Dispatches from the Front: Winter 2009 TV Cartoons

Like a slightly overweight fangirl you accidentally gave your number to and keeps calling you offering VHS copies of Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars fansubs, the beleaguered, creatively dead Japanese japanimation industry refuses to take “no” for an answer and once again pulls its disheveled body off the vomit-stained floor of Shinjuku Station and dusts off the cheap 10,000-yen suit it’s wearing, ready to churn out yet another season of terrible cartoons.

That’s right, kids. It’s 2009 and despite the best advice of the Japtoon experts here at Colony Drop, the anime industry has decided not to take this season off to get its shit together.

Viper’s Creed

Shinji Aramaki, the guy who brought us transforming-motorcycle classics like MOSPEADA and MegaZone 23, returns to TV anime as the “chief director” of Viper’s Creed. As expected, there are plenty of transformable motorcycles (well, tricycles technically), but, surprisingly, no pandering moé lust object. But a respectable budget is wasted here on ugly robots driven by ugly people in an ugly world that consists of only freeways and cityscapes from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

It wouldn’t be such a letdown if it wasn’t one of the only titles this season for old school fans, but the whole project reeks of mediocrity and I can’t help but feel it might be better suited to be a video game.

Oh wait, it was.


New season, new school-based comedy series from animation studio SHAFT involving a primarily female cast. This time, instead of following the adventures of a little girl teaching high school or a suicidal and monologue-prone young man teaching high school, we follow a young woman who transfers into a private Catholic girls’ school to bag herself a hot babe. See, because of traumatic experiences like being teased for having big tits when she was younger and having her gym clothes stolen, poor Kanako has developed so severe an anxiety around boys that if she so much as touches them, she breaks out in hives. We at Colony Drop applaud progressive portrayals of homosexual characters as the victims of some sort of emotional trauma in their formative years.

Now that we’ve got our heroine’s lesbianism conveniently established as something potentially curable once we’re done exploiting it to sell comics and vinyl figurines, let’s introduce the show’s distinguishing twist: the first babe Kanako gets a girl-boner for is actually a dude in drag! And he comes packaged with a snarky maid henchman! A classy blackmail and rape threat or two later, and Mr. Mariya has moved into Kanako’s room to torment her 24/7 and ensure that his penis and her gayness remain locked in the closet. But Mr. Mariya looks so much like a pretty girl that Kanako still thinks that he (and everyone else on campus) is super hot! Wacky hijinx will certainly ensue.

I usually pop in for a few episodes of the SHAFT show of the season because sometimes Shinbo and crew can come up with some interesting presentational tricks to disguise how little budget they’ve actually got, and they always clearly have a lot of fun producing the opening and closing credits sequences. I’m not a huge fan of the “tee-hee, lesbians” flavor of humor, though. The show seems like it’s trying to walk the same road as Colony Drop favorite Ouran High School Host Club, which managed to poke fun at itself and its genre just enough to be a lot of fun even though I’m not a teenage girl. I’m not confident Maria†Holic is going to manage that — it’s a very thin line between affectionate parody and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Maybe I just have a lot higher tolerance level for hot guys groping each other.


The sole reason I watched this was that the distributor tried something interesting: the show is running in Japan simultaneously with the English-dubbed broadcast on Imaginasian, which I watched. This is a pretty neat model, and I hope to see more simultaneous broadcasts like this (please avoid Crunchyroll, thank you kindly). The only problem is that Kurokami is a bit shit.

Based on a Korean comic targeted to Japanese readers, Kurokami is a pitch-perfect replica of the tired manga cliche: a sullen, antisocial young lad with a number of inexplicably doting women in his life falls in with a magical girl who looks, sounds and acts about twelve. The girl in question–perhaps the centerpiece in character design here–is:

* Unfamiliar with normal human existence
* Fond of ramen to the point of monologue
* Wearing a giant cutesy dog collar ala the monstrous DearS
* Toting a cutesy puppy mascot
* An indestructible martial-arts expert

If this is your first anime you might not be tired of this character type, but you’re here so you are. The protagonist, meanwhile, ducks out of social situations to rattle off amazing cookie-cutter teen angst zingers like “The sympathy of others weighs heavily on me”. You’re supposed to wait for character development at a point like this in the show, but I don’t see these characters going anywhere that isn’t predictable from miles away. In this first episode, the only thing Kurokami has done right is some quality fight animation. The plot clearly hasn’t had a chance to begin yet, so I can really make no comment on the overarching narrative.

