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Arata the Legend - First Thoughts
Written by maehara   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 20:40
Welcome to the world of Amawakuni, where mankind coexists with the world's many gods. There, a boy called Arata is caught up in a coup d'├ętat led by the Twelve Shinsho, wielders of mystic swords called Hayagami. When he's accused of murdering a princess, Arata escapes to a forest, but then finds himself transported to the modern world - where another boy named Arata is in turn drawn to Amawakuni to take his place...

Arata the Legend is based on a manga by Yuu Watase, of Fushigi Yuugi, and there are certain comparisons you could make between the two - FY sees a young girl sent to a feudal world where she'll fulfil a mystical role of great importance; Arata the Legend sees Arata's role in a mystical ceremony of great importance interrupted, before he's sent to the modern world. Mirror images? I think so. There's a complication, though, in the connection between the two worlds, for as feudal Arata goes forward, he swaps places with present-day Arata, who has a whole bunch of issues of his own to deal with. Although slipping into Amawakuni may just get him a pass from at least some of them.

As well as the swapping of places, there's a connection between the two in the form of having to deal with betrayal. One has seen his princess killed in front of him, and been framed for the deed - a betrayal of his loyalty, in many ways; the other is suffering bullying at the hands of a former friend (betrayal #1), who is also doing his level best to 'persuade' Arata's new friends to disown him (betrayal #2). Trust is going to be an issue here. I also suspect that Arata's present-day tormentors are about to bite off more than they can chew.

THE GOOD: There are some interesting ideas at work here, and while one feudal world in anime often looks much like the next, this one seems to have a bit more vibrancy to it than others. A distinct lack of "Miaka!" "TAMAHOME!!".

THE BAD: Lots of mystical words that make it hard for me to follow along. Present-day Arata is so full of self-doubt and uncertainty that he can be a chore to watch - although that's likely part of his development.

The jury's still out for me on this one. Parts of the episode were entertaining and attention-grabbing; other parts were dull and difficult to watch. But the cross-over of the two boys, with their clashing personalities and own issues to deal with, has real potential. Will have to see how it plays out.

Arata the Legend is streamed by Crunchyroll.

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Winter 2012/13 - Dropped Shows Roundup
Written by maehara   
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 00:00
The winter 2012/13 season is now done & dusted, and reviews for the shows that I completed will start appearing in the next few days. But there's a long list of shows that I won't be reviewing - and it's a longer list than usual this season. Read on for the details...

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Karneval - First Thoughts
Written by maehara   
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 22:18
Nai is searching for someone important to him, with only an abandoned bracelet as a clue. Gareki steals and pick-pockets to get by from day to day. The two meet in a strange mansion where they are set-up, and soon become wanted criminals by military security operatives. When Nai and Gareki find themselves back into a corner from which there seems to be no escape, they encounter the country's most powerful defense organization, Circus...

A comparison struck me while I was watching this episode, and Hirato will forever be One Hell of a Butler in my mind as a result. This did have a very Black Butler feel to it, which is not a good comparison to make - I didn't like Black Butler, and Karneval followed in its footsteps by almost completely failing to grab me. We even had a bomb disposal scene that managed to carry no tension whatsoever, which just isn't right.

However, I'm nothing if not susceptible to some of the shallowest of anime lures, and once Tsukumo kicked into her all-too-brief action scene, my interest perked up immensely. She single-handedly moved the series from the 'one-and-done' pile onto the 'three episode rule' list, although I'm still not too hopeful that the series will manage to pull enough out of Hirato's hat to really get me interested. And it's a bit hat.

THE GOOD: Tsukumo. General visuals, which are bright and detailed, at some good action scenes.

THE BAD: No suspense or tension whatsoever. Nai's explanation of what happened to Karoku makes this sound almost like a Reginald Perrin spinoff (showing my age there...).

We'll see how it goes, but I'm not holding my breath.

Karneval is streamed by FUNimation (North America only).

