The World God Only Knows – First Impressions

Manglobe’s new fall series The World God Only Knows turns in a solid first episode that tells a fresh story. Keima, a high schooler, is obsessed with playing dating sims on his PSP, and unwittingly ends up in a pact with a demon from hell that forces him to make a concerted effort at real romance. The demon herself (Elsee) manages not to come off too shrill or annoying, but is surprisingly straightforward when it comes to what has to be done: both of them will die if he doesn’t win the heart of a girl on the track team.

At first, he panics, naturally; but then realizes that while his success with women has only been virtual, he’s amassed a wealth of courting expertise and experience. This is the strength of the episode: Keima relatively quickly draws upon that knowledge to successfully woo the girl and his virtual confidence becomes real as well. I’m not sure where he gets all the money for those huge signs, but by persevering, he wears down a girl who initially considered him nothing but a useless ‘dweeb’.

The girl loses her memory after falling in love with Keima, releasing a “loose soul” that was Elsee’s goal. Elsee also enlists as a transfer student at Keima’s school, meaning we can expect more episodic ‘missions’ in which he must win a girls heart. But as he points out, it’ll be hard working without a save function. I’m interested in seeing how they differentiate these missions, but so far, I’m intrigued. Rating: 3

Yosuga no Sora – First Impressions

So this guy Haru and his twin sister Sora move back to the small rural village where they grew up, after losing their parent or parents in some kind of accident (interestingly, there’s back-story in the first [of two] EPs). They haven’t been here in four years. Haru is very protective, while Sora just seems to be a bit of a spoiled brat. I immediately thought of the isolated village in Shiki, but there’s nothing supernatural in this series…though it does have a screw loose.

I will say this first episode is full of nice, tranquil, ambient moments that really establish the rural setting. That said, this tiny rural village has your typical Japanese high school. Also, every girl who lays eyes on Haru seems to fall in love with him…including his twin sister, who apparently has had eyes for him a long time. Alrighty then, this series falls into the “harem/incest” genres. Neither is all that new, but Yosuga no Sora does manage to juxtapose them in a fairly interesting way.

Again, this first episode mostly just laid out the pieces. There’s apparently going to be a whole host of girls vying for Haru, and he’s sure to react with varying degrees of obliviousness. As this theme has been done to death, and I’m dubious this will remain watchable if the characters beyond the brother and sister are all shallow cardboard husks. Regardless, finally, the answer to a question that somebody at some point must have asked: what if an anime combined the themes of the harem and incest? Yosuga no Sora seems to be that answer. Rating: 2.5

MM! – First Impressions

MM! sticks to well-established conventions. It’s main character Tarou is a masochist, while the counselors he goes to for help consist of a firey tsundere (his S, perhaps?) who likes beating him and a moe girl who is disgusted by him. Oh yes, and Tarou’s best friend is a cross-dresser. I have to admit, I’ve seen better-portrayed versions of all of these archetypes elsewhere, with the possible exception of Tarou himself; I can’t recall a series I’ve seen that centers around an M in this way.

As with the film Snakes on a Plane, it’s hard to know if such a ‘high concept’ series can sustain itself for more than one episode. I really have no need to watch Snakes on a Plane more than the two times I’ve seen it; its concept is so clear-cut and so obviously cobbled together for the sole purpose of Sam Jackson yelling the “muthaf***in snakes” line, it is somewhat pointless to watch it again. Even the second viewing was a bit of a chore.

MM! came very close to exhausting the comedic value of schoolgirls hitting him and him getting pleasure out of it…after one episode. So I’m a little dubious of this show having any staying power, particularly in an extremely full and (overall) impressive fall season. Still, I wasn’t completely unentertained, so I’ll watch at least one more episode. Even though I have a feeling I already know exactly what it’ll be about (hint: it rhymes with “cataclysm”)Rating: 2.5

Otome Youkai Zakuro – First Impressions

With so many series out this fall, it’s not surprising that one of them deals with youkai like Nurarihyon no Mago, one of my three summer carryovers. No biggie though, Zakuro wastes no time establishing itself as its own animal. Certainly, both deal with crossing between the human and spirit worlds, but in this case, by design: the army assigns three young lieutenants to support four half-youkai maidens in the fight against ‘youkai gone bad.’

That may sound a little dry, but it’s all in the details. Zakuro, the maiden with the biggest chip on her shoulder, is kind of a tsundere-lite, becoming instantly smitten with her lieutenant until she discovers he’s scared to death of youkai. The lieutenant himself, Kei, is the son of a high-ranking officer, and is determined to get over his fear. The best scenes of the episode were these two trying to feel each other out. I’m looking forward to how they both develop.

