Ongoing Investigations: Case #061

Without a doubt Taisho Baseball Girls has been my favorite anime of the summer of 2009 and it was a strong summer lineup. Baseball Girls does just about everything right. Each episode left me feeling great afterward. It is comedic where it needed to be comedic and dramatic where it needed to be dramatic. There are great strong female characters that grow together and as individuals. But Taisho Baseball Girls makes sure to have a decent amount of male charterers that get screen time and development, too. Other than possible a little yuri fanboy pandering there is nothing objectionable about the series. The only real fan-service is writing so good it’s sexy and plotting so tight it’s scandalous! The ending is suitably dramatic and fulfilling. If you have not started watching Taisho Baseball Girls I suggest you at least watch the first episode and see what your missing out on. It’s a long shot but I would like to see someone pick this up in the States. It’s everything good sports anime should be. I would also love to read the light novels and the manga but I realize when things are pretty much unlicensable in the current market.

I read the last two volumes of Fruits Basket and found it very satisfying. The 22nd volume wraps up the main story with the curse and then the 23rd moves each relationship along its merry way. While I think everyone knew where the story would end, the series keeps the heart from start to finish and readers will be decidedly engrossed. Though some may be disappointed in the fate of characters who they feel have slighted many others on the canvas. If ever you want a story to be definitive this one is like a yes-we-will-be-together-now-and-until-we-are-old-and-die together type. This is a series that I had been following for quite sometime so it was a very emotional ride. But here at the end I can say it is one of my favorite series to date.

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Sum-Sum-Summer Time!: Summer 2009 Anime Guide

Ah, only ten shows to watch. Much less insane than the spring review. Hopefully this time we won’t lose days of work, twice, like with the spring article. I know on a certain level Narutaki’s heart weeps for there are no mecha shows on the list but that is how the roulette wheel of chance has decided to treat us this season. Still I am really exited about this season going in despite the smaller amounts of shows to choose from. I mean we have a show based on both Type-Moon and 07th Expansion games so I am super happy. I am also really curious about the choices for streaming simulcast in the U.S.

I am always sad not to see robots in the line up, but what can ya do! I swear as soon as we finish one season article I have already started planning the next season’s list. However, it’s good to always be on top of the premiere shows for each round. For one thing, it is fun to predict what may get a license. And of course everyone likes to have a new show here or there to talk up or get washed away in the hype of. Since this is an inbetween season we have far less to choose from but that means little in regards to goodness. As a reminder, ongoing shows or sequels don’t share in this spotlight!

Umineko no Naku Koro ni
(Winner of the Award for Creepiest Little Girl Smile)

Since I have been playing the Umineko games I have got to say this is my most anticipated series of the season. The real question was was it me or OGT that was more hyped. Umineko starts by introducing us to Battler Ushiromiya as he attends his family reunion on a island owned by his insanely rich grandfather. We soon learn that there is family members with large debts and long seated grudges; rumors of mountains of hidden gold; and legends of mysterious witches. Being a spiritual sequel to Higurashi the situation quickly seems to be heading into the territory of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Overall I was satisfied with adaptation of the game. The show is seemingly in fast forward towards the first murder. Hopefully as they  go forward opportunities to flesh out all the characters will be explored. I love Ryukishi07 and all but he is obviously a writer first and a character designer third so the ability to see the Umineko characters with professional character designs is great. Plus this means that we will be getting Umineko figures and that makes me happy. The opening was pretty awesome although I like the original game opening a little more. I will answer the question I usually see asked: You do not have to see Higurashi to enjoy Umineko (as far as I can tell at this point) but one of two things will be a little more powerful later on in the series if you have familiarity with Higurashi. Still I look forward to epic finger pointing, chessboard thinking, and colony drop like plots twists in the future.

