Anime roundup 1/9/2014: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Mushishi-Hihamukage Mushishi special: The Shadow That Devours the Sun – An eclipse is coming, and the mushi—simple creatures that exist at the junction of the everyday and spiritual worlds—are becoming more active. The eclipse passes without notable incident, except in one village, where the shadow blocking the sun mysteriously lingers…

The typical Mushishi story is much the same as the typical Twilight Zone plot: ordinary people confront something far outside their experience, and must decide how they will accommodate or fight it. Traveling mushi master Ginko is the person who links all the stories, but he’s usually a supporting character, helping to explain what’s going on and trying to prod the main characters into the right decision.

So it is here, where the story centers on two sisters, one of whom has a mysterious illness which seems to be linked to the mushi blocking the sun. Occasionally-recurring characters Tanyū and Dr. Adashino put in appearances, but they’re mainly there to help pad this out to 50 minutes.

The animation and music are about par for the previous adaptations. If you’re a fan of those adaptations, you need to watch this ASAP. If you’ve not familiar with them or the manga, but don’t mind a story where not all of the background is explained, I’d still recommend this. Otherwise, you’ll be better off waiting for the new series that has just been announced for April. (Some of you may also be able to watch the first episode of the first series here, which contains a full explanation of what the mushi are.)

International stream: Crunchyroll (US, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, Africa)

Space-Dandy-1 Space Dandy premiere – When the word got out that the writing and directing team from Cowboy Bebop were getting back together, expectations shot up. Perhaps this would be a turning point for anime in Western markets. After so much of the industry has spent the last several years fighting over the hardcore otaku market with its neverending thirst for boobs and underpants and comical pervert characters, this could mark a return to mass-market appeals. One mainstream outlet went so far as to declare that this is “anime’s greatest chance of getting the respect it deserves.”

So here’s how the new, respectable, general-audience-oriented savior of anime starts: With a soliloquy by the title character to his robot assistant about the relative merits of breasts and butts. Then it’s off to his favorite restaurant, Boobies, which is famous for… oh, see if you can guess. Major character #3 is introduced through his hobby of taking creep shots of the waitresses.

They do finally get some attempted alien-hunting in, which culminates in a planet-sized fiasco of destruction, with some mild laughs to be had along the way. I’m sure it will do fine with the demographic that Cartoon Network is aiming for with the Toonami block, but the great hope that will bring anime to the Western mainstream? Um, probably not.

If you’re determined to watch it, the dialogue is somewhat better in the subtitled version. For US viewers, CN has managed to preserve the episode content despite US commercial time by cutting most of the opening and closing sequences instead. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in this case, the closing theme contains some important information as to how the show is going to continue after what happened at the end of the episode.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); Cartoon Network (US – English dub); Wakanim (France, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia); (UK, Ireland); Madman (Australia, New Zealand)

Noragami-1 Noragami premiere – Yato is a deity so minor that he lives as a vagrant because he doesn’t even have a shrine. His latest shinki—the living soul he wields as a weapon to destroy malevolent spirits—has quit after only three months on the job. While he searches for a new one, he subsists on 5-yen offerings for granting minor wishes such as finding a lost cat.

Then a well-meaning student named Hiyori Iki tries to save Yato from being run over by a bus, after which Hiyori is suddenly able to hear the dead and see spirits, and develops a tendency for her spirit to run off without her body when she gets excited. After demonstrating that she has some demon-fighting potential herself, Hiyori prays to return to normal, and Yato announces that their destinies shall be intertwined until he can find a way to grant her wish.

So far, this has the makings of a decent and upstanding urban fantasy with a hint of romance. It’s also strongly implying already that it’s going to be exploring the culture of celebrity worship. It’s a shame it’s not getting a wider distribution.

International stream: FUNimation (US, Canada)

Nobunaga-Fool-1 Nobunaga the Fool premiere – As Joan of Arc dies at the stake, she calls out to God and sees Nobunaga Oda reaching out to her. At Honnōji, Nobunaga’s retainer Ranmaru Mori, who is also Joan, brings him the news of the treachery that will end his life.

