It is time once again for my sporadic habit of blogging about the first episodes of new anime series. As usual, I’ll only be looking at shows that catch my eye either because they look promising or really bad.
Before we begin though I have a proposition for you all: I’ve been thinking about starting up a series of very infrequent posts (we’re talking one every few months) on some of my favourite anime series and movies; these would be less reviews and more like what I did with Silent Hill last year- in-depth analyses and commentary. The thing is, I’m not sure how much interest there actually is in the topic, hence why I don’t blog about anime more often even though I watch it quite frequently.
Anyway, let me know in the comments if that sounds like something you’d be interested in reading.
Love Bullet: Yuri Kuma Arashi
A while back I reviewed Penguindrum by (in)famous director Kunihiko Ikuhara and concluded that it was super cool despite also being the weirdest fucking thing I have ever seen. Now we have Ikuhara’s followup, Yuri Kuma Arashi, which apparently translates literally to “Lilly Bear Storm” but “yuri” is also the name given to the genre of anime and manga dealing with romance between women so it’s kind of a double entendre.
Anyway the story is…..
Okay, so a meteor exploded and sent fragments raining down to Earth, causing bears all over the world to become sentient and begin attacking humans. In order to counteract this, humans built gigantic Severance Barriers that have the carpet pattern from The Shining on them for some reason.
In this brave new post-bear world Kureha and Sumika are students attending a surreal CG girl’s school who have recently become girlfriends. During a secret meeting at a stand of lillies behind the school the bear alarm goes off, signalling that the Severance Barrier has been breached; unknown to our two protagonists, the school has been infiltrated by Ginko and Lulu, bears who have taken human form in order to “eat” all of their “delicious” fellow students (this is a euphemism for exactly what you think it is).
Later, Kureha and Sumika find that someone has vandalized all of the lillies and take it as a dire omen of an “Invisible Storm” coming to separate them. They vow never to “back down on love”, and together with their slightly over-eager class president resolve to fight against the Storm. Unfortunately said class president is killed in a bear attack the next day; before Kureha has time to grieve she receives a mysterious phone call summoning her to the school roof, where a whole pile of weird bullshit happens that I’m not even going to summarize. We’re talking lawyers in bear costumes with names like Life Sexy here. “Bearfendants, do you plead guilty?” is an actual line of spoken dialogue.
This is basically Penguindrum 1.5, in that it shares a very similar aesthetic of surreal angular CG landscapes crossed with soft, pastel fairytale-inspired artwork. And like Penguindrum, this first episode comes across like an overly-complicated string of bizarre non-sequiters that almost seems like Ikuhara is just trolling the audience. Thing is, Penguindrum turned out to actually be saying something- a lot of somethings, in fact- and it’s clear this series is going in the same direction. But whereas Penguindrum operated on the level of a screwball comedy for quite a while, YuriKuma seems to be diving straight into the pure visual allegory and metaphor that Penguindrum only got to in its second half.
One thing that has me slightly worried is the massive emphasis on lesbian relationships; like any medium with a penchant for trying to appeal to a straight male audience, I have to wonder how much of this is just in there for titillation, especially given the opening animation’s blatantly sexual tone and this episode featuring what may be the least subtle visual metaphor for cunnilingus in human history. The fact that the characters are in high school and are drawn with the now-ubiquitous round-faced childlike appearance that so pervades modern anime doesn’t help.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some anecdotal evidence that the usual audience for that sort of thing are actually being put off by how overt it is here, the theory being that coy dancing around the subject is titillating but they’re too homophobic to stomach the idea of girls just straight up being in a relationship and wanting to bone each other. Go figure.
In any case, I’ll keep watching this just to see what the fuck happens next.
Okay, real quick up front: this is based on a card game or something about girls who are anthropomorphic Japanese battleships.
Anyway, alien girl-battleship things called Abyssals have risen from the depths of the ocean, driving humanity out of the sea. CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS ARE USELESS AGAINST THEM and the only way to fight back is to deploy the Fleet Girls, girls who have the souls of battleships and skate across the water while firing missiles out of ship-shaped…. backpack… things.
Our heroine is Something, I didn’t bother learning her name, who is plucky but also clumsy and lacking in confidence. She’s arrived at Fleet Girl Academy or whatever to enlist in a torpedo company, joining a squadron of cliches with one-note stock personalities. They all appear to be- at the very most- ten years old or so, although I’m sure if I looked up supplementary material it turns out they’re really in their late teens. Needless to say the morality of sending children into battle against aliens is never addressed, because this show was made solely to sell character-driven merchandise.
So there are a lot of shows like this, and most of them are absolutely stuffed full of underage fan service. Kantai Collection isn’t, but that’s about all it has going for it apart from a high budget and some interesting alien designs. The characters are all thinly-drawn balls of blushing squeaky-voiced fluff and there’s really absolutely nothing worth seeing here unless the plucky heroine declaring “I’m going to try my best and get stronger!” doesn’t come across as a giant cliche to you.
