Month: July 2015

Btooom!

Btooom!

btooom

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Ryouta Sakamoto, veteran player of the online  first-person-shooter game Btooom!, wanted to make his hobby into a career by applying to work with the game’s developers. But he didn’t expect his life to change like *this*. He awakes one day on a tropical island equipped with a bag of bombs, a crystal embedded in his hand, and no idea how he got there. But whether he wanted it or not, Ryouta has been entered into a real-life game of Btooom!, with no rematches or respawns. The only way to get back home is to kill seven other hapless participants, all equipped with their own bombs and just as strong a desire to survive.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a classic battle-royale anime, with a strong focus on tactical action scenes and big explosions. The ways that Ryouta and others adapt their particular skillsets and the equipment that they’ve been given into combat on the island is a lot of fun to watch, as are the plots and betrayals within the various groups. It’s easy to knock it as a derivative of an increasingly popular trend, but it does add some interesting twists on the common story. If you’re a fan of “survival” shows or action anime in general, Btooom! is worth checking out.
  • Caveats: One of the key features of a battle royale is having a wide cast of characters, and the success or failure of these types of shows is in how well it manages to balance the character development of each party. Btooom! kind of puts all of its eggs in one basket with the protagonist pair, leaving most of the side-characters as a bit one-note. Whatever your initial impression of them in the first five seconds is, that’s pretty much as far as they go. The show was also produced mostly as an advertisement for the manga, so while the current arc is wrapped up by the final episode, it’s not a complete story.
  • Themes: Man’s darker desires, and how so many people are largely just looking for an excuse to give into them. At the same time, the necessity of trusting others in spite of knowing that, and continuing to extend your hand even after being burned in the past.
  • Similar works: Mirai NikkiDeadman Wonderland. Outside of anime, works like The Hunger Games or Battle Royale.

Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.

Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san

Azazel

  • Trailer: The PV Trailer for the second season is the most I can find.
  • What it’s about: The Akutabe Detective Agency is successful for a very unusual reason: it solves its cases by summoning demons. Thankfully for the world, these demons are incompetent, lewd, and limited in their powers by the act of summoning, but their abilities are more than enough to cause trouble. Akutabe’s new intern Sakuma contracts with a particularly useless and perverted demon named Azazel, and struggles to get much work out of him at all.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s crude humour done well. Azazel-san never pretends to be more than it is, and instead revels in sex jokes, gross-out gags and slapstick. There’s just *so much* crammed into every episode that you’re certain to find something lowbrow to laugh at. And you can really tell that the voice actors were having a lot of fun with the script – to a man they all put in stellar performances. The art style and sound design are clean, bright, and complement the writing brilliantly – the character designs make great use of caricature for humour. And the episodes are only generally around 10-minutes long, so it’s not that much of a time commitment to complete the whole run in a binge.
  • Caveats: The show comprises a set of two-episode arcs, and some of the set-ups or characters do fall a little flat. When you find that you’re not enjoying a particular storyline (for me, the ‘pervert arc’ and ‘hospital arc’ of the second season were a bit of a miss), it’s easy enough to just skip ahead. There’s no real greater storyline going on, though there are a few continuity gags thrown in here and there.
  • Themes: “Be careful what you wish for”, at least in the early episodes. It’s fun to watch Sakuma’s changing attitude and outlook as the series progresses and she’s influenced by the idiocy and petty evil of the demonic side of the cast.
  • Similar works: Gintama is probably the best comparison to make.

Song of Saya

Song of Saya (Visual Novel)