A murder mystery, on a lonely island no less, is it any surprise I was going to watch this? Of course something like this becomes very hard to judge based on just one episode. The key element in the first act is to convince me there is a worthy mystery to be solved. All the other details, including characters, are secondary when dealing with this type of plot. This was accomplished through tone and a quite creepy feeling that kept cropping up. I will say that there is a level of supernatural being implied from the start which is a bit of a turn off. As a mystery lover I want to be given the chance to solve the crime and this can’t happen if the answer is magic. On the reverse though, our presumed detective Battler, doesn’t believe in it. So if things go down a path of people being blinded by superstition, but the case having a grounded answer it will be acceptable. This is yet to be seen but I am curious enough to find the answers.

Geijutsuka Art Design Class
(Winner of the Award for Best Sentai Team)

I had bought the manga from Yen Press and enjoyed it quite a bit. GA follows the life of 5 art students as they attend classes. Being based on a 4-koma comic there is not much of an overall plot. It is an odd mix of gags, character interactions, and art theory. In fact there was much more art theory flying around that I really expected. My major question is why did I like this series but did not like Hidamari Sketch? I think the answer is two fold. One, I like the higher energy of GA. Hidamari Sketch is all about a serene atmosphere where as GA has more of a manic energy to it. I would not have liked Azumanga Daioh as much had it been a more relaxed show. GA can be gentle but it tries to always keep you moving and awake. Two, I clicked with the characters a little bit more in GA. Maybe if I had watched more Hidamari Sketch I would have liked their characters more but that would have to be tested to be seen. Also I really liked Miyabi Oomichi. It was an enjoyable little piece and I look forward to watching more.

(Winner of the Award for Best Post-Apocalyptic Fashion Design)

Narutaki and I had almost the same shared impression of Needless going in and after finishing the first episode. We both assumed that is was a mediocre action show going in. We both left with the impression that is was better than we thought it was going to be but still not good. After World War III the world is turned upside down and people with powers have appeared. Cruz Schild is saved by a bizarre priest named Adam Blade after his sister is presumably killed. Soon other super-powered killers come for Cruz and only Adam and his companion Eve Neusch Von Stein can protect him. The most enjoyable thing about this show is that it makes no attempt to rein itself in. People use crazy attacks and then it pauses to put Kanji across the screen to announce their attack names (although is really needed Shigeru Chiba shouting the attack names). The only thing more over the top that the attacks in everyone’s clothing. My goodness is everyone here guilty of crimes against humanity in the fashion category. But for some reason it never comes together to be crazy enough. I mean, props to the Bible with a hidden grenade compartment and the monofilament wire killer with the world’s most fabulous fur-lined coat but overall it just doesn’t click. A bizarre blending/homage/parody/rip-off of Fist of the North Star, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Gurren Lagann, and Yu-Gi-Oh! seems like a great idea but it just never melds. Oh and the ending . . . stabs me right in my soul. Note there is a reason I am not linking to the ending. It is because I like you gentle readers.

I actually found more to like about this show than I thought I would.Like” being a relative terms here meaning it was so bad that it was good, sometimes. Easily the first reaction that comes to mind in this post-apocalyptic world is Fist of the North Star met up with Yu-Gi-Oh!’s fashion sense and had a not-so-smart baby. It has big crazy looking dudes with over-the-top action and some fan-service to tie it all together. In fact, that is really all the show needed. However, they throw in a rather wimpy protagonist. This type of show could really live without having such a character who will grow over the course of the series and awaken his latent capabilities. Yes, I am saying this show should cease actual character development and stick with what it was good at. Being ridiculous! If you aren’t busy watching Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds maybe check this out.

Taisho Yakyu Musume
(Winner of the Award for Best Musical Tour of Tokyo)

If I had use one word to sum up Taisho Yakyu Musume it would be pleasant. This is a fun show that is cute with peppy energy without being saccharine or filled with fan service like it all too easily could be. Koume Suzukawa is a young girl in Taisho era Japan with strict traditionalist parents. One day her friend Akiko Ogasawara talks her into joining the female baseball team she is forming to play against the boys teams. There problems are numerous including the fact that baseball is considered a boys only sport, they have no equipment or training, and no real clue as of how to play the game beyond the basics. So Koume and Akiko must recruit girls who are extremely reluctant to embarrass themselves and their families doing “that thing that boys do.” I was a little worried this was going to be a moe festival but instead it turned out to be a cuter version of Princess Nine. So far Akiko and Koume are very different but likable girls who interact well with each other and the rest of their class. The time period the series is set in also lends it a unique feeling. The humor is pretty strong and kept a smile on my face the whole episode. If that opening song and dance number that Koume does does not win your heart over you are made of stone and should take up another hobby other than anime. Golf or knitting perhaps.