I appreciate how each lieutenant has their own girl to worry about (one of them has two), so there’s little chance of love triangles or competitions that will waste time. They’ve already been paired off, and they seem like good fits. The episode also mixed in some respectable comedy and a smidgen of social commentary, and was book-ended by action scenes that were most elegant and graceful, eschewing the typical weapons-clanking and screaming for some actual lyricism. Nice start. Rating: 3

Psychic Detective Yakumo – First Impressions

Psychic Detective Yakumo’s opening act was solid and confident. It had a decent detective story that introduced the key players and exhibited the skills of the ‘psychic detective’ (he can see and hear dead spirits and can act as a medium between the living and dead, for instance). There’s a nice, airy, effortless quality to how Yakumo does his detective work…he cares and doesn’t care at the same time.

I’m liking the return of Beetrain to my watchlist, their last major effort, Phantom, frankly kicked so much ass, Yakumo has its work cut out for it. Both series share similar character design and muted palette. That was about assassins; this is about a detective, who can also be a real jerk sometimes. This series also provided perhaps the best burn of the fall season, when Yakumo made light of his detective friend’s marital status (it was all in the delivery).

There isn’t much else in terms of horsing around in this series; it’s mature and serious, which is as it should be when you’re trying to solve murders. Finally, I love how this series starts off like all good private dick yarns: a damsel in distress walks into the dark office…and is unenthusiastically welcomed by an apathetic lone wolf. All that was missing was a bottle of scotch and the shadow of window blinds on the desk. Rating: 3

Oreimo – First Impressions

I like being wrong sometimes. To put it another way, I like to be surprised, and for my low expectations to be thoroughly rebuked. Such is the case with Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, (whew), translated as “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute”…which is kind of a stupid title. But it isn’t a stupid show.

From the get-go, the relationship between Kyousuke and his little sister Kirino is earnestly portrayed, both literally and figuratively. Case in point: I don’t remember the characters ever devolving into SD or chibi form. I don’t think it happened. Which is nice, because this is a gorgeously-drawn anime, and that would simply take away from it. Kyousuke has a lot of inner dialogue, but that’s fine.

I found myself immediately relating to Kyousuke, having a little sister myself…even though my sister never revealed she had half of Akibahara squirreled away in a secret closet. The bottom line is, their relationship sucked before – they barely spoke – and giving Kirino ‘life consultation’ re her chronic otakuism is as good a way as any to reconnect with her. For a first episode that mostly took place in Kirino’s room in the middle of the night night, Oreimo delivered a great introduction, and I’m left liking both characters and interested in where this is headed. Rating 3.5

Star Driver Kagayaki no Takuto – First Impressions

I dove into Star Driver, the new fall anime from Studio Bones, without any prior information, and it definitely plops you right into the middle of everything and throws a lot more at you when all’s said and done. Things that caught my eye first included vibrant and immediately-appealing character designs, a picturesque, Okinawa-like setting, and quick, fluid animation. Our main triad of characters – Takuto, Wako, and Sugata, have red, yellow and blue hair, respectively, so they have the primary colors covered.

I won’t lie, I was a little confused by all the terminology and ritual being tossed out there, but this show’s first episode was all about establishing the setting, tone, and factions just as quickly and suddenly as the red-haired hero is exposed to them. We’ve not only got ourselves a high school, but also an underground (and flamboyantly-costumed) evil society, island maidens, mecha-like “cybodys” that can transcend dimensions, and…among them, something called a ‘Galactic Pretty Boy.”

I’m not entirely sure what exactly is going on yet, but I was impressed with the confident direction of this first fun romp. More is sure to be explained in future episodes; till then, we know what’s in store from the get-go. Of course, the bar has been raised pretty high quite soon; we’ll see if Star Driver can continue to deliver. Rating: 3

Bakuman. – First Impressions

Switching gears from corrupted angels and iron men, the third series of the fall is far more down to earth. Despite having to endure not one but two opening sequences (the first a fictional anime, the second the real one) and what must’ve been the 5,987th “electric pole pan” I’ve seen in anime, Bakuman quickly picks up the pace and charges forward with what it’s going to be about.

