Saturday, 16 February 2013

Streaming: Winter 2013 anime first impressions

The New Year holiday period has passed and it's now the time where I take a look at the odd selection of anime series which have been licensed for streaming to the UK. Sadly, Anime On Demand's streams are already lagging far behind the equivalent simulcasts in the US, hence the extreme lateness of this post and bias towards the Crunchyroll shows (all of which have had several episodes more than the AoD ones to prove their quality).

At first I was tempted to post this before Anime On Demand had released their episodes out of exasperation, as I had carefully prepared everything else at the start of January. It then occurred to me that destroying my own first impressions post would serve as a good reminder about how frustrating the UK streaming situation is at the moment, so I kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

OreShura would be far more enjoyable if he wasn't so careful

Crunchyroll

I've divided this reasonably-long list up by streaming site to make it a little more manageable. Having said that, the UK is only receiving streams from two different providers this season. Crunchyroll definitely has the lion's share when it comes to sheer volume, and with quality anime such as Gintama, Zetsuen No Tempest, Ixion Saga DT and Shin Sekai Yori still airing from last season it looks as though I'll be spending hours on their site each week for a while to come.

Ai-Mai-Mi
Ai-Mai-Mi is one of a many cute three-minute comedy series this season. There's a vague plot about drawing manga but it's really nothing more than an excuse to show ditzy girls being hyperactive and silly. While I didn't dislike it particularly, there was nothing in the first episode which gave me a compelling reason to want to keep following the show and it suffers greatly from its similarities to other, more engaging shows from the same season.

AKB0048 next stage
I decided to watch this even though the first season was initially unavailable, hoping that my rough knowledge of the plot would be enough. There's a lot that I didn't understand about the setting from jumping in halfway, annoyingly, but I did see enough to confirm that I'd like to watch the whole thing one day. The surprisingly gritty scenario works well as a backdrop to this dramatisation of the world of female idol singers, and the way that elements from the real life AKB48 are incorporated add to the charm - they're not stingy about including a lot of songs, too! AKB0048 probably owes a lot of its atmosphere to the Macross series. We can't get more Macross on home video in the west, sadly, so perhaps we can at least have this light-hearted, brightly-coloured alternative on Blu-ray in future? Sentai Filmworks have acquired the rights to the whole series in the US, so as things stand I'm going to wait and watch it all in the proper order instead of continuing with the streaming version.


AMNESIA
It's fantastic that AMNESIA has been made available to the UK! Objectively, this anime adaptation of a well-known otome game is very predictable and silly (the cute lead works in a combined maid/butler cafe surrounded by strangely perfect people, and its visual novel roots couldn't be more obvious). Having a main character with amnesia is very cliche, but here the heroine's memory loss is the main plot rather than a convenient pretext for some quest to save the world. It would normally be annoying to watch a story where the plot keeps resetting and shuffling events around bewilderingly; here, the viewer is drawn into the lead's predicament by being made to feel every bit as confused as she does. It didn't take long before I found myself wanting to know what happens next and thinking about buying the original games. It helps that the character designs are adorable and Ishida Akira is voicing one of the main characters. I'm sold.


Boku No Imouto Wa Osaka-Okan
Three-minute episodes seem to be a trend on Crunchyroll this season. This one immediately won my heart; it's charmingly strange and educational too! The simple concept revolves around the endless culture clashes which result when a young boy is reunited with his sister later in life. She was raised in Osaka while he grew up in Tokyo, and they consequently find that their behaviour and use of language has diverged a great deal. The floaty animation reminds me of an in-flight airline safety video. Bonus points to the creators for making a series about a little sister which is genuinely entertaining instead of creepy.


Chihayafuru 2
The first of many sequels to series I haven't finished, though it will be a definite preorder if a US company can bring it to Blu-ray. The first couple of episodes of the original Chihayafuru television series were enjoyable to watch with a unique blend of competitive karuta and romance. Hopefully this new batch of episodes having been picked up is a sign that the simulcast was at least popular enough to catch the eye of a company like NIS America..?

