Spring Preview 2012

It’s a solid season this spring but, unfortunately, one only has time to try out a few shows. I attempted to pick two of the big Moe shows, two of the most serious general audience shows, and two shows that just looked adorable. I hope you enjoy my previews of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Mysterious Girlfriend X, Japanese Folktale, Polar Bear Cafe, Kids on the Slope, and Space Brothers. Hopefully I help you decide if you want to check something good out… or help you desperately avoid something. 

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia 

The show is built around ghost stories told at a high school. Most of them involve Yuuko-san, who is rumored to have been a student who died at the school. On his first day at Seikyou Private, Teiichi Niiya meets Yuuko-san in an abandoned part of the school and agrees to join the school’s paranormal club in order to help Yuuko get her memories back.

The episode started out extremely cute with club member Momoe going over the reports of paranormal activity and while she remains oblivious to her stuff floating around her head. She seems to revere Teiichi as someone who can communicate with spirits, someone who has a connection to the dead. When Teiichi arrives he seems more nervous and flailing than anything else, he is also talking to someone who isn’t there which leads to more fun humor as Momoe thinks he can read her mind and several misunderstood statements.

The show was enjoyable up to this point, Momoe is a cute and fun character and the fact that Teiichi is constantly distracted by something that isn’t there, obviously a ghost, was the source of some great misunderstanding based humor. 

Where the show started to lose me is that after the eye catch they replay the entire first eight minutes of the episode again, except this time the audience can see and hear Yuuko. Well, that was an interesting way to introduce the character and concept to the audience but it didn’t require reusing all the footage a second time. While at first I thought it was neat, I quickly grew bored.

After they had gotten past that point it returned to being a fun show. Yuuko’s constant annoyance at her own legends are funny as well as Teiichi’s attempts to cover up her presence to Momoe and the other characters who can’t see her. However, these are jokes that will be quickly played out as the show takes a monster of the week structure. 

 Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a cute and beautiful show but I doubt the content will be enough to keep me interested for thirteen episodes. They had to replay a long scene in the first episode twice! That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the show, even if their intentions were to do something compelling and different. I’d watch one or two more episodes, but I don’t have high expectations.

 Mysterious Girlfriend X

 

I’m not sure where to start with this show. It begins with an odd hook, where the show comes out and blatantly says that boys are constantly thinking about who will be their first sex partner. From there we’re shown the main character Akira, who is a generic anime protagonist who has no noticeable features and no noticeable flaws. That day in class a new transfer student, Mikoto, appears. She immediately gets a reputation as being odd because she sleeps during all breaks and has a massive laughing fit for no reason in the middle of class. 

 So yeah, up to this point the show is being set up to be a generic love comedy. It’s well animated and the character designs are pretty cute. It also has some interesting use of light and well directed shots. But what happens next changes everything… Akira is leaving class and notices Mikoto still sleeping so he returns and wakes her up. She has drooled on her desk and when she leaves the room he… tastes it. 

What the hell, Japan! I have grown a fairly thick skin to most of the wish fulfillment and sick fantasies that appear in Anime but this show is taking one of the strangest fetishes I’ve heard about and makes it the driving force in the show. Seriously. Akira becomes addicted to Mikoto’s saliva and has to taste it to prevent withdrawal symptoms and it is from this jumping off point that the relationship develops. I don’t know who this super niche title is meant for… I don’t know what makes the manga popular or why no one stopped the process of turning it into an anime. After watching the first scene where Akira tastes Mikoto’s drool I had instantly decided never to do a season preview again and had to talk myself into continuing to write about anime period. Thanks a lot, Japan. You came a hair short of completely crushing my favorite hobby. 

Japanese Folklore

 Japanese Folklore pretty much delivers what is advertised. Its a show about Japanese Folklore. The stories are read by an omnipotent narrator and accompanied by child friendly animation. The animation is cute and colorful, which helps the audience digest an otherwise stuffy narrative format.

The show is clearly intended to teach children classic Japanese folklore. It seems like it’ll be successful but the narrative style is just too straightforward and while it is interesting to learn about these classic works of folklore, they aren’t exactly the most engaging pieces of fiction. So while I appreciate what the show is trying to do and I enjoyed the animation I probably won’t be watching anymore, unless I get an urge to study Japanese Folklore in a quick and easy way.

Polar Bear Cafe

 Polar Bear Cafe is about a Panda who is pressured into finding a part time job my his mother. He’d rather just sit around and chew on Bamboo leaves, and unfortunately those are his only real skills. While out hunting for jobs he comes across the Polar Bear Cafe which is run by its namesake and features a colorful clientele of animals and humans. 

Polar Bear Cafe is absolutely adorable. The entire point of the show is just to activate the cute center of your brain and make the audience squee over adorable animals. There isn’t much characterization, with some minor exception in Polar Bear, and a lot of the jokes are repeated over and over but the cute animals make up for that in abundance. 

