Anime roundup 1/15/2015: Fiction Is Stranger Than Truth

KanColle-1 KanColle premiere – The Abyssal Fleet has conquered Earth’s oceans, but the souls of battleships are being reborn into girls who, properly equipped, are the only ones who can take on the fleet. We follow destroyer Fubuki as she arrives at her new base/school, where she’s introduced to a bunch of other cute girls with names that are deeply significant to military buffs, and then she sails out to her first battle.

Okay, they tried. I’ll give them that. I don’t think it was possible to do this show any better. The production values are excellent. But taking metaphorical art from a browser-based game that didn’t need an actual story to back it up, and trying to make the metaphor literal, is not working. There is no getting around that the mighty sea battles are being conducted by preteens with random miniature bits of warships strapped onto them, and it just winds up looking silly when it’s trying to be majestic.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe except German-speaking areas, Middle East, North Africa); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe)

Yurikuma-1 Yurikuma Arashi premiere – In a world mysteriously populated only by women, where a wall has had to be built to keep ravenous bears from consuming the entire human race, classmates Sumika and Kureha are sweethearts promising each other they will stay together forever. Unfortunately, the new transfer students are not only another pair of girlfriends, but also bears in disguise, and one of them immediately decides she needs to eat Kureha. Somehow they wind up catching Sumika instead, and then everyone gets teleported into a court staffed with guys in anthropomorphic bear costumes who decide that the bears can stay in human territory, and then there’s a scene of honey and lilies being used to simulate things that you can’t get away with even on Japanese TV. And then, according to the opening and closing sequences, Kureha and the bears will become a threesome.

I should stop here and explain the term yuri to casual viewers. The literal meaning is “lily”, but in an anime/manga context it means pornographic stories about lesbians (although generally created for straight people). The one thing that can be said so far, is that with bears, bosoms, and talk of an “Invisible Storm” (arashi = “storm”), it is exactly what it says on the tin.

One thing that cannot be said is that it provides any compelling reason to keep watching. Fans of the director, Kunihiko Ikuhara, will enthuse about his propensity for stories wrapped in deep symbolism with an absolute minimum of explanation, but right now it’s impossible to tell if there is a story under there or if it’s just going to be an aimless welter of NSFW imagery. You are permitted to skip it.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); Crunchyroll (Middle East, North Africa, Europe except UK, Ireland, and Scandinavia); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Assassination-Classroom-1 Assassination Classroom premiere –
Class 3-E at a prestigious prep school is where the students on their way to flunking out are dumped. This year, though, their luck has changed and they have a wonderful, dedicated teacher who believes in them and is helping them do their best. The one small catch is that the teacher, Koro-sensei, is a superpowered octopoid mutant who has already destroyed the moon and is threatening to do the same to Earth if the class can’t manage to kill him by graduation time.

The governement has added a reward of ¥10 billion (around US$100 million) to add to the students’ motivation, but Koro-sensei is so far nearly indestructible. In the course of this episode, he survives a hail of gunfire during roll, a missile while popping over to China for lunch, multiple knife attacks, and an attempted suicide bombing (don’t worry, everyone comes out of it okay).

Assassination Classroom sits at the intersection of two student fantasies: what if you could kill your teacher, and what if you got a really nice teacher for once? The absurdity resulting when the two are combined looks to have the potential for a peculiarly heartwarming story. I’m inclined to give this another week.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); ADN (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Death-Parade-1 Death Parade premiere – When two people die together, their souls find their way to Decim, a strange bartender with eternity’s worst haircut, and are forced to play a game that will reveal their true personalities and allow them to be judged. In this case, the souls are newlyweds Machiko and Takashi, and they must play a game of darts where scoring causes the other person pain. At first they cooperate and try to avoid the boards, but soon they’re in a race to reveal their worst aspects.

Although the being-dead aspect is only revealed to the victims in the middle of the story, it was well-explained to potential viewers ahead of time, and so the suspense comes from waiting to see who’s going to be damned and who gets to continue in the cycle of reincarnation. The result is a very dark (both figuratively and literally) but well-made story.

