Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014

Well, we’re almost two weeks into the Winter season, which has given me a chance to take a look at the first episodes. This season I’m trying a slightly different format — instead of covering every show, I’m including only the ones I either liked or found ridiculous/hilarious. Winter is traditionally a weak season (Spring and Fall are when the big-money shows air) but there’s a few shows shaping up to be good!

Side note: I’m leaving out a few shows with no SFF interest (Sakura Trick) and sequels to shows I haven’t talked about (Chuunibyou) so this isn’t 100% representative of my own viewing habits. Entries may contain spoilers, but only for the first episode.

Guess which mech the girl has to pilot.  Go on, guess.
Guess which mech the girl has to pilot. Go on, guess.

A Sunrise giant robot show — Sunrise being the company responsible for the various incarnations of Gundam. Aoba, an ordinary high school student, is walking to school one day when he’s attacked by a mysterious giant robot. His classmate Hina activates her own giant robot and comes to his rescue. It transpires that we’re in the Terminator scenario — the robots are from the future, trying to kill and protect him for some unspecified reason. By the end up the episode, he’s hurled through a singularity into the future himself, where he will apparently play a pivotal role.

My impression was that this is watchable, but not stand-out. Sunrise robot shows have a pretty standard opening, which they got about halfway through: normal student somehow ends up at the controls of giant robot, defeats bad guys, becomes important to factional bickering. We’ll see where the second episode leaves them.

An aside: During the show, a friend joked that they’d come back in time to kill him because he would grow up to be Space Hitler. It was a good running gag, but now that I think about it a sort of reverse Terminator scenario might be an interesting idea for a story — the protagonist insists he’s just a normal kid, but time travelers keep coming after him, intent on preventing horrible future crimes. It’s probably out there somewhere.

Fox goddess seen here playing dating games on a fox transformed into a game console.
Fox goddess seen here playing dating games on a fox transformed into a game console.

Inari is a middle school girl who’s always felt a close connection with the local fox shrine. (In Japan foxes are sometimes considered gods or helpful spirits.) She gets into some romantic hijinks with the classmate she has a crush on, and as a result of a good deed towards a local fox is granted a wish by the fox goddess of the shrine. After further misunderstandings, she ends up with the power to transform into any living person and back at will, and gets a tiny fox familiar to boot.

This is a slow, gentle “school romance with magic” of the type that you don’t see a lot of any more. I don’t expect to see any deep plot beyond “girl pursues guy despite mishaps.” It’s cute, though, well-animated and voice-acted, and has some occasional funny bits. Very much the sort of show where you need to be into the genre to enjoy it.

For historical reasons, a female protagonist on the way to school for the first time is required to a) be late and b) have a slice of toast in her mouth.
For historical reasons, a female protagonist on the way to school for the first time is required to a) be late and b) have a slice of toast in her mouth.

This one may not technically count as SFF, but I’m including it anyway. Raku Ichijou is a high school student who happens to be heir to a yakuza crime family. A new girl transfers into his school, and they’re instantly on bad terms. Later, though, his father tells him that in order to cement a truce with a rival family, he has to spend his high school career dating, or pretending to date, the heir to that family — of course, it’s the girl from school he doesn’t get along with. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

The plot is mildly original, but not stunning; the “guy and girl who dislike one another at first forced into a relationship” is a pretty well-worn road. However, this one is produced by now-legendary studio Shaft, responsible for a long string of bizarre but amazing shows. In this case, they appear to be working from someone else’s source material, but the results are still impressive. It’s worth taking a look at this after watching a more standard show, just to see what really creative and talented animation can look like. Interesting camera angles and shot composition, funky visual effects, and a nicely exaggerated style make it wonderful to watch.

Whether the story will go anywhere (at least, anywhere out of the ordinary) is anyone’s guess. But I’m on board just for the visuals.

She's got a cannon for an arm, fair enough, but I'm not sure if that giant mass of stuff is ... decoration?  Ammunition?
She’s got a cannon for an arm, fair enough, but I’m not sure if that giant mass of stuff is … decoration? Ammunition?

Ooooookay, this is a weird one. The figure of Oda Nobunaga has always been an interesting in Japanese media. He’s a historical figure who (along with other Sengoku period warlords) has been transformed into a kind of mythical character by various stories, games, and anime. (Most relevantly here, games like Sengoku Musou/Samurai Warriors and Nobunaga’s Ambition.) Nobunaga is usually cast as the villain of these pieces, since he a) was ruthless and “unfair” by traditional standards, including using firearms, and b) ended up losing. Recently there seems to be a lot of stories casting him in a more sympathetic role, sometimes by turning him into a cute girl. (See Oda Nobuna no Yabou.)

Anyway, in this one, Earth is under attack by “Evolutionary Invader Objects” and can only be saved by a secret organization with the unfortunate acronym DOGOO. During an attack by an EIO in Taiwan, a high school girl named Ogura Shio gets involved, and providentially turns out to be a reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga, which makes her capable of using DOGOOs powerful alien weaponry. She teams up with their squad of historical “geniuses”, who include Jack the Ripper, Isaac Newton, and Ghandi (!!), to fight the aliens.

This is definitely a WTF show thus far. After watching two episodes, they’ve got her on the super team, but it remains to be seen where they go with the cracked-out concept. I’m on board at least until the novelty wears off.

(Side note: There is another show this season, Nobunaga the Fool, that involves alternate-universe Oda Nobunaga teaming up with Joan of Arc and Leonardo da Vinci to battle the evil forces of King Arthur and Magellan. With giant robots. Unfortunately, the first episode was disappointing.)

At least she gets a cute pink tail when she accidentally falls out of her body!
At least she gets a cute pink tail when she accidentally falls out of her body!

A high school girl, Hiyori Iki, pushes a hapless bystander out of the way of a speeding bus and gets hit herself. It turns out that the person she tried to save was Yato, a god, and while with his help she survives uninjured, she’s left somewhere between the world of the living and the world of the dead, with her spirit having a tendency to vacate her body at inconvenient moments. She turns to Yato for help with her condition, only to discover that he’s on the bottom of the deific food chain, and she ends up helping him with his jobs.

One of the better shows so far this season. The concept and world design are familiar (Shinto gods and evil spirits everywhere, both invisible to normal humans) but the characters are interesting and the story goes in unexpected directions. Some good sarcasm and funny dialogue helps whenever things get a bit too melodramatic, and good animation with some excellent high-motion fight scenes make it a lot of fun to watch. I’m interested to see where they go with it, definitely worth a look.

Next Time: Hoozuki no Reitetsu, Sekai Seifuku, Space Dandy, Toaru Hikkushi e no Koiuta, Witch Craft Works, Wizard Barristers

Django Wexler is the author of fantasies The Thousand Names and The Forbidden Library. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not watching anime, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

2 thoughts on “Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014”

  1. Commentary on Nobunaga: he’s even the antagonist of a freaking Pokemon spin-off game at this point. Guy sure gets around!

    Also, this isn’t the time to remind me that I have a bunch of new anime to watch when I’ve just started getting into yet another J-drama! Though Noragami and Inari Konkon both look like they could provide some amusement in between episodes of other things.

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