Anyway, here’s some more!
Selector Infected WIXOSS
First up is the oddly named “Selector Infected WIXOSS”. I don’t know why but I’ve always had a mild weakness for anime series that involve merchandise-driven children’s games that decide the fate of the world (if you’re not familiar with anime that might seem like an absurdly specific genre. Trust me, it’s not).
This one is about a quiet bookish girl who receives a deck of cards used to play WIXOSS, a Magic The Gathering style game that is apparently getting popular with girls, from her brother so she can fit in with all the cool kids at school and make some friends.
Weird shit starts happening when Ruko’s “LRIG” card, which serves as her in-game avatar (a white-haired girl in a bizarre cut-away dress), starts moving and speaking to her. Ruko freaks out and stuffs the deck back in her drawer, which I was happy about since her avatar has the most insufferable, high-pitched, mewling nails-on-chalkboard voice I’ve ever heard.
This is clearly being set up as a SHY LONER MEETS A PLUCKY FRIEND AND GROWS plot, which isn’t really going to work since Ruko has no personality and her card buddy is so annoying I wanted to burn down the production studio offices to make sure I never heard her voice again. That exact character arc has been done before in anime, far better than this.
After having a scary apocalyptic nightmare Ruko decides to rethink this whole talking card deal and takes the deck to school with her. During lunch a spunky girl who also has a talking card runs up and announces that Ruko is a “selector” and therefore they’re going to wrassle (with cards) in order to decide who’s going to become the “Eternal Girl”.
Just from the plot description this comes across as Yu-Gi-Oh for girls (or otaku who like staring at anime girls) but when we’re getting jump-cuts to speeding trains and ominous crows and DaRk ImAgErY it’s clear that Selector Infector WHATEVER is riding the coat-tails of Madoka Magica by wrapping a seemingly light premise around a grittier core. The girls are even battling to fulfill a specific wish that they keep secret at first (expect for our heroine, who is so ordinary she can’t think of one), which is a direct inversion of one Madoka’s important plot mechanics.
It’s not badly executed- the atmosphere is quite nice in places and the characters have just a bit more meat on them than normal- but Ruko is a personality free bit of blushing fluff and her LRIG makes me want to rip my own cochlea out of my head with a claw hammer. And just from how hard this thing is aping Madoka I can already predict exactly what direction it’s going to go in. I’ll pass.
Akuma no Riddle
Akuma no Riddle (which I think translates to something like “Devil’s Riddle” but which the opening credits refer to as “Devil Story of Riddle”) opens with spindly teenage girls practicing full-contact hand to hand combat and tossing sharp throwing knives into targets. Out heroine is Azuma Tokaku, who is a badass and manages to complete the obstacle course while all of the other girls get their asses handed to them.
So what’s going on here? Dystopian Ender’s Game style scenario where kids are drafted into the military?
No! In fact the plot is way stupider than that. Azuma is part of an assassin organization that trains girls to kill people from birth because reasons, and she’s being sent to a “Black Class” in an all-girls highschool to assassinate one of the students. And there are also eleven other assassin girls in the same class! Azuma’s cackling, over the top handler talks about this like it’s a known thing that just sort of happens in this world- like every high school has an assassination class just for the lulz.
Anyway Azuma’s a stone-cold badass who robotically follows orders so she’s determined to be the first to eliminate the target, Haru Ichinose. But then she sees how sparkly and fluffy Haru is and falls in love with her and decides to become her bodyguard instead.
Can love bloom on the battlefield? And also in the classroom? And in a boat, on a moat, with a fox in a box?
So yes, Devil Riddle Whatever has possibly the dumbest premise I’ve ever seen. Judging by the opening credits animation (assassin girls posing according to their personality with occasional shots of Azuma and Haru floating naked through a pastel void) the series is going to have Azuma fighting off a cast of anime stereotypes one by one while learning what this human emotion you call love is.
Maybe this is an idea that has legs in terms of goofy fun, but this first episode is not very good. The characters stand around spouting stilted, hacky expositional dialogue (“surely as a person in this world you’ve heard of the Black Class?”), Azuma literally walks into the classroom, claps eyes on Haru and immediately falls for her, the music is really over the top and intrusive, the other assassin girls stand around devouring the scenery and cackling, there’s a distressing indication of idiotic fan-service ahead and the premise is so absurd I spent half the episode wondering if I was even supposed to take it at all seriously.