If you’re into psychological horror, this is a must-see; if you’re worried about the show falling into a rut, there’s a promise of learning more about Decim and his colleagues, and the opening sequence suggests that there will be a range of other games to change things up. (It would definitely be a first in fantastic storytelling in any medium for someone to stake their immortal soul on a game of air hockey.) All the silliness going on this week needs a counterbalance, so let’s give this a second look.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

JoJo-25 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders #25 – After a season’s rest, they’re back! Holly is still slowly losing her life due to Dio’s machinations, Joseph and Jōtarō and their buddies are still on his trail, and Polnareff is still an idiot. After finally making it to Egypt, they’ve added supplies and a new ally: Iggy the vicious, farting, psychically gifted dog. And no sooner have they done that than one of Dio’s newest gang of recruits is attacking them.

Yup, JoJo‘s still got it. The latest Stand seems custom-made for Iggy to prove his worth, but it’s certainly making it clear that the creative insanity will not be letting up. It will be taking on a more somber tone, though, signaled by a shift in theme music and the prominent place given to the smiling, happy Polaroid at the end, where it will no doubt taunt us every week with memories of lighter times as terrible things happen to one person after another. Nevertheless, I’m happy to welcome this one back.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Worldwide except Japan)

Aldnoah-Zero-13 Aldnoah Zero #13 – And here’s the other show returning from hiatus, and nothing has changed here either. In fact, keeping with the pattern established already, the bloodbath at the season cliffhanger turns out to have had little effect. Slaine’s fine, Saazbaum’s fine, Inaho is good as new and still able to render everyone around him totally helpless, and everyone who was in the crash of the Deucalion is still alive and one big happy family. Even Asseylum seems to be none the worse for wear, and is probably just being kept in suspended animation to avoid inconveniencing Saazbaum and Slaine.

What started off trying to be a grim story about the horrors of war has evolved into a narrative where war has few lasting consequences. Even though the war has been raging for almost two years and Earth is nearly conquered, no one we’ve really gotten to know has died, no one’s going hungry, no one’s being worn down by the stress, and all the girls still have their bikinis ready for a day at the beach.

Even when there’s a chance for drama, Aldnoah Zero is still hamstringing itself. Yuki collapsing in tears over the dying Inaho would have been way more effective if we hadn’t already seen that Inaho was going to be fine. And speaking of that scene, the Aldnoah drive can tell if the person who activated it is alive or dead no matter how far away they are, but it can’t tell that the person is nowhere in the vicinity when it comes into contact with their DNA? Aaaaaargh.

This show has not improved one bit during its vacation, and it’s time to say goodbye.

International streams: Aniplex (US, Canada); Crunchyroll (note change of URL) (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US, Canada); Daisuki (territories not specified)

Rolling-Girls-1 The Rolling Girls premiere – Last year, a brand-new studio named Trigger wowed everyone with a little epic called Kill la Kill. Now relative newcomer Wit Studio is taking on its first full-length original TV series, and it has also decided to make Kill la Kill.

Sort of. While it opens with a hyperactive fighting scene between two “Bests” reminiscent of Kill la Kill, The Rolling Girls is supposed to be about four “Rests”, girls among the anonymous crowd of supporters that always seem to get caught in the crossfire. The problem is that it’s imitating Kill la Kill a little too well and has made the Bests far more interesting than the alleged main characters. Maccha Green (the one in the battlesuit), the champion of Tokorozawa, and her rival from East Murayama (the one with the giant safety pin) get practically all the fun and the screen time, and it’s hard to see the other characters filling the void once they’re out of the way, as they must be soon.

Connoisseurs of interesting visuals will want to check out the 1960s-infused look of this show, but story-wise, it’s off to an inauspicious start.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); Wakanim (Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe)

Fafner-Exodus-1 Fafner: Exodus premiere – Earth is fighting a sporadic war with alien invaders called the Festum. During one of the lulls, former teenage soldiers on the isolated island of Tatsumiyajima have returned to civilian life and are preparing for their future careers. But a fresh wave of invaders and a new complication are about to bring Tatsumiyajima back to a war footing…

Fafner: Exodus continues a story that has already spanned a previous 26-episode series and a movie, so there’s a lot of unexplained history in the background. Thankfully, it throws a lifeline to new viewers in the form of a plotline centered on a brand-new character, a young girl named Miya who has a psychic connection of some sort to a girl living far away. When Miya’s new friend is brought to the island, something is hot on the plane’s tail, and the authorities of Tatsumiyajima decide to drop their camouflage shield to rescue the plane and thus reveal their location to the enemy, and we’re off!