Cuticle Detective Inaba
Cuticle Detective Inaba was one of a few shows I was looking forward to this season. It's a silly comedy about a wolfman called Inaba who works with the police to try to capture an evil counterfeiter - who happens to be a goat - named Don Valentino. Inaba is assisted by a hot-tempered police officer (wonderfully brought to life by Morikawa Toshiyuki) and two strange assistants. The show is ridiculous and one of the assistants is such a perfect tsukkomi that there was a strong Gintama atmosphere throughout the episode as it danced between violence, parody, lewd gags, action and cuteness. Ookawa Tooru's standout performance as the evil goat deserves a special mention; it even includes him singing the ending theme in character.


Da Capo III
Da Capo receives another anime sequel about pretty girls, school and youthful romance. The Da Capo visual novels and anime have never been my kind of thing and after trying to watch the first episode of this new television adaptation I couldn't shake the feeling that I've seen it all before.


Encouragement Of Climb (Yama No Susume)
While this short series about cute girls stands out by actually attempting to have a storyline about conquering a fear of heights and some pretty animation, it doesn't change the fact that dizzy schoolgirls do nothing for me. The English title is a tad awkward.


Gdgd Fairies 2
I never got into gdgd Fairies and its dodgy CG animation so I'll be skipping the sequel. It looks as though it's more of the same.

Hakkenden: Eight Dogs Of The East (Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun)
This one has been disappointing so far. I like the original Hakkenden story, and Touhou Hakken Ibun has a good seiyuu cast, attractive designs and a blend of historical and modern elements. Yet somehow, it's not doing anything for me at all; everything about it feels just a little too contrived. I'll try to give it a few more episodes to see if it finds its pace before it ends up being a rare example of me dropping a show which didn't match up to my expectations.


Ishida And Asakura
Another school gag show, this time with two-minute-long episodes. Ishida and Asakura takes a very different approach with grotesque character designs and a more twisted sense of humour to offset the cutesy girls which otherwise dominate this season's offerings. The male characters are all weird-looking while the female characters have absurdly gigantic chests. I'm not quite sure where it's going from the first two episodes so I might keep watching for a few more weeks; if nothing else, it fits in well with my other Sunday show (Ixion Saga DT) and is not unlike a surreal blend of Cromartie High School and GTO - only with its two minute runtime thwarting any chance of it developing an actual plot.


Kotoura-san
For a romantic comedy supposedly based on a yonkoma strip, Kotoura-san had a surprisingly dark first episode! I was bowled over by how effectively the creators laid down a genuinely heart-wrenching background for the cute female lead before using it as the foundation for a typical school gag show later on. The potential for romance between the two main characters is more plausible than in many much more famous love stories, too. If I have time to somehow cram another show into my heaving Thursday schedule Kotoura-san will be the one. I'll definitely buy it on disc if a western company decides that it's worth the home video release it deserves.


Little Busters!
This is a strange one. Like AKB0048 next stage, Crunchyroll are starting the stream halfway through the series with episode 14. Unlike AKB0048 next stage, it was difficult to grasp the appeal of this visual novel adaptation without having access to the previous episodes to set the scene. Given that I'm not that interested in Key stories to begin with, what I saw didn't excite me enough to give it a second chance when the first episode finally made its way to Crunchyroll's library.

Love Live! School Idol Project
The main difference between this and other conspicuously-similar idol shows full of oodles of cute, clumsy girls is that Love Live! incorporates high school slice of life elements to set it apart. Unfortunately, the school club story has already been done better in K-On! while the idol aspect is weak compared to The Idolm@ster. Setting these comparisons aside, the plot is unashamedly dumb with so many issues that I could fill a separate post with them if I had the time. The subtle pandering to the audience also rubs me up the wrong way. Love Live! is utterly harmless fun at heart, but with no shortage of other idol series out there it doesn't feel as though there's much reason to continue to watch this one. However, fans of the stream will be spoilt for choice: it's already been announced that NIS America be giving it a special edition release in the US while the Japanese Blu-ray release will come with English subtitles.


Mangirl!
I knew in advance that this was a series about publishing manga rather than the spiritual successor to Hourou Musuko or an attempt to revive Ranma 1/2. It was still a little disappointing to have it confirmed by the lack of gender-defying hijinks in the first episode. Mangirl! is another of the many three-minute episode shows being simulcast this season and one of the few that I enjoyed watching. Manga publishers appear to work very quickly as the girls in the show cover what would ordinarily be months of organisation in the space of a couple of minutes, however, the tone of the series is pleasant, as is the way it peppers the silliness with plausible-sounding details about the way the industry works. When I watched the first episode again to take a picture, the characters leapfrogging over one another in the opening sequence suddenly seemed stranger than it had the first time around.