Pretty much the sole redeeming quality is Azuma, who vaguely approaches interesting some of the time, but that’s really not enough to make up for the show’s other failings. At the very least it looks nice and the animation is fluid, so if you just want a really absurd high-budget show about high school girls trying to kill each other I guess it might scratch that itch.
Instead of a plot synopsis for this show I will present a list of things that happened during the first episode, which is the only way to make sense of Captain Earth:
– A shot of the Earth, followed by a giant glowing red crystal on the dark side of the moon
– An anime kid watches a rocket take off while a voice says “If your dad ever dies….”
– Some time later the same anime kid (Daichi) goes to a parent teacher meeting where it becomes apparent that he kind of sucks at school because he’s been spending all his time reading about subjects that interest him instead of studying.
– Daichi’s dad was an astronaut who died.
– While hanging out with some students from school a news broadcast comes on about a mysterious circular rainbow appearing in the sky (yes, everyone knows that all rainbows are circles, there is no need to point this out).
– A flashback shows Daichi as a kid meeting a mysterious boy at an abandoned facility of some kind. Daichi has a blue pendant called the Blue Star and
– Wait no, back to the present. Inside a big crazy building two bizarrely designed people with pastel hair watch the news broadcast on an iPad and talk about the “Albion Rainbow” and some technician dudes mention them piloting “Machine Goodfellows” (no, seriously) and they’re called “Planetary Gears” and ?????
– There’s a hacker girl who looks exactly like Ed from Cowboy Bebop who’s also interested in the rainbow and then
– No wait never mind that, mysterious girl singing in front of shooting stars and
– Actually scratch that too, doctors are examining the boy from the flashback(?) who has a rainbow circle over his chest and he’s wearing the Blue Star pendant and also he’s an “avatar” I guess and
– Okay boat, Daichi is on a boat heading to the island where he met the mysterious kid WHOAH FLASHBACK AGAIN okay back to Daichi and the mysterious kid. The mystery boy is called Teppei and I think he’s totally crushin’ on Daichi and then he makes a rainbow circle with his hand
– Back to the present where Daichi goes to his Dad’s grave and WHOOSH SMASH CUT TO A MYSTERIOUS ORGANIZATION and something called a NEO is attacking somewhere, no wait it’s an AEO and I guess it’s coming from the moon or something. Star Emblem! Impactor! Oh wait this is another flashback to Daichi’s Dad dying. I guess he crashed his space shuttle into the Whatever to stop it.
– Okay flashback again, Teppei showed Daichi a strange girl floating in a sphere of water who was holding some sort of a Thing. They got arrested by the military or something and Daichi never saw Teppei or the girl again. Daichi goes back to the mysterious facility he met Teppei at and meets another mysterious little girl playing a recorder who brings him into a big glowy cyberspace place and holy shit, what is going on?
– ROBOT BATTLE the pink haired Planetary Gear girl is using a “libido charge” (that’s actually what it’s called) to do….
… that. She turns into(?) a big pink robot and then the technician guys that Daichi’s dad worked with spout some nonsense about Entangle gates and AEOs and I guess she’s a villain or whatever. There’s a space station somewhere? And someone starts talking about “the Kiltgang”. KILTGANG. According to the big glowy screen it’s spelled KILL-T-GANG.
– Daichi teleports into somewhere and he’s holding a laser gun or something and there’s a giant robot that I guess he has to pilot because of course he does. A scientist asks him if he’s “a captain” and he says he wants to be because his Dad was one. A whole bunch of space stuff happens with “Tidal Combine Gates” and “Alonzo” whatever the fuck that is and Daichi goes flying off on a rocket to fight in a robot. Wait, we need more sci-fi terminology! Orgone Energy! Livlaster! Ark Faction! Intercept Faction! WHEEEEEE
WHAT IS GOING OOOOOOOOON
Okay, so. This was written by the guy who did RahXephon, which also started with a super-obtuse overly complicated first episode where characters throw around nonsensical sci-fi terminology. But the thing is, RahXephon is also really good so I’m inclined to give Captain Earth the benefit of the doubt even though I spent the entire thing clutching at my hair saying WHAT WHAT IS THIS WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.
