Winter Storm Watch: Winter 2009 Anime Guide

At first I wasn’t sure how full the winter list was going to be. There seemed to be a lot of continuing shows and sequels but as it came closer the list swelled. Clearly the spring and fall seasons are the bigger lists but summer and winter have displayed diversity with some really great shows. I am watching the sequel to Tower of Druaga as well as Natsume Yuujinchou but you won’t hear about it here. Also, new season of Pretty Cure! However, there are still plenty of shows I was looking forward to. This space is for all that bran-spankin’-new stuff.

I have yet to go into a season and not find at least one show worth watching. Then again I have a pretty wide range of taste. I am as willing to sit down and watch a slow space opera as I am a spastic romantic comedy or a bloody action show. We have a pretty good mix of genres so I am looking forward to seeing what this season has to offer. Note: If there is a message on the blog that says I died under mysterious circumstances before this review could be finished, don’t believe it. If I died it was because it turned out that Asu no Yoichi! was so bad that Narutaki murdered me in my sleep for making him watch it. Don’t let my murder go unsolved.

Maria+Holic

Having read some of the Maria+Holic manga I mostly was curious how good this was as an adaptation. So far it is pretty spot on and enjoyable. The humor translates well so I can’t see fans of the manga being upset so far. The animation is nice and shiny and I like the adaptation of the character designs. Despite Narutaki’s insistence that Kanako looks mucho manly I think she is cute. The ending song is very catchy but that might be because of the fact that a majority of my childhood was during the 80s so I have a fondness for synthesizer pop. I was amused by Yu Kobayashi’s male Mariya voice because it sounds like a woman doing a young boys voice which I am sure is deliberate so it does not break the yuri fanboy’s fantasies. Still I think that much like Bridget everyone one is going to be gay for Mariya.

I revoke my original assessment of Kanako, it was just the web page. In the anime she is rather cute, though tall as the Eifel Tower! I was looking forward to this show since its announcement. Depending upon which direction it went, it could easily be right up my alley or go down the completely wrong path. The first episode lived up to my expectations. I laughed out loud, the humor is consistently moving between insane fantasy and mean-spiritedness in a perfectly over the top manner. Mariya is a deliciously evil boy that I loved very much. I hope to see a bond and possible relationship develop between these two foes and that is probably my main fuel for watching. Maria+Holic has the rare ability to appeal to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.

Tale of Genji

PUFFY does the opening for this show. I know you are all thinking, “Why wouldn’t you use a pop rock group to do the opening to classic Japanese literature?” but you are wrong, it just doesn’t work. It would take more than that to appeal to a younger audience. While the animation is very beautiful it is certainly not modern in style either. The character designs seem to shift from the childhood of Genji to the current state of him. And it doesn’t exude the beauty that he is supposed to posses in my opinion. The first story from his boyhood is strange in points and also slightly confusing. Since I assume women fall in love with him left and right, the first story being the opposite of that sets a rather uneven standard. I am certainly interested in this classic story but a few things about this show threw me off.

The Tale of Genji is best for people who are curious to see what the original legendary book is about but are unwilling to commit to reading the whole thing. The actual work itself is quite daunting for all but scholars and the most committed of fans of Japanese culture. The animation is quite luscious and detailed as is usual for the Noitamina shows. I assume that each episode will be some part of Genji’s life with an emphasis on his love life. The story starts with a rather odd little love story that had at least one creepy scene with totally inappropriate music. Oh, and as Narutaki said the opening song could not have been more inappropriate unless it was hard core death metal. I almost feel that you have to want to watch this show before going in because it will hardly win over anyone else. But for those who wish to watch an animated version of a classic of Japanese literature there is much for them to enjoy.

KuroKami

Kurokami piqued my interest because it has a pair of Korean authors writing a manga in Japan. All in all it feels like any other Japanese shonen series. I can’t say it knocked my socks off but I also can’t hate it anywhere near as much as Subatomic Brainfreeze. It has a sullen, withdrawn protagonist who has isolated himself from other people. It has a ditzy girl with a dog that has a badarse-fighter switch when she needs to get down to business. A side note, a line that she is supposed to deliver with ominous weight is totally ruined by her flip-flopping nature so what is supposed to be drama becomes inadvertent comedy. The fight that Kuro has in front of the ramen stand is well done and exciting so I hope they can keep up that energy as the series goes on. The climax at the end seemed to be a bit overkill. They decided to throw any pretense of subtlety right out the window. The premise has potential but could easily slide into being boring and cliche.

I went into this show with zero expectations since I knew nothing about it and had only off-handedly seen the manga in the store. I like the idea of everyone having two other people that look exactly like them in the world. My mother swears she almost came face to face with one of hers before. They also introduce a concept involving luck which could be interesting as they explore it further. But honestly, I don’t really like the idea of everything happen purely from luck. Keita is certainly a detached fellow but understandably so. Kuro is an odd duck and the tone with which she explains what happens to Keita’s mom makes her seem either dense or just insensitive. Her fight was pretty good watching though. I found it to be mostly entertaining but trying too hard to push its dramatic agenda in my face.