Even though I went into this series with no real expectations or prior knowledge, after having a musical number showcasing the places in Tokyo made famous in the Meiji era, Taisho Yakyu Musume was going to have to try really hard for me not to like it. The show has a very light quality to it, even the humor while quite enjoyable is not over-the-top wacky. In the first episode, four of nine players are recruited and atleast another one maybe two were hinted at. Koume’s reason for wanting to start the baseball team is sort of hidden sort not. It is easy to infer a few things from her story based on the time period and I’ll be interested to see just how they pan out. Akiko is really being dragged along for the ride but it seems assured that with the enthusiasm going on around her, she will learn to love it. I am also glad to see that even though this show surrounds a girls team at a girls school the series doesn’t look to be without male characters and possible love interests. A lot of things done right in this first episode.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
(Winner of the Award for Best Portrayal of Jerky Adults)

Mirai Onozawa is a young girl who is unsatisfied with her life. She is a below average student that is unsure of any direction in her life. She has somewhat distant working parents and not nearly enough money to do anything exciting over the summer. When she takes her chipper younger brother to a robot exhibition in Odaiba an 8.0 earthquake hits Tokyo devastating the city. With the city in chaos what will she do? I see why people would not like Mirai. She is a snarky, introverted, and selfish teenage girl but I sort of expect these things. She is never unrealistically nasty and we see partially where all of her frustrations are coming from. If nothing else I see growth potential in her which I assume is on of the main points of the series. Her brother is certainly more likable and balances her out. I feel a connection to the both of them so I am curious to see how they are going to make it though this disaster. Like everything I have seen on the noitaminA block, a Fuji TV time slot, it has very good animation, music, and writing. While it could go down hill I highly doubt it. The only question is if it stays good or really hits it out of the ballpark. They have the potential to tell some very interesting stories so I am intrigued to see what they do with his unique but realistic premise.

The note to the audience at the beginning was interesting telling us that a lot of research was done in order to create a real scenario for the earthquake. I can’t say I really care whether or not the outcome is realistic or not but it seems like a lofty goal. We actually start with the disasters aftermath on the city then back track to one day before. Teenaged Mirai and her younger brother Yuuki are enough years apart to see the world differently. Through some very sparse scenes their humdrum and strained home life becomes apparent. Yuuki wants to bring them back together while Mirai wants to break it completely. Even lamenting on her cell phone, “The world should just break.” While I am certainly on team Yuuki, Mirai is portrayed as a rather believable teenage girl. The way adults are shown is also of note, essentially overbearing and often looking down on kids. They also run into a young woman a few times, who we know from the opening becomes the third in this party. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 could be the disaster movie (err series) done right. The series has a nice allotment of visual stimulation which will surely be put to good use in the coming episodes but also establishes its characters quickly in the first episode. As long as the focus stays on the characters and their relationships to one another, and not on pure devastation this series could have real staying power. Hands down the show I am following this season. 

Aoi Hana
(Winner of the Award for Best Non-Stop Action-Packed Adventure)

Aoi Hana seems to be a slow but rewarding series. Fumi Manjoume and Akira Okudaira were inseparable childhood friends until Fumi had to move away. They meet again after many years when Akira saves Fumi from a train molester. How has time changed these two girls and how will their relationship change now that they have been reunited after so long? This is not a hyper-kinetic series by any means. It is a deliberately paced show that lets us slowly learn who the characters involved are and drink in how they relate to each other. That is not to say that this series will be all serious business character study and slow building drama. I think it is obvious that the three girls from the drama club will add some pep and humor into the series while still retain its overall serious mood. The art style not only captures the feel of the watercolored covers of the original manga but does well to reinforce the overall tone of the story. Still this is a probably one of the most realistic lesbian anime you are going to see for a long time so you should sit down and enjoy especially since it is streaming for free on Crunchyroll.

