Category: First Impressions

First Impressions: Fate/Zero

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Ten years before the events of Fate/Stay Night the fourth Holy Grail War is getting ready to begin. The powerful magical families and mages around the world are preparing a candidate of their own to be one of the seven Masters who get to summon a Champion to compete in the fight for the Holy Grail, an object said to have the power to grant any wish.

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I’m glad Type Moon decide to make this first episode forty-five minutes long. After the first half I was getting bored, everything was long scenes of people talking about the politics concerned in the Holy Grail War, the families and organizations involved, on top of attempting to balance all of the character introductions. It’s overwhelming and lacks excitement.

After all the politics and initial character introductions get out of the way the show gets down to developing some of the main characters in detail and establishing the main conflict. But there are threads opened and completely ignored, such as the one Master who stole his relic. He suffers no consequence and the show doesn’t even show the wronged man realize the relic has gone missing. This same character also tricked a poor old couple into thinking he was their grandson, an action which is never explained.

The background art in Fate/Zero is stunning with beautiful churches, so many churches, and mansions having a vast amount of detail. However, the characters clearly look set apart from the backgrounds. Even the coloring and style is slightly different and this gives the show a visual novel look. While this could be a nod to the original Fate/Stay Night’s visual novel it’s off putting and takes me out of the show whenever I notice it.

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This first episode established the characters and conflict getting them out of the way so hopefully going forward we’ll get to see more of the War and less old men standing around scheming. The holes in the narrative I mentioned above are so bad as to distract from the larger narrative and if Type Moon makes such errors in the first episode I have little faith for them to maintain a complex narrative. It’s unfair to judge the series without being introduced to the Champions or seeing any fights but I can’t say I’m excited to continue watching this show.

First Impressions: Phi-Brain

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Keito saves a self proclaimed puzzle genius from a collapsing building. He was, apparently, lured there by a hand held computer he obtained from the president of his high school’s Puzzle club. This computer is a test created by a mysterious organization to choose someone for the Orpheus’ Contract, a relic that enables the user to boost his brain power. Keito and his friend Nanoha accept the challenge and enter the mysterious puzzle.

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The show has a Shonen style, from narrative to artwork, without any real goal; focus; or interesting hook. Keito enjoys solving puzzles and is exceptionally good at it so much so that he is saught after by the puzzle club at his high school. The problem with the world building is that I’m not sure if Puzzle solving really is a huge deal, it certainly seems to be, or if it is just a small group of super puzzle enthusiasts that the show focus’ on. The self proclaimed puzzle genius, whose role remains uncertain, has ads on TV display his puzzling abilities which are insanely silly and never addressed directly. That is a hint at how important ones puzzle abilities are in this silly world.

The abrupt start to the show and forced flash backs slow this first episode down allowing little time for any development outside of Keito, who is characterized as a bad ass puzzle solver who demands respect. The narrative just dances around the opening scene until Keito reveals he was drawn there by a puzzle computer given to him by the Puzzle club president. At that point, nearly ten minutes in, the show picks up.

The main puzzle is a giant unsolvable maze that Keito immediately realizes the key to solving is located at a suspicious passage. His companion, Nanoha, seems a bit unbalanced. When they first enter the maze she attempts to use a childish tactic of touching the wall while running to solve the maze but after that fails she immediately gains some genius and reveals she memorized the maze and later it’s her observation which solves the puzzle. I wish they did some more development on her before because these abilities come out of no where and actual harm Keito’s image as a genius puzzle solver.

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The mechanics of the show also fall short. While the animation is decent and the puzzles seem well done, the music is inappropriately exciting and the show lacks any real character development or world building relaying instead no broad strokes, unacceptable in an episode that uses the first ten minutes to establish the characters and puzzle loving world. The puzzles are done well and were exciting to watch but the audience isn’t invited to take part and there doesn’t seem to be any logical thinking which I can track in Keito’s solutions. I don’t know if a puzzle show can work if the audience isn’t allowed a chance to solve the puzzles on their own. I can see the show getting stale quickly, even for people who enjoy the Shonen formula. I probably won’t be continuing forward and I suggest you approach with caution.