Song of Saya

  • Trailer: Fan-dub trailer
  • What it’s about: The fact that he survived the accident was a miracle. To expect him to come out unscathed was too much to ask. Fuminori Sakisaka awakens from the car crash that killed his parents with a bizarre form of agnosia that distorts his perceptions of the world around him into a Lovecraftian hellscape. His friends are writhing fleshy monsters, his food a disgusting mess of gore and filth. Determined to hide his condition for fear of being condemned to an asylum, he contemplates suicide – until a young girl, angelic in contrast to the putrid meat-corridors of the hospital, appears by his bed and introduces herself as Saya.
  • Why you should try it: If you’ve never tried a Visual Novel before, this is a great place to start. Written by the acclaimed Gen Urobuchi, the story takes about the same time to complete as a one-cour anime, and is unusually linear – prompting you for only one *real* decision on how you believe the story deserves to end. Saya no Uta is a story of horror and devotion, of love and monsters both human and otherwise. For all that “tentacle monsters” are a big part of the Western perception of Japanese media, there is a surprising lack of true Lovecraftian horror. Saya no Uta takes up that slack, and weaves into it threads of isolation, sinister desperation and a romance that is both beautiful and horrifying. Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic – I don’t think Shoes of Glass is ever going to come off of my playlist.
  • Caveats: If you are the type of person who requires trigger warnings on the media you consume, steer well clear. Saya no Uta contains murder, rape, cannibalism, slavery, sadism and body horror. It also features H-scenes (porn) with an under-age girl. If you’re not squeamish, or if you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s other works (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Phantom: Requiem), you really should give this a try, though.
  • Themes: The philosophy of aesthetics, and how our senses define us, from our morality – why is it alright to poison cockroaches but not puppies?  – all the way to our sense of identity. The question of which option is the *true end* of the story is left up to the audience, and it’s a tough one to solve.
  • Similar works: Within anime, I’m going to have to say Pupa, but it’s a terrible show and you shouldn’t watch it. Outside, try the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

DanMachi

Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka?

Danmachi

  • Trailer: Preview trailer
  • What it’s about: Gods have come to the world, and have decided to have some fun by running it as an RPG. Through performing heroic tasks and killing monsters in the gigantic labyrinth known only as the Dungeon, their followers gain incredible power, wealth, and status. To date, the goddess Hestia has only managed to attract one person into her Familia – the idealistic young adventurer Bell Cranel. But after a chance dungeon encounter provides Bell with the more concrete goal of becoming as strong as possible as quickly as possible, things begin to change for both of them.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a fun, fast-paced fantasy action show. DanMachi makes the conscious decision to just embrace the tropes of stories like this and run with them, and the result is a polished, charming coming of age story. It manages to balance comedy, action and plot pretty well, and throws in light romantic notes to keep things interesting. The creators have effectively managed to boil down the source material to exactly what’s needed to keep the show moving forward – there’s no wasted space and at least one big “spectacle” scene in every episode. Hestia herself has proven a very popular character, but it’s Bell who carries the show as the naïve but well-meaning (and increasingly bad-ass) protagonist. In short, it’s great light entertainment aimed at a primarily young male audience.
  • Caveats: Well, it’s inevitably going to draw comparisons to Sword Art Online, much of them deserved. I do wish that a show about adventure had been a bit more…adventurous with the story it wanted to tell. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the classic tropes if you can put a new shine on them, and DanMachi pulls that off quite nicely. The harem elements start to grind as Bell picks up an increasingly preposterous set of admirers without realising that a single one of them is interested in him romantically. Critics nit-pick the loss of the detailed stats and explanations; it’s a valid criticism, but I think it managed to strike a nice balance between exposition and leaving some stuff for the source material itself to expand on.
  • Themes: Nothing all that ground-breaking – it’s a pretty typical “power of heart” shonen action show, where not giving up is the key to both victory and the hearts of beautiful ladies alike.
  • Similar works: Sword Art Online is easily the closest comparison. They even share the same voice actor in the lead role.

150 and counting

And with Serial Experiments Lain, I’ve now written and uploaded 150 of these blurbs. A few months ago I’d put together an alphabetised list of the works and series recommended here. I’ve been keeping it updated, but it’s dropped way off of the front page and was too long to keep stickied.

So to celebrate, here is the list again, and I’ll keep this post up front where it can be easily found.

Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain

Slain

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Lain is an isolated, troubled girl. At home, her parents and sister barely acknowledge her existence, and at school her only link to her classmates is her friend Alice. Hers isn’t a unique situation, of course – all across the world, people are becoming disconnected from their real lives, in favour of the digital experiences of the Internet. But increasingly strange events seem to point to a deeper connection between Lain and the world of the Wired.
  • Why you should watch it: Lain is a unique experience. It’s a moody, existential work that trusts the audience enough to let them draw their own conclusions about what is going on, about what is real and why things are playing out as they are. The sound design is fantastic, getting a lot of work out of extended silences, and the soundtrack suits the show. The director’s background in Japanese horror shines through in almost every aspect of the show – there are no (or few) “jump scares”, but Lain manages to evoke an intense feeling of isolation and unease. If you’re up for a slow-burning psychological show that presents you with puzzles and questions you’re going to have to spend some time (or a second viewing) unwrapping, give it a go.
  • Caveats: I think the above section should be enough to decide whether to watch the show or not. It is slow-burning, it is existential and philosophical, and there isn’t a lot of traditional anime “action” going on. Decide for yourself if that’s what you’re looking for, because the show makes no apologies.
  • Themes: The division of fantasy and reality is the heart of the show, with a lot of musing going on about the nature of the self – if everyone agrees on the nature of reality, or that you are a certain type of person, can you really dispute those perceptions? Can a person have more than one identity at a time, and deliberately craft those identities to display different aspects of themselves while still remaining whole?
  • Similar works: The works of Satoshi Kon, particularly Paranoia Agent. Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy.

Gunsmith Cats

Gunsmith Cats

Gunsmith Cats

  • Trailer: Compilation of original trailers
  • What it’s about: There’s a wide grey space between legal and illegal, and that’s where Rally Vincent and Minnie May Hopkins have chosen to set up shop, supplying guns and other arms to a diverse crowd of customers. Of course, it also leaves them open to blackmail – which is exactly what happens when ATF Agent Bill Collins strongarms the pair into assisting with the investigation of a gunrunning ring he’s been assigned to look into.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a classic “girls with guns” show, from before fan-service became more important than action in the genre. There are only three OVAs in the series, but they use the time wisely to flesh out the overall plot. The characters are fun and charismatic, and comfortable firing off both bullets and one-liners. Rally and May in particular play off each other fantastically, though Bill is no slouch in his scenes either. The show also manages to capture the feel of a gritty American action-drama from the 80s or 90s in a way that has you forgetting that it’s actually a Japanese cartoon.  Overall, Gunsmith Cats does a really good job of blending the fight-sequences together with a certain amount of light comedy without becoming a self-parody.
  • Caveats: Since the OVAs are just a single arc, there’s not a lot of time to spare for character development. The plot itself is “classic” enough to be predictable to those familiar with the archetypes.
  • Similar works: Riding Bean, Black Lagoon, Gangsta.

Girls und Panzer

Girls und Panzer

Girlsundpanzer

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Sensha-do. Tankery. The Way of the Tank. As explained in the show itself, it’s “A strong, but delicate art that aims to make women more polite, graceful, modest, and gallant, both on and off the battlefield. To learn tankery is to armor the heart of a maiden, the soul that embraces and burns with femininity.”
  • But despite such self-evident virtues and the generous package of benefits and perks that come with signing up to the school club, Miho Nishizumi is hesitant about getting involved in the sport again. With the international Sensha-do tournament coming up shortly, there isn’t much time to get Oarai’s first team assembled and ready, and Miho’s flair for tactics and strategy may well prove the decisive factor in reaching the finals.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s an utterly ridiculous premise, and a blatant excuse to combine cute girls and military hardware, but somehow it works. The show is charming, the girls are endearing, and the battles themselves are a heck of a lot of fun to watch. It’s not all “boom-boom”, there’s a lot time spent going over the tactics and plans the girls put together, too. For fans of military history, there are a host of nods and references to actual hardware and personalities, and for the rest of us there’s a sizeable cast of quirky competitors and an interesting military march-inspired soundtrack. Somehow, the show manages to blend the slice-of-life school antics with its bizarre military tournament almost seamlessly. It’s an easy series to binge through, and one that I’m glad I did!
  • Caveats: I said that the cast is huge for a twelve-episode show, and it is. What that means, though, is that the creators take some shortcuts and rely a lot on stereotypes and tropes to get us to fill in the blanks for everyone outside of Miho and her immediate friends. They’re no less fun to watch because of that, but don’t expect any of the competitors to get much development past being representatives of their particular nation or club.
  • Similar works: Sora no Woto, K-On!