Friday, April 25, 2014

Spring 2014: What I'm Watching (Part 1)

It’s that time again, to go over all the shows I plan to watch this season. I’m still finalizing my watch list, but I’m looking at following 14-15 new full-length shows this season, plus the continuing Yowamushi Pedal and various shorts. This part will cover seven shows that I already know I will be following.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky
(Japanese name: Escha to Logy no Atelier: Tasogare no Sora no Renkinjutsushi)

The Book of Revelations never said much about the cute girls during the end times...

The world is dying out, but for Escha Malier, the lone alchemist in the town of Corseit, her world is just getting started, as she finally becomes a government official. She is soon joined by Logix “Logy” Fixario, an alchemist who transferred from Central. Together, the two of them explore the world around them while taking on jobs and creating things from other things, all while looking toward the ruins in the sky that have yet to be explored.

This anime is based on the PS3 game of the same name which was released in America recently, making it that much more puzzling that this is the one show on my list that has yet to get a legal US stream. It's also unfortunate because this is easily one of the best shows this season. The Atelier games are based less around the standard "save the world from evil" RPG faire and more around people who go around collecting stuff to make new stuff, helping others and exploring the world around them. This feel is brought to the anime adaptation rather well, for a fantasy show that is relaxing and pleasant to watch. If you're looking for a fantasy show with an intriguing world, fun characters, and a calming feel to it, this show is perfect for that. If you're looking for action and battles... well, the third episode preview suggests that will be coming too, I guess?

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is currently not available for legal streaming. You can always play the English PS3 game, I suppose...
Baby Steps

The only spark notes in tennis are the ones coming out of the ball-shooting machine.

Eichiro is well-known in his class as “A-chan” for getting all A’s in class, not because he’s naturally smart but because he takes incredibly detailed, organized notes, which he allows others in his class to borrow. However, all study and no play isn’t exactly healthy for the body, so when Eichiro decides to do some exercise, he checks out a tennis club—and finds the school’s popular girl, Natsu, who had earlier borrowed his notes, playing tennis there. From there, the two form a friendship as Eichiro starts playing tennis the only way he knows how: by annotating the heck out of it.

One of many sports shows currently on the air, Baby Steps is somewhat different from the others in that its main protagonist is completely new to the sport, and as such is taking *cough* baby steps into the world of tennis. The interactions he has with Natsu and the other characters are fun, and overall this looks to be a solid show that works as a sports show while also hinting at something of a romantic comedy. If that sounds good to you, then by all means, step onto this court.

Baby Steps is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chaika – The Coffin Princess
(Japanese name: Hitsugi no Chaika) 

The coffin keeps this princess from getting scrapped.

Toru Acura and his sister Akira are saboteurs who specialize in warfare and combat… which isn’t exactly a good thing to specialize in during peacetime. While out hunting for food and looking for any job he can find, Toru runs across a strange girl carrying a coffin on her back. This girl, Chaika, is a wizard who is traveling and looking for various things, and she hires Toru and Akira to accompany her and protect her from the numerous groups out to get her.

Ichiro Sasaki is a name that I'm really starting to pay attention to now. He already wrote the original light novel for Scrapped Princess, which had an excellent anime adaptation, and more recently, the anime adaptation of his light novel Outbreak Company surprised me in becoming one of my favorite shows of 2013. Now, he is back with another light novel adapted into anime. Chaika shares a fair amount of similarities with Scrapped Princess, including a darker setting and plenty of action, as well as a general plot of two siblings who must protect a girl whom the rest of the world wants dead. Chaika is an interesting character; her quirk of speaking in broken sentences with no particles, kind of like a foreigner who only knows a bit of the native language, is... well, kind of fitting considering Chaika is a foreigner who probably only knows a bit of the native language; nevertheless, her speech pattern can seem either endearing, amusing, or just annoying. That aside, though, you have a fantasy work where unicorns are ferocious beasts, magic is an incredibly powerful force, and morality is perhaps more complex than just "the protagonists are right and their enemies are wrong"--the latter is another major strength this show inherits from Scrapped Princess.

Chaika - The Coffin Princess is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Is the order a rabbit?
(Japanese name: Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?) 

Is the order another adorable slice-of-life cute-girls show? Oh yes.

Cocoa arrives at a quaint town with several European-style buildings, which is where she will be attending school. She ends up staying at the Rabbit House, a café run by a girl named Chino and her pet Angora rabbit Tippy. Along with part-timer and military kid Lize, the sweets-creating Chiya, and the tea expert Syaro, these girls enjoy a nicely-blended life together.

