Today we have the second half of the Winter ’14 season, alphabetically speaking. We’re now four weeks in, so I’ve seen three or four episodes of most of these shows, but I will keep the spoilers to episode one.

It has a neat art style that evokes old Japanese paintings.

It has a neat art style that evokes old Japanese paintings.

Translated as “Cool-headed Hoozuki”, this one is a bit of an oddity. It’s a comedy that takes place in a sort of modernized version of the traditional Japanese Hell, where the demons have been recast as workers in a big bureaucracy. The King of Hell is Enma, but his right-hand-man is Hoozuki, an outwardly calm and bureaucratically adept demon with a cruel streak who untangles various snafus with a deft touch.

This show definitely has some funny moments, but how much you get out of it will depend in large part on your familiarity with Japanese folklore and mythology — most of the humor is in taking the traditional demonic creatures and so on and portraying them as working stiffs, bitching about their jobs in the Hell cafeteria and so on. Other mythological characters, including Satan, make regular appearances. It’s worth a look if you’re deep into the culture, but otherwise the references will probably go over your head.

Seriously though, anime, we are going to have to have a talk about the costumes for little girls.  I feel like I should be on a watch list.

Seriously though, anime, we are going to have to have a talk about the costumes for little girls. I feel like I should be on a watch list just for looking at this.

Sekai Seifuku means “World Conquest”, the traditional goal of arch-villains everywhere. Asuta Jimon is a high school kid who’s been thrown out of his house after a fight with his parents, and while searching for a place to spend the night he accidentally falls in with a conspiracy of weirdoes called Zvezda. They’re led by a little girl who claims to be a warlord bent on taking over the world, and have (largely unexplained) supernatural powers. Opposing them is a secret government agency, also with super powers but not terribly competent, led by Asuta’s friend from school in disguise.

This one is weird enough to be watchable, but I’m not sure where it’s going. The Zvezda guys are a collection of really strange characters, with equally strange powers. The government they’re fighting against is tyrannical in some unexplained way, but we don’t actually hear much about the politics. This is definitely on the comedy side of the action/comedy blend. Amusing, but I strongly suspect it will just meander through gags for a while and not go anywhere.

Among the many powers of Space Dandy are stupid hair and uncomfortable expressions.

Among the many powers of Space Dandy are stupid hair and uncomfortable expressions.

Space Dandy is the retro-future story of an alien hunter named Space Dandy, who goes around trying to find new species in order to claim a reward from the galactic government. In practice, he mostly hangs out at restaurants called “Boobies” and stumbles into and out of dangerous situations by pure happenstance. His sidekicks are a cat-like alien and a put-upon, sarcastic robot who is the only competent member of the team.

I got sick of this one real fast. It’s not an intrinsically bad concept — a space comedy set in the retro-future could be funny — but they immediately go way too slapstick-y with it, making it clear that nothing in the show is to be taken seriously. The animation is excellent and in an interesting style, but it doesn’t redeem the lack of story or likeable characters; Dandy is a dull, incompetent boor, who is played for laughs but wears out his welcome very quickly. The comedy mostly relies on sight gags. I wouldn’t bother with this, unless you want to take a look at the first episode just for the weird animation.

I was promised cool dogfights!  Quit it with the romantic sunsets already!

I was promised cool dogfights! Quit it with the romantic sunsets already!

Translated as “The Pilot’s Love Song”. Karl La Hire, a deposed prince who has taken the unremarkable nickname “Kal-El Albus”, sets out about a giant floating island launched by a grand alliance of countries on an expedition past the edge of known world. He and his friends are trainee pilots, learning to fly twin-engine, WWII-esque aircraft to support the giant flying battleship that defends the island. The opening promises some dogfights and air combat, but it’s not clear against who yet.

I’m conflicted here. I like the setting, which seems well-developed and detailed, and the animation is well-done. The few snippets in the opening and the first episode promise excitement, but the show has yet to really deliver. Wherever they’re going, they’re certainly taking a long time to get there, and they seem more interested in the romance and interpersonal tensions between commoner and noble trainees than the actual plot.

Currently, there’s no listing of how many episodes this is going to be. From the pacing I would guess 26 (two seasons) rather than 13, and if so I’m optimistic that the show will eventually get somewhere good. If they do get stuck with thirteen, I have a hard time seeing how they’re going to fit a reasonable plot into the remaining time. Still, this may be one of my favorites of this season if it actually manages to go anywhere.

One of the bad guys uses a squadron of killer bunny robots, though not very effectively.

One of the bad guys uses a squadron of killer bunny robots, though not very effectively.

Takamiya Honoka is an ordinary high school kid, because of course he is. He meets Kagari Ayaka, the most beautiful girl in school, and when he’s attacked by evil witches she reveals herself as a fire-watch and rescues him. Now that the bad guys are targeting him, she has to train him to be a witch himself and harness his intrinsic magical powers, while defending him against increasingly powerful enemy attacks.

This is an utterly standard formula for a show: super-powered girl rescues hapless dude from bad guys, dude happens to be Dude of Destiny for some reason and they have to work together to defeat evil. There’s not much here to differentiate it, though the animation is quality and the character designs are appealingly off-kilter. What bugs me is that Ayaka, our main character, isn’t even vaguely challenged by any of the opponents she meets in the first few episodes — it’s clear that the blows them away without even breaking a sweat, which makes me wonder what was the point of even having them. Honoka is bland and forgettable, like every protagonist of this sort of show, designed to serve as an audience stand-in for wish-fulfillment purposes. All in all, nothing to write home about, though a competent implementation of the formula.

Pictured: A lawyer, doing lawyer stuff.  That's her lawyering outfit.

Pictured: A lawyer, doing lawyer stuff. That’s her lawyering outfit.

In a world where “Udo”, or wizards, are common and heavily regulated to control their magical powers, there’s a Court of Magical Affairs where they’re taken when they commit crimes. Popular prejudice against them runs high, so the Wizard Barristers who act as defense attorneys are not popular figures. Cecil, a young Barrister, joins a small firm to defend Udo against unfair accusations and help her own mother, who is spending her life in prison.

This one is directed and designed by Yasuomi Umetsu, famous for shows like Kite and Mezzo, and the animation has his distinctive visual style. It’s high-quality, with flashy effects and excellent fights, and the characters are mostly interesting. (The legendary Wakamoto Norio, pushing 70 now, voices the heroine’s pet frog familiar.) Unfortunately, the plotting is weak, and the world design makes no sense.

I’ve joked that this show could be called “Worst Lawyers Ever”. It’s slightly baffling to me WHY they made a show about wizard lawyers, since they’re clearly uninterested in law and would much rather just make a show about wizards fighting each other. The “defense attorneys” do things like go out and capture the real criminals themselves, then force them to confess in order to clear their clients.

Further, we’re supposed to feel bad for the regulated and oppressed Udo, but it’s obvious that the prejudice against them is completely justified because a) they have un-removable superpowers that can level buildings and b) they’re constantly murdering people. Frankly, given the danger they pose to society, the regulation they face is pretty tame. (I’m surprised they’re not all summarily drafted into the military.) On the other hand, the Wizard Court has no clear procedures, no jury, and is empowered to hand out sentences of death that are carried out on the spot.

So, ultimately, only so-so — it’s actually pretty entertaining as a wizards-fighting show, but because the basic concept is flawed they have to spend a lot of time on pointless lawyer-y stuff that never goes anywhere. Seems like a design someone failed to think all the way through.

New from Django:
Check out my new urban fantasy novella, "John Golden, Freelance Debugger"!

Check out my new urban fantasy novella, “John Golden, Freelance Debugger”!

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.

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