Written by Bradley Meek Monday, 05 July 2010 22:16
SNAP JUDGEMENT: SUMMER 2010
By: Bradley Meek
Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi
Continuing anime's grand tradition of schools with elaborate clubs is Ookami-san's Otogi Bank. This club will lend out their talents to help people, but in exchange, will require their customers help in a future problem, like paying back a loan. Ryouko Ookami is a fiery member of the Bank who acts as their heavy when problems require confrontation, and will bust any fool with her deadly pair of neko boxing gloves. Her bold temperament and good looks have caught the eye of fellow student Ryoushi Morino. Unfortunately, he has a psychosis that makes him afraid of people staring at him, so just confessing his feelings to Ryouko takes a week of stalking so he can build up the courage. This doesn't sit well with Ryouko, but unfortunately for her, the Otogi Bank needs a new male member, and Ryoushi's talent for staying unseen might come in handy.
I've always liked the trope of the Improbably Complex School. Wouldn't school have been so much more interesting if the student council was housed in a large, imperial chamber, if clubs were headquartered in secret underground bunkers, and the school grounds had a sprawling forest. It might even be worth coming in Saturdays! The ICS trope is at risk of becoming mundane by the sheer number of anime that use it, but there's still a bit of magic to it. It wasn't that long ago that I was a student in high school, so it's not hard to imagine getting lost on my way to class and devoting many hours to an afterschool activity that doubles as a way to save the world.
The Otogi Bank is a linear copy of this trope, down to its crazy members. (Each of these clubs must have a note on their application: normal students need not apply) The heroine will seem familiar to fans of Toradora! in look and temperament, though whether or not that's coincidence or design is impossible to tell. Most of the cast doesn't do a lot to stand out either, from Ryouko's protective loli-bait companion to the maid that serves the club tea. Oddly enough for an anime whose draw is supposed to be all the bishojou, the most interesting character with the highest potential for comedy was Ryokou. As one of the Otogi Bank members explained: "Apparently he comes from a family of Matagi hunters, which is how he's gotten so good at hiding."
Each episode is supposed to be based on a Western fairy tale- this time around, Cinderella gets the Otogi Bank treatment. Unfortunately, the twist doesn't really pay off until after the ending theme, making it a mediocre treatment. This conceit has some potential for entertainment, though, especially if we get to watch it mix with old otaku tropes. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for tsundere Sleeping Beauty. "I- I- I didn't ask you to kiss me!"
Premiered: July 1st, 2010
Produced By: J.C. Staff
Two years ago Junichi's young heart was broken when he was stood up for a date on Christmas Eve. He's never reached out to anyone else since, but after lucking out and talking to the most popular girl in school, maybe it's time to try again.
This isn't entertainment: this is Otaku Mad Lib. Here, you can play along too: [Bland Hero] starts his day by being woken up by [Loli Sister]. He walks to school with [Hyperactive Pervert Friend]. He has a crush on [School President]. He helps [Frail Young Freshman]. [School President] notices [Bland Hero] helping [Frail Young Freshman]. [School President] thinks [Bland Hero] must be such a nice guy and befriends him. [Bland Hero] develops crush on [School President]. Insert names into brackets and you've got your own concept for the first episode of an anime! Wasn't that easy?
The series tries to strike a sentimental and emotional mood, with its softly colored animation and gratuitous use of gentle background music. But it's hard to feel any kind of emotion for something that just recycles the same clichés I've seen elsewhere, and in better series. The minutes just crawled by in a long stretch of blandness, and even though I watched this episode not five minutes ago and took fairly extensive notes, I'm already forgetting what happened. This is as vapid as a cartoon can get.
Premiered: July 1st, 2010
Produced By: AIC
Shukufuku no Campanella
The trading city of Ert'aria is bustling with excitement. Once every seven years a meteor show lights up the skies and everyone is busy preparing party for the big event. Leicester, the only male member of the prominent trading clan Oasis, is as excited as anyone else. But something strange happens: one of the eerie lights falling from the sky hits the steeple of the Holy Church, and when Leicester goes to investigate, he finds a mysterious young girl asleep on a bed. When she wakes up, she happily jumps into his arms, calling him "Papa."
Take a look at my synopsis again. Between sentences three and four is a long stretch of a little over twenty minutes where nothing happens. If you hadn't read the synopsis before watching this episode it wouldn't be clear that this series even had a plot, and even after reading what the plot for this series is, I still feel like I have no idea where this anime is going with what story it has. That's a serious problem for any premier, and it really handicaps what could otherwise be a decent episode.
