Kamisama Dolls 2

So far Kamisama Dolls is serving up a nice balance of drama, comedy, and action. The characters are appealing, the design is clean and unfussy, and the still-subtle sci-fi/fantasy angle is working so far. In her second week in Tokyo, Kuga finds himself far more involved in the affairs of his village than he would prefer.

There’s a good reason for that, and it’s something he’s kept mum from Hibino so far, but we’ve seen in traumatic flashbacks: Temperment-challenged Aki apparently used his kakashi to murder a bunch of villagers, and Kuga couldn’t do anything to stop him, even though he was Kukuri’s Seki back then. Claiming he was ‘fired’ for lack of talent, Kukuri is now Utao’s kakashi (I’m not losing you with all the terms now, am I ?;)

Despite being a little kid, I’m actually enjoying Utao’s character. There’s something really awesomely amusing about the way she gestures emphatically and even mimes while controlling Kukuri, whether she’s using him(her?) to rescue Kuga’s fellow university students from a fire, or playing PS2.

About those students: one of them was Kuuko, a friend of Hibino’s, who is a “true scientist” who briefly saw the kakashi who carried her to safety. If she wasn’t potentially nosy enough, her pop is a detective who has now twice noticed Kuga’s presence in the aftermath of strange occurances. After just two weeks, Kuga and Utao are having serious issues keeping their issues quiet and private. And Aki still lurks, who will make things even more difficult.

So yeah, nice well-rounded episode where the characters bond a little more, the story moves forward, and a couple new faces were introduced. Kuga’s quest for Hibino hits an apparent roadblock when under inquiry from Kuuko, she flatly denies they’re dating. However, there’s hope for Kyohei: she can’t help but want to know more about him and his mysterious past. Rating: 3.5

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 2

As the tiny Yune darts around learning about cheese, fresh bread, breakfast, spoons, and evil department stores, I couldn’t help but conclude than she, Claude and Oscar were having way more fun than I was having watching it. That’s not to say it isn’t fun; the episode was pleasant enough, but now we’re two weeks in and we still have no idea who Yune is and why she accompanied Oscar to France.

Perhaps that’s unfair. In a season full of complex narratives and sprawling casts, it can be tempting to try to fit this round peg into a square hole. No such luck; this series is unapologetic as it is diligent in its detailed depiction of ordinary everyday life in this time and place. The nearest thing to a looming conflict seems to be the big-box store, which looks like an elegant destination for shoppers, but a cancer to local specialty store owners who will die off one by one in its price-cutting shadow.

Will that shadow gradually move in and ruin the light and breezy mood of this series? Unlikely. One thing’s certain: Claude has warmed up to Yune much quicker than I envisioned. So far, this is about a girl in a strange new land, but knows the language, has made friends, and is discovering the foreign culture. What happens next? Rating: 3

Mawaru Penguindrum 1 – First Impressions

Wow…very nice! I wasn’t expecting all that. I like surprises, and with Mayo Chiki looking so disappointing, I picked this up instead. I almost immediately liked it. It has such a bright, shiny, colorful presentation. Its characters are full of life…even if they die briefly.

Brothers Shoma and Kanba have to take care of their terminally ill little sister, Himari (Amazingly, she isn’t rail-thin and white-haired). In fact, their hair (blue, red, and yellow, respectively) is the same triad as Star Driver. Anyway, after a lovely day when she’s allowed out of the hospital, she suddenly collapses and is rushed back, where she dies. Shoma muses about the age old question of why God lets bad things happen to good people.

But then something happens he knew to be impossible: Himari wakes up. While wearing a creepy penguin headdress he bought her at the zoo gift shop, she seems to be possessed by some strange entity – which may be an extradimensional penguin. She’s good as new, so they go home, and a frozen package containing ominous ice eggs awaits them. Like the dragon eggs in Game of Thrones, these are valuable things.