Do you want to know what fills up most anime season slots? Shows about bland high school dudes who somehow find themselves surrounded by girls with enormous tits, and also there’s some bullshit fantasy/sci-fi premise that feels like it was written by a bored teenager.
Case in point: Absolute Duo. Bland male lead Thor Kokonoe (yes, Thor) arrives at Koryo Academy, a grandiose high school where the girls wear ridiculous overly-elaborate uniforms that somehow hug their breasts like body paint. Koryo is a school for kids injected with “Lukifers”, which causes them to beome “Elcidae”, meaning they have the ability to manifest a unique supernatural weapon called a “Blaze” (no, I’m not making any of this up).
Thor has a stupid looking shield instead of a weapon like everyone else so he’s an “Irregular”. In order to facilitate wacky hijinks the students pair up into titular duos who live together on campus, and (of course) there’s no segregation by gender so Thor ends up living with a silver haired girl from “Scandinavia” (you know, the country of Scandinavia). But what if they see each other naked?????
This is the school principle:
The woman on the left in the bunny outfit is Thor’s teacher:
Here’s Ms. Scandinavia herself contrasted with a different character from another show that also started this season, which was so bad I couldn’t even get through the whole episode:
Look, I understand the shows that are just straight-up filled with boobs- it’s basically softcore porn for adolescents who can’t access real porn yet. But this show is ostensibly trying to tell a serious story. The opening credits are filled with angsty, melodramatic imagery implying that Serious Shit is going to go down, but not quite yet because first let’s watch this girl trip and mash her crotch into our hero’s face.
There’s isn’t a single iota of creativity in shows like this. You can tell that everyone involved- director, writers, character designer, animators and voice cast- is running completely on auto-pilot. If you want to know what kind of garbage you have to wade through to keep up with new anime these days, Absolute Duo is a perfect example.
PUT YOUR HANDS UUUUUP
Death Parade opens with a beautifully animated credits sequence featuring its zany cast members dancing to a gloriously cheesy 80s rock number, thus establishing that it’s going to be a lot more fun than its somewhat grim premise would suggest.
Said premise: white-haired protagonist Decim operates a swank bar in purgatory, where the recently deceased are sorted into those bound for either reincarnation or “the void”. It’s his job to work out who belongs where, through the medium of macabre versions of classic pub games- in the case of this first episode, darts using boards that are attached to the organs of Decim’s newest clients, a married couple who died on their honeymoon. Over the course of the game the details of the pair’s life and brief marriage are revealed, not all of them pleasant.
That title image might have tipped you off to the fact that Death Parade isn’t taking itself entirely seriously, but at the same time the story goes to some extremely dark places- eg Decim has a room full of corpses behind the bar, and it’s strongly implied that they belong to the people who refused to participate in a game. That kind of tone is hard to pull off, and this show nails it perfectly. The scene with the corpses is both disturbing and played for deadpan humour, employing a deft touch to avoid coming down too heavily on either side.
The story told plays out like a Twilight Zone episode or one of those classic sci-fi shorts that rely on putting some characters into a strange or harrowing situation. Similarly, the drama comes from how the characters react to the situation, starting out with the best of intentions but then acting in their own self-interest due to fear or buried negative emotions. It’s flies along at a fast pace (something that is exceedingly rare in anime) and is pretty excellently written, with one glaring exception: a lot of the drama relies on the characters not asking Decim up front what happens if they lose the game, something they have no reason not to do.
The animation is handled by Madhouse, a studio that handles a lot of films and which is well known for putting out visually impressive work, and they’re on top form here. The characters designs are stylish and attractive, and the backgrounds sumptuously detailed.
There’s a lot we don’t find out in this first episode, like who exactly Decim is or how the decision as to who goes where is made. But I’m highly intrigued to see more episode, which is impressive since this show wasn’t on my radar at all before now.
I have recently learned that this series is commonly abbreviated to “AssClass”, which makes me very happy.
Anyway, a giant smiley-face tentacle alien thing has arrived on Earth and is posing as a middle school teacher. He’s set a challenge: his students have to find a way to assassinate him before graduation or he’ll destroy the planet. Unfortunately he can move faster than the speed of sound and regenerate his cells in a matter of seconds, which means even the special anti-alien guns the kids have been given are next to useless. They’ll have to come up with something more inventive, in between building self-esteem and confidence! You see, alien dude has chosen to teach E class, a group of misfits and under-achievers at a fancy private school, and with his brilliant teaching he can make them believe in themselves!
…. So yeah, this one of those shows where you look at it and wonder how the fuck anyone actually came up with the idea for it. It’s also kind of surprising that it’s a Shounen Jump property aimed squarely at a younger audience, as despite the focus on wacky comedy and learning important life lessons the alien teacher is kind of disturbing and a scene featuring a classroom of teenagers whipping out assault rifles is probably not going to go over well in some parts of the world (apparently there are hopes this will be a big international hit a la Naruto).
I have a feeling this is going to slip into a formula where every episode has the students trying some new assassination attempt coupled with a focus on one of the kid’s problems or concerns, so I’m not sure I’ll watch this week to week, but as far as shounen stuff goes it’s certainly more interesting than a lot of what we usually get.