Yes, it's another one of those shows. Those who know me--or have at the very least seen my Top 10 Anime of 2013 list--know that I absolutely love this type of show; between the cute girls and relaxing atmosphere, these shows are the perfect antidote to a tough week and a bunch of overly-serious anime. And while this show has yet to really show something beyond the standard cute-girls' antics to make it stand out like Yuyushiki, Kin-iro Mosaic, and Non Non Biyori did, the interesting European/Japanese setting and the sense that some of these girls could really use some companionship does offer some potential in that regard. There's also a rather unusual animal mascot involved that adds some extra amusement to this show. Otherwise, this is a show about cute girls with fun personalities, and your experience with past shows like it will largely determine whether it is something you stay far, far away from... or whether, like me, it is one of the shows you look forward to most every week.

Is the order a rabbit? is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (If Her Flag Breaks)
(Official abbreviation: Gaworare)

He can't see the ending, but what he can see will show him the way there.

Souta has a weird ability: he can see the flags indicating a direction a person’s life is headed in. Friendship flags indicating when a person is looking to be friends with him, love flags indicating when a person is about to fall in love with him, and especially death flags indicating when a person is about to kick the bucket. He can also try to break those flags, diverting the direction the flag is indicating. And  after being the lone survivor of a cruiser accident, that is exactly what he does, breaking friendship and love flags so that he does not hurt others because they get too close to him. But there are a number of girls (and one girly-looking guy) who have nevertheless taken an interest in him, and will be the ones to encourage him to come out of his shell. However, there’s still the mystery of just what is behind this flag-seeing ability of his…

This show is... something. It is an adaptation of a harem light novel, which tend to be on the lower end of light novel quality, frequently prioritizing harem antics over an engaging story. And to be sure, this show is full of harem antics, to the point that the sheer craziness of said antics is almost worth watching in and of itself. But what really makes this show worth watching is the underlying story hinting at something rather interesting and mysterious regarding Souta's ability to see flags, as well as some great characters that are rather broken and definitely have story potential. Special shout-out goes to the character designs by CUTEG, which make the whole thing look adorable. It's a show that can either end up being one of the stronger light novel adaptations out there or it could bomb spectacularly, but for now, it is definitely worth paying attention to.

Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (If Her Flag Breaks) is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior
(Japanese name: Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou)

"Kawaisou" can mean "Kawai Complex"... and it can also mean "pitiful".

Usa just wanted to live somewhere away from his parents and enjoy a nice, normal high school life, preferably with a nice girl, like that one girl he always sees at the library. Unfortunately, when he moves into the Kawaisou dorms, what he gets is a life with a bunch of crazies such as a masochistic weirdo, an overly clingy woman who can’t hold on to a boyfriend, and a college girl whose outer demeanor belies her inner sadism. Oh, and also that one girl he always sees at the library, Ritsu, who’s the granddaughter of the landlady. That last part would go better if he did not get on her bad side so quickly by trying to follow her into the girls’ area, but these sorts of living complexes have a way of bringing together people who have no reason to get along with each other otherwise.

I have an overall good history with shows that feature a "-sou" (some kind of dorm/apartment complex). Mahoraba ~Heartful Days~ with Narutakisou and Hidamari Sketch with Hidamarisou are two of my all-time top 10 anime, while The Pet Girl of Sakurasou was one of my top 10 shows of 2013 and Love Hina with Hinatasou... well, the manga was pretty good, at least. To me,  there is a major appeal to these shows, as they feature a group of diverse individuals that become like family to each other. This element is very much in play in this show, albeit the family is less a bunch of people that are buddy-buddy with each other and more like a family of people that give each other crap all of the time. But hey, that's family too, right? :P The original manga author, Ruri Miyahara, is also the original creator of Love Lab, one of last year's funniest shows, and the comedy is strong in this show, too. Overall, this is looking to be yet another great "-sou" show.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Love Live! School Idol Project: Season 2

Now with 100% more actual "Love Live!"

Sequel Alert: This is a direct sequel to the first season of Love Live: School Idol Project, which aired early last year; I recommend watching that first.

It's a new semester, and Honoka, the fearless leader of the school idol group µ's, has somehow ended up as the Student Council president... yeah, that's not working out too well for her. But her idol activities don't get a rest either, as to the surprise of the group, another Love Live! competition has been scheduled, and this time, school idol groups will be directly competing against each other for the national title. And with the idol powerhouse ARISE in the same prefecture, µ's has a rough road ahead of them. But if idol shows have taught us anything, it's that the power of music and friendship can overcome anything... or at least make sure everyone has fun while trying to do so.

There's not much to say about this sequel to what ended up being one of the most popular shows in Japan last year, according to disc sales. The strengths of the past season are there, with fun characters and fun music, and this time, it looks like the titular idol competition will actually be a part of the show, which is definitely something to look forward to. Your mileage may vary on the CG idol dancing, but that aside, this looks to be a fun second season.

Both seasons of Love Live! School Idol Project are streaming on Crunchyroll.

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