When they hatch, they become adorable little blue penguin helpers that only the siblings can see. But the opening credits write some big checks that suggest the three siblings will have to pay those extradimensional beings back in exchange for the miracle of extending Himari’s life. What exactly that recompense is, we’ll learn more next week. Really fun and zany introduction. Major style points throughout. I particularly like how Tokyo Metro signage is used in all transitions. Oh yeah, coaltar of the deepers end music…nice.  Rating: 4

Blood-C 1 – First Impressions

I have never watched any of the Blood franchise before this new series by CLAMP and Production I.G., so I know nothing about it. But after watching a recently-released extra episode of Shiki (review pending), I was looking forward to another summer horror series to sink my teeth into. Little did I know that the horror came in the form of twin gingers who say everything at the same time!

No, I’m not talking about the Weasleys, and no, it wasn’t really any big deal. The twins in question are just classmates of the protagonist, a bespectacled girl named Saya Kisaragi. She’s kind, bubbly, easily distracted, a bit of a klutz, and not punctual. She sings to the beat of her footsteps, and is generally very upbeat. But she’s also extremely athletic and a shrine maiden. Her duty requires her to go out in the night and slay things; presumably evil things. It isn’t pretty, but she manages to get the job done. She leads a complicated life. I like ‘er!

I actually enjoyed the contrast between her sugary-sweet day life and the malice that lurks beneath – and that between the no-nonsense Slayer Saya and the full-of-nonsense School Saya. Obviously she can’t let others know about her duties; they might end up in danger, or at the very least think she has a screw loose. But I can’t help but expect her two worlds to come crashing together, and there will probably be some of that titular blood.

Her battle in a shallow lake with an “elder bairn” was really nicely orchestrated and was also built up very nicely, both by all the lightheartedness of the first half, and numerous long pauses of pregnant silence. These moments of unease come at perfect times. The stylized character design, with long legs and small heads, took a bit of getting used to, but its not nearly as strange as Shiki, which also grew on me gradually. Even though I’m a Blood newbie, this wasn’t hard to follow, and I’m looking forward to how it progresses. Rating: 3.5

No. 6 1 – First Impressions

As the first scene involves the chase of an escaped prisoner, I automatically assumed that No. 6 was the name of the grey-haired kid the guys with guns were chasing. Turns out No.6 is a place; specifically, a city-state in which our protagonist Shion lives. This futuristic, semi-utopian society has a few quirks to it, including the mysterious “Moondrop”, something that sounds like a whale when it cries, and which Shion seems to feels a special connection with.

A few things about Shion: he’s a very girly-looking guy, but then again he’s supposed to be twelve, so that’s okay. He’s a genius, about to enter a ‘special course’, with a high IQ and a kind heart. He also tends to remain calm and measured in his reactions to sudden events. When his friend Safu kissses him, he doesn’t wig out; when the escaped convict – who calls himself Nezumi (“rat”) – invades his house and chokes him, he barely flinches. The only time he loses his composure is when Nezumi tells him he saw him screaming at the Moondrop. For some reason, that turns him beet-red.

So this is a bit of a ‘prince meets the pauper’ kinda deal so far. Nezumi is wanted by the “safety bureau” for some reason, and it looks like he’s led a rough life so far, and he ain’t that old. Meanwhile, Shion isn’t used to expressing fear or doubt; his wealth and status preclude him from despair, if not boredom. But for all his intelligence and kindness, the reality is he’s harboring a fugitive, and that could get him, and his mom, in deep doo-doo if he’s not careful.

I liked this first episode, because it set up a lot of things while leaving a lot left to be answered in the forthcoming episodes. Despite a core cast of kids, it seems pretty mature and temperant so far. I haven’t really be interested in watching anything from Studio Bones for a while, but this definitely shows promise. Production values are decent, if not extraordinary. Rating: 3.5

 

Usagi Drop 1 – First Impressions

Daikichi’s 79-year-old grandfather has died, leaving behind Rin, his six-year-old illegitimate daughter. One life ends, another hangs in the balance. While gramps was survived by many, they all come up with excuses. They question paternity, they proclaim they’ve already made enough sacrifices, they don’t like how stoic she is (They say all this while she’s in earshot). But despite only exchanging a few looks with her, Daikichi feels compelled to step up. No one else does.

