Bakuman 15

Bakuman continues steadily progressing as a year has passed in the series timeline. Moritaka and Miho have both made strides toward achieving their goals. Miho doesn’t believe herself either pretty or a good singer, while Moritaka is well aware that there are better artists out there than himself. Still, they work hard, and both are gradually getting results.

I like how Moritaka didn’t immediately reciprocate Niizuma’s invitation to friendship: he’s their rival, after all. He is honest and forthright and makes his position clear: his goal is to surpass Niizuma. Niizuma, who became a much more interesting character last week, reacts exactly as I’d hoped: nothing petty or immature, just a firm, enthusiastic “you’re on.” Even in private, he says he liked their work (proving he wasn’t patronizing them), and probably likes the idea of a direct challenge.

Then again, Niizuma and Moritaka/Takagi’s approaches can never be the same, so it will be intriguing to see how both attain success with their wildly different methods of creating manga: Niizuma’s visceral, spontaneous, freeform style, or Moritaka and Takagi’s calculating, precise, by-the-book style. The latter will have to get a move on though, as Miho has entered the world of voice-acting. Rating: 3.5


To Aru Majutsu no Index II 14

The second season of Index II starts out as a bubbly Venetian excursion for Touma and Index, and then somewhat coincidentally bumps into Orsola and Amakusa and even thought Amakusa is just helping her move, you know that their mere presence portends a fresh confrontation between the churches.

This is soon confirmed when catholic assassins attack Touma, Orsola and Index. Some quick thinking and incantations from Index combined with Touma’s fist seems to pacify the situation, until, well, something strange happens. An enormous green glass/ice ship pops out of the water. I don’t quite get this, but I guess if you have magic, you can do anything.

Orsola and Touma are along for the ride, but Index is left behind as the ship goes out into the water and joins an armada of identical ships. Then Agnese shows up again, apparently to again get punched in the face in a future episode. Rating: 3

Level E 2

Level E delivers laughs from start to finish, with surprisingly late timing and great physical comedy and wordplay. Even the emotional final scene of the first episode, in which the alien reveals his true self, turns out to be a lie/joke. Without trying, the guy drives Yukitaka up the wall.

It’s also great to see other aliens in action. Like Men In Black, they are all over the place, and they’re all from different worlds, and aren’t all exactly buddy-buddy. But I like how so far things never get too serious, and just when you think they do, the punchline arrives. It makes sense that this guy is a prince too…I mean look at his hair.

Even better is the fact that despite this series is so funny and lighthearted, there is the threat of interstellar war if Prince doesn’t show up at some galactic conference. Yukitaka (whom Miho figures out was once was, maybe still is, a chivalrous punk) doesn’t like it, but the fact remains, Prince has killed someone. Not a human, but an alien of another race. That’s worse. And it probably means more trouble for Yukitaka and the humans around him. It should also be hilarious. Rating: 3.5

Freezing 2

After a fast-paced first episode, Freezing slows down a bit, having introduced a lot of stuff to digest, then re-starts the battle between Sattelizer and Ganessa Roland. The latter slaps Aoi when he gets in the way to stop them, causing some of his blood to spill on Sattelizer’s face. Then she activates her pandora mode to counter Ganessa’s and takes her out in one blow.

I appreciate that the students at this academy have a tough job to do and they have to steel themselves to be fighting machines in order to face their foe and not immediately get wasted. Still, this Roland girl seemed a bit over-the-top in her hatred of Satellizer. It went far beyond rivalry or jealosy. She got way too worked up. Maybe it’s because the last show I watched (IS) also featured a bratty English girl who picked a fight… She also said “Sattelizer el Brigitte” waaay too many times : P

Anyway, this episode established that Aoi and Sattelizer are a match pair, just as Aoi’s roommate is Roland’s limiter. So this rivalry is sure to continue, or possibly evolve into cooperation, considering they both share the same enemy. But considering how much was packed into the exciting premiere, this episode felt a bit lacking, in everything but fanservice, which remained ridiculous. Rating: 3

Infinite Stratos 2

Infinite Stratos definitely has its flaws: all-too-nebulous protagonist who needs more personality; the childhood friend who can’t make up her mind; the annoyingly brash foreign rival, and the constant reminder that Ichika is the only male in the school, essentially making it a superharem. It already seems like way too many girls will be smitten with him throughout the course of this series, much like Leyfon in Chrome Shelled Regios.

Ichika brought a knife to a gun fight, but he soon finds a weakness in Cecila’s sniper IS with support bits (a la Gundam) and his IS soon formats to his specifications. The fact that Cecilia had a technical victory rather than pounding him into submission didn’t deal the blow to Ichika’s public image as I had hoped. Infinite Stratos may not excel at characters or realistic social situations (Houka’s sister just happens to have invented the core of the IS? That’s a handy Coincidence!), but there is at least one thing it does do well: aerial macha battles.

