The Spring Season also brings us a healthy batch (or heaping pile, depending on your tastes) of new anime blockbusters from the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump and the fattening wallets of Toei Animation. In the first installment of these reviews, I talked about potentially "unforgettable" anime, but these are the ones we'll REALLY remember for years. Why is that? Because they'll be running for years and years and decades, until the cash cow milk runs dry.
Just about any frequent Shonen Jump reader will agree with the following statement: to be successful, a Jump series needs to have either an interesting setting or interesting characters. While SKET Dance is plenty watchable and good fun, it is blazingly obvious that it features neither qualities.
SJ franchises in the past have had diverse and fascinating settings, such as a "Grand Line" inhabited by pirates, or maybe a "Soul Society" where shinigami lurk. Not for SKET Dance though, which settles for a normal high school home to (mostly) normal students. This unnamed mystery school is home to the SKET Dan, a small club (Okay, trio) dedicated to helping people (SKET is short for Support Kindness Encouragement Troubleshoot) with problems, a la after school special, though they will occasionally do odd jobs like taking care of monkeys (?). Only one of these members of SKET Dan is at all interesting, the brainiac Switch, who is shy enough to only talk out of a simulated computer voice, but egotistical enough to declare one moment the "Switch, you're Awesome!" Segment. However, Switch is given less attention than the remaining two thirds of the group, Himeko, a boring example of the "tough chick" cliche, and the protagonist, Bossun, your typical SJ funny guy with a secret power (in this case, goggles that make him more focused [?] ). In short, though the show can still get better, the horribly straightforward concept bars it from greatness.
SKET Dance is streaming on Crunchyroll.
When the Blue Exorcist manga made its North American debut from Viz a few months back, it was received a generally warm welcome from the blogging community at large, though often noting that the first chapter was... not so great. I can't really say how accurate these opinions are, as I have yet to get to reading the manga. 10 bucks is a lot of money to plunk down on a new manga that will likely take me 10 minutes to read (What can I say? I'm quick with shonen), so I decided I would sample the series through the anime, and I am glad to report that if the manga is at all as enjoyable as the anime (save the apparently bland first manga chapter), then Blue Exorcist has a good chance of joining the ranks of the best shonen manga.
The plot of these first two episodes (which cover the aforementioned bland first chapter) is rather cliched: Trash-talking badass Rin and his brother Yukio have been raised by the kindly (but also badass) priest Father Fujimoto. However, Fujimoto is not really Rin's father in any way other than his title, as Rin is actually the spawn of Satan! After a violent encounter with Satan and some other demons, Father Fujimoto is dead and Rin vows to become an exorcist and "Beat the shit out of Satan." This is story is kind of silly (And when in the christian bible were there ever demons at all like the ones in this show?), the series makes the creaky cliches feel new again with impeccable pacing and snappy dialogue. The mix of familiar tropes and bold storytelling is comparable to Fullmetal Alchemist, another shonen series by a female author. Overall, Blue Exorcist is a fun, exciting new series that deserves attention for the outfits alone, not to mention all the other great stuff.
Blue Exorcist is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Of all the current (by which I mean less than 10 years old) series running in the Japanese Weekly Shonen Jump magazine (not counting Jump Square, V Jump, Jump X, etc.), the second best would probably be Toriko, second only to the fantastic unlicensed comedy Beelzebub. Though I have yet to getting to reading past the first volume, it impressed me enough that I was actually moderately excited about Toei's hotly anticipated new anime adaption. The anime was good enough, but as an adaption, the show is sorely disappointing.
The anime, just like the manga, is set in a Gourmet era where mutated animals are as delicious as they are deadly. Meet Toriko, the most badass gourmet hunter ever, and his milquetoast assistant Komatsu. Together they defeat and devour the most terrifying and tasty animals ever! GRAAAH! Not exactly the most substance-heavy, but unless you're a devout member of PETA, it's good fun nonetheless. Even so, the anime version is neigh-unwatchable, for just one simple reason: the color scheme. Toriko was not a particularly pretty series in the first place, but this just destroys it. Bright colors are a good choice for saturday-morning type cartoons like this, but this just goes too far! Pink gators? Green apes? Ugh! The adaption's one saving grace is the inexplicable casting of Rumi Park (Fullmetal Alchemist's Ed, Nana's Nana Osaki) as Komatsu. Even though this can be very distracting, it's weirdly entertaining to hear the voice of an alchemist and a punk rocker reduced to a complete and utter wimp.
Toriko is streaming on Funimation.
Aria the Scarlet Ammo, Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi, Tiger and Bunny, Tono to Issho, Battle Girls - Time Paradox
AND THAT IS ALL