Looking at the overview of the Spring 2010 anime season, one is tempted at first glance to say that Japanese cartoons might be in store for a revitalization, or at least a slow, gradual shift towards the middle ground away from, well, wherever it’s been the past decade and change.
Virtually every Colony Drop staffer was able to pick out at least one title this season to which they were looking forward (we are not divulging how many of those picks were for Gundam Unicorn). House of Five Leaves, the second season of Big Windup, a new television series by Madhouse and a new Armored Trooper Votoms OAV were among the most anticipated titles for us. Of course, the pessimist has the satisfaction of being right most of the time and pleasantly surprised the rest of the time; Colony Drop is nothing if not perpetually satisfied.
None of the aforementioned cartoons will be covered in this installment.
Senkou no Night Raid
I’m guessing A-1 Pictures didn’t design this one for export to the rest of Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. The premise: Supernaturally powered Kempeitai officers prowl the streets of 1930s Shanghai watching out for Imperial Japanese business interests and putting the arrogant upstart locals in their place.
Alright, alright, to be fair the first episode does have some hints that the story and its politics will be more nuanced than those in, say, perennial Colony Drop favorite Konpeki no Kantai. In fact, the premise and setup bear more than a little resemblance to those of Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex; an extralegal A-team of paramilitaries with a murky set of allegiances is Production IG’s default story concept, after all. Did I mention this show has a couple Stand-Alone Complex alumni on its key staff? Color designer Kazuko Nakajima and mechanical designer Shinobu Tsuneki both had similar jobs on SAC. Director Jun Matsumoto was a key animator and storyboard artist for several episodes. His actual directing credits are a little slim, Notable only for Persona -trinity soul (that was an excellent show, right?), which might account for how bland and unadventurous the action choreography and animation was in the first episode of Night Raid.
There’s room for this show to get better, China in the 30s is an inherently interesting backdrop, but I’ll take the safe bet that if you’re expecting Empire of the Sun, Lust/Caution, or Samurai Crusader: The Kumomaru Chronicles The Anime, you’re probably going to wind up disappointed. TV TOKYO, BANZAAAI! CARTOON POWER, BANZAAAI!
Arakawa Under the Bridge
In which it is demonstrated that it takes a set of characters with serious, life-impairing neuroses to make the magical girlfriend setup kinda make sense. SHAFT and ol’ Akiyuki Shinbo adapt Hikaru Nakamura’s gag manga in the same way that SHAFT and ol’ Akiyuki Shinbo have reliably, if eccentrically, adapted gag manga for season after season. A young elite moves into a “lakeside community” (under a bridge, hence the title) of homeless nutjobs after incurring a life debt from a girl who believes she is an alien. She asks to experience this thing the hu-mans call “love,” and, well… he’s about as messed up as she is, really, so they’ll be fine.
The anime adaptation trims the comic’s fat and runs through the story as fast as humanly possible, at points flaunting to readers that it runs through entire chapters in two or three minutes on average. (That’s pretty Shinbo too.) The edits are good for the pacing: from the very first moment of this episode the hero is being thrust at a breakneck pace into increasingly awkward and terrible situations. SHAFT doesn’t surprise us here in any sense, but they can be counted on for a chuckle.
B Gata H Kei
This season, I’m taking a hit for the team by watching anime that none of us would ever actually watch of our own free will.
Here is another 4-panel adaptation (blame Kyoani, as usual) whose premise alone has done a fine job upsetting many delicate flowers in anime fandom: a high school girl sets out to amass 100 casual sex partners. The real joke, of course, is that teenagers are even dumber than they are horny. It’s clear by the first minute of the show that our heroine has no chance of succeeding and no clue of what her quest to be the Monkey D. Luffy of high school sluts entails. Thankfully, B Gata H Kei is as aggressively, overpoweringly stupid as its premise.
This first episode is a bit of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, except a clueless girl chases the equally clueless boy she’s targeted as her “first”, and when she’s about to get him, a number of issues— simple teen awkwardness, no understanding to match her aggression, a fear of boners— take over and it’s back to square one. Usually a background character will give a gag reaction like “Hey! That’s not how you do things, silly!” This, I presume, repeats forever. And that’s the show!
It’s not as funny as it could be and I definitely won’t be back for the next one, but it’s so stupid that I just can’t get as mad about it other people seem to have.
For those of us who like our sports cartoons just a tad less homoerotic than Big Windup, or who just haven’t gotten around to watching all of the first series yet, Giant Killing‘s football manager with an unorthodox style and a cool attitude is what we’ll have to put up with. Fresh off his success bringing a farm league team head-to-head with professionals in England, manager Takeshi Tatsumi gets headhunted by East Tokyo United, the down-on-their-luck club where Tatsumi made his name as a player. The management hopes that Tatsumi might be able to pull off his “giant killing” act once again and turn their fortunes around, but first he’s going to have to win over skeptical players and resentful fans who blame his departure for the team’s collapse.
