Anime roundup 4/7/2016: On Your Marks

Luluco-1 Space Patrol Luluco premiere – Luluco is a girl determined to live a solidly normal life despite the fact that she and her single dad live in the one section of Tokyo that allows alien residents. That’s aliens as in outer space, not foreigners, though a heavy-handed parallel is almost certainly intended. Luluco’s father works for the Space Patrol. After an unfortunate accident involving a nonlethal weapon takes her dad out of action for a while, Luluco suddenly finds herself drafted into the Patrol in his place.

Luluco is issued a computerized suit that has a mind of its own when it comes to serving some justice, putting the latter part of the show into a basic comedy loop: Embarrassing thing happens, people laugh, Luluco is embarrassed, then another embarrassing thing happens, rinse, repeat.

The comedy and symbolism are served up with all the subtlety of a herd of elephants playing vuvuzelas. The advertised romance plot hasn’t turned up yet, but I’m prepared to say that it isn’t worth waiting for.

International stream: Crunchyroll (territories not specified, but probably worldwide)

Kagewani-II-1 Kagewani -II- premiere – Within the first minute, two commercial pilots discover that their passenger list has been reduced from a few dozen domestic travellers to one eldritch abomination. The situation gets worse from there.

As the show explains it, it’s now four months since the events at the end of last season. Sarugaku is still a going concern, and its board has explained the whole thing as a minor accident which is now totally taken care of, despite reports that (a) weird monsters have been sighted in the area ever since and (b) two of its star researchers are missing.

On the strength of this episode, this looks set to be every kind of awesome that the first Kagewani was. It’s still got the atmospheric visuals and sound, the disquietingly creepy monsters, and the ruthlessly economical storytelling that packs more into 8 minutes than some shows can manage with full episodes. I don’t know why or how this got renewed, but thank you, inexplicable vagaries of the anime industry!

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide)

Lost-Village-1 The Lost Village premiere – There are 30 people on a bus, heading to a mysterious village to start their lives over again. First they all introduce themselves and give their reasons for wanting to leave the world behind. Most of them give obviously fake names. The bus drives through the dark and the rain for a very long time. Sometimes it stops at rest stops and the people mill around and poke at vending machines. In between stops, they play disturbing party games. The bus driver gets annoyed and threatens to crash the bus if they don’t stop being such a bunch of whiny adolescents. Some viewers may be sympathetic to his point of view.

It’s not that bad, but it’s hard to make a strong case for this show either. Out of the cornucopia of characters, the episode almost immediately zooms in on the two blandest ones available. The drama with the driver feels forced, like the writer was aware the characters weren’t immediately interesting enough on their own and absolutely had to save the approach to the village itself for the cliffhanger.

I think I might give this one more episode. I’d like to see how it finishes the setup of the village, and see if anyone more interesting is going to get some foreground time. Also, the music is awesome.

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)

JoJo-1 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable premiere – The story of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as originally planned ended with the Stardust Crusaders arc. But creator Hirohiko Araki was just getting into the swing of things, and the manga has continued to this very day through several more generations of heroes.

Thus the sudden revelation that past hero Joseph Joestar somehow had an affair in Japan in 1982, resulting in a son even younger than his grandson Jōtarō, who is dispatched to find that son and also investigate some peculiar goings-on in the very same town. Naturally, by the end of the episode, the two threads have tangled together, and Jōtarō and new hero Jōsuke will have to tackle this together.

The art style has changed enormously from Stardust Crusaders. Part of this comes from a deliberately cartoony palette, but it also stems from a dramatic change in the source material. By the end of this arc, Araki had stopped drawing hyper-muscled strongmen and settled into what more than one commentator has called his “Tom of Finland” phase. (Warning: Don’t look up that name if you’re at work.)

One result of modelling the art on the end of the story arc is that teenage characters now look kind of like teenagers, rather than 28-year-old bodybuilders. But it does take away some of the air of ludicrously over-the-top machoness that made Stardust Crusaders so endearing. Not that the main characters aren’t still manly men; Jōtarō and Jōsuke have to have a rousing fistfight before they decide to be comrades in arms.

But between that, and reducing the scope from an epic international journey to stuff happening in a suburb, and the generic violent rapey criminal serving as a villain, it feels terribly diminished.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); ADN (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco)

Endride-1 Endride premiere – Shun Asanaga loves crystals. He especially loves to look deep into them and try to find worlds inside them. It is therefore perfectly natural that when Shun heads out to his dad’s office one night to drag him home for his own birthday party, and finds the office empty but a peculiar crystal floating in a display case near the desk, Shun has to look into it. It is somewhat less natural that the crystal actually is a portal to another world for once, but hey, the writer has gotten him into the main setting and the episode isn’t even halfway over yet.

At the other end of the portal is Endra, a world under Earth’s surface with a crystal sun at its center. Shun immediately bumps into Prince Emilio, who has been imprisoned after a nearly-successful assassination attempt on his uncle, who usurped the throne from Emilio’s father. There follows a whole lot of obligatory shouting and expositioning as Emilio and Shun find themselves on the run together.

Endra’s equivalent of superpowers is huge awkward-looking weapons that people pull out of their chests. Shun has helpfully been given one by the same crystal that took him to Endra, and of course he’s super-powerful with it even though he has no idea what the hell is going on and Emilio spends more time arguing with him than explaining.