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Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana) - First Thoughts
Written by maehara   
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 21:02
Takao Kasuga is a bookworm whose favorite book is Charles Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). He's also got a crush on Nanako Saeki, the smartest girl in class - but when his best friends catch onto this, they're quick to start poking fun at him and making insulting comments about Saeki. Unknown to his friends, though, the seeds of something unpleasant seem to be sprouting in Kasuga's thoughts...

Right. First, the obvious comment to make: this show uses rotoscoped animation - the 'animation' is traced from live-action footage, which gives it a rather unique look. Rather than the stylised and easy-on-the-eyes character designs we're mostly used to these days, Flowers of Evil is pitched to look realistic - but just as how anime-style faces in live action doesn't work (have you seen people wearing full kigurumi?), realistic proportions in anime is a trip straight into the uncanny valley. this is not a show where the visual style is anything close to being appealing or easy to look at. And that seems to be a conscious design decision.

When you've got a show that looks like it fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, if you want to keep people watching you need to make up for it in other areas - atmosphere, and/or plot. This opening episode takes a long time to get going on the plot front, with the whole episode leading up to a pivotal scene that we actually have to wait until next week to see, so the plot side still needs work. On atmosphere, though, it scores highly - through judicious use (and absence) of background music and effects; the seemingly every-day setting; and the occasional visual hints of the darker sides of some of the characters, you know that we're being set up to witness something unpleasant. The visual style, with its uncanny valley appearance, actually plays into that and heightens the feeling or foreboding. Neat trick.

THE GOOD: Strong sense of foreboding and the feeling that we're being led to witness Really Bad Stuff™. Grabs the curiosity.

THE BAD: Slow pacing, far more emphasis at the moment on building atmosphere than developing characters or story.

THE UGLY: Sorry, couldn't resist. But it is probably the ugliest-looking show in a while. Even if that serves a purpose.

One of the most divisive shows of the season, it seems. If you can't get past the rotoscoping and find that too much of a distraction, then cut & run with no shame. If you can live with that, though, it looks like this could be a rewarding one to watch.

Flowers of Evil is streamed by Crunchyroll.

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Say 'I Love You' (Sukitte Ii na yo)
Written by maehara   
Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:00
The last of the shoujo spree of the Autumn 2012, Say 'I Love You' follows some of the same territory as My Little Monster - but without Haru around to screw it up, manages to do it a lot more enjoyably...

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Mushibugyo - First Thoughts
Written by maehara   
Monday, 08 April 2013 20:49
Tsukishima Jinbei is a warrior who's determined to follow in his father's footsteps and win every battle he gets involved in. After leaving his homeland in the Tsugara Domain to join the Mushibugyo - a group of brave men who risk their lives to protect the peace in Edo - he's tasked with helping them to exterminate the giant bugs that run rampant in the city...

They may talk about rampaging giant insects, but for the first 5 or 10 minutes of this episode you'd be forgiven for thinking it was all about potential love interest Oharu's impressive rack. There's certainly a fair amount of Gainaxing going on, and Jinbei's enjoying every minute of it. Eventually, though, Hungry Giant Spider turns its attention to Oharu, and Jinbei swings into action. After spending some time explaining his backstory to the first person who'll listen to him. (Uh, hullo?? Rampaging Hungry Giant Spider is waiting for your attention...)

Yes, it's this season's entry in the olde-fashioned shounen action genre. I'll be upfront and honest here and admit that that's not a genre I have a hell of a lot of interest in, unless it goes out of its way to do something different - and Mushibugyo, on evidence so far, doesn't. Ready supply of enemies? Check. Varied group of allies with backstories to explore? Check (and resident cutie Hibachi gets the focus next week). Lead male who must prove himself to be the best at his niche vocation of choice? Check. Personal interest in any of this? ::crickets chirping::

THE GOOD: Gory and visceral in places - the bugs are not pleasant to encounter. Some nice character designs, and decent production values overall.

THE BAD: Generically generic, and of no interest outside its niche. Of which I'm not a part.

That'll be another one-and-done, then. I'll admit I'm maybe being unfair, but I'm getting to the stage in my fandom where I don't see the point in continuing with stuff that just doesn't grab me. Next...

Mushibugyo is streamed by Crunchyroll.

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