He’s the only one in his family to do the right and decent thing. Why should she be stuffed in some ‘facility’? Why do they think she ‘misbehaves’ when Dai’s niece is a bratty little terror? I dunno; because they’re self-involved assholes, maybe. But there’s no question in Dai’s mind whose daughter Rin is. Throughout the episode, Rin occupies just a tiny portion of the screen. She’s an annoying eyesore to everyone. But Daikichi sees a child in need of love, not ‘dealing with’.

Does this make him a saint overnight? No, but it doesn’t hurt. He didn’t expect to leave his grandfather’s funeral as guardian of his aunt. He has a lot to learn about taking care of a kid. Hell, Rin may have a lot to learn about being a kid. But he had a dream in which he essentially saw his gramps with Rin; this could simply be fate. In any case, I look forward to seeing how their relationship progresses, and whether and how he’ll pursue Rin’s mother, Masako Yoshii.

Any series that isn’t a high school magic triangle comedy is a nice change of pace, and this is already the fourth summer series to fit that bill. It’s also among the most gorgeous, with its airy, watercolored look and breezy score. Both Daikichi and Rin’s performances were subtle and calm. As for the childlike opening and ending, I imagine that’s what’s going on inside Rin’s head. Rating: 3.5


Kamisama Dolls 1 – First Impressions

Like Hanasaku Iroha last season, this is a first episode that effectively and efficiently introduces us to its characters, setting, and premise while looking fantastic in the process. It kicked some serious ass. A college sociology student living in Tokyo just can’t escape the village he left; a village where “gods” can be summoned in the form of Kakashi – mechanized dolls – by the Seki, or summoners.

Kuga, our lead, is enjoying his new life in the city when that village pays him a visit in the form of his little sister Utao and an escaped convict, Aki. Both are Seki, so messes will be made. The show moves effortlessly from a laid-back night of drinking and karaoke to a bloody corpse and a mexican standoff with kakashi. There are tiny moments of levity that dot tense scenes and really lend a rich and complex mood to the proceedings.

The bonds of the characters are quickly built: Kuga left the village, but he won’t let anyone hurt Utao or his friend (the lovely Shiba, who hails from the same village but just now learns about the dolls. It’s apparent he was/is a Seki, and probably a good one, since for all of Aki’s threats and posturing, he stands his ground, and blood doesn’t wig him out.

So yeah, this series has a lot going for it. I’m hoping it can maintain this level of energy, while cognizant that precious few anime are this good for every epiosde of their run. Still, it was an excellent start, the opening sequence is very slick, and production values are above reproach. Along with Memo-cho, this is another new summer series to get excited about. Rating: 4

Morita-san wa Mukuchi 1 – First Impressions

Because the title is pretty much the premise, I was wondering how the producers would fill twenty-odd minutes per week. Now I know: they won’t. The new anime version of Morita-san wa Mukuchi runs a scant three minutes – a veritable tic-tac of entertainment. It took longer to write this review.

But I can live with this show if all it asks for is three measly minutes of my attention. It even got me wishing there were a few more anime as brief this summer. Of course, Seitokai Yakuindomo followed a similar formula, but it was a string of three or four minute bits spanning a normal episode length.

So it looks like we’lll only be getting the tiniest tastes of Morita-san wa Mukuchi from time to time. This first episode was merely a rehash of the beginning of the OVA released back in February. This is anime superleggera! Rating: 2.5

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 1 – First Impressions

Literally “a cross in a maze abroad”, this is a very calm and deliberate slice-of-life that takes place in 19th-century Paris. In other words, it’s probably nothing like anything else this season. There isn’t a hint of magic, fantasy, the supernatural, nor any enemies lurking in the shadows. This is about a meeting of two people who are very different on the surface, but once they understand one another, become fast friends.

It’s a very enjoyable introduction, as the setting is a gorgeous Parisian gallery, and the very apologetic, submissive, yet curious girl, Yune, is a very colorful fish out of water. Fortunately, it’s at a time when all things Japanese are gaining in popularity – different isn’t feared so much as admired for the novelty of its different-ness. Claude, form a long line of metalworkers, is a rather inflexible artist who’s keeping his father’s store going, even as the tide of progress (and electric signs) draws near.

