Song of Saya (Visual Novel)
- 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.
Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka?
- 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.
Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance
- Trailer: Anime opening/intro
- What it’s about: Areisha Academy has long been the place to go to train in handling elemental spirits, for those with the talent and the social rank to qualify. Of course, only women are capable of forming a contract with these spirits in the first place. At least until word comes down that a new student will be arriving shortly, a male student named Kamito. Why is he here, and does it have something to do with the upcoming inter-school Blade Dance tournament?
- Why you should watch it: It’s a harem romcom with a heavy action focus, similar to Infinite Stratos or Familiar of Zero. The protagonist is refreshingly competent and willing to flirt with the many girls he ends up running into, on and off of the battlefield. He’s neither dense, nor a pervert, nor incompetent, unlike so many harem male leads. The whole story is leavened by a strong dose of slapstick humour and ecchi fanservice – oh so much fanservice. The action scenes are brightly animated and have some nice choreography to them, and the show does well at spinning out the mystery of Kamito’s past. It’s a fun, lighthearted romp.
- Caveats: The show doesn’t really venture very far out of the established tropes of the genre. Which is perfectly fine if you’re a fan of shows like this and want to see more of the same. But it is just that – more of the same.
- Similar works: Infinite Stratos, Familiar of Zero.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo
- Trailer: PV Trailer
- What it’s about: The Sakurasou dorm has a reputation at Suimei University – it’s where the administration houses its most troubled, desperate, or just plain weird students to keep them out of the way. Sorata has been living in the house for the better part of a year, after refusing to abandon an adopted cat. Now word has come in that a new resident is arriving; a transfer student from England named Mashiro. While extremely artistically talented, it turns out that she’s completely unable to look after herself, and Sorata is left in charge of handling her everyday life.
- Why you should watch it: Sakurasou has a lot going for it. It’s a slice of life romcom, but those words don’t really do it justice. The heart of the series is in how it plays every member of the core cast off against one another. There’s enough space in the 24-episode run to explore each of the relationships in depth, to build the characters up from their initial impressions into fully-fledged personalities. You really get a sense that these people are friends, rather than actors. And if that’s not enough, the plot of the show is deeper than it appears at first glance, and it addresses its central themes with adroitness. The artwork is warm and bright, and I was quite impressed with the detail that the animators put into the manga, paintings and other artwork within the show itself.
- Caveats: The romance aspect of the show is a little weaker than the rest, playing off of the typical anime-protagonist indecisiveness and denseness to delay resolution. The show has a moderate amount of fanservice, mostly frontloaded into the first few episodes. Finally, avoid the Coalgirls-subtitled version. The changes they make to the script aren’t really an improvement. Go with the Crunchyroll or Rori subs.
- Themes: Talent and hard work, in combination and competition. The show deviates slightly from the standard “you can do anything if you try hard enough” anime storytelling approach. It’s remarkably realistic in showing interactions between those with natural talent and those without. At the same time, it’s careful to show that it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to living happily.
- Similar works: Toradora!