 The one setback is that a lot of the humor involves puns. Crunchyroll does a good job of subtly explaining the jokes to the audience by showing the Japanese word which works well with hearing the actor say the Japanese word. So while the jokes do go over an English audiences head, it doesn’t take much effort to understand what is going on. 

The animation style is a little strange, but not off putting. All the animals look like… animals, not overly cute anime version of animals. I think the fact I found the animals unbearably cute is proof that this choice was clearly in the best interest of the show. 

Polar Bear Cafe doesn’t have much going for it. It’s an incredibly light comedy whose main appeal is watching cute animals do things. If that sounds like it appeals to you, or you squeed at any of the screenshots there is no reason not to check this show out. 

 

Kids on the Slope

 Set in 1966 Kaoru Nishimi has moved in with relatives after his father had to leave for business. He’s been a perfect student to this point but that balance is upset when he meets Sentaro Kawabuchi. Through Sentaro he starts to gain an appreciation of Jazz.

The production values of this show are extremely high. The character designs are interesting and unique, colors are vibrant and are matched to the dialogue in the scenes almost effortlessly. What few music scenes they’ve shown so far have been amazingly animated. Characters playing musical instruments are notoriously difficult to animate and painful to watch when done poorly. The highest point of the show is the music, the music staff including Cowboy Bebop’s Yoko Kanno, and in a show about music having any aspect of the music be weak would completely cripple the credibility the show. The music is infectious, background and the music played by the characters are absolutely incredible. 

The relationship between Kaoru and Sentaro will be the obvious draw of the show. Kaoru gets nervous just by hearing about the infamous Sentaro, but when he first meets him, without knowing who it is, he shows a solid boldness as he is being driven by something that he desperately wants. Kaoru is a character that is confused, in flux. He doesn’t quite know what he wants, why he wants what he wants, or where he belongs. Sentaro is a powerful character who knows exactly what he wants, to play Jazz. The contrast, even what little there has been so far, is awesome and I can clearly see where the character arcs are going to end up during the series.  

I’m a bit concerned about the narrative, which isn’t such a big deal in a character focused series, but motivating factors behind what the characters were doing and why seemed lost. Kaoru desperately wanted to get on the roof of the school and during my viewing I was unsure why he wanted to get up there so badly, although I have been told that the show mentions that being up high is a cure for his anxiety. Also, we only get a brief look at Kaoru’s home life and the fact that his father left him with his aunt seems more like a plot device to get Kaoru in an unfamiliar setting than a fleshed out story point. I’m sure most of these issues will be solved in upcoming episodes, the fact that I’m clamoring for these details is proof that I want to know everything about these characters, I should mark that as a positive. 

Kids on the Slope is a slow, plotting character drama which has some beautiful production values, amazing soundtrack, and fantastic character work. It’s the clear winner of the season. However, just from the previous work of the creators, such as Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe and composer Yoko Kanno, are more than  enough to keep me interested. 

Space Brothers

 

Space Brothers is about two siblings, Mutta and Hibito, who happen upon a UFO when they were young children. In that moment they agree to attempt to become astronauts. Hibito, the younger brother, has succeed in being accepted to the new Lunar missions while Mutta finds himself unemployed and back living with his parents. 

I loved nearly everything about this show. It is a solid first episode that clearly shows the division between the two characters and what the conflicts are going to be going forward. The character designs are great, showing even more of the trend this season to step away from moe, the two brothers designs reflect their personalities and their situations in life. I found the scenes when they were kids sweet, a fantastic attempt to capture the innocence of childhood. 

 There are three things that establishes the theme of the show that I thought were well played. The first is how the show begins. The two brothers were both born during major sporting events but Mutta was born during a horrible loss and Hibito was born during a great national victory. This establishes the idea of fate and luck within the narrative. The second is the innocence of childhood. There are long scenes that show the two boys exploring the woods and recording noises of nature, the two of them honestly curious about the world. As they gaze upon the UFO they see something that is unique and special, and in that moment pledge to go into space. This innocent act is shown to the audience as a sweet act of childhood, but it leads into the final theme that is well established in this episodes. 

 The final theme is that of the elder staying ahead of the younger. A concept that is understandable because of sibling rivalry and conflict but even more so in Japan where the concept of the elder being held as revered remains important. Mutta’s defeat is all the more embarrassing because of his younger brothers success and it is this that drives him forward to picking his life back up. After falling low the simple idea of planning his goal to get to Mars rekindles his drive, forcing him back into the world. It was inspiring to watch, which is something I don’t get much from Anime. 

Space Brothers is going to be a fun character drama. It being wrapped in a Space Exploration narrative is a clear bonus for me. I look forward to watching a science fiction story anchored in realism, and that is definitely the feeling I’ve gotten from this first episode.

 

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