora and Shiro truly belong: a world of games called Disboard. There’s a great sense of wonder and adventure as we’re suddenly thrust into that new world along with them; ending up 10,000 meters above it.

As Sora remarks, when a protagonist often finds himself in a new world, stories tend to depict that person’s return home. But this world feels more like home to them than the old one; right down to the color scheme. They waste no time putting their not inconsiderable gaming skills to good use, procuring supplies, cash, and a room with ease, and analyzing a game between players vying to become the next King of the world.

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This episode was an energetic,000 snazzy trip from start to finish, wasting no time getting Sora and Shiro out of one world, into the next, and into the thick of the action. While there was a glut of world-specific info for me to process (including Tet’s “ten commandments”), the show kept my eyes nice and busy while dispensing it, helping the necessarily medicine go down. My ears were also treated to the best soundtrack so far; broody and ethereal and brash and booming depending on the situation.

While Sora and Shiro are cocky and successful now (and would dismiss charges of beginner’s luck), things will really get interesting for me when they face off with a worthy or possibly even superior opponent. I look forward to that, and to the episodes with this pair of siblings being more than three minutes long, and containing no brother flesh-eating!

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 01

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Well, here it is: my favorite first episode of the Spring so far, slightly edging out Mahouka. It sneaked up on me, too; I had no idea what I’d be getting into, but I didn’t think it would be so stylish, plucky, vibrant, and witty—words with which I’d also describe myself. From the first scene where Chaika pops out of the bushes, surprising the plant-foraging Tooru, who though she was a rabbit—I was almost immediately on board.

I will note that people may find Chaika Trabant’s clipped, concise manner of speaking will charm some and vex others, but I fall into the latter category; she’s cute without being too cloying, and as someone who uses so few words, she chooses and arranges them with that much more care, often to humorous effect. There’s also a wealth of physical comedy inherent in the enormous coffin she lugs around.

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I also liked being introduced to Tooru and Chaika as apparent models of incompetence, only to see them exhibit exemplary competence (and badassery) in taking down a very unpleasant-looking unicorn, which mutters in a strange language and gallops through the air upon magic circles. There’s a hefty Final Fantasy vibe to the world that really drew me in, yet still exuded an original and novel feel; a new twist, rather than a ripoff. That’s hard to pull off.

Like FF, everyone’s donning super-chic garb and have specific “jobs”: Tooru and his cool, acerbic sis Akari are quick, deadly thieves/saboteurs while Chaika is a gun mage, requiring her to stay still as she prepares her magic, making her and Tooru a good pair in the unicorn battle, during which some pretty awesome boss music plays; I thought the music excelled in general.

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Akari’s violent introduction in the town tavern was, for me, the comedic centerpiece that also managed to provide a lot of exposition; we learn that Tooru hasn’t been pulling his weight of late, and the sight of him chowing down with Chaika sends her on a hammer(mace?)-swinging rampage. It has the look and feel of a far more serious confrontation, and yet not only does Tooru dodge every blow, but the bystanders take Akari’s side to a man.

He’s clearly a capable fellow (like Akari) but lacks motivation, and has to be threatened with taxidermy to agree to help Chaika steal an article from a lord’s palace. Chaika is apparently the wandering daughter of the land’s defeated emperor. When the lord does a double take at the sight of her when he catches them in his palace. While her ultimate goals remain unknown, her chances of success will surely rise with the two Acura siblings at her side, and I’m looking forward to following their journey.

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Black Bullet – 01

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I was pleased with how polished and efficient this first episode of Black Bullet was. It offered a little bit of everything: a glimpse of the hellish past that was to the fragile peace of the present, some nice world-building, a hint of comedy, some romantic undertones, and last but not least, a decent helping of action; though not enough to break the budget in the first week. If I were to pick two words to describe it, it would be “competent” and “enticing”—two words with which I’d also describe myself.

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While I noted some exchanges of dialogue were a little transparently expository, at least the information itself was clearly and confidently laid out. One episode in and I had no trouble understanding the core conflict and the systems and weapons in place to fight the enemy, Gastrea. In this regard, I was reminded of the opening episode of Bleach, a similarly self-assured outing that quickly established its house rules and offered up an enticing mélange of action, drama, comedy, and creepy monsters (mind you, one that had no business being sustained for 366 episodes).

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Let’s talk characters: Satomi Rentarou (Kaji Yuki), orphaned by the war a decade ago and apparently adopted by the wealthy Tendo family, fights the Gastrea. Tendo Kisara (Horie Yui) is his adoptive sister not related by blood that Rentarou has feelings for (and runs the agency he works for), while his partner is the pint-sized, pink-haired Aihara Enju (Hidaka Rina), an obligatory human-Gastrea hybrid who represent humanity’s last best hope, along with Varanium, a black metal the Gastrea dislike. While Enju calls Rentarou her “fiancee” and is always messing with him, they’re more of a big-bro-lil-sis pair.