OreShura (Ore No Kanojo To Osananajimi Ga Shuraba Sugiru)
OreShura is incredible; it's a soulless blend of elements which are so overused these days that it should be too ashamed to even exist, yet here it is. Joining the ranks of countless other generic romantic comedies based on light novels, OreShura is about an unappealing guy who suddenly finds himself surrounded by various attractive young girls who (inexplicably) desire him. There's the childhood friend, the hot classmate from overseas, the ex-girlfriend and the fiancée; if popular archetypes are what you enjoy then OreShura has you covered. The only saving grace is the lack of a little sister in the lead's bustling collection of ladies, though my partner pointed out that the hyperactive childhood friend pretty much ticks all of the same boxes. I don't see the point. It's been well received so far, so the industry's fondness of formulaic pastel-tinged school romance shows will probably continue for a while yet.


Senyuu
Another gag series with short episodes. I had low expectations as it's a fantasy parody and they tend to be hit and miss, but this one is pretty good. It knows that it's recycling tropes that have already been done to death so it adds even more irreverence whenever possible. It helps that the hero's unhelpful companion Ros is sort of cool.


THE UNLIMITED -Hyoubu Kyousuke-
This spin-off is based on Zettai Karen Children ('Psychic Squad'), a series which I still haven't watched even though the DVDs are sitting in my backlog. Yet it only took a speculative dip into the first episode of THE UNLIMITED one quiet Monday evening to get me hooked! The entire show seems to be a pointless excuse for making the feisty lead character - the antagonist from Zettai Karen Children - run around doing various cool things for no reason at all, and I like it. It's also full of guys standing around with smirks on their faces bragging about having outsmarted other guys. I would rather have seen the original series first for the background story... if only I could resist watching more of THE UNLIMITED long enough to do so.

It reminds me of all of the times I have wondered what a series would be like if they made a spin-off from the villain's perspective. Well, that's what they did here. And it's awesome.


VIVIDRED OPERATION
As with Tamako Market, it was easy to decide that VIVIDRED OPERATION wasn't something I'd enjoy; it seems to be a fairly generic light sci-fi show with cute girls, no trousers and a strong Strike Witches atmosphere. Perhaps if I was into seeing endless 'innocent' panty shots this would have kept my interest (it certainly delivers in that respect). No thank you.

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Anime On Demand

Underdog Anime On Demand has picked up a few high profile hits this season. However, most of these big hits are for a slightly different type of audience, so there's probably not much I'll follow regularly - other than the continuation of the excellent Magi. The one big shame about AoD is that they regularly miss their promised air dates, which are already delayed from the Japanese schedules to begin with. It's quite frustrating in this global community to continually have to wait to see shows which people in other regions are already enjoying. I understand that delays happen but I think it's fair to say that it would be far less disappointing if AoD/Kaze would be more communicative!

Maoyu (Maoyuu Maou Yuusha)
Finally, as episode seven went online for American viewers, Maoyu episodes one and two silently became available to the UK. Back at the start of January I'd heard a lot of people comparing Maoyu to Spice and Wolf, both favourably and less kindly. While I can see why the comparisons are there, Maoyu completely omits the aspects of Spice and Wolf I enjoyed most. Both are light fantasy adventures featuring mismatched companions, and it's likely that the earlier series inspired this one to some extent. However, Spice and Wolf's leads are a nuanced, experienced trader and a sensual, highly intelligent deity. In contrast, Maoyu's main characters are a bland knight and an insecure RPG stereotype with no real personality. I didn't find either of them interesting. It's worth noting that Holo ran around without clothing frequently in Spice and Wolf while maintaining a classy air and sense of dignity. In contrast, the all-powerful, highly intelligent demon queen in Maoyu wears a low cut dress and seems desperate for attention at all times, making it very difficult to take her seriously even when she's heavy-handedly lecturing the Hero about politics. I couldn't take my eyes off her bulging, wobbly breasts whenever she was on screen; they'd been given so much attention by the animators!