It is here where he finally shows that he can do something. Though his little speech about ending his need to be protected was kind of silly and obvious, the battle itself was kinetic and fun. The backgrounds and music were also noticably decent. IS isn’t deep, but so far its pros are standing up to its cons. This second episode was also better in almost every way than the first, which is encouraging. Rating: 3

Fractale – First Impressions

I immediately took to this series’ first episode. Sure, it seems to shamelessly ape three or more Studio Ghibli films in its first five minutes, but I don’t have a problem with that as long as it tells its own story. The variables are there, though: an era somewhere between the past and the future; an earnest kid (Clain) who saves a eccentric princess-type girl Phyrne), an amulet of some unknown power, and a trio of hapless “villains” who don’t come off as evil so much as crafty and enterprising.

The look is very Ghibli, too: great vistas of what looks like Ireland; very clean and simple yet emotive character designs; and airships. Underlying this world is a strange network called Fractale that basically allows people to create whimsical “doppels” of themselves, including Clain’s parents and dog.

There’s also a very nice tender romance brewing between Clain and Phyrne. She books it in the first episode, but I’m sure she’ll be back, while a third character, Nessa, just pops up at the end, so we’ll see where this goes. Whether it has anything truly original to offer is definitely up for debate, but there’s no doubting this show looks and sounds great, and has immediately captured my interest. Rating: 3.5

Yumekui Merry 2

This week sets up what’s going to go down for this series: Yumekui wakes up in “reality”, at Yumeji and Isana’s house. She experiences their kindness and some of what life in the real world is like (like donuts). It’s nice, but she knows she needs to go back to the dream world.

She’s convinced that the only one she can depend on for this is herself, she doesn’t want help. But Yumeji, doing a fair impression of Kamijou Touma (albeit with a less extreme power), resolves to help her all the same, even though he doesn’t even know what to do. Seems a little hasty of him, but he does have that dream-predicting power. There’s definitely a use for him; he just has to convince Merry.

We’re also introduced to Chizuru Kawakami, the mysterious, aloof transfer student, as well as Yumi, a girl who has allowed a dream demon, Serio, to “possess” her, only to see Serio callously destroyed by the hands of another demon. I got the impression this was Chizuru’s demon, but we’ll have to see. So far, Yumekui is off to a good start. Rating: 3

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 2

By episode’s end, Madoka and Sayaka understand a lot more about how a Maho Shojo operates, and so do we. We also learn that Homura wanted to snuff out Kyubei so he(she?) wouldn’t create more competition for her. Maho Shojo may all be hunting witches, but inherent rewards can make the competition fierce.

Mami expertly shows them both the tools of the trade (soul gems, grief seeds) and how to find and destroy a witch. The abstract, surreal, downright unsettling way in which witches are depicted is particularly well done here: the different animation doesn’t come off as a gimmick, but rather a strange and alien world a witch creates to discombobulate and weaken their opponent. Still, this particular witch, while powerful, isn’t a match for Mami’s awesome rifles. Everything about their duel oozes style, originality…and confidence.

So Sayaka and Madoka need to come up with an ultimate wish that will be fulfilled by Kyubei in exchange for risking their lives to the witch hunt. They live great lives, so it isn’t immediately apparent what to wish for. After witnessing Mami in action, however, Madoka essentially wishes to be like her: someone “useful” who is strong enough to protect the innocent. Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 1

After a semi-recap as told by Ume, this first episode was precisely what I feared: syrupy slow pacing, way too much time spent inside Sawako’s head, and overall simply too much like last season. Sawako was going to give Kazehaya chocolates, but chickens out. This was an episode in which absolutely nothing happened. After this, perhaps I may have been harboring unrealistic expectations for this second season. It certainly isn’t a start that inspires confidence in the future.

Sawako just bugged me the whole way through. Her obsessive-compulsive preparation of food and her constant self-introspection, over-thinking, lack of confidence and self-worth came off stale and excruciating. I saw nothing of her I didn’t already see last season. There’s nothing new here, and so nothing interesting. Her constant descent into chibi-mode has also long since lost its novelty. Kazehaya remains a wooden husk of a character. He’s a decent guy, sure, but Sawako still barely knows who he is, and neither do we.

His generic-ness  makes her overwrought obsession over him all the more absurd. Only Ume’s teasing breathes any life into this episode, along with Pin, who’s just creepy this week, asking Kazehaya for an after-school private backrub. You know you’re in trouble when your core couple, unable or unwilling to grow or change, becomes overshadowed by side characters. In short, this was a snoozefest that I felt I had already watched before. Rating: 2

Rio – Rainbow Gate! 2

Like Anya Helsing, the casino’s newest dealer, this second episode fell over itself a bit – lacking anything like the goofy twist and mysterious aura of the first episode. It introduced Anya as well as a the “gate” system, whereby the world’s most skilled dealers duel for one another’s gates, which are specialized cards. The one who collects them all is the best (obviously).