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There’s also a villain in a funny suit with a funny mask who is immune to Rentarou’s attacks and says he’ll destroy the world. That made me wonder if he was some kind of human-Gastrea hybrid before I learned the “cursed children” are only girls. Still, he’s bad news, as is the Gastrea presently at large. Between the overarching conflict with the Gastrea, Rentarou’s potential romantic ventures, his seemingly-abandoned goals to find his family, and the fate of “cursed children” like Enju toeing the line between human and monster, there’s a lot of material to work with. I like what I’ve seen, and definitely look forward to what’s in store.

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Gokukoku no Brynhildr – 01

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With an odd name like “Brynhildr” in the title, I couldn’t help but to investigate, hoping the name had some significance and wasn’t just chosen because it sounds cool. And while I know my multiplication tables—I got a great deal on one at Ikea!—my knowledge of Germanic mythology is lacking, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

Brynhildr (one of many spellings) is a shield-maiden and valkyrie, who among other things, was condemned to live the life of a mortal woman for deciding a battle for the wrong king. Kuroha Neko is similarly a being that seems beyond mere humanity, who serves a shield for those prophesied to die, reported to her via walkie-talkie with an as-yet un-introduced character.

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Here’s hoping this isn’t just a show they made because they had a cool CGI model of an observatory telescope lying around, because I liked the mystery that started brewing in the first installment, as well as Murakami Ryouta, an academically gifted lad whose course in life has been defined by the tragic loss of his childhood friend ten years ago.

When Kuroha Neko transfers to his class (a student laughably comments that this is a “rare occurrence”…not in anime, missy!), looking just like that friend, Murakami is hit by shock and hopefulness clashing with facts and logic, but while ten years ago Kuroneko failed to show him proof that aliens existed, in the present he witnesses proof of a whole lot of other things he didn’t know existed.

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While his first meeting with Kuroha results in a slap to the face (you just don’t demand a girl show you her armpits, especially in the middle of class!), their second meeting at the observatory is much more pleasant and cordial, even though it only deepens the mystery of who or what Kuroha is. I enjoyed the subtle and often funny escalation of strangeness, from her apparent ignorance of times tables to strength that should be impossible with such “squishy” arms (Ryota’s term, not mine).

After this episode presented its case to me, a lot of questions popped up in my head about what’s going on and where it’s all headed, meaning the mystery was intriguing enough to hold my interest. As I’d expected, it’s also a very nice-looking show with crisp character designs reminiscent of Red Data Girl. Humor is present and fanservice is retrained; both pluses. I’m looking forward to dancing in the darkness with this shieldmaiden/honor student duo.

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 01

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It’s 2095, the world map has been redrawn and three billion people died in WWIII, and yes, people are still classist dicks to each other! Hooray! At the National Magic University Affiliated First High School—a suspiciously fancy and hoity-toity facility considering the world blew the shit up not too long ago—administrators decided to split the classes into elite “blooms” and lowly “weeds”, giving the former fancier insignia to go along with their inflated sense of superiority.

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It seems like a pretty silly idea as opposed to, oh I don’t know, just having separate schools for the two courses…but whaevs. Brideing the Blooms and the Weeds are the Shiba siblings Tatsuya and Miyuki, who are often mistaken for twins because they’re so close—both in age and intimacy. Seriously, no Oreimo-style tsundereness on display here; Miyuki is super-caring, affectionate, dutiful sister who greatly admires her big bro and doesn’t like it when he’s slighted by family or enrolled as a reserve. They may be too close, but if Tetsuya minds, he doesn’t let on. Their quasi-romantic behavior is played up for mild laughter throughout.

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I’m not going to lie: not a whole lot happened this week aside from the show laying out the world’s history, introducing the cast, demonstrating how magic works (it’s a man-made technology here) and setting up future alliances and conflicts. But I also can’t really pick out any glaring flaws; the execution was very polished, with even wide shots of masses of students fully drawn and colored. Ishida Kana did a great job with Aquarion Evol’s female characters, and I’m digging his character designs and classy uniforms here as well, esp. the way the girls’ skirts bear different patterns based on their magical focus.

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There’s also a nice low-key futuristic quality to Iwasaki Taku’s subtle score. I see promise in Miyuki being torn betweeen the two classes, the triangle between Tatsuya, Miyuki, and perhaps Shibata, as well as the playful aggression between Erika and Leo. And Tatsuya’s way of equitably diffusing the fight at the end with his analytical adeptness shows he’s not just a punch-and-kick kinda protagonist. Oh, and hey, nobody’s trying to assassinate anyone!

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Akuma no Riddle – 01

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My Spring 2014 season starts off with Akuma no Riddle, about a “Black Class” of assassin girls (none of whom are black) locked in a battle royale. This is a patently silly premise, but I still enjoyed the stylish first episode, which didn’t waste a lot of time establishing that the main character Azuma Tokaku is a tough-as-nails bad-ass. The balance of the episode mainly consists of introductions, and the girls sizing each other up and exchanging hostile expressions and threats…or in the case of the class softy, Ichinose Haru, beaming at everyone and distributing phone straps.

