Hozuki no Reitetsu #13 – Obon, as it is usually rendered in English, is the time when the souls of the dead come back to the everyday world to check on their descendants. It happens in mid-July or August, depending on which calendar is being followed locally. Nightly rituals include the floating lanterns which you have seen glorious photos of in your favorite travel publication at some point, and the bon-odori dance around a stage holding taiko drummers. (Just taiko drummers; the DJ is the writer’s own invention. Taiko plus techno– there’s a combination truly made in Hell.)
So despite the episodic nature of the show, we did get a nice wrap-up bringing everyone together and even sorting out some of what the heck was going on in the closing credits (boy was that a long setup). And it feels like it really got its groove back here, by re-embracing the evil sense of humor it had early on.
Overall, I’d say this is a show for the hardcore non-Japanese viewer. It’s great for learning more about Japanese myths and legends if you’re willing to take notes and then look up more on your own. It’s also been terrific to look at all along. But story-wise, it’s uneven, and so not for someone who just wants to be entertained.
selector infected WIXOSS premiere – Rūko has moved in with her kindly grandmother in the less-prosperous section of town for reasons not explained yet. To help her fit in at school, her grandmother gets her that card game that all the girls are playing. Even though one of the cards seems to be alive in some way, Rūko duly takes the cards to school the next day, where she is accosted by Yūzuki, who has another living card, and dragged into some alternate reality where the cards battle it out with each other according to the orders of the players.
After some de-escalation by Yūzuki’s twin brother and a break for classes, the two girls decide to become friends, and Rūko gets more explanation about what’s going on. Some girls are “Selectors” who can properly interact with the living cards, or LRIGs, and they’re all in a big competition to become the “Eternal Girl” who has the power to grant wishes. Lose three times, and you’re out. Rūko can’t think of anything in particular to wish for, but Yūzuki has something definite in mind which is driving her to compete as hard as she can.
So far, this has strong apparent aspirations to become the Madoka Magica of card game shows, but it’s already handicapped by the knowledge that there is a real tie-in card game coming out that it needs to promote. Being off to a mostly non-stupid start, though, I suppose it’s still got a chance at being the LEGO Movie of card game anime.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Canada, Spain, Portugal, France, Dom-Tom, Andorra, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Cyprus, Middle East, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan); FUNimation (US, Canada)
Blade & Soul premiere – Yes, it’s one of those fantasy worlds, where men wear actual clothes and women wear as little as possible and in the most impractical manner. The heroine and chief villainess increase their fashion doll quotient by wearing a blank stare most of the time, though at least there’s an explanation for that provided at the end. Also creepy and less explicable is that the characters’ movements frequently look awkward and unnatural.
The heroine is Alka, who comes from a clan of assassins and is now being hunted down after being framed for killing her master. Her enemies can only recognize her by the birthmark on her, so she has to dress like that, or else the plot would go nowhere. There’s an evil empire trying to grow lots of magic flowers to make fighting potions, and it was also behind the death of her master, so Alka plans to get revenge somehow.
So far, the reasons to watch are either because you appreciate lots of underdressed women, or you play the MMORPG this is based on. There’s really nothing about the writing or characterization to give you a need to care yet.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders premiere – This is the most manly television show I have ever seen. It’s a world dominated by tall tough guys with chiseled faces and muscles on their muscles. The kind of guys who probably shave with machetes and then slap on an aftershave made of pure testosterone. A world where manly bonding and encouragement requires manly violence. One where moments of emotional impact cause visible sound effects. That’s how manly it is.
But it’s a pretty interesting world too. Our main cast so far includes a grizzled old tough guy from New York, his daughter who moved to Japan and married a jazz musician, her juvenile-delinquent son who refuses to leave his jail cell until he understands his emerging psychic power which he realizes can hurt those around him, and Grandpa’s Egyptian mystic friend who explains the boy’s power via the aforementioned manly violence. Their enemy is someone who has long threatened their family, somehow amalgamated with of one of their ancestors (as probably explained in one of the previous series, which Crunchyroll has picked up as well), and his awakening is somehow tied to the emergence of the boy’s power.
The other thing this is up to 11 is the 1980s. It’s partly, the art, partly the sights of the era like boomboxes and instant cameras (which will be playing a starring role in this series, as the grandfather’s power depends on their use), and partly the complete freedom from irony. It’s not fair to judge whether this lives up to the “Bizarre” part of its title when watching it right after something like Kill la Kill, but it’s certainly an oddity in the moe era.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Worldwide except Japan)
Mushishi premiere – The typical Mushishi story is much like one from The Twilight Zone: an ordinary person encounters something far outside their experience. In this case, Rokusuke the young sake brewer has spent years trying to recreate the golden sake his father once tasted at a mysterious gathering in the forest. Then one night, Rokusuke stumbles across the same gathering, and finds himself drawn into a ritual he doesn’t understand…
The new viewer is going to feel a bit like Rokusuke, since the new series has chosen to skip a full-out explanation of the premise and instead let it come out bit by bit through the stories. Having chosen to do that, this was a very good story to start with.
For fans of the old series, it’s like it’s picking up right where it left off. Yuto Nakano and Mika Doi are returning as Ginko and the narrator respectively, Hiroshi Nagahama has returned to direct, and Toshio Masuda is handling the music again. The opening theme is in English again, giving some non-Japanese speakers a chance to appreciate the peculiarly anime phenomenon of Theme Song Which Has No Actual Relation To Its Show.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Worldwide except Asia)
The Irregular at Magic High School premiere – At the end of the twenty-first century, magic has been codified as a science, the world has undergone drastic global cooling and World War III, and the population has dropped to half of what it once was. So, time for a high school comedy!