The production values so far are amazing. The opening scenes of a Festum attack on Hawaii look positively cinematic, and this has far and away the best music this season. This could be a great viewing experience, if it remembers to keep helping new viewers get up to speed.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Turkey, Middle East, North Africa, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

World-Break-1 World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman premiere – I swear before you all that that is the genuine official English title for this series. It’s hard to know who exactly to blame, but it’s not like people put off by the awkward grammar are going to be missing a brilliant series.

Moroha Haimura has just started at a high school where everyone was a magic-user in their past lives. Some people remember their past lives better than others, such as a girl named Satsuki who accosts Moroha just after the welcome ceremony. Satsuki was Moroha’s little sister in a previous life, and she’s overjoyed that now they aren’t related in this life, so there are no obstacles remaining to her becoming his girlfriend! Which means that before… ummm… let’s not go there.

But there’s another girl, Shizuno, who also thinks she’s Moroha’s girlfriend based on memories of a past life. Naturally Moroha will wind up with his face mashed into each of their bosoms at some point, and he’ll get slapped around for things that aren’t his fault, and at least one of the girls will be shown in various states of undress. In short: another standard fantasy light novel adaptation.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); FUNimation (US, Canada) (starting January 18th); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Durarara-2-1 Durarara!!x2 premiere – Now, here’s how to not welcome new viewers: introduce all your characters by flashing their names on the screen during the credits and call it good. The majority of the 21 (twenty-one!) named characters do pop up at some point in this episode, going about what one assumes are their normal lives, but even new viewers who can read Japanese are going to be hard-pressed to remember who’s who.

Most of what we do get this episode centers on Celty Sturleson, a dullahan (a creature from Irish folklore that can remove its head at will) and her magic horse which can disguise itself as a motorcycle. Celty is already well-known around the neighborhood as the Headless Rider, the subject of great media and police interest, and when she encounters both of them at once the resulting chase scene becomes breaking news. We also get a look at her eccentric in-laws and a whole pile of random seemingly unconnected characters doing nothing much.

Returning viewers will be reassured that all their favorite characters are still around and doing something or other, but this is clearly not the place to pick up the story.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Ireland, UK); Wakanim (Canada, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia); Aniplex (US); Hulu (US)

Yatterman-1 Yatterman Night premiere – The original Yatterman show was a spinoff of a show called Time Bokan, which was the beginning of a large and wide-ranging franchise. Yatterman itself begat a number of offspring in various media, including an updated retelling of the original show in 2008 and a surprisingly dark and adult live-action film in 2009.Yatterman Night is being produced to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Time Bokan. Right, got all that?

A typical Yatterman episode involved the villainous Dorombo Gang getting orders from their mysterious boss Dokurobei, starting a mildly evil scheme of some sort, attracting the attention of child heroes Gan-chan and Ai-chan aka Yatterman-1 and Yatterman-2, and, after various ensuing comical hijinks, effecting a humiliating retreat to start the whole process over again the next week. The Dorombos would sometimes be shown to not be wholeheartedly into the villain thing anyway, and as such gained a lot of viewer sympathy.

So, for the anniversary extravaganza, the Dorombos are the good guys! Sometime after Dokurobei (who is basically pure evil, no fan support there) has returned in a massive meteor storm, the country founded by the Yattermen has become a walled fortress, while the descendants of the Dorombo Gang are still living in exile. After seeing what the Yattermen have become up close, the youngest descendant of the head of the gang decides that the stories she’s grown up with are all wrong, and the Yattermen are really the villains, so it’s obviously time to get the old costumes out and start wreaking havoc.

I’m running out of room for the actual reviewing bit here. A lot of the first episode is spent setting up the scenario and explaining things for new viewers, but it’s a well-mashed expository lump, and the story is well and truly off and running. It’s totally worth a look whether you’re a veteran of the franchise or a newbie.

International stream: FUNimation (US, Canada)

And the news isn’t over yet, because Isuca is coming up on the 23rd and Viewster is still sitting on its list of simulcasts for the season until it’s good and ready to reveal it. Maybe if we all keep staring really hard at its blog over here….

Seeing as the license announcements got off to a late start in general, we’ll ignore distribution restrictions for the moment and give everything that looks like it could be really good a second viewing next week, which means all of these:

  • Cute High Defense Club LOVE!
  • Assassination Classroom
  • Death Parade
  • Fafner: Exodus
  • JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
  • Yatterman Night

As well as catching up with the one show continuing from last season– no, I haven’t forgotten about it– Yona of the Dawn.

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