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While Haru only wants to make friends and graduate, Azuma’s goal is to identify her target and take her out. She believes Haru is most likely her target, as she “smells” different from the others, and gives off a target-like vibe. Haru and Azuma are roommates. They also contrast in many ways: feminine and masculine, optimistic and nihilistic; warm and cool in both mood and color. When Azuma first spots Haru, the latter is gloriously backlit by the sun, throwing Azuma off to the point she doesn’t notice a civilian (their homeroom teacher Akaru) was right behind her.

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Haru’s apparent involuntary propensity for distracting Azuma (or Tokaku-san, as she calls her) and throwing her off her game serves to plant the seeds of a romance between the two, as the whole reason Azuma is so thrown off is that Haru evokes feelings she’s never experienced and cannot describe. Azuma has been a very efficient, businesslike assassin up to this point. It will be interesting to see how she holds her own against the very colorful bunch of mildly psychopathic classmates—while dealing with the burden of those new feelings.

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Spring 2014 Season Preview

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At the end of Winter’s white and grey comes a fresh new batch of anime. HEY, THAT RHYMES! And this April we’re being super-selective: picking just seven new series for now. Nobunaga the Fool is confirmed as going another cour, but we’re still not 100% sure if three other Winter hows—Chuunibyou, Nisekoi, and Space Dandy—will carryover into the Spring. We’re operating under the assumption all three will, leaving us with a tidy eleven shows to keep track of.

We haven’t forgotten about Nagi no Asukara; we’ll be watching as much of the second cour in between seasons as possible, like we did with Sunday Without God. We may similarly place one of the four Winter carryovers on hold, saving it for the break between Spring and Summer. Right now, it’s looking like that’ll be Fool. But enough ado; here’s our upcoming April lineup:

Akuma no Riddle1. Akuma no Riddle

(Riddle Story of Devil)
Studio: Diomedea
(Action, School, Yuri) – April

After the fun and often hilarious Kill Me Baby, we’re not opposed to school series featuring assassins, and this one has at least twelve, including Azuma Tokaku, Suwa Ayaka’s first main voice role. Kusakawa Keizo has directed a lot of stuff we haven’t seen. This is Minakata Sunao’s first anime doing original character design, which is on display in the promo art, which suggests a more serious tone than Baby.

Black Bullet2. Black Bullet

Studio: Kinema Citrus
(Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Seinen) – April

This looks to be a dark post-apocalyptic sci-fi/mystery action series, and helmed by a director of the much lighter Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, and fields a strong voice cast. It all sounds very promising…but, well, so did Coppelion, so we’ll proceed with caution.

Gokukoku no Brynhildr3. Gokukoku no Brynhildr

(Brynhildr in the Darkness)
Studio: Arms
(Mystery, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Seinen) April

Boy loses the alien-crazed girl he loved in a tragic accident, but years later a very similar-looking girl with a similar name transfers to his class. It’s an enticing synopsis, and all those genres look good, though “romance” is conspicuous in its absence. Still, the promo art evokes a serious, quiet dignity akin to Red Data Girl, so we’ll bite.

Hitsugi no Chaika4. Hitsugi no Chaika

Studios: Bones, Flying Dog
(Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Romance, Shounen) – April

Both the promo art and synopsis reminded us a bit of Sunday Without God and Kino’s Journey. The idea of young people traveling around looking for their place in an big uncertain world always carries potential.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei5. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei

(The Irregular at Magic High School)
Studios: Madhouse, Aniplex
(Magic, Romance, School, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Supernatural) – April

We’ve been burnt by many a magic school series featuring kids with cool uniforms (Freezing, Infinite Stratos, etc.) but we’ve also been rewarded frequently enough (Soul Eater, Blue Exorcist, Occult Academy) to at least give new ones a try when they come around. In addition to being a Madhouse series, Ishida Kana (who did the ladies in Aquarion Evol) is in charge of character design, Hayami Saori voices the lead female role, and Iwasaki Taku, who’s killed it so far with Noragami, handles the music. Here’s hoping it isn’t a boring harem!

Mekaku City Actors6. Mekaku City Actors

Studios: Aniplex, Shaft
(Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi, Supernatural) – April

This could be the Spring series we’re looking most forward to, if for no other reason than it’s yet another Shaft series directed by the prolific but reliable Shinbo Akiyuki. We reckon four out of five of the shows he’s helmed have been pretty good, and a couple have been fantastic. The promo art suggests he’ll bring his usual visual style, flair, and quirkiness to the proceedings. No, not everything the dude touches turns to pure gold, but the cyber-NEET comedy sounds promising.

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin7. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin

(Nanana’s Buried Treasure)
Studio: A-1
(Comedy, Romance, Supernatural) – April

WThis series goes squarely in our “maybe pile”, as we’ll be taking a provisional look to see if it’ll be worth an extended committment. Director Kamei Kanta has done good work in the past (Usagi Drop, OreShura), while Kurata Hideyuki has been behind a couple of franchises we’ve followed with interest (God Only Knows and Oreimo). The potential fun and playfulness of the series is apparent in the promo art and the people involved. Will it be any good? Like the other six Spring shows, we won’t know until we’ve watched!