Rideback

Of all the shows this season, Rideback piqued my interest mostly from mecha designs. And having a female lead that didn’t look like she was being fetish exploited. Although I assumed that the series was military based, the first episode only hints at that being later down the line. However, it was very entertaining anyway for different reasons. I like the back story for Rin because of its sober tone and also the unique connection it gives her with the mecha. Fuego, the robot, is totally awesome and I really need one. The sequence of Rin riding through the streets is beautiful and fantastic. And the school setting doesn’t strike me as typical but more an outlet for Rin’s rediscovery of what she is looking for in life. Oh and I wasn’t crazy about the opening, but I did really like the song. If I am watching only one show this season, it would probably be this.

Well MELL did do the opening to Black Lagoon and the first ending Hayate the Combat Butler both of which are quite awesome. I got the same impression about Rideback as well. For some reason I pictured Motoko Kusanagi on a robot bike fighting against a corrupt government. While the series might end that way it does not start there. Not that that is a bad thing. I have a feeling this will be a show about a woman renewing her passion after seemingly losing what she was living for. Besides, when your new passion is robot bikes you have no choice but to have fiery new passion. We find Rin at the start of the show having just had to given up ballet because of an injury. After reluctantly getting on a rideback she begins to see the beauty of piloting it as comparable to her joy from ballet in a wonderfully done sequence. It is fantastically animated and really gives you a sense of why people would get fanatical about ridebacks. Rin seems like a quiet girl but one that has a strong will and an unshakable core despite what has happened to her. There is mention of a unpopular new dictatorship and student protests that will surely come into play as the show goes on. This show is going to rightfully earn itself a ton of fans if it can keep up the quality it displays in the first episode.

Kemono no Souja Erin

I was looking forward to this show because I really enjoyed Moribito and this show is also based on a book by the same author. Erin is a the type of child character one often finds in literature for the same age, having a good amount of curiosity, some misplaced courage, and a bit of a head in the clouds demeanor. Her mother is smart and kind but also seems a bit broken. The setting up of this story is nicely done combining a sense of wonder, myth, and fantasy. The introduction of the Touda, presumably the beasts in the title of the show, are very cute when they are little and very dangerous as they grow older. The world building is on its way but we are still a bit off kilter in this episode. It also switches into a very tribal art style at points which doesn’t seem purposeful yet but could lead to some artistic value down the line. It was really enjoyable and Erin was quite easy to connect with, though I really couldn’t say where the overall plot is headed.

Kemono no Souja Erin has the same rich fantasy world feel that Moribito had while telling its own story. You will also notice Nahoko Uehashi’s penchant for strong but feminine female characters which I always enjoy. I am curious why Erin’s mother seems like such a beaten woman. Her job should be considered prestigious but she seems to be held in very low regard in the village. So far Erin seems like a realistic little girl. Not too ignorant but not too worldly and just the right mixture of responsible and flighty. The purpose of this episode was mostly to show what type of person Erin is and where she comes from. While this was effective, we don’t get a lot of world building or introduction to the larger plot. A few more episodes would be needed to see where the story is headed. One thing is for sure, the Touda are surely a major factor in this story. Also that they are crazy cute when they are babies.

Chrome Shelled Regios

I didn’t expect this series to have a school theme and honestly I hope they keep it to a minimum. Keeping it more in the lines of military training would be great. Layfon isn’t too stoic of a male lead and he has bravery mixed with a mysterious past. We also only get a glimpse of what seems to be a large cast, though how important each of them will be is hard to tell. I also liked the possibility that there is a long distance romance in the middle of all this. There does seem to be an abundance of females though it didn’t seem like all of them were going to fall head over heels in love with Layfon. The pacing of the first episode was excellent, starting us with some good action and then taking us back a bit. I think the show has potential but only if the school stuff stays in the background.

I like to give any shows based on light novels a chance. I assumed that this show was a post-apocalyptic fighting show where highly trained warriors fight pollution monsters to save the remaining pockets of humanity. The opening sequence of the show makes it seem like that but then they take the teenage solider of the highly trained warriors and throw him into a school drama. There are clearly one or two girls that are going to fall in love with Layfon but I don’t think the love escapades will be the focus. There seem to be several conspiracies occurring and Layfon is going going to be drawn into them. I also get the feeling Layfon’s girl back home is going to get dumped so hard it is not funny. The fight with the giant pollution monster is pretty entertaining so I hope we see the people who fight along side Layfon again. I wonder if we are both being overly optimistic that this will be more military training than school antics but there is potential for that to be the case.

Sora o Kakeru Shoujo

Don’t let the name the Girl Who Leaps Through Space fool you into thinking it has anything to do with another time traveling girl. This show was not as bad as Akikan! but that is as backhanded a complement as you can get. Set on a space colony in the Earth’s orbit (which should have smashed into Australia like it was Operation British time) we have a pink-haired girl running from the surprise engagement her mother has set up. There are a bunch of other plot elements but they were so muddled I barely understood why things were brought up. The show attempts world building with a decently fleshed out future but they throw out so many terms, organizations, people, and ideas without explaining anything so none of it sticks with you. Also none of it is interesting enough to keep you watching. Leopard the crazy AI obsessed with old Earth culture was the only thing even close to humorous. Every other joke, of which there were many, fell flat. Also what is up with the main girl’s psychotic sister and her disturbing monologues. If they are supposed to be funny they certainly don’t come off that way. Avoid this train wreck.

