Spring 2012: First Thoughts

What a season! After a long, cold winter of clinging to a few decently entertaining series, we are overwhelmed with a lavish cornucopia of splendidly promising anime. Where do we start? The reboot of a classic crime series? A surprisingly entertaining show about talking animals? Watanabe Shinichiro‘s first role as a series director since 2004? What about the much-anticipated continuation of Fate/Zero? All these anime with real potential, yet so little time! Thankfully, we here at The Nihon Review have everything you need to know about this season’s anime premiers. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Introduction by: kevo

Jormungand

Shinmaru‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: C+
The Black Lagoon comparisons flew everywhere after this initial episode, but while the action impressed, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the humor. There’s some good action movie comedy during the car chase scene, but all the other grabs for laughs are downright abysmal. Every time the episode shows Koko’s oh so wacky, childish side, my immediate reaction was to stare blankly at my computer screen and forget it happened. I’m fine with stupid one-liners and banter in my action stuff, but more dumb jokes about sleepwalking and bad cooking and I will bail hard.

AC‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
I’ll cut to the chase: this show is fun to watch. It has lots of action, the animation is satisfactorily fluid, and the setting is riveting. This is basically Black Lagoon revisited by the people behind Katanagatari, including one of my favorite music composers Iwasaki Taku. But while one half of me is enjoying this, the other half finds the characters hard to like because they’re way too goofy for a show with a grim setting. If they can be taken seriously for just a minute or two, this show would be better than it already is.

Kids on the Slope

kadian1364‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B+
Two high school social recluses, diametrically opposed to one another, are brought together by their mutual loneliness, music, and a pretty girl. Kids on the Slope is about what everybody would have expected from a Noitamina title if the past several months didn’t happen: down-to-earth people looking for self-identity, love, and a way through that awkward transition between childhood and adulthood. The visual design is detailed but understated, complementing its grounded storytelling approach. But it does have dazzle, with one sublime drum solo that will surely capture your eyes and heart.

Shinmaru‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B
Given that this is the first TV anime Watanabe Shinichiro has directed since Samurai Champloo, and another collaboration with Kanno Yoko on top of that, it’s understandable that the hype for this series is sky high. With that in mind, this is a solid first episode. I particularly like the restrained, somewhat muted presentation. With the visuals and music, it seems that Watanabe is holding the cards close to his chest and releasing a burst of energy only when necessary, which is more than fine with me and definitely an interesting way for him to approach a story. This episode mostly serves to feel out the main characters; I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow from here.

Polar Bear Cafe

Kylaran‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
With an eclectic cast consisting of a panda, polar bear, penguin, human, and other animals, Polar Bear Café has a lot of potential. Its comedy is muted, focusing on a balance between cuteness and character-driver episodes that slowly paint an interesting world similar to our own, yet still different. A kick ass opening theme song and a strong voice cast to wrap it all up into one nice package, though its laid back sense of humor might not be for everyone.

kadian1364‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
A youth with no ambition is prodded by his mother to find a job, but after a few predictably unsuccessful interviews, he wanders into a garden café run by an owner with a wry sense of humor. Here’s a routine set-up for a hangout-based sitcom, with one slight curl: most of the characters are animals, drawn anatomically accurate, yet speak and interact in the human world as if it were the most natural thing. Layers of strangeness prevent it from becoming stale, and the characters exhibit familiar personal quirks that make them endearing rather than annoying. It hits the comic sweet spot between outright absurdism and the everyday mundane that makes it pleasant treat.

Folktales from Japan

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
This is perhaps the most wholesome series the season has to offer, with stories made up of traditional Japanese folktales. It’s hard to criticize classic stories, since they’re written mostly for the sake of imparting morals and any story without a “happily ever after” ending would be morbid for the kids. However, in a time when anime is smothered with fanservice and unsafe content, perhaps more of such shows would be a breath of fresh air. Folktales from Japan is good clean fun, and something for me to pass the time enjoyably.

TypicalIdiotFan‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: D+
Well, it certainly is exactly as the title says it is. Each episode consists of a couple or more short stories from Japanese folktales and legends, and told in a simplistic and childish style. I’m guessing the target audience wasn’t supposed to be anybody over 12, since there’s very little in here that a teen or adult would find interesting. It’s not hideously bad or shit, especially if you like this kind of thing, but it’s just not my bag. Good for the youngin’ otakus, but the rest of us have better stuff to do.

Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna

Shinmaru‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Lupin the Third is an anime institution, but because I am unfortunately an ignorant whelp, my main experience with Lupin is the classic movie Castle of Cagliostro. The first two episodes of this new Lupin series are so awesome, though, that they should inspire many to become learned masters of all that is Lupin. The second episode in particular is quite impressive. Everything works in harmony: the writing, the art, the pacing, the direction, the mood, and on and on. It’s about as excellent an example of noir in anime as anyone could find. It tells a dark story, but it left me giddy at the end. I’m all in on Lupin. This is going to be a fantastic ride.

kadian1364‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: A
Describing the 40-year-old Lupin franchise as a cartoony James Bond isn’t too far off the mark. With something this well known, there was a real danger that injecting an avant garde visual style and “overflowing sexuality” into the franchise prequel would tip the project into being an over-the-top grimdark and tits show. Yet it brilliantly succeeds; the rough shapes and shades compliment the Monkey Punch character designs, but most impressively this iteration digs into the characters like never before. Their thoughts, motivations, and chemistry make them very compelling actors in a show with as much substance as style.

Sankarea

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
A moe zombie? Yeah I know, it sounds like a terrible idea. Worse, it’s produced by Studio DEEN, a company known for making inconsistent shows ranging from good to just sleep-inducing boring. But Sankarea isn’t as bad as I had feared; in fact, it’s quite well-executed. The characters are somewhat likable, their background stories justify their unusual actions and the story is interesting enough to keep me watching. It’s still a guessing game when it comes to concluding whether it’s good or not, but until then, this show ain’t half-bad.

Kylaran‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
Sankarea is interesting, despite its predictable and lame romantic component, because of two main reasons: interesting artistic choices and zombies. The first manifests in interesting compositions, meaningful use of color, and cool scene transitions, while its zombie element has the potential to become a powerful metaphor for some of the show’s main themes. It’s sticking close to the manga, which is probably a good thing, though there’s plenty of room for the voice actors to make the characters more interesting than they currently are.

Tsuritama

kadian1364‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B
Based on first episode synopsis alone, the two Noitamina series this season are similar. A high school transfer with social anxiety that manifests as physical stress is unwillingly befriended by a stranger with strange hobbies. But while Kids on the Slope exhibits muted and mature traits, Tsuritama’s colorful metaphors and gaudy proclamations to “save the world” defy all predictions. It really is a mystery, in methods and aim, and dares its audience to imagine what fishing with an alien can be like.

Shinmaru‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B
This episode covers similar ground to Kids on the Slope, focusing on a transfer student who has difficulties dealing with people, but the style could not be more different. This isn’t unexpected with Nakamura Kenji (Mononoke, Trapeze, C) at the helm. I adore the bright, bold colors and the general craziness and energy of this first episode. My hope is that Tsuritama is a light, breezy show along the lines of Trapeze, which is a hell of a lot of fun despite dealing with some heavy subject matter. My only concern is that the “alien” kid will get crazy annoying. I can tolerate his type in small doses, but more than that, and things will get bad…

Mysterious Girlfriend X

TypicalIdiotFan‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: A-
Remember when we were kids, and we used to tell stupid jokes to each other? Remember the “what’s grosser than gross” jokes? Y’know, like: “What’s grosser than gross? Two vampires fighting over a bloody tampon.” My favorite. Anyway, I have a new one: “What’s grosser than gross? Mysterious Girlfriend X.” But y’know what? It is awesomely gross. Sure, you could turn it off and dismiss it as fetish fuel but you’d be missing out. To top it off, the titular mysterious girlfriend, Mikoto Urabe, is delightfully weird. This might be the most offbeat romance story ever, and it’s off to a great start.

Kylaran‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Not your standard romance, this show revolves around the awkward attempts of the main character at trying to deepen his relationship with the strange and unpredictable transfer student that just came into his class. Aesthetically weird both visually and aurally, this is the one show of the season that’s bound to break some type of stereotypes. Anyone with an interest in weird stories should definitely check this anime out, because it’s more fascinating than you may think just from hearing about the premise. Unfortunately, the sound recording quality doesn’t sound very good.

Zetman

TypicalIdiotFan‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C
I wish I could give it a higher grade than that, but I can’t. The first episode resonated well with me while the second felt extremely clumsy. Manga fans say that the creators are trying to condense too much into a short time frame, and even those who haven’t read it can tell that something seems rushed. However, I like the dynamics here: the trio of childhood friends growing up and taking slightly different paths, the idea of Jin’s unusual nature and family life, the Speed Grapher-esque “ugly” world setting, etc. There’s a lot of potential here, but it does not look like the source material is being adapted by quality hands.

AC‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C
Except for Tiger & Bunny, every Western-included superhero anime series seems to be bad for some reason. Zetman is yet another example, and it reminds me too much of the deplorable MarvelMadhouse project. It’s not that horrible; it’s just too “B grade”-ish. The story is too hasty, the narrative is clunky — there’s just too much time warping going on here — and the characters are shallow. I just don’t have high hopes for this series; even if it can somehow redeem itself, it can only achieve so much when the setup is run-of-the-mill.

Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos

kevo‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: A-
The male protagonist’s description of Nyaruko as a “walking personality disorder” at the beginning of the second episode is perfect. I have not seen a female character carry a show this hard since Ika Musume. The fast paced, a-joke-a-second parody style reminds me of the first few episodes of Seitokai no Ichizon, back when that show was entertaining. Nyarko-san distinguishes itself because it’s honestly creative — blending visual gags, slapstick, quick jokes, and Japanese anime tropisms with Lovecraftian homages. I laughed so hard when I saw R’lyeh in the anime, and Nyaruko helps by being an endless reservoir that injects fun energy into the show. The quick way to destroy this show is to force in some kind of awful melodramatic plot. Bring on the Cthuko yuri fanservice, this show needs to stick to its strengths.

TypicalIdiotFan‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: Fuck you
Maybe my opinion of this would be better if I read Lovecraft, but considering the whining I’ve heard from some others about how much abuse the lore is getting, I doubt it. I shouldn’t be surprised that someone in Japan thought it was a keen idea to take Lovecraft’s themes and turn them into a fan-wanking moe fest, because not a single damned thing, so far, is sacred there. Herein lies the problem: if you’re not going to do so much as anything but a superficial butchering of a cult-beloved mythology, then all you’re left with is the merits of the show itself, which is shit.

Space Brothers

kadian1364‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: A-
As boys, two brothers dreamed of the stars and outer space. As adults, the blessed younger brother has become a JAXA astronaut, while the unlucky older brother was blacklisted in the automotive engineering industry. But his dream of space is revived as he applies to JAXA’s rigorous astronaut recruitment program for an eventual mission to the moon. Though acknowledging the hard realities of life, Space Brothers is the most unflinchingly optimistic anime I’ve seen this season. Youthful idealism is carried on world-weary shoulders, extolling the real pursuit of dreams and the bonds of family past and present.

kevo‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: A-
Ahh, an episode dedicated to astronaut training. The pacing of Space Brothers has been a touch slow, but it was nice to see Serika’s character explored. Space Brothers is an outstandingly solid anime because it you become genuinely invested in the main character. Mutta is so relatable despite the fact that he is a talented automobile designer who is auditioning to be an astronaut. It will be a long haul ahead, but it’s good to see that Space Brothers has gotten off to a wonderful start.

Eureka Seven: AO

Shinmaru‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B-
I was skeptical upon hearing a sequel to one of my favorite anime would be coming out, especially when the original story ended rather conclusively. While I can’t help but remain skeptical, the initial episode is of solid quality. It starts in a manner not unlike the original series, with our protagonist, Ao, getting a power dropped into his lap and rainbows and explosions going off everywhere. The folks at BONES are amazing when they bring it, and bring it they do here; this episode looks phenomenal. It took Eureka Seven some time for it to grow into the excellent series it is, so I’m willing to give the sequel the time it deserves.

Accel World

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
Man, is this show on crack when it’s on a roll. And I don’t mean it in a bad way; Accel World is in its element when it’s action time. Sunrise is producing what is perhaps the most visually stunning show of the season, and the battle scenes alone are enough reason for me to stick around. But there is one big issue: I hate the character design; yes, I’m talking about male lead Haruyuki. His super-deformed design sticks out like a sore thumb, and I still haven’t gotten used to him especially whenever everyone else looks normal.

TypicalIdiotFan‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
Anime that feature some kind of massive online virtual world are not new, and typically whatever is involved makes someone experienced enough with programming or computers laugh their ass off. Accel World is a prime example, but thankfully has other positives going for it. The animation is top notch; the virtual world and fights are neat and smooth. I am having a VERY hard time getting over the character design dissidence that is our MC, who looks like something out of a Western cartoon more than an anime character. They were going for visual representation of “socially abnormal”, but doing it this way seems lazy to me.

Natsuiro Kiseki

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
What is it with the slice-of-life genre, a 4-girl setup and a summer setting? Natsuiro Kiseki is yet another addition to the lineup, and when such shows are a dime a dozen, it’s becoming to tell them apart. And that’s the problem with this show: what’s so different about it? The production values are good and the whole “friends 4 eva” theme is developing just fine, but if it doesn’t distinguish itself from other similar shows, then it can only do so much. It’s as generic as it gets, and if nothing changes, it’s going to become boring pretty soon.

Upotte!

