Fall 2011 anime -first looks

Beautiful girl

It’s time to have a look at the latest TV anime from Japan, starting with the best, and working downwards. Most titles are licensed for streaming.

Chihaya furu:
The heroine, Chihaya, is a beautiful, confident and strong-willed girl who is fascinated by the card-game karuta. In this, a poem is read out, and the players have to grab the card with the second verse on it. On starting at a new school she tries to start a karuta club, but with seemingly little success. She also re-encounters a boy, Taichi, who was in her class at elementary school and is rather disappointed to find that his interest in the game has waned. In an extended flash-back we learn how Chihaya became interested in karuta. A poor and unpopular boy, Arata, reveals his passion for karuta and fires Chihaya’s interest in it. The younger Taichi bullies Arata, angering Chihaya.
We are told that Chihaya, despite being a bijin is not popular with boys, but the first episode fails to show me why. Seemingly the immature and idealizing minds of teenage boys are to blame. Does Chihara like being sociable? This is left unclear. Chihaya’s sister is a model, but Arata tells Chihaya that she should have a dream for herself.
I’d never heard of karuta, so I Googled it a few days ago. Seems there are many karuta variants, and the poem-based 100-card game in the anime is one possible variant.
In the first week of the season, only with Chihaya furu did I experience the excitement of seeing a show I might actually want to watch.
Altogether, interesting, and no supernatural or ultra-violent content.
Streamed by Crunchyroll, inc. UK

Pretty long-haired girl
Yozora - no friends?!
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (My Little Friend):
Hasegawa Kodaka is a half-English transfer student who has recently enrolled in a Japanese high school run by a religious order. Because he looks foreign and has difficulty in acting normal, his classmates think that he is a delinquent and want nothing to do with him. One day after school Kodaka finds a classmate named Mikazuki Yozora talking aloud to an imaginary friend in an empty classroom. Yozora is a sarcastic, aloof girl,has poor social skills, and turns people off easily. The two talk warily, and find common ground in that neither of them knows how to make friends, yet they both want to have friends so that they will be perceived as being more normal.

Yozora goes off and starts a “Neighbors” club, enrolling Kodaka without his knowledge, so that they can learn how to make friends without going through the social discomfort and problems of joining an existing club mid-term. But just as they get started with the club they are surprised as another student wants to join – a girl named Kashiwazaki Sena who is smart, beautiful, athletic, and popular with boys. It turns out that Sena wants to have a normal friendship with other girls, but instead scares off other girls because they feel that they can’t compete with her. But this is a club filled with strife as Kodaka doesn’t really care to be in it, and Yozora and Sena can’t stand each other and fight incessantly. [Thanks to Dave Baranyi for help with the synopsis :-)]

This immediately caught my attention because it is well-scripted and deals with a real teenage problem. Some people (and not just teenagers) just don’t have the knack of making friends easily, and teenagers are quick to reject anyone who seems a bit gloomy or different. It’s also quite funny, and it’s quite believable that two of the friend-seekers actually can’t stand each other. It’s less believable that Yozora (when she’s lively) is much prettier and more personable than some social outsiders I’ve come across (in fact she’s near enough as pretty as princess Sena.) One has to go to the anime “Princess Jellyfish” for a more forthright depiction of social failure girls. Sena is blonde, but this seems to be just anime hair-colour artistic licence, not an indication that she too is foreign.
An interesting show, and I’m eager to see how it develops.
(By the way, don’t bother watching the “episode 00” preview. It tells one nothing about the flavour of the TV show, beyond suggesting that there will be more female characters, which is scarcely an enormous surprise. A complete waste of time.)

Tamayura – Hitotose: A TV series based on a slice-of-life OAV series from last year. A girl whose father recently died takes up her camera again, and her mother decides to move them back to to her father’s hometown. A well-produced and well-meaning show, but the first episode could have done with a bit more substance and less tearful emoting from a minor character. A series about looking and photographing can work well as an anime, but one will have to see whether this one maintains one’s interest or not.

Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle: The hero, Kaito, is a smart student at a private high school, but looks like a delinquent. In the opening scenes, he rescues an adult gamer who has become trapped in a life-threatening puzzle maze. He scorns the approaches of the school’s gaming club, but succumbs to the lure of a mysterious and dangerous challenge. Soon he is off attempting to solve a maze. This isn’t the world as we know it, but a magical world in which huge puzzles are constructed near schools.
On his quest, he is trailed by the violent Childhood Friend, Nanaho, who for once isn’t just there to bring him lunches and beat him up when he gets out of order, but provides vital puzzle-solving assistance.
We’ve seen these elements before, but this isn’t badly done, and it will clearly progress through the quest week by week, so may be worth checking further.

Persona 4 the Animation: Apparently this is a game adaptation. A fairly ordinary school student finds strange things happening around him. At midnight a TV set tries to suck him in, then in a TV showroom he and friend fall through a giant set into a very strange world where they are confronted by a puppet thing and then chased by menacing giant tongues, which the hero defeats by somehow summoning a Persona. It was hard to suspend one’s disbelief in the face of this rapid succession of implausibilities. I think you need to be familiar with the game to dig this, so I’m dropping it.

Fate/Zero: A prequel to Fate/Stay Night, which I never saw. The first episode has more talk than action, and I’m not a fan of this sort of elaborate supernatural combat drama, so will drop.
Streamed on Crunchyroll, inc. UK

C3: The hero receives a mysterious cubic box by post from his adventurer father. The box soon turns itself into a naked magical girl who proceeds to turn the boy’s life upside down. Fiya claims that she has been “cursed” and is looking for a cure. None of this is particularly original or well-done, but I thought the scene where Fiya insults the Childhood Friend was hilarious. In the ending preview there are hints of some heavy-duty baddies to be introduced. Whether the Childhood Friend has any special ability remains to be seen.
Not great but it had some tasteful nudity and a bit of panty-flashing, and some humour.

Kimi to Boku (You and Me): Slice of life school story, but this time with the startling novelty of a group of boys instead of girls. They spend the first episode trying to persuade one of their number to join a club. Not exciting, and the characters are not particularly interesting.
Streamed on Crunchyroll, inc. UK

This season the less appealing anime come in pairs:
Maken-Ki: An insignificant youth enters a high school which has just gone co-ed. He has just graduated from an all-boy school and thinks his luck is in. Even more so when he meets his former dojo sparring partner and finds that she is now his sempai and has grown into a beautiful, buxom, and micro-skirted girl. Like everyone else, she fails to point out that this is a school where the students fight each other in magical battles. To school, where our hero soon fall foul of a combative girl who clearly hates him. Forced to fight at the school entrance ceremony, our hero is rescued by a purring sexpot he has never seen before, who claims to be his fiancee. We can skip over the rest, except to point out that there are so many bouncing boobs, crotch shots, tight white panties and firm thighs in this that the startled viewer may briefly wonder if he’s having a sex fantasy himself.

Mashiro-Iro Symphony: In the first part of episode 1, the hero spends some time trying to locate his cute but apparently mentally defective sister, who has got herself lost on the way to the shops. This touching study of disability ends when she is rescued by another cutie, also lost, but in possession of a working cellphone. In the second half we learn that our hero is joining a girls’ school which is in the process of merging with another school and going co-ed. At the assembly, the new boys are confronted by the cutie, who announces that she is the headmistress’ daughter, is totally opposed to the merger, and will not welcome boys. This is an adaption of an ero-game, but the character designs for the girls are in a generic moe/shoujo style. I nearly forgot to mention the bouncing globe creature that looks alarmingly like the sinister Kyube from “Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica”, and the generic guy friend.

Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai: Two school classes battle it out. An appalling show full of senseless violence, super-powered nonsense and tired cliches. To summarise it and explain its many annoying defects would be to give it more column inches than it deserves. Avoid.

Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon (Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere): The human race has gone back into the past, we’re told, to re-create its history. Cue a school training camp and a lot of senseless violence, super-powered nonsense and crude racial stereotyping. There isn’t even any plot to summarise, as far as I can see. Avoid.

Several sequels:
Hunter x Hunter, Shinryaku!? Ika Musume, Bakuman 2nd Series, Working. I had enough of these first time around so I don’t need to check them again.
Hunter x Hunter is streamed on Crunchyroll.