There are a few issues: while I realize Japanese people are smaller than the French on average, especially back then, Yune still seems a bit incredibly undersized for a bilingual young woman apparently old enough to travel all the way to France with a much older man (Claude’s kindly grandfather, Oscar). When a customer muses that she looks like a doll, I’m right with him: she looks a little to much like a doll. While kind of a glaring demerit, it’s no’t a dealbreaker. Rating: 3.5

Kami-sama no Memo-cho 1, Parts A & B – First Impressions

Forgive the pun, but “Memo Pad of the Gods” makes a very good case for itself. It some ways, it picks up in Sibuya where Durarara left off in Ikebukuro by instantly painting a picture of a well-lived in world full of oddballs and secret lives. Narumi Fujishima is our avatar in this rich painting, and for once in his life he feels like a part of something bigger, rather than simply the kid who floats around pretending he belongs.

The new life he fell into fits him like a glove. This first, hourlong episode chronicles his addition to a team of “NEET Detectives” led by the enigmatic Alice, a 12-or-so year-old who possesses detective skills and wisdom far beyond her years, but also gets all weepy. if one of her many teddy bear’s ears gets torn. I also like her calm, logical, curt demeanor. She isn’t a squeaky menace.

But she’s just one of many interesting and promising characters. This agency has a crack team of specialists in diverse fields: Hiro is a suave ‘gigalo’, brother of a yakuza boss, and expert in women. ‘Major’ is a military spy freak who likes to stick rifles in people’s faces. Tetsu is the polic snoop. Min runs and Ayaka works at the ramen/ice cream shop above which Alice resides, in her Lain-like cocoon.

The core cast is plenty interesting, but this series doesn’t fall into the same traps of the latest J.C. Staff series like Yumekui Merry, Ookami-san, and Index II, all of which kinda fizzled. This series feels more honest, and its characters and themes are suitably adult and mature. High school girls losing it and entering the world of vice is not the kind of thing those series would touch upon, but such things can and do happen in the real world, which is what this series feels like.

The first case we’re presented with is nicely opened, investigated, solved, and shut within the hourlong period. Whether future episodes are two-parters like this remains to be seen, but it’s definitely not a bad thing if they are; the story never felt dragged out here, and on half-hour simply wouldn’t be enough to tell it properly.

The people involved in the specific case – Miku, Teraoka, and Shoko, served their roles well, and didn’t feel like throwaway characters. The case itself even had a macabre twist, in which Shoko “froze time” like she had wanted to, by committing suicide in a tub of ice. Yikes, you may say, but horrible things can happen, and it’s Alice and her agency’s jobs as detectives to either ‘tarnish the living to maintain the honor of the dead’, or ‘tarnish the dead to comfort the living.’ I look forward to their next case. Rating: 4

Summer 2011 Season Preview

Here’s what RABUJOI will be watching this summer, starting in July. Due to four Spring carryovers, a few summer series may not make the ultimate cut, but we won’t know until we watch. So, without further ado:

Blood-C – Production I.G. – July 8 – MBS/TBS
Dantalian no Shoka  GAINAX – July 16
Usagi Drop – Production I.G. – July 7 – Fuji TV (Noitamina)
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée  Satelight – July 3
Kamisama Dolls   Brains BaseJuly 7 – AT-X
Kami-sama no Memo-cho  J.C. Staff – July 2
Mawaru Penguindrum – Brains Base – July 8 – AT/X
No. 6 – 
BONES – July 7 – Fuji TV (Noitamina)
Morita-san wa Mukuchi  SevenJuly 8 – Nico Nico Douga

Spring 2011 Carryovers:

Ao no Exorcist – A-1 – MBS
Hanasaku Iroha – P.A.Works
Sket Dance – Tatsunoko Production – April – TV Tokyo Kei
Tiger & Bunny – Sunrise – BS11/MBS/Tokyo MX