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Lost in Animeland: Fall 2014

Fall season, traditionally probably the biggest of the anime seasons, is finally upon us! There’s an enormous avalanche of shows, more than even I can watch. Even restricting ourselves to only the SFF shows, it’s a pretty long list. I’ll go over some that stood out from the first and second episodes I’ve watched so far.

One notable thing is that there are quite a few new seasons for older shows starting up. Psycho-Pass, Fate/Stay Night, Log Horizon, and Mushishi are all getting new seasons. I’m not going to talk about them here, since as far as I know none of those make for great starting points, but you can go back and watch from the beginning!

As usual, these impressions are based on the first few episodes only. No spoilers for beyond that point!

This is the latest from Kyoto Animation, the studio responsible for giant hits like The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi and K-On. Everything they do features cute characters and top-shelf, high-budget animation, but some are better than others in terms of plot and character. Their last couple of efforts didn’t thrill me, but this is still something I came to with high expectations.

This derpy crocodile is VERY upset about the park closing.

This derpy crocodile is VERY upset about the park closing.

Seiya, a smart but self-absorbed high school student, gets essentially kidnapped and taken on a “date” by a girl named Isuzu. She gives him a tour of a run-down amusement park, and then reveals her true motives. The park, it seems, is actually the habitation of a gang of magical creatures exiled from their homeland, who need the adulation of humans to survive. Unfortunately, they’re doing badly enough that if they don’t get another 250,000 visitors in the next couple of months, the developers will close the park. Their oracle predicted that Seiya might save them if he was made park manager.

There’s a lot to like here. It’s a great example of economical story-telling: we start with Seiya being dragged to the park, with no long exposition about how normal his life is or his everyday worries in school. Seiya is an interesting character, more self-centered and narcissistic than your typical blank, put-upon protagonist and therefore somehow more deserving of the weird stuff that happens to him. The side characters are still being filled in, but there’s already been some great moments with the park’s hard-drinking fairy “mascots”, led by Moffle, who is a dead ringer for Bonta-kun from Full Metal Panic Fumoffu and is always up for a brawl.

All in all, I’m really happy so far, and hoping for great things. Definitely a strong contender for best show of the season to date, though those who want action and combat should look elsewhere; this is a cute, humorous character drama.

This one has an interesting history. It’s based on a relatively famous manga, but one that ended in 1995, so it’s been a long time coming. It doesn’t seem to have affected the story much, however, except for references to Google, iPads, and so on that come with being set in the modern day.

This alien monster looks scary, but it's actually in constant danger of biting its own eyeballs off.

This alien monster looks scary, but it’s actually in constant danger of biting its own eyeballs off.

Izumi Shinichi is a nerdy high school student who wakes up one night to find himself under attack by a worm-like alien. He manages to keep it from getting to his head, so it settles for his right arm, which he discovers has been replaced by a stretchy, shape-changing monster that is now permanently attached. It talks to him (with a slightly disturbing-looking mouth) and can move more or less on its own.

That kind of sounds like the setup for a raunchy comedy, actually, but this is closer to horror. Lots of other alien also landed, and when they succeed in taking over the brain of a human that person becomes a fully alien monster and goes on a killing spree. The aliens can sense one another, so Shinichi finds himself targeted, and is forced to work with his new “passenger” to survive.

I read this manga, long ago, and remember enjoying it quite a bit. The show seems to be doing well with the premise — we have minimal high school geekery, and they’re getting down to alien fighting by the end of the first episode. Lots of gore and body horror here, naturally, so those that don’t care for such things should steer clear.

“Kokkuri-san” is a game kids play in Japan, not dissimilar to a Ouija board, using a coin as a pointer and invoking a spirit named Kokkuri-san to answer questions. Apparently, if one does this alone, one risks possession by Kokkuri-san, who is a fox spirit.

Kohina also has a lightsaber, because reasons.

Kohina also has a lightsaber, because reasons.

In the show, a lonely little girl named Kohina does this, and Kokkuri-san actually turns up to possess her. Kohina is a strange girl, who insists that she’s an emotionless doll and seems to be entirely alone in the world. It turns out that Kokkuri-san is also pretty lonely, so he ends up kind of moving into her house.

Again, that sounds like a setup for a very different type of show, but this is a gag comedy, a bit like Azumanga Daioh or Lucky Star. Kohina is totally deadpan and ridiculous, while Kokkuri-san serves as the put-upon straight man. It’s actually really funny, though as usual with comedies your mileage may vary depending on taste and Japanese cultural references. I don’t expect much in the way of plot or action, obviously.