Specifically, this dude Mashiro is going to become a manga artist, it’ll become an anime, and he’ll marry the girl he loves. Of course, the episode doesn’t begin with these lofty goals – the episode serves to propel him to make them after a change of heart and sudden burst of motivation. You see, at first Mashiro is perfectly content to coast through life as an unexceptional salaryman or some such. He learned from his manga artist uncle (whom he alone believes committed suicide) that in his line of work, 99% of the artists are little more than ‘gamblers’, hoping against hope that they’ll make it.

Afraid of the consequences of having such strong dreams and making decisions that one cannot turn back on, he would prefer to avoid making decisions, and simply live an easy, comfortable life, shunning his artistic talent. However, by the end of the episode, egged on by his classmate Akito (the class genius who wants to write the manga and wants Mashiro to illustrate is) and inspired by his crush, Miho (an aspiring seiyu) He decides to become a gambler himself – only unlike his uncle’s muse, Miho actually agrees to marry Mashiro should their venture turn successful. A very promising start to what looks to be an intriguing story. Rating: 3.5

Iron Man – First Impressions

Stan Lee and Marvel’s first foray into anime this year, “Heroman”, got tiring really fast. This new Iron Man adaptation stars Tony Stark, who’s a bit of a peacock but at least isn’t some random weak-ass kid with long hair, tight pants and a high voice always yelling the same thing over and over. Stark’s an adult – and confident with women – and at this point he’s already built and used the Iron Man suit to save the free world a couple times, as well as revealed his identity as Iron Man to the world.

There’s a nice parallel to the Iron Man franchise making the move to Japan while in the actual story, Stark is doing the same; developing huge arc reactors to provide clean, free power for Japan – ‘cuz he just can, I guess. Plus, he and I share similar sentiments about Japan: the food is tasty and the women are beautiful. The dynamic of Stark trying to get a handle on what Japan is all about and how to win the love of the people is an interesting one; I hope they go into more detail with this.

I’m not gonna lie here, this was nowhere near the showstopper Panty & Stocking was, and it fell a bit below my justifiably high expectations (this is a Madhouse production with a very big franchise behind it). Yet after the first episode, I’m left wondering: now that they have this well-established Iron Man universe, what are they going to do with it? I wasn’t turned off, but I was underwhelmed. Hopefully this first episode was just a sputtering start and future episodes will be more impressive. The raw materials are there, after all. This show will have to turn it around soon; I can’t afford to be patient this season. Rating: 2

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – First Impressions

This series wasn’t on my initial Fall 2010 watchlist because it looked/sounded dumb; I didn’t like the way the promotional material looked. But I couldn’t resist cracking open the first series of the season, and it was a GAINAX production after all, even on a bad day their shit ain’t bad. But holy crap, I was not prepared for Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. One series into the season, I’ve learned to not judge a book by its cover.

In classic GAINAX fashion, this series is an A.D.D. sufferer’s wet dream – or nightmare: brimming with manic energy, color, and movement. A single half-hour episode is actually split into two distinct stories. It also employs a great number of different animation styles ~ usually sticking to a highly abstract style with almost Chuck Jones-like settings. The dialogue contains coarse language; every curse in the book is thrown around with abandon, both in Japanese and English, just for the hell of it.

It’s also full of sexual content; Panty is a promiscuous blonde who’s always jumping out of bed with some random dude, while Stocking is a goth obsessed with sweets. ‘Panty’ and ‘Stocking’ are the two heroines’ names, but also those of their weapons: Panty’s panties turn into a Desert Eagle while Stocking’s stocking transforms into a katana. Their appearance also transforms into a more realistic anime style when in full ass-kicking mode, with character designs that wouldn’t be out of place in FLCL or Gurren Lagann. That I did not expect.

The spectral foes they fight are no less novel: Part I features an evil mammoth shit spirit; Part II deals with a demon that possesses a sports car, then a semi, then a train. In both parts, Panty and Stocking  are backed up by literally thousands of cop cars with trigger-happy, stereotypical American cops. When a foe is defeated, their demise is depicted with a live-action explosion of a physical model. Very odd, but it works.

Other than the fact Panty & Stocking are actually angels and live on Earth (in a church with Garterbelt, a reverend), we don’t know much about the characters, but I’m sure future episodes will fill in the blanks. The entire sex, gun, and profanity-laced episode, with the exception of a couple brief moments of rest, is almost bursting out of the TV screen. The amount of detail and the speed with which frames flip by warrants multiple viewings. If every episode is like this, I can say confidently that GAINAX has something good here. Totally bonkers, but good. Rating: 4

Nurarihyon no Mago 12

The English title, “The Rise of the Nura Clan” seems like kind of a spoiler…I mean, with a title like that it’s unlikely the Nura clan will fall…jussayin’.

