Working’!! – 01

This pre-air episode follows Takanashi, Inami, Popura, Aoi, and all the other employees around at a typical day at Wagnaria family restaurant. Jokes are told, tiny things are declared cute, punches are thrown, and dishes are broken. Like I said, typical.

From the looks of it, the new, aprostrophe’d Working’!! will not diverge considerably, or at all, from the original Working!!, but will be a vehicle for new material in the same setting with the same ensemble cast – and perhaps a new face here or there (a girl with Leia-like buns in her hair is glimpsed only for a moment but not heard). That’s okay, as the first season was very watchable, lightweight slice-of-life in which the quirkiness of the characters lent spice to the proceedings.

We’ll have to wait until October to see if new material will indeed be infused in the formerly successful recipe of the Spring 2010 series. If things get too repetitive vis-a-vis Takanashi and Inami, or too tedious vis-a-vis Yamada (the former new kid) and the new new kid (whoever she is), well, there are potentially a lot of series more worthy of RABUJOI’s undivided attention. But from what was seen in this sneak peek, we’ll probably be watching.


Rating: 3

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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

Hyouge Mono – First Impressions

I’m a bit late getting to this series, but it was worth the wait. Hyouge Mono is perhaps the odd-man-out out as all the rest of my Spring watchlist takes place in the present or future. This is the friggin’ sixteenth century we’re dealing with, and I have to say it’s awesome. The extreme formality, the excessive exposition, the life-and-death staring contests, they’re all brilliant. I saw some excellent Noh theatre last month and this recalled that old-fashioned but gorgeous manner of speaking.

What is so curious is how modern the show feels, despite hardly ever betraying its proper time. True, the enormous ship might have been anachronistic, as probably were the guns (my knowledge of Japanese history is sketchy at best), but I’m talking more about the smooth jazz opening and bossa nova ending, as well as the Final Fantasy-esque score that complemented the spectacle nicely. Probably my favorite qualities of this series so far is the kaleidoscope of funny facial expressions and those long, tense silences.

Our protagonist Sasuke is quite the character – imminently watchable. He’s also a bit of a tea otaku – he goes to pieces at the sight of some well-regarded piece of the Tea trade – much like Oreimo’s Kirino would over some eroge. In this episode, it was an admittedly-splendid teakettle. I also like how his Lord is always challenging his devotion and mettle – partially for his own amusement, but also because Sasuke is constantly striving to straddle the role of a warrior with what is perhaps his true self – a hopeless aesthete. I look forward to seeing him wrestle that duality in future. Rating: 4

Ao no Exorcist – First Impressions

While his overachieving twin brother can seemingly do no wrong, try as he might, Rin can’t seem to do anything right. He cannot attend academy due to academic/financial shortcomings, can’t seem to hold down even a meager part-time job, and is always getting in fights. Rin is a reluctant delinquent. But we also learn that there’s a reason for this: he’s literally devil-spawn.

I’m not sure what the full ramifications are, but by episode’s end, Rin is fully attuned to the demonic oddities that spring up in ordinary life invisible to everyone else – except his father and his followers, who are “exorcists”, who gain strength from their faith and release unwitting (or witting) humans from the grasp of demons. Rin is himself demon-like, emitting a blue glow. Yet this series’ title indicates that despite not being human, he will become an exorcist like his father, straddling two worlds while staying on the good side.

I like what i see so far in this, perhaps the series I most anticipated after seeing (untranslated) commercials. It’s more down-to-earth and less cartoonish than Soul Eater, and I’m hoping it will be an entertaining supernatural action/comedy/drama series. The animation and score are both above average, and so far Rin is a likable if down-on-his-luck character. His dad’s a little annoying, but when he springs into action he’s pretty cool. The ending sequence was very slick, too. Rating: 3.5

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility – First Impressions

Okay, it’s official: this season rules. At least as far as first episodes go. Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility is definitely the weirdest series, but that’s why I likes it. It starts a little cryptically; laying everything out without too much explanation, but that’s okay. Sometimes the best way to get things started is to just jump in.