My interest in this show increased a bit after I found out the manga is done by Shimura Takako the same woman who does Hourou Musuko. While I haven’t read Aoi Hana, I know from Hourou Musuko that she is able to capture a look into growing up and finding your identity very well so I was looking for that going in. The first episode establishes a tone and distinction between our protagonists succinctly. Akira is a bit brash and energetic while Fumi is very shy and reserved. Their personalities are retained from childhood but not even they could recognize each other after so long. As far as I can tell this will be a nice companion piece. It is by no means a wacky-hijinx-we-are-lesbians show but rather a quiet look at the buddings of romance. Some may find it boring, but from my other experience with Takako, she excels at writing intense character analysis and really exploring the little pieces of the world that effect who people become. This seems to be present in Aoi Hana and I look forward to the rest.

Umi Monogatari
(Winner of the Award for Most Bum Shots of a Sea Maiden)

Umi Monogatari was certainly something I watched but I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It wasn’t horrible it was just so utterly uncompelling. Naive sea maidens Marin and Urin go to the surface world to return a ring they found in the ocean. After sticking out like a sore thumb at the local festival they find the owner Kanon Miyamori threw away the ring after her boyfriend broke up with her. The ultra depressed Kanon throws the ring into the forest which prompts the sisters to continue looking. In their search Urin unlocks a dark force sealed at a local temple. Marin and Urin are sort of boring. Marin is optimistic to the level of Kafuka Fuura but in a totally serious fashion. I think this is supposed to make her endearing but it mostly makes her very sad. As for Kanon, she has a cute character design and I want to like her but something that kept me from doing so. The directing is very uneven, sometimes jarring. Also they keep doing the same jokes again and again which kept falling flat after the first time. On the bright side, I see how this show could be interesting. If they decide to make one of the major themes Marin and Kanon learning from each other and becoming more balanced there could be some redeeming quality to this show. If they will do this is and can they do it well has yet to be seen. The first episode does not give me a great deal of hope. Plus everyone knows the best anime are based on pinball machines not pachinko machines.

So, thanks to my lack of research this show got a fair shot. This is based on a pachinko game. Yup, that’s what I said. However, not knowing that didn’t make the show’s flaws any less obvious. Kanon’s situation is atleast semi-interesting, you don’t see a ton of girls who have been dumped in shows. And her reactions are rather amusing, actually scratch that, they were amusing the first time and maybe the second. Unfortunately, we also have bland Marin and Urin making up the rest of the cast in this episode. They have zero reaction to life outside of the ocean. And Marin’s naive “wisdom” is not cutting it, it just made no sense. The transitioning between scenes is quite hit or miss leaving many scenes without lead-ins. I have watched far, far worse series. But frankly, the show is mediocre and I doubt it will ever distinguish itself more than that. It feels very throw away.

Sora no Manimani
(Winner of the Award for Most Ambitious (yet Ineffective) Recruiting Campaign)

Ho-hum best sums this series up. Saku Ooyagi’s family has moved back to the town where he grew up after many years. On the first day at his new High School he runs into the star-obsessed Mihoshi Akeno who is recruiting for the school’s astronomy club. Mihoshi is a somewhat spastic girl who used be be both Saku’s best friend and greatest tormentor as a child. No matter how much the bookish Saku tries to avoid her she is determined to recruit him into joining the club and bring him back into her life. I was at first glad to see that the male to female ratio in the club seems pretty even. I was worried that this might be a harem show with Saku being the one guy in the astronomy club that everyone fights over. As the show went on I realized this series does not really do anything wrong is just does not do anything right either. None of the characters are super annoying or even slightly objectionable but also none of them are all that interesting. The humor is never very grating but neither are any of the jokes particularly funny. The romance is just there and is rather inert. The art and music are always adequate but never stand out. Nothing about this show stands out in any way what so ever.  I am sure this show will have fans because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There are just no hooks.