Anyway, enemies of the Nura clan keep amassing. In fact, the battle Yura fought in the last episode, which I thought was over, wasn’t, and she proceeds to be pwned for not having enough gas in the tank to keep four summons going at once (Hey, she’s still young). Despite this, the Supreme Commander is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, and finally has to fight someone. His laid-back, ‘refined’ battle with the wind guy is short and sweet; we learn exactly who Nura’s enemies are dealing with; not only Night Rikuo but his grandfather too are both forces to be reckoned with. Also, Yura is a kind of a ditz…but I still like her.

The second half is partially occupied by the escalating competition for Rikuo between Yuki-onna and Kana. Even if Kana doesn’t know Rikuo and Night Rikuo are the same person, Yuki does, and isn’t happy with either of them. Part is probably the idea of a youkai getting too close to a human; part of it is jealousy. Thankfully, there are only two girls after this whelp, and he’s only a whelp half the time, at night he becomes a playaaaah…sorry.

Anyway, their staring contest is broken up by the aforementioned arrival of more of Rikuo’s enemies, also wearing high school uniforms for some reason. One of them is one of those “long pointy tongue always out” guys, and actually lick Kana. Talk about steppin’ over some lines. I’m eager to see how Rikuo deals with these new challenges, especially when he’s basically powerless during the day – that’s quite a handicap to have to deal with. Rating: 3

Asobi ni Ikuyo – Wrap-up

Asobi ni Ikuyo! wraps everything up with a tight, spandex, rushed little bow. How to solve the problem of three knockout babes loving the same whelp? They can all be his lovers! Really? Way to dial it in with the story! And even after all three lay big wet end-of-the-world smooches upon his lucky countenance, the whelp still has no idea what’s going on. This kid is hopeless, and I won’t miss him. Obviously I wasn’t expecting him to realize even one of the ladies had romantic feelings for him, let alone all three, but a properly written series would have at least made him sweat over who to choose, or something. Not so here.

In fact, I don’t think I’ll really miss Asobi ni Ikuyo period. It ran its course, and I’m kind of glad it’s over. I really only enjoyed the dynamic between the two girls with guns; all the cat girls were flat and annoying, including Eris. The bright, shiny, and vivid Okinawa setting was welcome however, as was the very jaunty opening sequence and most of the soundtrack throughout. The CGI was decent, but ultimately uninspired. And as I said before, the whole intergalactic Cats vs. Dogs premise was not only silly, but poorly paced executed. It just seemed like an excuse to have a good vs. evil battle where the motivations are simply implied due to the generally understood rivalry between the two animals.

So while Asobi was pretty and there were some brief glimmers of decent characterization and story, I cannot recommend this series. That said, I never got up and said “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore!” and switched it off either, so average will have to do. Rating: 2.5

Fairy Tail – Thru 48

Funny thing: if you get to watching long-running series, you begin to watch them out of habit, rather than because of their actual merits. Bleach for instance, had a really good start, and the first couple arcs would actually make a 3 on my Rating scale; individual episodes could warrant a 3.5. But I feel like I watched it for too long. The series developed a tendency to whip up incredibly dull filler arcs that lasted dozens of episodes and went absolutely nowhere.

They couldn’t have permanent effects on either the characters or the story, because the manga material was the only material that could do that. I always wondered what poor soul(s) had to actually write filler material, and why they made it so paralyzingly dull. After 228 episodes, I had to say goodbye to Bleach. There was simply not enough going on, and I felt like it would take another 50-100 episodes to actually get to the conclusion I wanted. That’s just too much.

Now Fairy Tail has come to a major arc conclusion, and after 48 episodes, I still want more. I don’t know why, but it has a lot to do with watching so much of it. Sometimes battles drag out, but on the whole this series has done a good job moving forward, both with characters and with the plot. It’s battles also always strive to be relatively creative. After so many episodes, many enemies have become friends, many wrongs have been righted, and the series remains steadfastly upbeat.

I thought the series was over after 48 episodes, but alas, it was only this last arc. That’s okay, I think I’ll continue sticking with  it for now. I can’t really help it; I’m invested in a good five to ten characters (out of the dozens), and would like to see what will come their way next. It’s too early to tell if Fairy Tail will run out of steam, but it’s been good to me so far, so I’m not giving up on it. It’s not a pointless habit yet. Rating: 3