Yes, the title really is spelled that way. In the SF future, humanity has come up with a novel plan for terraforming Mars: sending specifically engineered algae and that most durable of organisms, the cockroach, to change the planet into something more Earthlike. Unfortunately, the cockroaches have mutated into humanoid form and become incredibly aggressive, so that when the first manned mission lands hundreds of year later, they’re wiped out. Worse, a new virus is ravaging humanity, and the cure lies on Mars, so a new team of elite fighters is put together to fight their way to it.

The villainous cockroaches, hurling ... something?  It doesn't help that the cockroaches remind me of The Tick.

The villainous cockroaches, hurling … something? It doesn’t help that the cockroaches remind me of The Tick.

I’m really not sure what to make of this one, for several reasons. As a straight action-adventure show, it’s a bit over-the-top, so much so that it has touches of parody to it. (For example, the captain recruits our protagonist from an underground pit-fighting ring where he’s punching it out with a bear.) We don’t get a lot of character in the first episode, though some hints are intriguing.

More problematic, though, the censorship of the show is so heavy as to make it nearly unwatchable. Censorship happens occasionally in anime — Japanese law about what can be shown on TV at which time are strict and complex — but it’s usually a sexy scene that goes a bit too far that draws the censor’s ire. This time it appears to be gore that’s the problem, and some scenes are almost entirely blacked out. No one seems quite clear on why since the show isn’t that gory, relatively speaking; it may be a timeslot issue. But it’s bad enough that I’m going to hold off on watching this one until an uncensored version becomes available, which CrunchyRoll has promised will happen at some point in the future.

When fighting dragons and monsters, it's important to dress ... practically.

When fighting dragons and monsters, it’s important to dress … practically.

This one felt like a bit of bait-and-switch to me. The first scene gives us girls in elaborate transforming robot armor, battling lightning-shooting dragons that emerge from a rift in space. That turns out to be in the future, however, and we flashback to see how they got there. The main character, Angelise, is the beloved princess of a magical utopia whose only problem is the presence of magic-negating mutants called (hilariously) “Normas”. Angelise insists Normas are sub-human, up until the point where she’s revealed to be one, a fact that the royal family went to great lengths to hide.

The tone of this one takes a rapid turn toward the dark about halfway through — we go from “high school kids playing motor-Quidditch” in the first scene to the princess being stripped naked and abused in prison at the end of the first episode. Overall it left me a bit cold — the pre-flashback bit seemed promising, but the actual characters introduced afterward didn’t thrill me. I’ll probably give this a couple more episodes, but I suspect it won’t stick in the long-term.

(lit. “I become/will become Twintails!”)

"I get why I have to transform into a girl to fight monsters, I mean obviously.  But why am I like a foot shorter than the others?"

“I get why I have to transform into a girl to fight monsters, I mean obviously. But why am I like a foot shorter than the others?”

I usually don’t include shows that I thought were boring or stupid in these roundups, but sometimes something is sufficiently ridiculous that it needs to be mentioned. “Twintails” refers to a hairstyle (where a girl has two ponytails) that, like most moe types, has been raised to the level of fetish among certain fans. In this show, Souji is one such fetishist, absolutely obsessed with girls who wear this style. A mysterious woman turns up and tells him that evil aliens are coming to strip Earth of its twintails for energy, and that he has to stop them; he gets a bracelet that transforms him into a twintailed (female) superhero and fights … lizards and ninjas, more or less?

In theory, at least, this could work as a parody, but the creators of the show don’t seem to quite understand the concept — aside from the ridiculous premise, it’s played completely straight, more or less recreating an old-fashioned “masked hero”-style battle. The bad guys are also obsessed with twintails, especially on little kids, and are a bit weird about it. (They want to abduct cute children to … take pictures of them with stuffed animals? Or … yeah …) Our hero righteously condemns this behavior, when he’s turned into a girl, with absolutely no awareness of the fact that he was acting just as creepy not five minutes earlier.

Anyway, it’s dumb. Parody needs humor and cleverness to work well, not just “Hey, we copied X but added a silly premise!” Needless to say, not watching this one.

Next time: More Summer ’14!

My humorous urban fantasy novellas are available separately in e-book or both in one paperback!

My humorous urban fantasy novellas are available separately in e-book or both in one paperback!

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.

About Django Wexler (27 Articles)
Django Wexler is the author of military fantasy THE THOUSAND NAMES and middle-grade fantasy THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY. He's a lifelong fan of SFF, anime, computers, and games of all sorts. He lives in Seattle with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. Follow him on Twitter as @DjangoWexler.
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