Even though this show caught my eye for its astronomy club setting, I can’t say the actual content caught or held my attention for very long. None of the characters were engaging on any level. It has that I’m-trying-be-wacky-but-am-failing-to-really-do-anything feel, in other words it felt like it was trying too hard. I can’t actually remember laughing out loud except for possibly at Saku’s mom. The first episode plants this show firmly in mediocre romance comedy land. That doesn’t mean don’t watch it but if you do don’t expect much.

(Winner of the Award for Best Artistic Scene of Children Playing in Blood)

My interest in this series was guaranteed with one simple fact. When I found out that Type-Moon had worked on the original game my interest was sealed. I had originally thought that the anime was an adaption of the visual novel for the Wii, 428: In a Blockaded Shibuya but it turns out instead to be a sequel (which is in turn a indirect sequel to the sound novel Machi). The story revolves around Canaan an assassin with amazing gun-fu who is currently working for a mysterious organization in Shanghai. A pair of reporters are also in Shanghai doing a piece on a local festival. When reporter Maria witnesses the strange death of a man during the festival her old friend Canann saves her from goons. How and why did that man die, who are the people trying to kill Maria, who are these other various groups also active in Shanghai, and how do they all tie together? I like what I saw but I am also hesitant to give it a full thumbs up because I am not sure where it is going and how everyone ties in. Also I am curious how much are we required to have played the original game. I must say that I am sold on Canaan being a pretty cool character and she’s obviously a Type-Moon designed character. Her similarities to Shiki Ryogi are apparent but I get a different feel to Canaan. I am looking forward to seeing how well this comes together.

This episode hit the ground running with a great scene of Canaan taking out somebody Golgo 13 style. And there is plenty of action thereafter introducing characters, mystery, and the underground of Shanghai. I love the idea of these two reporters trying to simultaneously scoop a big story and stay alive long enough to tell it. Maria and Minoru have a funny dynamic that will hopefully continue. They are really the only two we get to know even a little. I have a feeling Canaan’s personality and motives will remain a variable mystery to audience till the end. There are some characters that ended up already knowing each other which came off a bit lame, but I am still curious how their connections to the current canvas will effect things. Also this first episode had quite fluid animation. I too have a cautious optimism about this show, it certainly delivered a good and exciting first installment but whether that translates into something more engaging will remain to be seen.

(Winner of the Award for Most Heavily Armed Art Supplier)

So we meet again Nisio Isin. The question on Narutaki and I’s mind going in was simple: Is this going to be based on the superior writing in Death Note: Another Note or his extremely aggravating writing from Zaregoto. Bakemonogatari lies somewhere in the middle. Koyomi Araragi is a former vampire and Hitagi Senjougahara is a girl who weighs almost nothing. Hitagi threatens to hurt him physically and destroy everything he cares about if he reveals her secret. He then reveals that his acquaintance Meme Oshino who cured him might be able to do the same for her. Not a lot happens in this first episode. Its main point is to show you the gorgeous style of the show. Much like Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei we see that Studio Shaft gives Bakemonogatari a lush and dense visual style and animation. The plot could be similar to XXXholic. Koyomi and Hitagi going on assignments for Meme with the ultimate goal being that Meme will cure Hitagi’s condition. Perhaps along the way Hitagi will also learn that her supposed curse is actually a blessing. The main problem is Hitagi is what I unaffectionately refer to as a Nisio character. An in your face bastard that is always insulting everyone around them in the most derogatory manner possible, for some reason Nisio loves these characters but they really get under my skin. I did like the fact that Hitagi has a large amounts of art supplies strapped to her body that she uses as weapons but I’m not sure that is a reason to watch a show. The art style fighting style might be but cool but I am not sure it is enough.

The style and direction of Bakemonogatari will hit you immediately. But visual style is the only thing I enjoyed about this show. And that is a credit to Studio Shaft. I have not read the original story that this show was based on but I was cautious nonetheless from my other encounters with Nishi. I want to like NISIOISIN but his way of characterizing combined with his odd dialogue makes it impossible. This show will probably pick up a decent following but it didn’t resonate with me enough to keep my attention for more than an episode.