Brother and sister Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba are entering a high school for the magical elite. Tatsuya has killer (possibly literally) martial arts skills and is a magical and computer genius– in fact, he’s pretty much awesome in every possible way, and girls swoon over him, including Miyuki. But he’s been assigned to the slacker track for some reason, while Miyuki is in the high-achievers track.
Nothing much happens in the first episode. Characters and their quirks are introduced, a rivalry is set up, and various obligatory high school scenes occur. Like The Pilot’s Love Song, this sets up a fascinating world and then decides to focus on the least interesting part of it.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, South Africa); Daisuki (territories not specified); Hulu (US, Canada); Aniplex (US); Wakanim (France, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia)
Captain Earth premiere – When Daichi Manatsu was a little kid, his father was an astronaut. Sneaking around the launch complex one day, Daichi met a mysterious boy named Teppei who could conjure rainbows. Teppei also introduced him to girl who had been hidden under the complex in suspended animation, clutching a mysterious artifact.
Now Daichi is 17, his father is long-dead in an “accident” (actually, of course, he was fighting aliens that were trying to invade Earth), and a rainbow that looks like one of Teppei’s has inexplicably manifested near the old launch complex. Daichi heads back there, and before he knows it, he’s been handed control of the Earth Engine, the super-duper mecha which is last, best hope for saving the world.
But wait, there’s more! This episode also manages to cram in yet another mysterious child, an introduction to a couple of the invaders, who are the Kill-T-Gang or Kiltgang, some basics on the magic energy that feeds the mecha (“orgone energy” and “libido charge”, hoo boy), Daichi’s buddy who helps run an arcade, a couple other friends, political scheming by a faction that would rather just abandon Earth and run from the invaders, and one of the most ludicrous and drawn-out mecha launch sequences ever.
It’s trying to do way too much, and yet it’s also all the basic teen mecha show tropes all over again.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, France, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)
The World is Still Beautiful premiere – Princess Nike (pronounced “Nee-keh”) of the Rain Kingdom has been sent to the Sun Kingdom to marry its emperor in exchange for her homeland maintaining its autonomy while the Sun Kingdom conquers the rest of the world. In addition to her royal heritage, Nike also has the power to control the wind and conjure rain, but all that is little help when she’s trying to make her way alone in a strange land…
…not that that was the plan, but on arrival at the Sun Kingdom, she’s first off the boat and then sends it and her servants on their way back with a gust of wind. Gosh, I hope they didn’t need to resupply before sailing back across the ocean. Then she blunders around a bit looking for an inn, but the innkeeper can’t possibly let her stay there with such a rough crowd, so she mixes with the rough crowd on the streets instead, gets her stuff stolen, and gets taken in by the innkeeper after all. Eventually she makes it to the castle and announces that she’s there to marry the ruler, and gets roughed up by the guards who don’t believe her and won’t check with anyone, but it turns out she had some kind of official letter with her that could have cleared everything up.
So you can see the main problem coming into focus, which is that every single person in this story is aggressively stupid. The setting is approximately the Ren Faire Era, where the believeably medieval-looking mixes with the jarringly modern, with a whole lot of can’t-be-bothered-to-try filling in the background. The words “fanservice” and “level up” are actually used in dialogue. Which would be fine if this were trying to be a screwball comedy, but it’s supposed to be a touching romance story. All around, a huge disappointment.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)
Dragonar Academy premiere – Back in Boob Land, Ash Blake performed a brave deed when he was very young, and was marked for future dragonriderhood. Now he wakes up from a dream about a succubus to his first day of classes at dragon rider high school. His dragon hasn’t actually been born yet, but no problem, since he has the special power of being able to ride anyone else’s.
So then he enters a big race, where the prize is a date with the president of the student council, but he winds up wandering in the forest and fighting a mysterious guy in a cloak and a girl wearing something made of bits of string, and then he falls off a cliff, but just then his dragon appears, only it turns out to be a naked girl. D’oh!
If your primary criterion is the breast acreage available in a show, then this one is totally a winner. If you don’t want to admit it, Blade & Soul puts up a better pretense of being about a story that makes some kind of sense.
International stream: FUNimation (US, Canada)
Brynhildr in the Darkness premiere – Ryōta Murakami used to hang out with a girl he called Kuroneko (“Black Cat”), but one day, she wanted to show him proof that aliens exist, and this led to an accident that severely injured him and killed her. In her memory, Ryōta is now working hard to become a scientist so he can go to NASA and search for aliens. Then one day, a transfer student arrives who bears a startling resemblance to Kuroneko, has unworldly powers, and seems to be in touch with someone who can predict the future.
I’m really liking this so far, and the biggest reason is that Ryōta comes across as not just good at test-taking, but a genuinely intelligent person. (Yes, all right, he gets himself into situations where he’s nearly killed twice in one episode, but it’s from scientific curiosity, which makes it okay.) Just after being nearly crushed by a boulder, he’s already working out how the precognition functions, and ready to explain the relative scientific validity of witches vs. aliens. And in what may be a completely unprecedented scene in all of anime history, when his buddy speculates in swim class about sneaking over to the girls’ side of the pool and groping someone’s breasts, Ryōta’s reaction is that it would be not just wrong, but criminal. That’s certainly the first time I’ve seen an anime teenager arrive at that thought unaided.
Well, well! At the halfway point, we’ve already got some good candidates for continuing the rest of the season with: Mushishi, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Brynhildr in the Darkness are all looking like keepers. Tune in next time for the back half of premiere week!