The music is also a step down from Spice and Wolf even though the production values seem high from the first episode. If I take Maoyu on its own merits, there's a decent, slick-looking show here with a good seiyuu cast and a lot to say about fantasy tropes and politics - even if I'm never quite sure how much is satire and how much is straightforward pandering to the audience. It's just lacking that spark which made the classics in its genre memorable, and Senyuu already has me covered for self-referential fantasy gags this season. One thing I did like was the cute way that characters refer to one another by titles rather than names.


Mondaijitachi Ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu Yo?
Mondaiji became a victim of my impatience with Anime On Demand. It doesn't sound as though I'll have much to say about it, so I'll save any thoughts for the 'final impressions' post at the end of this season (assuming that the first episode has appeared by then!).

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai
I'm not entirely sure where this show is going from the first episode alone. It's a strange story about an unmotivated girl who can't leave her house. That's ok though, because she can instead track her doting older brother using an elaborate computer setup. Conveniently, he's a teacher at her school. To add further confusion to the mix her brother hangs out with a trio of strange women with special powers, and reality seems to follow the whims of the main characters for reasons as-yet unexplained. I'm rather tired of brother-sister references in anime and quite a few other aspects of the show are giving me a sense of deja vu. Still, this is strange stuff and the gorgeous visuals in Sasami's room make the minutes fly by (as well as making me bitter that Fractale didn't bother drawing from Hidari's lovely illustrations when it had the chance). Sasami's seiyuu sounds terribly obnoxious; I'm undecided whether it's a mark of good acting or simply annoying.


Student Council's Discretion Lv.2 (Seitokai No Ichizon Lv.2)
For some reason this isn't available to the UK on Crunchyroll this time around even though the first season was. It's another series which has yet to make an appearance weeks after its debut. This would be more devastating to me if I was interested in the series to begin; its unavailability gives me a great excuse to continue ignoring it.

Tamako Market
Tamako Market has enjoyed a great deal of hype thanks to it being a Kyoto Animation project involving a number of key staff members who also worked on the K-On! anime. The series is light and fluffy, following the inhabitants of a Japanese shopping district through the eyes of a cute schoolgirl and the weird bird she meets one day. For me, the presence of the silly bird made what could have been a very forgettable feel-good slice of life show substantially more watchable, and it helped that it has Ono Daisuke in a classy role as a florist of indeterminate gender. The realistically-drawn mochi which appear every few minutes look so tasty that my mouth almost started watering! Still, even though I enjoyed the first episode a lot more than other recent KyoAni offerings, the cloying good-natured sweetness of the female characters irritates me to the same degree that it charms its core fans. I won't be continuing to watch Tamako Market, but fans of KyoAni and/or K-On! should find something to like here. Unless, of course, the elements which appealed to me have the exact opposite effect on the male otaku crowd; this seems to be a distinct possibility if early sales figures are any indication of success.


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It's disappointing that JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Nekomonogatari (Kuro), Puchimas! and Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman aren't being streamed to the UK in any authorised form. I'd be spending a lot more on Japanese import purchases if I had a way to watch them, so I guess the rights holders don't want my money. With JoJo it may be forgivable as there's a possibility that the series isn't being streamed due to the music-inspired character names and previous problems from a certain part of the overseas community.

Separately, the streaming rights for some sequels to shows I enjoy (most obviously Hetalia: The Beautiful World and Haganai NEXT) have joined the ongoing noitaminA shows in being FUNimation exclusives. I have very strong feelings about FUNimation's despicable habit of taking the UK rights to series and refusing to include us in the English-language simulcasts they arrange; it's difficult to express myself politely under the circumstances. I'm happy to pay them; all they have to do is let me! Grr...

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It seems that my regular streaming schedule for Winter 2013 will look something like this:

Monday: THE UNLIMITED -Hyoubu Kyousuke-
Tuesday: Shin Sekai Yori, AMNESIA
Wednesday: Magi, Mangirl!
Thursday: Gintama, Zetsuen No Tempest
Friday:
Saturday: Boku No Imouto Wa Osaka-okan, Cuticle Detective Inaba
Sunday: Ixion Saga DT

Let's see if anything gets dropped or added as the season progresses!

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