April 18, 2006

Your Spring 2006 anime guide

Ah, April! A time of budding flowers, baseball days, and the new anime season. But with Japan's airwaves growing ever more crowded, how do you know what to watch? Here's a quick rundown, which doesn't cover EVERY show that's coming out, but most of the popular ones and whatever else I managed to catch.

Ah! My Goddess: Sorezore no Tsubasa Continues without skipping a beat. They're still cleaning up after the Lord of Terror, making up occasional stories that weren't in the manga, and generally catering to that quiet but dedicated Goddess audience. And still the only series that gets its physics and engineering (mostly) right.
Air Gear Dude. MOTORIZED ROLLERBLADING. With, like, people flying in the air and crap. How can you not like this? Oh, right -- because it's an Oh! Great series, and all he can draw is hot girls and cool action scenes. But really, why else would you watch it?
ARIA The NATURAL The second season of this series continues with more of its laid-back, feel-good flavor. Young lady gondoliers ply their trade on Neo-Venezia, a future-retro recreation of the famed European city. Many call it boring; I call it relaxing. Goes well with knitting.
Black Lagoon A mousy salaryman is taken captive while on a business trip, and discovers a hidden world of international mafia. Production values look great, and it deals out the action and suspense like crazy, but this wouldn't be the first time there's been a series about "cool people who shoot things a lot" ...
Digimon Savers Digimon just got more and more gimmicky after the first two seasons -- "Ooh, they evolve with cards from the game!" "Ooh, they actually fuse with their Digimon!" -- but this latest one, about a Digimon investigative agency, seems more real. Unfortunately, it's also about 5 years too late.
Disgaea For a video game adaptation built on pure fantasy convention, this was surprisingly more tolerable than some of the REALLY bad new shows. An angel assassin teaming up with a demon prince on an adventure ... cheesy and predictable, but also cute and fun.
Gakuen Heaven A modest young man transfers to a new school called BL Academy. That's all you really need to know, isn't it? He's going to freaking YAOI HIGH SCHOOL. There, he will study important subjects like variables and guys doing it with other guys. An early contender for the "dumb as rocks" award.
High School Girls / Girl's High You know, I like high school girls. (Interpret that as you will.) But I can't really get into High School Girls, even with its enticing pantyshot count. The characters are silly, but not silly enough; they're cute, but not cute enough. And I can't remember their names.
Himawari! So this is about ... a ninja academy ... where teenagers train ... to be ninjas. Hey, Masashi Kishimoto called, he wants his Naruto back. Except, this one's an all-girl ninja (shinobi) academy, and the teacher is the one male character, so. You figure it out.
Kiba I have done such a good job erasing this from my mind that I don't really want to write about it. Some annoying dude who keeps skipping school is on the run from the police. And his mom is terminally ill. Then he gets transported to some lame-ass fantasy world, which makes you wish the police HAD caught him.
Kirarin Revolution Only worth viewing for the novelty value of the lead character -- an aspiring idol singer -- being voiced by an actual idol singer. Otherwise, it's the same old junk about a girl who wants to be with this boy, and break into the entertainment industry, and collect all the Pokemon (okay so I made up the last one).
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Intensely weird and funny. The entire first episode is a hilariously self-aware "student film" with gaping plot holes, cheap special effects, and a badly karaoked opening song. And once they lapse back into the real world, the animation is terrific.
NANA Oh, everyone loves Nana. But everyone hates the first chapter of the manga, which was mercifully excised from the movie but has been displaced and extended in the anime. This version strongly emphasizes the girly Nana's point of view. Will it capture the series' emotional scope ... or just end up going through the motions?
Ouran High School Host Club The other much-anticipated shoujo hit of the season. A boyish girl accidentally gets drafted into a "host club" of the school's hottest guys. Gender-bending is as old as the sun, but this one delivers the funny, along with great animation and design.
Princess Princess And then there's this, where the cutest guys at an all-boys school dress up as girls ("Princesses") to visually appease the student population. What's that you say? Boy's Love overtones? GOSH! What could possibly make you imagine that?
RAY the Animation So influential is Tezuka's iconic doctor that Black Jack makes a cameo apperance here. Ray herself is a doctor with X-ray eyes, who transfers to a hospital where the director has an eyepatch and a peg leg. (I won't ask about the hands...) Medical drama that's maybe a bit too crazy.
School Rumble Second Semester Delinquent-turned-manga-ka Kenji still pines for scatterbrained Tenma, while Tenma runs around misinterpreting everything. Carries over some continuity and secondary characters from the first series, but can stand alone as the standard for nutty comedy.
Simoun They promised me girl/girl action, and I got CRAP. Female pilots fly ugly two-seater aircraft into battle, except they have to kiss each other to power it up. Payoff, without buildup, is worthless. And there is dramatic music playing ALL THE TIME. Another "dumb as rocks" contender.
Soul Link The trials and tribulations of high school students ... in space! Of course, Stellvia already did it cuter and more colorful, and with more appealing characters. If these are the kind of kids that represent our hope for the wild black yonder, I'm not going.
Strawberry Panic! The other talked-about girl/girl show, except I can actually live with it. A new arrival at an all-girl private school discovers that everyone is reeeeally horny. Her roommate is a freaking stalker, and the top girl in the school shows no shame. Like Maria-sama ga Miteru, but more lighthearted.
Utawarerumono (That Thing Which We Sing?) Stop me if you've heard this one -- a man with no memories awakens in a forest village. All he knows is that he's wearing a mask he can't remove, and the village is really afraid of something in the forest. And we should care ... why? Animation's decent, but story lacks a hook.
xxxHOLiC CLAMP-o-philes are jumping on this like kids on candy, and discovering that the manga's Art Deco look comes out really weird in animation. The spirits and special effects look fine, but those lanky limbs are gonna put an eye out. And the flat storytelling is gonna put my brain out.
Zegapain The newest entry in a succession of schoolboys who pilot a robot with no prior experience, then proceed to kick everyone's ass. Despite slick visuals and an unexpectedly strong focus on everyday school life, it's invariably more of the same-old same-old.

Are non-normative gender roles the new thing this year? Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ (self-expanatory title) got a headstart in January, and now we're seeing the light yuri trend bolstered by Strawberry Panic and Simoun (craptastic as it is). Meanwhile, Princess Princess and Ouran High School Host Club both take the cross-dressing angle, and Gakuen Heaven drops all pretenses, opening up enrollment for yaoi high school.

Surprisingly, I didn't run into any straight-up harem series (although there are certainly some with predominantly female casts). It seems they finally wore themselves out after all the excesses of the last few years. If you really want your fix, though, there's no better bandwagon to jump on than Magikano, which has enough energy and humor to offset the dumbness.

So now you know where to start (I hope). Happy viewing!


Angelicrage Sub-Blog said...

Thankyou very much for this amazing post. It's a great guide, i really had trouble trying to figure out what to watch, but your guide helped me alot. Arigato!

7:10 PM  
Tivome said...

Welcome back Pata... Although I do miss Love Manga, I do enjoy your broader topic, like this one.

Thanks to you now I gotta run to down load Aria 2nd Season. My wife will be in bliss.

4:44 PM  

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