Instead, the viewer will have to be content with being introduced to over eight different characters, all of them pretty bishojou. Why is it that bishojou anime feel the need to crowd their series with so many characters so quickly anyway? It's hard to know why I should care for anyone in this series when they only get a few minutes of screen time each. And it's hard to distinguish between them and any other bishojou from other series. With the exception of one character I'll get to in a moment, all of the girls are pleasant and dainty little things, dressed up in lots of frills and silly hats. Most of them have a crush on Leicester, and it's not hard to see why: that pretty boy is as pleasant as the rest of them. Even the well-endowed mother (who otaku conventions demand look not a day older than her own son) drapes herself over Leicester. It's a bit of a relief when even one character rises above the bland pleasantness. Ritos, a twin with purple locks and a poisonous tongue, spends much of the episode needling her sister and provoking the girls of Oasis. She's the only spicy food in a land of sweets.
The episode feels very conventional, but not quite in the same way that Amagami is slavishly conventional. This is more like otaku comfort food. But it's so artificially sweet that it gave me a bit of a toothache, and has whetted my appetite for something sleazy and bloody. How much longer until High School of the Dead premiers?
Premiered: July 3rd 2010
Produced By: AIC
Tsuda Takahashi is starting his first year of high school at Ousai Academy. For years, the Academy was an all-girl school, and has only recently opened its gates to boys. Takahashi had no idea of this when enrolled. What he also had no idea about was the Student Council's policy of "No secrets," how that meant that anyone could openly talk about their normally embarrassing bodily functions and puberty-related trauma, how few boys there would be in his school, and how damn crazy the girls are in the Student Council. And he really had no idea that he would become vice-president of the Council before he'd even attended his first class!
Men deservedly take a lot of flak for their brand of "guy talk," that coarse mode of conversation reserved for when they're with just "the boys" and can unload all their crude thoughts on the delights of women. This kind of talk can easily veer into degrading territory, but it seems to be a natural thing for men to do, and an equally natural thing for them to try to restrain themselves a bit when they know the womenfolk are listening. And women aren't entirely innocent: they have their own version of this when they're with just "the girls." The gist of Seitokai is that the girls in this anime have been around only girls for so long that they're used to being completely open and frank about everything, and even when there's suddenly a guy in the conversation, it just doesn't occur to them to stop talking about penises. And the humor doesn't come from the girls frankly discussing what's on their minds at any given moment- mostly penises and periods- but from Tsuda's deadpan reaction.
Tsuda is going to remind a lot of fans of Kyon from Haruhi Suzumiya. Both of them are strangers in an alien world, and the only way they can cope with the insanity is through a deadpan sense of humor and sarcasm. Tsuda is an unflappable and polite boy- in one of the early scenes of the episode, when he boards the train on the way to school, the car is already filled wall to wall with chattering schoolgirls in identical uniforms. Obviously conscientious of Japan's notorious history of schoolgirls being molested in crowded trains, he takes the entire trip with his hands up in the air, where everyone can see them, without being asked. He's a gentleman, and while he's not immune to charms of schoolgirls, he has the good sense to treat them like ladies, no matter how crude things get. Imagine if Oe from Golden Boy or Ataru from Urusei Yatsura were in the same situation. Would it still be funny if the series fell back on the old WACKY CRAZY COMEDY shtick?
And in contrast to the bishojou crowding I wrote about in Shukufuku, there are only three girls in the Student Council, and they're easy to keep track of and easy to like, even if their characterization isn't as strong as Tsuda's. They feel a bit too close to the kind of characters we normally see in otaku comedies, but perhaps if we give them more time they'll find their own space to reside in.
Premiered: July 4th, 2010
Produced by: GoHands
Yabe Satoshi is an idealistic young graduate who has just found his first job as a teacher. And like all young, idealistic teachers, he has no idea what he's in for. And worse, his class has the notorious Marui sisters- a trio of perverted triplets who cause nothing but trouble. Yabe is also developing a crush on the cute nurse, but when the triplets get involved, his chances of romance become thinner and thinner as they cause crazy misunderstandings.