First Impressions: Hunter X Hunter

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Twelve years after his Father abandoned him Gon Freece wants nothing more than to become a Hunter, an elite title that gives access to magic and a whole assortment of privileges, to understand why his Father decided to leave his family. He sets off from whale island to take the Hunter test and along the way befriends fellow Hunter candidates Kurapica and Leorio.

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Hunter X Hunter starts off with a fantastic concept, it’s a world that has magic but the power is limited to only an elite few who need to obtain the rank of “Hunter.” Immediately you have that Shonen style quest but the reward is the ability to obtain more power, as opposed to the standard formula where the hero needs to obtain a power in order to complete the quest. This opens up huge possibilities for the narrative beyond this initial chapter, and what little I saw of the world made me excited to see those adventures.

The two additional cast members introduced along with Gon, Kurapica and Leorio, are colorful and already have planted seeds for their own side narratives. Gon himself wants to become a Hunter to understand why his father abandoned him, Leorio wants to be a Hunter so he can make money, and Kurapica has a much more traditional reason for wanting to be come a Hunter; revenge against the bandits who destroyed his clan. These introductions immediately create compelling characters with the promise of rich backstory.

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The world established in this first episode has me the most intrigued. The only piece of the world we see is whale island which is a small, traditional fishing village but the main characters represent three extremely different cultures, implying that this world must be varied even beyond the cultures we’ve seen already. Especially in Leorio’s case with him in a modern suit and wanting money so he can buy such modern conveniences as cars. Yet the world we’ve seen so far seems pre-industrial. With these characters from such different cultures it’ll be interesting so see how they clash and how the world they live in actually works.

The animation is expertly crafted combining the character designs and style of this ten year old manga with colorful and cheerful animation. The character designs help to hint at the variety of the world and the simple designs someone make it more believable that Leorio and Kurapica could exist in that world, something that might have been a stumbling block if handled with a greater sense of realism.

Hunter X Hunter looks to be an interesting and exciting Shonen series. The first episode was a delightful introduction to compelling characters, narrative threads, and a rich world waiting to be explored. With twenty-nine volumes of manga to draw from this could be the next big Shonen hit if it pays off even a fraction of what it started.

First Impressions: Chihayafuru

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High School student Ayase Chihaya is obsessed with the Japanese card game Karuta but her attempts to get a club started at her new high school aren’t going well. She gets excited when Taichi, who she used to play the game with, also got accepted to the same High School. However, his interest in Karuta has waned over the years. The episode then flashes back to sixth grade where Chihaya meets transfer student Arata and becomes inspired by his incredible Karuta skills.

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Chihaya is a cute, single minded girl who is so focused on the game of Karuta that she seems to exclude everything else. Boys don’t like her because of her strange personality, a fact that she doesn’t seem to mind. Her odd behavior is captured in an exceptionally cute early scene with Chihaya hanging flyers wearing a work belt, skirt, and sweatpants which causes her to be screamed at by a Teacher. Her disfunction really hit a cord with me and made me instantly fall in love with her, it’s a bit refreshing to see a Shojo heroine that has a strong dream not involving marriage.

Sixth grade Chihaya comes off as an even stronger character. She has the same characteristic of ignoring how people think of her and uses that to defend and then befriend the shy transfer student Arata. She has a fearsome energy to her that obviously had a profound effect on Arata, who opens up to her after she shows kindness. Her ability to just ignore the rest of her classmates and do what is right is an admirable quality.

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Art and animation are nothing special, simple Shojo fair. Although the facial expressions Ayase gives are hilarious, adorable and different enough to be called unique, although just slightly. The sequence of Karuta, a word based card game that requires heavy memorization, was exciting but I can see it becoming repetitive. It’s a feat to animate a game like that and make it watchable, but I’m sure the same was said when Hikaru no Go first started.