From the overbearing, pretentious air of teen whine that pervades this episode, I can’t say I really care what the hell happens in this story. This week’s episode actually culminates in two desperate grabs in a row at edginess: the finale is so shamelessly manipulative and over the top that I pointed and laughed at my TV all the way through the ending credits. Kurokami may not be very good, but it’s a perfectly targeted work: it’s for whiny teenagers who’ll mistake this shit for “deep”. Knowing the market, the show will probably be fairly successful.

Hajime no Ippo The Fighting! New Challenger

Hajime no Ippo is, like Golgo 13, a work where you know what you’re getting. Its 82 manga volumes and previous anime adaptation have followed the same basic pattern with great success: hero trains, hero fights, hero is knocked down, hero gets back up again and hero wins. If Ippo is about anything, it is about getting back up: bearing the loss of your senses, clinging to consciousness with the last of your spirit, then bludgeoning another man out of his mind. Former underdog hero Ippo Makunouchi has already taken a championship title for himself and defended it by a hair’s breadth, so this episode focuses on brooding shonen rival archetype Ichiro Miyata, who hasn’t been quite as successful.

This is an Ippo Training Episode: the supporting cast discusses the strengths and drawbacks of the boxers in wacky cartoon format, while the boxers train to the limits of their bodies. In between, there is a bit of gay innuendo between all parties. Next episode starts the match, where Madhouse is really going to show their animation chops and give us some more of the superlative boxing animation they teased us with at the start of this episode: it’s rare to see hits that really look like they hurt in anime, and Ippo delivers. Get ready for it.
-Dave (again)


Colony Drop’s single, Kaiji-esque all-in suicide wager of the apocalypse is on a CG-heavy show by Madhouse (actually, my original bet was on Hetalia Axis Powers, but said series has now been sabotaged off its Japanese television broadcast by al-Qaeda).

Rideback director Atsushi Takahashi has a short work history with more points of interest on it than the entire staffs assigned to most Broccoli shows. An assistant to Naoki Urasawa on the Monster manga (so we can assume he can draw), assistant director of Kemonozume as well as script writer, storyboard writer, and director of its third episode and storyboard writer and unit director of several episodes of Paranoia Agent to name a few. Takahashi’s track record with Madhouse is almost enough to make you forget that the studio that produced Black Lagoon, Kaiba, Master Keaton and Perfect Blue also created Chobits and Tenjho Tenge.

Rideback is about a failed ballet dancer who discovers a Rideback club on the campus of her liberal arts college. The titular mecha are a cross between the agility of ride armor and the utility of labors, the rideback club using theirs to construct stuff around campus. The first episode of the series downplays the political elements of the plot into near non-existence. In contrast, the first chapters of Tetsura Kasahara’s manga featured a student demonstration on campus as well as a riot against the police. That’s not to say Madhouse’s deviations are all unwelcome: the manga’s first volume also feature an astonishing rate of tit and ass shots per page. The restraint shown in the first episode is staggering.

Both mecha and character designs are tasteful—the latter being an approximation of what Shuichi Shigeno would draw if he ever learned how to draw human beings. The exception is the Rideback club’s chief, who is obviously Combat Mecha Xabungle’s Jiron Amos in an extended cameo. This is the premier motorcycles-that-turn-into-mecha-and-then-back-again—much in the fashion Snoop Dogg can turn from a man into a Doberman pinscher into a pimp and back again—anime of this Winter season.

I haven’t wanted to own a fictional vehicle this badly since I first saw a Valkyrie.


  1. Oh lawd, now I’m going to be anticipating the “melon-head” insult every time I see the Rideback club chief.

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