I come from a family largely made of teachers, and any one of them will tell you that the first year on the job after graduating can be splash of cold water on your idealism. Those little buggers that look so sweet and cute? Agents of chaos. And while "crazy kids causing trouble for their innocent teacher" is not an original or compelling concept, I think part of the reason I enjoyed this episode is that the triplets in this anime are more than just wacky precocious kids. The first gag of the anime is an elaborately animated, chaotic fight set to Verdi's Requiem, where the kid at the center of the bedlam hollers "THIS IS WAR!" Indeed. Someone else knows the truth.
You've seen these characters and this concept elsewhere, and it's really not that different from, say, Gainax's Hanamaru Kindergarten. It can also be compared in concept and content to Minami-ke, which shares the same director. And the character designs and crude humor will remind many fans of Strawberry Marshmellow. It works as well as either of those did on a good episode, which is part of the reason I'm giving this a weak recommendation even though I'm leery of the weak story and loli-pandering character designs. It doesn't have Strawberry Marshmellow's sense of comic timing or Kindergarten's charming cuteness, though, both traits it really needs to succeed. Perhaps it will gain steam in future episodes, like Minami-ke did.
Premiered: July 4th, 2010
Produced By: Bridge
High School of the Dead
Takahashi Komuro's biggest concern used to be that the girl he thought he was destined to marry is now dating his best friend. Then the zombies happened.
And really, my synopsis doesn't need to tell you much more than that. When "zombies happen," even my minimal knowledge of zombie lore is able to fill in the gaps. Our heroes are caught unawares by a sudden outbreak of the undead hungry for the flesh of the living. If they get bit, they turn undead as well. The number of zombies swell quickly as the number of survivors shrink. The survivors discover that the only sure way to kill the zombies is to destroy their heads. One survivor dies early on to heighten the sense of danger. Eventually our heroes barricade themselves inside a mall, house, or in this case, a school, and try to find a way out. Also, the government is somehow responsible for all of this.
It's taken me a couple of days to decide how I feel about High School of the Dead. There's being conventional, and then there's just cliché, and the opening episode treads a fine line between the two. It's not boring- the energetic animation and pacing assure that- but it's not engaging either. The narrative that nearly every blog and website has agreed to is that this is the perfect anime for a Western audience, but I wonder about that. If the opening episode of High School of the Dead is any indication, this is just a long zombie movie skinned as an anime, and will that really be enough to keep people engaged? Perhaps some of you aren't asking for much more than that, which is fine, but I think it's fair to ask something that's so aware of the conventions of zombie movies to be self-aware enough to find new areas to explore.
Premiered: July 5th, 2010
Produced By: Madhouse
The year is 1999. The headmaster of a private Japanese academy dedicated to the occult has died, and in trying to leave a message to his students, unleashes an ancient spell that resurrects his body with a hunger for living flesh. His estranged daughter Maya may be the only who can save the student body.
TV Tokyo's Spirit of Anime project has been an interesting experiment, partly because of what doesn't get made. Ambitious, autuer-driven fare like Tatami Galaxy and Trapeze are eschewed in favor of more mainstream fare. The only project I've seen so far in its entirety, Sora no Woto, was a sweet anime that stuck a little too close to the familiar to truly show the "Spirit of Anime," and word is that Senko no Night Raid wasn't much of a success on that front either. But hopes are high for Occult Academy, which is loaded with talented animators, veteran staffers, and most importantly, an interesting story. And seeing the first episode does nothing to change that hope- in fact, it boosts it.
A lot of it has to do with one character, Maya, who is the focus of this episode. She has more meat to her character than the entire cast of everything else I've seen from the summer season combined. She's the kind of "strong female" anime is famous for, and we quickly get to know her while still left hungry to find out more about her. In most fantasy series, our hero is a naive waif eager to explore the world's magic, but Maya knows the occult better than that. Her contempt for it is bred from a familiarity that comes from her father's obsession, and is bolstered by an expertise deep enough to save the school from serious trouble. The best kind of hate comes from those who know what they're talking about. We also get plenty of back story: her father's love for the occult led him to build and lead the academy while neglecting his own family, and she's never forgiven him for that. His death and undeath certainly did little to change that. I quickly grew attached to her, and it helps that she looks killer in that white dress.
There's a lot more mystery here- including another main character who was dramatically introduced in the last scene- and I can't wait to see it uncovered. Most of the time I need to watch a few more episodes before deciding whether or not to see an anime to its end, but this grabbed me very quickly, and I have high expectations for what happens next.
Premiered: July 6, 2010
Produced By: Aniplex, A-1 Pictures