Kylaran‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C-
Though its first episode seemed to set up a completely empty and utterly uninteresting romance between schoolgirl and teacher, Upotte’s second episode improved on what was missing in the first: personality. This anime ups the ante on the genre of cute girls doing cute things, but in all honesty, its silliness is just a bit too much to handle. Plus, it has even less story to situate the characters than K-On!. If you’re into moe anthropomorphism, this is your show, but otherwise it’s probably best to steer clear.

kevo‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C+
The first episode of Upotte!! featured paper-thin characters and stupid assualt rifle-themed double entandres that got old before the first one was even made. Surprisingly enough, the second episode was marginally watchable. Upotte!! unnaturally interjects the narrative with these forced lectures about the nuances of firearms. We get it that the girls are assault rifles, but they need to make it more interesting in a more creative way. The “war game” in the second part of the episode was admittedly entertaining. The jazz soundtrack had a cool effect and I loved how aloof the background characters were. If Upotte!! has more of these action sequences planned, this show can be quite promising.

Saki Episode of Side A

kevo‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C
I was quite disappointed with the first episode of Saki A, but the second episode gets the anime back on track by kick-starting the plot. The characters, especially compared to the cast from the original series, are strikingly bland. I can’t really tell who is who most of the time. Where’s the mahjong? Where’s the yuri undertones? Where’s the fun and colorful personalities? Hopefully, this anime can find some direction to latch on to. It will be a long ride if it doesn’t.

9 Responses to “Spring 2012: First Thoughts”

  1. Honestly, I find the high amount of A’s and B’s to be rather unusual. My gut feeling tells me that there are probably a ton of pretenders out there and they will be weeded out soon enough. I do feel that Uchuu Kyoudai and Sakamichi no Apollon are legitimately the two best shows that will still come out on top. Even if I am not really watching anything else, I feel damn good about those two shows basically carrying this season since they just that damn good. Still, for me this is one of the better seasons out there whether it is viewing new content or having a carryover (Gundam AGE S2 for me).

    Although, I am surprised no one said anything about Ozuma yet. I thought that would be included despite it’s limited episode count.

  2. I’m holding onto Sankarea, Space Brothers and Kids on the Slope to be the quality shows this season, with Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? OF THE DEAD and Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan being shows I can at least enjoy.

    I don’t get why people love Mysterious Girlfriend X, I thought about dropping it, and not only because of the spit. Tsuritama has managed to make me drop it, which is really an achievement, the last time I dropped a show at all was last year with Beezlebub.

    This will probably be a good season, but I’m rather cautious as to say how good.

  3. Mysterious Girl Friend X is well produced but… It’s about drinking spit EW. I couldn’t make it past 16 minutes of its first episode, and almost nothing gets me that squeamish.

  4. So, no one’s watching Ghost Girlfriend (forgot the real title) then?

  5. I’m seriously getting frustrated with everyone yapping on about the spit thing. I have to wonder if people take shots of desinfectant every time after they kiss someone. What fires me up even more are people who want to say it’s a spit fetish show. Seriously, strap yourselves to train rails and die, not everything is a subject of sexualization. But I guess it’s not that hard to think that after Nisemonogatari!

  6. So, no one’s watching Ghost Girlfriend (forgot the real title) then?

    Dusk Maiden of Amnesia? Yeah, we’re watching it. We just had to cut a few shows out so that the article didn’t get long. Typically the ones that get cut are sequels, airing too late in the season, or just a judgment call by the boss (Sorrow-kun). This is why you don’t see anything about Fate / Zero, KoreZombieOTDead, Saint Seiya, Hyouka, or AKB0048 either. Other ones like Acchi Kochi, Dusk Maiden, Medaka Box might have been either because nobody admitted they were watching them (when we did roll cal for the setup) or was just a brain fart.

    As for Dusk Maiden itself, it’s a quirky little anime with some delightfully morbid and ecchi moments, but whether it holds any kind of interest beyond a few episodes will depend on what it does BEYOND that. So far it has a similar flow to C3 minus the hardcore torture devices and inanimate object angst. In other words, hit or miss.

  7. I haven’t had a chance to watch much yet from this season (which is why I didn’t contribute to this article). I really liked Kids on the Slope, but Sankarea didn’t impress (I can’t get over the MC’s awful hair). As far as Mysterious Girlfriend X goes, its characters are intriguing enough to make it worth persisting with. It doesn’t see the need to make its characters seem completely whacked out and eccentric like Sankarea does… just whacked out and eccentric enough to hook us in.

  8. @FSI: Don’t worry; that’s for our Mid-Season Impressions to decide.

    And I LOL’ed at the contrasting opinions between kevo and TIF for Nyarko. Hence, my interest is piqued enough for me to pick the show up soon.

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