Dispatches from the Front: Fall 2008 TV Cartoons, Part 1

There are a lot of new cartoons starting on Japanese TV this month. Most of them are completely awful, and can be dismissed with a quick glance at some official art. Sometimes, a show seems like it might have a slight bit of potential, maybe an interesting premise, a big name attached, or at the very least a lack of sad girls in snow. Today I’m going to talk to you about three of these shows, and why you still shouldn’t watch them.

Hokuto no Ken: Raoh Gaiden: Ten no Haoh

The latest in an increasing number of mediocre-to-bad spinoffs of classic 1980s ultraviolent boy’s fight comic Hokuto no Ken, Raoh Gaiden: Ten no Haoh is something like the third spinoff focused on main villain Raoh in as many years. Despite focusing on one of the franchise’s main villains, the first episode of Ten no Haoh sticks really, really close to the franchise’s playbook. Raoh walks into town and slaughters a bunch of mohawk-sporting thugs when they get in his way. New female character Reina gets her top torn off and is the only member of the cast who uses weapons rather than her bare fists. Then there’s a showdown with the boss of the local bandit gang; Raoh proclaims that his mystical head-exploding martial art is the best, his opponent shits himself upon realizing that he’s facing a master of said head-exploding martial art, and is promptly slaughtered in a single secret technique. Raoh’s doing it to capture a fortress to launch his own world domination bid rather than franchise hero Kenshiro’s goals of protecting the innocent and tracking down his girlfriend, but otherwise it’s business as usual for the series.

The visual aspects are similarly conservative. Satelight, the animation studio who brought you shows like Macross Frontier, Noein, and the first few episodes of Hellsing Ultimate cut a lot of corners to make the already grey and lifeless post-apocalypse look even worse. Our good friend the slow-pan-over-a-still-frame makes a number of appearances and the shading on characters is minimal. Colors are washed-out and muted in a manner that takes away from the visual impact of the post-apocalyptic landscapes rather than reinforcing it. The character designs lack the burly charm of the original version and the characters added for these spinoffs like Raoh’s lieutenants, Reina and Souga, are totally out of place alongside giants like Raoh and bandit boss of the week. I want to single out Souga: he looks like a stock porn-game protagonists who grew a dorky goatee and worked out a bit.

There’s nothing really objectionable about the episode, but there’s also nothing memorable about it. Just go watch the old series.

Shikabane Hime: Aka

Apparently there’s only so much milk in Rei and Asuka’s pubescent breasts, since GAINAX keeps taking on these totally unremarkable comic adaption jobs. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Shikabane Hime: Aka, apparently chosen by covering their eyes and pointing at a comic book rack, is the story of a milquetoast teenager moving to a new apartment who meets a mysterious girl who doesn’t stay dead for very long. He goes to school and he chats with his two friends, the loud idiot and the subdued one with boring hair, about the strange series of disappearances in town lately. There’s wacky antics, conversations about how the cops are useless, and surprisingly dull action sequences where the titular “Corpse Princess” uses her two superpowers of firing two Uzis at once and coming back from the dead to kill other undead dudes to earn a chance to die for good herself.

This show desperately wants to be cool like GAINAX’s other works; the style, character designs and presentation evokes recent efforts like Diebuster and Evangelion 1.0. It can’t even come close, but the show does manage to be one of the better-animated first episodes of this TV season. It does this at the cost of being even the slightest bit interesting. Corpse girl Makina leaps around firing her dual Uzis in every fight scene, and that’s about all she does. We already know that she’s just going to get right up if she gets killed, so there’s zero tension. This week’s evil monster is slain by running at him, shooting at him, knocking him into a giant neon billboard and shooting him some more on the way down. I was going to fill out this post more, but watching the episode again made me want to fall asleep.

Tales of the Abyss

The latest in an increasing number of mediocre-to-bad videogame spinoffs, Tales of the Abyss is one of Sunrise’s big shows for the season. It’s got everything a growing boy needs: an amnesiac teen protagonist, his best bro the awesome swordsman, a mysterious spell-slinging girl who gets angry at the hero a lot when they’re forced to team up, and an opening crawl which implies that the ultimate goal of the story is going to be to smash the evil church (and possibly an evil God) and strike a blow for Free Will. If you’ve ever played a Japanese RPG, don’t expect any surprises. Since it’s been several years since Abyss was released, and the show’s airing at 9pm, I imagine the show is trying to draw in people who never bothered to play the game. As a result, it’s actually possible to follow the plot if you haven’t played the game, unlike some of the Tales adaptations. Just don’t go into it expecting anything you haven’t seen before.

The animation in the first episode is slightly better than other recent TV series by Sunrise. It helps that there’s a complete lack of giant robots, since the robot animation and design in Code Geass was really poor. The character designs have taken a stylistic hit in the conversion – while characters are mostly identical to their videogame counterparts, the faces don’t much resemble Kosuke Fujishima’s generically-distinct art style. Curiously, the show’s opening credits sequence is over two minutes long, with another twenty seconds of song lead-in over the opening expository narration. Maybe it’s an odd thing to harp on, but the ninety-second limit for opening credits sequences has held for so long across so many different TV cartoons that this flagrant “fuck you” to rules really bugs me. “Maybe they just really like Bump of Chicken,” Dave suggests.

Next time: hopefully some shows that are actually cool!


  1. After exactly one minute and thirty seconds of that Tales of the Abyss OP, I just reflexively clicked pause and skipped past the rest.

  2. The colors in Ten no Hoah are absolutely hilarious. Nothing but shades of gray and some washed out red for blood. It’s not as though colors cost extra money when everything is on computers, so I wonder why they’d pick such a horrendous color palette.

  3. For some reason, FUNimation’s Youtube channel lists Shikabane Hime episode 1 as part of their content update for next week. I suppose this means they’ve licensed it sight-unseen, or made some other sort of arrangement with one of the production companies involved. One of these days, I’d like to see this sort of rapid Internet broadcast of Japanese TV cartoons used for a show that doesn’t suck.

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