Chihayafuru is a sweet story with some interesting Shojo characters. Being Shojo the anime could be a win if they focus on the character relationships going forward but I fear a non-Shonen anime based around a card game could get tired quickly, especially a game like Karuta which a western audience have no connection too. It’s hard to say how the series will play out based on the first episode and Chihaya alone as a compelling character might not able to hold a twenty-five episode series together. This is one to watch, it has potential to be great but it could easily stumble.

First Impressions: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

(Based on three episodes)

Summary: Beloved family, good friends, laughter and tears – these things make up the ordinary life of Kaname Madoka, a second grade student of Mitakihara City Middle School. One night, Madoka dreams of a mysterious dark haired girl struggling against a terrible evil; the next morning she discovers that the girl, Akemi Homura, has transferred into her class. This encounter will lead to an incident which will alter Madoka’s fate forever.

Review:

Magical Modoka is attempting to turn the tropes of Magical Girl on their head while using them to create a Magical Girl show. It is a subtle, difficult accomplishment because the Magical Girl elements need to feel both genuine and slightly off at the same time. It is easy to dismiss the first episode of Modoka as a generic Magical Girl anime with some pretty animation but after the first episode the show begins to ground things in reality in a way I’ve never seen in a Magical Girl show. The twisted element comes from Akiyuki Shinbo, who is quickly becoming my favorite animation director, crafts a visual style which juggles the normal world of school life alongside a world where everyday images are twisted by the witches, enemies of the Magical Girls.

The two styles, normal animation and the cut out pencil drawn style of the Witches world, are balanced wonderfully by the narrative and tone of the show. It succeeds in never going too light or two dark but by having an oppressive feeling throughout. There is something sinister in the world and while the Magical Girls should be the opposite of the sinister feeling there is also a darker element to their existence. It is unsettling the way Kyubey, the familiar grants Magical power, is attempting to coarse Modoka and her friend into becoming Magical Girls. There are few elements to the world that seem sincere, even the goal of defeating the Witches feels like there is a secret bit of information the audience isn’t getting. The only benefit the Magical Girls get from defeating the witches is the ability to recharge their powers, so does that mean if their powers are completely drained they’ll die? Why does something a witch leave behind recharge a Magical Girl? The underlying mysteries of the world add a compelling aspect to the series that keeps me desperately waiting for the next episode in the dark as to where they plan to take the series next.

The characters have a special touch to them, notably Madoka’s mother Junko. Early in the series they establish a female empowerment vibe through the character. In Madoka’s family her Mother is the “salary man” and her Father is domestic, her Mother is obviously confident, intelligent, motivated, and responsible all positive qualities to inspire in young women. Early in the first episode Junko is preparing to leave for work and kisses both her Husband and her son goodbye, but delivers a strong high five to her daughter. Seeing such masculine elements in the Mother-daughter relationship is odd but certainly welcome in a medium that normally features female characters as thin as tissue paper.

Verdict: Madoka Magica is a beautiful, well written show that both users the familiar elements of Magical Girl effectively and turns them slightly to create elements that feel new and original. There is a sinister plot running just below the surface that compels the audience to keep watching. The characters are strong and work within the genre and themes of the narrative. Madoka Magica is definitely the winner, so far, in the Winter season.

(Summary from http://myanimelist.net)

First Impressions: Level E

(Based on two episodes)

Summary: Tsutsui Yukitaka is a freshman who has finally convinced his parents that he is ready to live on his own. When he arrives at his new apartment, he is surprised to find that someone has arrived before him; a young man who claims that he is an alien and that he is suffering from amnesia.

Review: The soul of Level E lies in the interaction between Yukitaka and the Prince. Yukitaka’s constant surprise at the Alien’s behavior and the aliens deadpan humor create a strong relationship that seems to be forming the core of a rather complex comedy. However, complexity is starting to feel like it may hurt the overall narrative.