As for our protagonist, Yoga, he is trying to make his own way in cold, unyielding capitalist Tokyo. He dreams of a fixed income with a fixed lifestyle; nothing too fancy, just a modest life with a wife and kids. What we all want, right? But he works numerous jobs while taking university classes, and only has $80 in the bank. Not enough to even go out for drinks. And certainly not enough for a girlfriend.

So up pops a surreal clown-like banker-dude who offers membership into a surreal bank. Yoga initially refuses, but when he suddenly finds 500,000 yen ($6,000) in his account and withdraws some of it, the bait is basically taken. Yoga is a scrupulous fellow who slipped up due to simple human greed, and now he’s by default a member of Midas Bank, which takes one’s “future” (read: life) as collateral in exchange for cash.

It also involves fighting other bank members with elaborate weapons and summoned entities in a crazed-out cyber-dimension, as well as pretty elf-like sidekicks. We don’t know much more about all that, but I’m sure we’ll learn soon. There’s a lot to like about Control: it’s got big, interesting ideas and a big budget to express them. The opening and ending (school food punishment) are the best this season. Looking forward to how strange Yoga’s life is going to get. Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows II – First Impressions

The World God Only Knows barely skips a beat, introducing a new girl for Keima to conquer who is nothing like the four that have come before her, who were all distinctive in their own ways. One thing I enjoyed last season was the premise of dealing with only one girl at a time – no harems or love polygons – and the fact that the end Keima sought was always to clear the level – not to win the girl for any extended period. It helps him that the loose soul’s out, the girl’s memory forgets him.

This newest girl, Kasuga, is interesting because Keima relates to how far she has strived to master a discipline. As the heir to a distinguished martial arts school, she has worked all her life to reject her femininity, along with everything cute and thus weak in her mind.

Yet the girl who loves kittens and cute boys is every bit as strong as her, so much that she bursts out during a sudden rush of emotion. This is beyond schizophrenia, because Keima and Elsee can see this spectral double. Speaking of Elsee, yeah she’s still the weak link in this series, being overall very obnoxious and tiresome, though she does at least make herself useful with her invisible boa-thing.

The opening and ending sequences – both huge strengths last season, have been replaced with two really awful J-pop songs I already can’t stand. But these foibles don’t overshadow the overall goodness in between them: the sly Keima already has a strategy for winning Kasuga’s heart, and he may have to let her beat him up a bit to succeed. Rating: 3.5

Hanasaku Iroha – First Impressions

Hanasaku Iroha was instantly enjoyable, wisking you along with Ohana on a semiepic journey from the cramped and monotonous big city to the sprawling grandeur of the countryside, then into a fircely strict and unyeilding work environment the likes of which she’s never seen, experienced, or expected. I also found the character instantly appealing; easily moreso than many others Kanae Ito has voiced.

That her mother essentially abandons her and makes her move away from her life and friends to the home of a grandmother who wants nothing to do with her (and slaps her) and it all happens so fast. Still, as we listen to her inner monologue, she is acting quite mature for a 16-year-old: certainly unprepared for her plight, but keen enough to know it and be ready to adapt, which she’ll have to do.

And while this introductory episode was just about perfectly paced, with nary a dull or wasted moment, it felt like an hour (and I say that as a good thing); so dense was the narrative. It was also exceedingly good-looking, with loving attention to detail and some truly gorgeous vistas, both urban, rural, and, er, town-y. Immediately this series establishes itself as both coming-of-age tale and slice-of-life, and I haven’t seen one as good as this since Working. The bathhouse also brings to mind Spirited Away, though Ohana is older and far less bratty than Chihiro, and its role as a world in and of itself, where everyone has roles to play.

We got a sneak-peak at some of the people who will help shape Ohana’s life, including Minko, a taciturn girl who immediately takes a dislike to her (and is voiced by a toned-down-for-once Chiaki Omigawa) and Nako (voiced by Aki Toyosaki, also voice of Railgun’s Uiharu). These three girls will likely form the nucleus, but the creepy uncle and battlaxe grandmother should prove entertaining supporters. I’m definitely stoked about this one. I don’t often toss out “4”s to first episodes, but this one’s deserving. Rating: 4

Sket Dance – First Impressions

Support, Kindness, Encouragement, Troubleshoot…that’s what the SKET in Sket Dance stands for. I’d love to support this new series with a kind review, but I’m not altogether encouraged. The trouble is, the first episode borrowed many well-worn tropes of the “Weird High School Club” and did next to nothing to distinguish itself.