Honestly, with the sheer amount of bullshit terminology and the invocation of Orgone Energy and the ludicrously over-complicated way Daichi’s robot gets assembled I have to wonder if this is intended as a stealth parody of the sort of show it looks like it’s being. If so it’s remarkably well executed in terms of technical aspects- this first episode looks absolutely stunning, with vivid imagery and super fluid animation. And while there’s isn’t much time to develop the character in between all of the technobabble, they come across like they were written by someone who has spent more than five seconds around actual teenagers.
If nothing else, I’m looking forward to seeing just how over the top it gets (the episode preview seems to imply that honest to God magical girl elements are going to be involved somehow).
One of the first lines of spoken dialogue in Black Bullet is “if you do not want to die, survive, Rentaro!” which doesn’t quite match “people die if they are killed” but it comes awfully close.
Our setting: Tokyo in the year 2031.
Our sci-fi premise: people are turning into giant monster insects called Gastrea and fucking shit up. Ten years prior the military tried to deal with this using guns and missiles, but of course CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS ARE USELESS AGAINST THE INVADERS and a far more marketable solution was needed.
Enter: the Cursed Children, kids infected with the Gastrea virus(?) who gain super powers instead of turning into giant bugs. Independent agencies pair the little murder-machines with adult handlers so they can go out and kick ass together for money.
Would you believe all of the Cursed Children are girls and all of their handlers are men? How about that.
Anyway milquetoast civil service dude Rentaro (who has survived by not dying) arrives to clean up a Gastrea infection. Unfortunately his “Initiator” (Cursed Child partner) comically fell off the back of his bike on the way. Don’t worry though, she turns up to save his ass! And she gets covered in sticky white monster fluid! That looks like jizz hurr hurr do you see.
Then they go back to the house they apparently share and she keeps trying to bone him and insists that she’s his fiance. Did I mention she’s ten?
So yes, Black Bullet is one of those shows. If you’re not familiar with the whole concept of lolicon… well you’re probably happier for it, but basically at some point in the mid-2000s anime production studios realized they could get a small cadre of pathetic otaku to reliably purchase blu-rays and expensive character merchandise if they stuffed their shows with what essentially amounts to borderline child pornography. For a while there the trend seemed to be in danger of engulfing the entire industry, with even relatively mainstream shows choc-a-bloc with shiny scantily clad pre-pubescent girls, but mercifully it seems to be finally winding down. And then along comes Black Bullet to remind us all of those glory days.
According to the guy who wrote the light novel this is based on Rentaro’s Initiator was written to shock people as opposed to titillate them. She didn’t shock me, but she did make me roll my eyes hard enough to unseat them from their sockets. If you’ve spend any sort of time watching anime over the last five or six years you’ve seen all of this shit a million times; it’s not shocking or even particularly gross anymore, it’s just dumb.
Ignoring all that, Black Bullet doesn’t have much to recommend it beyond some nicely animated fight scenes. The tone is absolutely all over the place- a brief snippet in the opening animation of a group of young girls staring moodily at a distant city made me think this might hold my interest as a serious story, but nope. Instead the episode vacillates wildly between goofy harem comedy (Rentaro tearing off from the Gastrea fight to buy bean sporuts in a sale, the bullshit that happens at the apartment) and a goofy over the top action show (Rentaro fighting a superpowered masked man using martial arts moves with names like “Iridescent Void”). Despite constant assurances that the Cursed Children are “humanity’s last hope” the Gastrea problem appears to be under control enough that Rentaro is more concerned with his finances than an outbreak wiping out Tokyo.
The show indulges with wild abandon in the sort of stilted as-you-know dialogue that often characterizes anime based on light novels. Near the start the police officer who had been waiting for Rentaro to arrive on the scene says “now that you’re here, I can finally go inside”. Okay, we get it- he’s not allowed to enter the apartment without a Gastrea-killin’ expert as backup. But of course, Rentaro has to laboriously explain this rule (which never becomes relevant again) by telling the detective something both of them already know. Over and over again characters will stop to explain something that’s perfectly obvious. I don’t know why this sort of dialogue is considered acceptable.
Overall Black Bullet is the very epitome of laziness, a stringing together of cheap, worn out tropes and god-awful writing. Unless you just really want to see a ten year old girl kick a giant yellow spider hard enough to make it explode you should probably avoid it.
On the other hand though, according to Wikipedia the novels involve an evil American “sage” named Ayn Rand who turns children into cyborgs. I might watch an episode with that in it.