The humor of the first two episodes mostly comes from the protagonist trying to co-exist with this weird roommate he didn’t expect to receive. It doesn’t help that the alien is constantly playing tricks and teasing Yukitaka to the point where even the audience isn’t quite sure what is real and what is a clever lie. The punch line to those long, complex interactions are creative and well worth being strung along by the sarcastic extraterrestrial.

The introduction of Miho, Yukitaka’s neighbor and daughter of an important alien researcher, shows that the character friction is not just an accident. Yoshihiro Togashi is obviously a skilled character writer, some of the subtle development of Miho appearing unique and powerful. She is a strong female character for subtle reasons, being calm when the crashed UFO explodes near her father, and at points some ridiculous elements that I never expected to see in a female character such as disassembling a phone to look for bugs and taking notes on who was watching the Prince as they left the apartment.

Another layer of humor comes from the chaos caused by the Prince being on the planet. He sows conflict wherever he goes, it seems, even if it will lead his race into conflict with the many alien races living on Earth in secret. The show is building into a larger narrative about conflict between the many races living on earth in secret with this single alien sitting in the eye of the storm. This is where I see some problems. The show has just started to introduce some of these races and it is already distracting from the relationship between Yukitaka and the Prince. If the series entire focus shifts to the races as a whole and even war, it’ll be an entirely different show than what we’ve experienced in these first two episodes.

Verdict: I have faith in the writers to turn even something as dire as war between two alien races on Earth into a joke was a singular punch line. The gags they’ve done so far have been fantastic each one more bold than the last. If they are able to maintain that momentum the show is going to be spectacular, if they start to fumble under the weight of their own complex jokes then the show might become massive disaster.

(Summary from animenewsnetwork.com)

First Impressions: Dragon Crisis

(Based on two episodes)

Summary: A normal high school boy Kisaragi Ryuji’s peaceful life is turned into an adventure by the return of his second cousin Eriko. Ryuji and Eriko seize a relic box from a black broker. In the box, they find a red dragon girl Rose. In order to protect Rose from the black organization, Ryuji decides to fight using his power as a relic handler.

Review: Dragon Crisis suffers from some dumb storytelling. The characters are a complete mess and for such a complex world the audience is being thrown into there is almost no world building. There are hints and whispers about how things work but without the information it is hard to know what the characters are even talking about. Although, this is a somewhat welcome change from the normal strategy of world building through expository dialogue (*cough* Infinite Stratos *cough*) it goes way too far in the opposite direction. Eriko wants to start her own organization but needs to get permission from a larger organization in order to hunt treasure, which they call the intolerable name “Lost Preciouses.” They are something called “Breakers” which are given out in ten levels and Ryuji is one of the few people in the world that is a level ten breaker but never once is it even hinted at what a Breaker is…

The narrative suffers from some of the same problems, the show reveals information at illogical points, as if the ideas were coming to the writer and he doesn’t know about the concept of editing. In the first episode, Ryuji is baffled by the idea that the Dragon knows his name and yet it comes to him in the second episode that he suffered a traumatic event when he witnessed a Dragon being born. An event no one in this world had ever witnessed! Dragons are the rarest being on the planet, according to the show, and Ryuji forgets about meeting one?

The show isn’t all bad, the character designs are cute, even if the animation seems inconsistent, and this world has a lot of potential if they ever get to revealing what the exactly the large treasure hunting organization’s role in the world is. The plot with the Dragon is compelling especially framed by Ryuji who has absolutely no interest in “Lost Preciouses.” There is a surprising amount to like about Dragon Crisis and I just wish the concept was in more capable hands.

Verdict: I’m two episodes deep into Dragon Crisis and I do want to see what happens in the next episode, if just too finally learn what the hell it means to be a level 10 breaker. However, making the audience watch just to get information they should already have is not a good way to structure a show. I suggest avoiding it unless you feel overwhelmingly compelled by the basic outline. There is some good here; it’s just buried under a mountain of bad.

(Summary from myanimelist.net)