But then it’s off to the real story, where historical figures from the ends of Eurasia are gathered on two planets. On the Western Planet, which is ruled by King Arthur, Leonardo da Vinci (pictured) approaches Joan with a pack of Tarot cards and a plea to help fulfill a prophecy. They set sail across space with Ferdinand Magellan.

The Eastern Planet is caught in a state of civil war not unlike the Warring States period where the real Nobunaga Oda rose to power, only instead of guns, the disruptive new technology is, of course, giant battlesuits. After seeing one of his clan’s forts utterly destroyed, Nobunaga swears that he will see justice done just as Joan’s spaceship falls out of the sky.

This probably sounded cool as an idea, but in execution, it’s every bit as bad as it sounds like it could be. But it’s a glorious, operatic failure, full of magnificent costumes and lofty ambitions.

International stream: Crunchyroll (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

Nobunagun-1 Nobunagun premiere – Once again, Nobunaga Oda is surrounded at Honnōji. This time, it looks more historically accurate, at least until the alien robot thingy turns up to collect a sample of him as he dies so that somehow a future incarnation of him will be able to summon a mighty weapon.

That future incarnation is Shio Ogura, awkward military-obsessed high school student, who is naturally about to have a run-in with alien somethings which will lead to the unlocking of her inherited power. On a class trip to Taiwan, she’s hardly interested in touristing, but then she sees fighters and tanks mobilizing, and before you can say “The Call to Adventure,” she’s fighting the invaders with a ginormous belt-fed machine gun.

There’s no getting around how silly the premise—historical figures can be manifested as weaponry—sounds. We also see Jack the Ripper as a big knife, and Isaac Newton and Mahatma Gandhi are about to be dragged into this somehow. And yet this is a far better show than it has any right to be. Shio is endearing rather than annoying, and the visuals are amazing. The alien enemy looks like something out of Expedition with a few added flourishes from the Burgess Shales, Kaohsiung is picturesque, and the whole fight scene looks surreal but not distractingly so.

I’m ready to recommend this to anyone interested in anime purely as a medium. Not sure the rest of it will stay as good as it currently is, though.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand); ADN (France)

Pilot-Song-1 The Pilot’s Love Song premiere – Kal-el Albus is one of many trainee pilots assigned to guard the flying island of Isla as it sets out on an expedition to find the literal edge of the world. Before the first day is over, he will have fallen powerfully in love. And in addition to that, there’s a flash-forward to an enormous aerial battle.

That was a lot to pack into one episode, but it worked out. The setting is mostly about equivalent to 1930s Earth, although we also see a giant floating battleship powered by hydrogen. Since they do have aviation and would have noticed if their world were round, presumably it really is flat and there really is an edge keeping the ocean from falling off.

The characters are mostly types at the moment (the brash hero, the cheerful girl, the shy girl, the aloof jerk), but show promise for being rounded out, and it’s certainly an interesting world they’re going to be exploring.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, “German-speaking Europe”, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

Hamatora-1 Hamatora premiere – Anime series adapted from games are not usually very good. In Hamatora‘s case, though, the TV show and the game are being developed in tandem. Does this improve things? No.

It’s a pretty standard first episode as game tie-ins go: A group of visually distinctive but bland characters go on simple missions which will serve as the game’s tutorial before the main plot is introduced. The story gimmick is that everyone is a “Minimum Holder”, or in other words, has a highly specialized supernatural power. Someone is stalking and killing Minimum Holders, but so far the only mention is in a brief conversation between two police detectives. (Approximate actual conversation: “Should we tell our friends over there that someone’s out to kill them?” “Nah.”)

It all feels phoned in. Don’t bother.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Worldwide except Asia, UK, and Ireland for premium subscribers; otherwise available in US, Canada, Scandinavia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand); ADN (France)

My favorite of the bunch so far is Noragami, but it’s not in wide enough release to continue on with. The Pilot’s Love Song and Nobunagun are possibilities, and we’ve still got plenty more premieres coming up.

For those keeping score from the preview guide, yes, Pupipō! and Buddy Complex have also premiered already, but neither has a streaming deal yet. Witch Craft Works has one with Crunchyroll, but as I write this, the videos haven’t started showing up for some reason. (Those of you in France, however, can watch it on ADN.)

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