While collecting trophies isn’t a bad concept, if all of the duels are going to be this uninspired, I don’t think I’ll stick around for them. The challenger, Elvis, marches in with his parade of swooning women, and attempts to thwart Rio’s lucky mojo with math. The challenge involves Rio and Elvis getting into bathing suits and playing giant roulette with yellow bowling balls. All I can say is, wtf.

There was never the slightest doubt in my mind about Rio winning and this guy being sent packing, so the whole duel was just one long bore. The fact that this episode seemingly employed even more service than the last didn’t help matters. The next episode is called “Misery”, which might’ve been a more fitting title for this one. I’m not sitting through another Asobi ni Ikuyo. Rating: 2 (dropped)

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 The Movie: A wakening of the Trailblazer

With no foreknowledge of its contents, I was expecting this film to be a condensed re-telling of the anime, as was the case with Macross Froniter. However, with 50 episodes to cover, this would have probably been more of a mess than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thankfully, it (a.) doesn’t re-tell the story I already I know and (b.) doesn’t tell a new story about the various earth factions warring over each other to end war, or whatever. Instead, it’s a good old-fashioned alien invasion.

The aliens, Extraterrestrial Livingmetal Shapeshifters or ELS, are quite terrifying. Their swarming ships immediately reminded me of the cylons, but their liquid metal nature is very T2, while their evolution-thru-assimilation was very Borg-like. It’s good to see a Gundam where, for once, the humans put aside their differences and all fight on the same side; for survival, in this case.

Like the Macross film, Gundam was jam-packed with eye candy, in a slightly different style. While at times the repetitive chaotic battles filled with particle beams and explosions resembled screensavers, overall there’s a lot of excellent space battle action going on here. The way the ELS go about dispatching their foes is pretty bone-chilling, and a handful of characters who survived the anime went on kamakaze missions here (although Tieria downloaded back to Veda).

Character-wise, there’s no ground broken; Feldt kinda likes Setsuna but nothing really comes of it; Allelliuja and Marie are the usual married couple, Lockon has his Haros, and Setsuna still has that connection to his homeland in the person of Princess Marina, who is her usual selfless self. Patrick Corlasour and Kati Manequin also continue their courtship dance/chain of command. Setsuna meanwhile is essentially Neo, in that he has to wake up and fulfill the prophecy that Aeolia Schenburg, founder of Celestial Being, made hundreds of years ago.

He wanted to end war on Earth and advance Innovator technology so that mankind would be ready for future threats like the ELS. If Setsuna hadn’t become an innovator and initiated contact with the ELS mothership (ball of yarn outside, gooey and psychadelic inside), humanity would’ve been toast. Instead, he stops the ELS onslaught in the nick of time, saving his friends and his world.

That would have been a fine ending…and then the mothership turns into a friggin’ gargantuan flower. I know, that desert flower was a common motif in Setsuna’s musings – life/beauty enduring in a hostile universe and all that – but a moon-sized flower? You know what, fine…whatever you want, Gundam.

Rating: 3.5

Level E – First Impressions

David Production brought us Book of Bantorra, one of my favorite series of 2010, but Pierrot is responsible for Bleach and Naruto, so I had no idea what was in store with Level E. Fortunately, the opening episode was strange and interesting, with an infusion of comedy and lightheartedness. This series definitely does things its own way.

The rundown is pretty clear-cut: Tsutsui, an upstanding young lad from Tokyo moves to a small town to enroll at the high school and play baseball, and gets tangled up with an alien who just crash-landed there. He also meets his neighbor, the lovely Miho, who just happens to be the daughter of the scientist investigating the alien. What was going to be a glorious springtime of ladies and baseball immediately becomes far more complicated.

While the character design and other production values are nothing to write home about (obvious CGI cars are getting a kinda old), Level E’s strength lies in the verbal sparring between Tsutsui and his alien squatter, and the decent set-up. There are a lot of possible ways this could go, as both the prologue and OP insinuated a much wider scope of storytelling: an MiB-like situation in which aliens are everywhere, but most humans are blissfully unaware. All I know is, there’s a certain je nais se quoi, original vibe to this series; and I’m definitely looking forward to how it proceeds. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 14

Star Driver’s second half opens with the new  love triangle between Takuto and the You sisters and the regeneration and swift defeat of Manticore’s cybody, Ayingott. Takuto is oblivious to the triangle he’s in. In order to protect Mizuno’s identity, Marino tells the rest of Crux a lie: that the Western maiden doesn’t exist according to Ayingott’s Eyes.

Keito isn’t buying it, and tells the newly-returned Head as much. Now call me back and tell me what the hell I’m talking about! I have to say I’m enjoying Marino’s conflicted character. Even though she has the hots for Takuto and is a member of Crux, Marino’s first loyalty is to Mizuno, and so her actions are forever tied to sis’s protection.

This almost goes horribly wrong when Ayingott goes berserk on her, but fortunately Takuto can hear her cries for help from within his opponent. It takes Sugata’s pillar to weaken Ayingott, but Takuto is able to cross-slash it before it can do any permanent damage. Not much else to report; except that Star Driver is back and as good as ever. Rating: 3.5