For me at least, it drew immediate comparisons to other anime with similar premises: Haruhi Suzumiya, Angel Beats!, Seitokai Yakuindomo, and MM!, just to name a few off the top of my head. All are about high school clubs (or the student council, in Seitkokai’s case), each with a newcomer, if not outright odd-man-out: a dude who serves as the protagonist.

In SKET, this dude’s name is…what’s-his-name. I don’t remember…oh yeah! Teppei! Like his counterparts in those other shows (Kyon, Otonashi, etc.), he is initially reluctant and noncommittal towards joining the club. If I was a transfer student like Teppei, and three people just showed up in front of me willing to be my friends, I may not treat them so coldly (though Teppei is an ordinary, normal kid; they’re a bit weird, and hence intimidating).

I’ll admit, other then Teppei, who’s pret-ty dull, the other three members of Sket held my attention, particularly the hockey stick-wielding tomboy and the guy who talks with his laptop. But I didn’t really care about the mystery they had to solve. But first episodes can be misleading; I’ll give this show one more chance to elicit more than just passing interest. Rating: 2.5

Tiger & Bunny – First Impressions

Mecha with real-world sponsors? Fascinating. I for one enjoy race car driving, in which the cars are plastered with vibrant liveries touting a product or service that may not have anything to do with cars. I don’t mind it there, or here. Also, it’s a pretty clever way to fund a really slick-looking anime, set in a bustling futuristic New New York of multiple levels.

The series throws us right in the middle of the action, as “Hero TV” airborne cameras follow a gang of bank robbers as hero after hero playfully pursues them. It’s a team effort, as different heroes do better under different conditions: on the road, in the sky, in the harbor, etc. I am a bit surprised the robbers lasted as long as they did, but when you step back, this isn’t simply crimefighting. This is entertainment. There are bonus points for style.

The hero the series focuses on is Tiger, whose superpower is super-strength. But he’s the oldest of the team, and many deem him washed-up. Needless to say, he still feels he has a little left in the tank, which is why when his sponsor is acquired by a larger company, he can’t refuse the offer to work for them, only he trades in his blue spandex for a sleek SoftBank mecha, and teams up with another mecha pilot in Bunny. If the production values and fast-paced storytelling stay this good, I’ll surely keep watching. Rating: 3.5

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail 1

So yeah, it’s been a while since this first episode of Roberta’s Blood Trail aired – I had actually learned about it from a billboard in Akibahara more than a month earlier. I knew another Black Lagoon was forthcoming; I just didn’t know it would take the form of an series of OVAs and not a third 12-episode anime. That said, I just haven’t gotten to it until now. The fact that many anime on this winter’s list are being delayed for obvious reasons means now I’ve gotten to it…and I liked it.

Black Lagoon’s two seasons were always good for some ridiculous bloody action, and made for really quality underground crime action, as long as the characters laid off the Engrish. Roanapur is a thick, rich, and highly-seasoned setting, and it’s great to return there. It’s like Durarara’s Ikebukuro, only far seedier and more dangerous. One reason I hadn’t gotten to this was, I was never a huge fan of Roberta. I liked it more when the episodes focused on Revy, Rock, Dutch and Benny. Roberta is kind of a one-dimensional monster. Yes, she’s a great fighter (and the various standoffs and fights are a key part of why I enjoy Black Lagoon), but there’s just not much else there.

Fortunately, this first installment has her only on the fringes of the frame, where she’s most interesting. She’s hardly in the half-hour at all, rather her fellow maid Fabiola Iglesias has a prominent role, serving as her master, Garcia Lovelace’s messenger. They’re looking for Roberta, whose revenge against those who killed her Master, Diego, is leading to the titular blood trail. They seem to think Rock can find her. Of course, she’s already in Roanapur. Rating: 3.5