Fans of Studio DEEN will no doubt be disappointed to find that after setting such high standards for third-class work with When They Cry and When They Cry 3, Giant Killing features but fleeting moments of terrible direction, distorted anatomy, and flat-out sloppiness. It’s easily the most competent production DEEN’s managed in years. Perhaps the knowledge that, as usual, DEEN has elected to skip content deemed nonessential to pack as much football action into 13 episodes as they can will bring peace to their cold hearts. Sure, ETU’s PR Manager, Nagata (aka The Token Woman) isn’t as important to the plot as any of the on-the-field characters, but the hard workin’ (and continually exasperated) female subordinate is crucial to the formula! Cutting all her scenes ruins the balance!
I’m not going to lie and say there’s anything all that remarkable going on here. Odds are you’ve seen a lot of the characters in this show before, in one guise or another, and most of the plot developments and scene constructions in the first two episodes are fairly obvious — get prepared for a lot of scenes where Tatsumi performs an apparent non-sequitur that turns out to not only prove a point but will actually cause other characters to monologue about the point he’s making. That doesn’t mean the show’s not entertaining — successful formulas are successful for a reason, after all. But I’ve read some of the original Giant Killing comic, and frankly, I like it a lot better than this unspectacular, workmanlike adaptation.
At first glance, your overqualified staff viewed WORKING!! as this season’s high fantasy anime: a whimsical tale of young men and women frolicking in an imaginary country called “Steady Employment”. It was impossible not to take part in such escapism!
But she looks 12 and she’s so cute… is this all right?
I was immediately brought back to earth by the premise. A high-school-age pedophile in denial is solicited by his ultimate dream girl: a 17 year old who looks like she’s 12. She needs help at the local Japanese Applebee’s, and the show follows the young man’s very lightly comical adventures as a restaurant part-timer.
“Inoffensive” is a word that frequently crosses my mind when considering shows of this ilk— gentle comedies like Hidamari Sketch. On the one hand, I’m glad not to be horrified, skeeved out or pissed off. On the other, WORKING!! doesn’t really move me in any direction at all. It’s just okay.
It’s all quiet character humor with no intention of being so improper as to grab the viewer. At this early stage these characters do display hints of personalities. I am kind of interested in finding out more about them. They might end up bouncing off each other fairly well. Simply put, the show’s so lukewarm right now that the only words I’ve got for it are wishy-washy.
SD Gundam Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Brave Battle Warriors
We’ve all paid attention to Gundam Unicorn, but we should keep in mind that it’s but a single gold-plated cog in the shambling, cash-devouring mechanical beast that is the Gundam franchise.
In a distant demographic, far from our old-man front porch, the all-seeing Bandai needs to sell a lot of cheap plastic model kits to children. Original designs modeled after knights, samurai and ancient Chinese warriors have always been popular in this line. Going by the numbers, it’s perfectly reasonable to animate the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, except with all living entities in the story replaced by Mobile Suits.
That’s right, Liu Bei Gundam avenges the death of Lu Zhi GM Cannon at the hands of Ma Yuan Yi Zaku I and sets out into the world to eventually fight Lu Bu Tallgeese, whose Gundam-horse totally turns into a bike. It’s played completely straight, but being as this is a kids’ show they juice it up with things like the aforementioned bike, Gundam fishing, and Super Saiyan Gundam Special Moves.
The animation is an odd blend of CG like that seen in the earlier SD Gundam Force and conventional 2D animation: the CG has frames cut to blend better with the 2D animation, but the frequent shift is still jarring to the trained eye. But hey, the kids aren’t going to notice! A trivial curiosity for Gundam fans at best… so of course we had to cover it.
Oh, look, BONES is making another kids’ show! And this time, they’ve teamed up with comic book legend Stan Lee to create the characters and world, in what’s easily the season’s most overt and shameless throwback to a bygone era. It doesn’t get much more old-school than an effeminate boy and his transforming, remote-controlled robot punching out giant cockroach aliens arriving in flying saucers. And it’s also really, really boring.
Once you get past the amusement value in how much Center City, West Coast, USA looks like the real thing, it’s all stock characters and stock plots. Our meek, effeminate hero Joey Jones works a part-time job before and after school to help support his grandmother (his only living family), wishes he had $350 to spend on a toy robot, and gets thrown around by the local bully for being seen within ten feet of said bully’s sister. The spread of archetypes, like the hot cheerleader who’s sweet on the hero, the kid with crutches who somehow manages to be cool anyway, and the energetically nutty SETI guy as the teacher the kids are oddly friendly with, will make you feel right at home — but you also won’t be surprised. The show lumbers leisurely through the standard superhero/coming-of-age intro material, with great power comes great responsibility, and so on.
Nothing stands out about this show at all, aside from some of the worst-integrated 3DCG this side of early 00s Gonzo in the third episode. I wish it was worse so I could at least work up a nice, frothing rage about it, like some of BONES’ other recent efforts. Maybe if you’re the show’s target demographic, e.g. a kid who hasn’t seen all of this many, many times before, it’ll work better for you. But more interesting than actually watching the show is taking bets on how it’s going to fare: the official Colony Drop call is that it’ll be too American for Japanese kids, and too American for American kids.