Lurking in bits and pieces around this story are the ingredients for a fantastic old-fashioned pulp-style adventure. I mean, a Hollow Earth story! In this day and age! That could be audaciously cool! Plus there’s the medieval-style monarchy, semi-animal people, and the thing resembling an intelligent pocket dragon. But between the shouty, angsty teenage leads and the slapdash way it’s been put together, I don’t think that’s what this show is going to deliver.

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

Ace-Attorney-1 Ace Attorney premiere – Newly minted attorney Ryūichi Naruhodō (or Phoenix Wright if you want to stick with the localized names from the English-language game releases) rushes to court, because he has taken on a very important case: defending a childhood friend against a charge of murder. Luckily, the day is saved thanks to those skills every ace attorney has: quick thinking, an attention to detail, and DRAMATIC FINGERPOINTING!

If you’ve heard of this popular game series, this show will give you a good introduction to them. In fact, it’s a little too good an introduction, because what has been created here is basically an animated playthrough of the beginning of the first game. Even including some of the splash screens and so forth.

If you liked the games, you’d be better off just replaying them. Who is this series for? People who would rather watch Twitch than play a game themselves, I guess.

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)

My-Hero-1 My Hero Academia premiere – In a near future where 80% of the world’s population has superpowers of some sort, being a superhero has become a mainstream, respectable profession. Izuku Midoriya wants to be one more than anything, but faces a bit of a problem in that he’s one of the 20% with no powers. Despite his obvious enthusiasm, everyone around him reminds him at every possible turn that he can’t possibly be a superhero. (Apparently, in this timeline, no one has ever heard of Batman.)

Undaunted, Izuku constantly tracks and analyzes the local heroes, and has even taken the admission test for an elite superhero academy. When fate gives him a chance encounter with his favorite hero, All Might, he goes all fanboy and wants to tag along. All Might, however, is starting to lose his powers.

This is the perfect counterpoint to the incipient return of Concrete Revolutio— a straight-up, fun superhero story. The art is comic-book-y without looking cheap or sloppy, and Izuku is so endearingly earnest that you have to cheer for him. This is the best of the completely new shows so far.

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

Kumamiko-1 Kumamiko: Girl Meets Bear premiere – The remote village of Kumade hides a secret: since ancient times, the woods have been inhabited by intelligent, talking bears. Natsu the temple guardian is one such bear. The shrine maiden Machi has grown up with Natsu and is good friends with him, but she’s finding village life lonely and boring, and wants to go to the big city.

Because this is a comedy, this leads to Natsu grabbing Machi’s guidebook and giving her a pop quiz which serves to illustrate how little either of them actually knows about the city. Later, Machi still hasn’t left, but her cousin is bringing some of the village kids around to the temple to tell them the legend of Kumade’s early history in more detail. And when I say “more detail”, I mean that Kumamiko has a sudden head-on collision with Rule 34.

It’s rather like expecting the everyday version of one of the Grimm fairytales and then suddenly getting the unsanitized original. The awkwardness that it causes for Machi certainly helps explain why she wants to get away from the village.

The pastoral setting, and the art in general, is gorgeous, and both Machi and Natsu are adorable and highly likeable. Just be aware that it’s going to drop that on you.

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

Sailor-Moon-27 Sailor Moon Crystal #27 (season III premiere) – This episode has a long checklist it needs to get through: re-introduce Sailor Moon, her family, her boyfriend, four other Sailor Senshi, and three cats; introduce two new good guys; begin establishing a new villain group; set up vague hints of an overall story arc; give the heroes an immediate problem to focus on; and somehow find room to pack in five newly animated transformation sequences.

Not only does it get through all that, it manages to flow smoothly along the way. More time than you might expect is given to introducing the new Sailors, Haruka Tenō and Michiru Kaiō. And that’s not much of a spoiler, because even if you’re totally new to the show, you’re going to notice how the two of them are featured in their Sailor outfits throughout the closing-credit sequence.

You will also notice that although Haruka is frequently taken to be male, she and Michiru are actually girlfriend and girlfriend. This was famously obscured in the English dub of the 1990s anime series, which turned them into cousins. In the brave new world of streaming, there should be no worries about it happening again, though that ending sequence does feel like the the makers of the show trying to play it up as much as possible juuuust in case.

Anyway, in all respects, this feels like a big improvement over the first season, and I might watch more.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand); Viz (US); Hulu (US)

Cerberus-1 Cerberus premiere – Once upon a time, powerful mages lured a dragon into a trap meant to put an end to it, but someone interfered. To stave off a complete disaster, one of the mages created some kind of bond between the dragon and his young son.

Ten years later, that son saunters into Generic JRPG Town with his big-ass sword to interact with a variety of standard NPCs. He spends a lot of time running around with the local thieves, and so when one of them is condemned to death, he feels like he ought to intervene. Things escalate quickly and suddenly there’s a catgirl in fetish gear waving around a major artifact and then there’s a dragon blowing the top off a nearby mountain. Meanwhile, a naked lady is off somewhere turning stuff to ice.

This feels like the distilled essence of every single fantasy cartoon of the last 25 years. It’s nice to look at, but it’s full of lifeless walking tropes. This is, you may recall, one of the videogame adaptations, so it’s not really doing any worse than expected.

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)

And that’s the halfway point! Kagewani -II- is a definite keeper. The Lost Village and My Hero Academia are getting a second viewing, and Sailor Moon Crystal and Kumamiko are possibilities if they get streamed more widely. But first… another batch of premieres, next week!

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