I don’t even know what the heck this show is about. It was moving you around to so many different lines in the story I almost got whiplash and I also lost all interest. They were being too ambitious in this first episode and trying to give me who all the characters were in 30 seconds or less. This just caused me to not connect with any of them. The most interesting character was Leopard and his spastic comedy. Since this story clearly isn’t about him nor is he going to end up being the fiance of the main girl, I can’t see much reason to continue. I also really took a dislike to the character designs and they all have incredibly creep eyes.

Asu no Yoichi!

Funnily enough this show was not horrible, in fact I might even say that it was a good harem comedy. The reason this is so comes from a number of things done right in the first episode. First, Yoichi is not a terrible human being. He is actually strong, brave, kind, and reasonably good looking. But he is incredibly naive from growing up mostly alone on a mountain with his father practicing to be a samurai. So (second reason), his encounters with modern city life are downright hilarious. These include an escalator, street punks, and police officers. Third, the jokes did not center around him doing something innocent and then being beaten by one of the girls. Plus I really like Kagome, the littlest sister, and hope she becomes a cute side kick for Yoichi. I don’t know if I would actually watch this show, but it seems to be a better harem romance than most.

This is a fairly cute little harem anime. So far I have really enjoyed all the male characters while all the female characters have come off slightly flat which I find is odd. Yoichi is an extraordinary swordsman whose isolated training in the mountains has left him so powerful his dad ships him off to the city to stop making him look bad. He goes to live at the dojo of a friend of the family which has four sisters. Ibuki is the motherly big breasted sister who seems to be the predestined love interest. There is the blonde, clearly tsundere sister, Ayame. Chihaya is the fujoshi otaku sister. It seems that throwing in otaku girls is the new trend in harem and magical girlfriend series. There is also cute blue-haired little sister Kagome. So far there has been no Kagome exploitation which is good. Yoichi’s one-sided rivalry with a blond punk who is clearly mismatched is rather amusing. The promise of martial artist fighting with actual humor makes this show worth looking into for shonen romance fans.

Sora o Miageru Shojo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai (Munto)

It’s a simple premise so far, there is a magical kingdom that is dying and their only hope is a girl from our world with a special prophesied power. Just because it has been used a dozen times before does not means it can’t be executed well. Munto has not done anything to sell me that it will rise above the rest of the shows of the same premise. The CG is often quite well-done although it is in amusing contrast to the 90’s character designs. The main problem is the director has so sense of pacing. There are three main modes the show switches between; Yumemi and her friends talking about their lives, people fighting in the magical world, and the evil council of exposition. Boy does the evil council of exposition love to do their job. Apparently they wish to save energy by destroying the magical pillars that support the floating kingdom. They seem about half way to their goal and it’s only episode one. You never get the feeling that much has happened despite the fact quiet a bit seems to have. Most of the problems come from trying to stretch the story of a short OVA into a full TV series. Maybe they should have just kept it at its original length.

I’m not really sure what my expectations were for this show, but I was looking forward to it. I love stories where a character must come from the normal human world to save a mysterious land! And they are the destined one and whatnot. The introduction of this idea was poorly executed in this first episode. There is so so so much more talking than there needs to be. And a lot more setup than seemed unnecessary, something about the pacing was just off. We also see way too many characters and not enough of the two actually important ones, Munto and Yumemi. The best parts of the show happens in the first 5 minutes. I wanted to like this show, but it is possible that too grand of a plot is going to prove to be too much for Kyoto Animation. I might give it another gander but only, as I said, because I have a bias toward the general premise.

Hetalia – Axis Powers

At a running time of just 5 minutes, Axis powers packed in a lot of laughs. It is all over the place with personified countries who range from silly to slightly-serious-but-still-silly. Germany was trying to be serious but then he got lost in the woods. The chibis are super cute and the ending theme song totally rocks! Enjoy this show despite the objections.

For a show that has a tremendous amount controversy surrounding it, all the characters were just plain silly and as far as I can tell no one is that much worse than anyone else. It is far, far less objectionable than any episode of South Park. Set after World War I and before World War II it is basically the comedic antics of anthropomorphic countries with shout-outs to history. I can’t take any of it seriously nor do I think it was ever supposed to be. I mean Italy’s dad is Roman Empire and dresses like a centurion from a Sword and Sandals movie. If you can take a little slightly offensive but equal opportunity humor I recommend the show.

Top 5 Cross-dressers
5. Umi (Nosatsu Junkie)
4. Shun (Here is Greenwood)
3. Ayame (Fruits Basket)
2. Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena)
1. Oscar (Rose of Versailles)

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