Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spring Streaming Season Part One: Say it Four Times Fast

The winter season was disappointing. Few shows were especially good to begin with, and two of the best, Level E and Fractale, never found their footing and floundered their great potential. Even so, the year may bring us a great new anime yet, as we see in the spring season. Here are four new shows with promise to be remembered for years to come: [C], Hanasaku Iroha, Deadman Wonderland, and Steins;Gate.

[C] - Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility
Fuji TV's Noitamina programing block has consistently produced engaging contemporary anime, some failures (Fractale), others successes (Eden of the East), but all ambitious and stylish exercises in pushing the limits of TV anime. [C] may be Noitamina's most ambitious production to date, a thinking man's Yu Gi Oh where entrepreneurs duke it out in a fantasy world for financial success. Kimimaro Yoga is a second year economics student who aspires to live a normal, stable life. All this changes when he meets Masakaki, a strange, jester-like figure who gives him a credit card granting him access to the Financial District, a simulated reality where entrepreneurs, or entres for short, duel weekly for access to vast fortunes. Win a duel, and you're set till next time. Lose, and you go bankrupt and are doomed to spend the rest of your life penniless.

First of all, this anime is a total mind f@#k. Kudos to Kenji Nakamura for creating what may be the most bizarre otaku-inclined creation since FLCL. The show is consistently flashy, stylized, interesting, mysterious, and most of all involving. We have yet to see if [C] can achieve anything deeper than that, but appears to hint at rich layers beneath the surface. [C] may not be the best anime you'll see all year, but it will definitely be worth your time. After all, time is money.
[C] - Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility is streaming on Funimation

Hanasaku Iroha (The ABCs of Blooming)
Have you ever seen a TV show that made you feel smarter? If you have not, Hanasaku Iroha could very well be your first. Iroha is a fun little anime about love, life, growing up, and a little inn in the country. The inn in question is Kissuiso, a hot springs run by the stern grandmother of the series' protagonist, Ohana Matsumae. Ohana is a resourceful girl (and I mean really resourceful, not just shojo heroine resourceful) who practically raised herself due to her single mom's negligence. Said negligent mom is also the reason Ohana has gone to Kissuiso, as she has run off to elope with her boyfriend. Ohana takes the trip to the country well, after some romantic complications and other problems at home, and dreams of a storybook adventure in the country, rife with beautiful landscapes and kindly elderly women who give kids candy. Her dream is immediately crushed upon arrival at Kissuiso. To put it in Ohana's words, "Yes, it really was a fairy tale. A pretty girl reached out her hand to me... and told me to die!" Despite this, Ohana works diligently, and learns to love her new surroundings.

I cannot put into words how lovely this show is. Free of pandering exploitation (save one bizarre yet clever sequence in the third episode), Iroha is easily the most genuine and heart warming thing you will see all year. Not only that, but the show is aesthetically beautiful too; Look at the detail in the background art, the softness of the character designs, the subtle ebb and flow of the animation. This is easily the best anime of the season, if not the whole year. If the show is about blooming, there's no way series director  Masahiro Ando is a bud. I look forward to seeing where this show will go, and how Ohana will blossom.
Hanasaku Iroha (The ABCs of Blooming) is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Deadman Wonderland
I organized this reviews to only spotlight the shows that looked like they had Classic potential, or at least some staying power, but I'm sad to report that Deadman Wonderland is nothing but what you would call a "Genre Show." However, it is still a good show, and worth the 60 minutes that watching the first three episodes took up. Based on the manga of the same name by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou (published *partially* in english by the now defunct Tokyopop ^_^), Deadman Wonderland is a pulse-pounding, prison-break-grindhouse-thriller-whatsit about and emo dude named Ganta whose classmates all get murdered and stuff and gets sent to prison even though he's obviously innocent. And of course, this being anime, it's not a normal penitentiary but an !EVIL MOTHER****ING HEVY METAL PSYCHO DEATH KILLER MONSTER JAIL FROM HELL! - Deadman Wonderland, a privately owned prison built on the ruins of Tokyo (Shades of Akira?) that doubles as an amusement park where prisoners must star in potentially deadly performances. Throw in lots o' bad@$$, and you've got an anime.

The premise may just be plain exploitation, but you have to give the show credit: it's friggin' gripping. I knew this anime was not merely grindhouse after only the first few miniutes of exposition, a seemingly bland scene with some soon-to-be-dead high schoolers chatting about how cool the field trip to Deadman Wonderland will be. These opening moments are infused with a palpable sense of dread, a mood which carries through the whole series and has yet to fail to impress me. The story is trashy pulp brilliance, but the viewer is forced to take it seriously. The action is tense and lavishly animated, possibly improving on the manga (can't say for sure, as I haven't read it). That's not to say the show's THAT good. I Often wished the show would stop taking itself so dang seriously, eliminate all self-pity, and just focus on the pulp. And no matter how you slice it, supporting characters like Shiro are as one dimensional as a straight line drawn with a pencil. Ganta is a far from a unique protagonist, a shallow imitation of Shinji Ikari with some instability and McFarlene-esque super powers thrown in for fun. I'm not loving this anime, but I think I'll keep watching for now.
Deadman Wonderland is streaming on Crunchyroll

And so, we begin with a mind f@#k, and end with a mind f@#k. In fact, mind f@#k is the only word I can think of to explain Steins;Gate, a show that cannot be described, only experienced. I cannot really say what the plot is, but I do think it has one. Mad scientists and conspiracy theories, I guess. Anyway, the main problem with the show at the moment is that there isn't really anything more to it than that. I guess the idea of a mindf@#k anime with neither GAINAX, Mamoru Oshii, or Noitamina attached to the project isn't a good idea. So far, I'm a tad indifferent to Steins;Gate, but I'd like to see where it goes.

( a quick minor aside: the fat dude on the far left looks a bit like me, which is the main motivation for my continued viewing of this show)
Steins;Gate is streaming on Crunchyroll

IN PART TWO: The Good, The Bad, The Moe

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