The Fall 2010 anime series is fully underway and we're seeing a number of shows across a few different carriers this year. There's a lot of content out there and sometimes it can be hard to determine what's worth spending the time (and money, if you want really quick access) on. Since we're watching the majority of new shows out there on a weekly basis and talking about them, we wanted to take a peek at things after they've hit the first few episodes to see if they're worth carrying on with. We'll be reviewing them to the end of each run but for most people, the 2nd and 3rd episodes are where the decisions are often made about whether to continue on or not. With the free-casts for some of these hitting that stage, let's take a look at it. Myself, Bryan and Greg are going through nearly twenty new simulcasts this season as well as some ongoing shows and catch-up releases so there's a lot to talk about.
Bleach came on during the summer season but we didn't start getting into it until the fall simply because it's so daunting getting into a long running series while watching the earlier episodes through DVD releases. Even more so with Bleach as we jumped on midstream of a story arc that quickly decided to do some side stories and filler before getting back to the drawn out main arc. The show is picking up steam as it focuses on the battle with Aizen, and there's definitely appeal in what's going on, but if you're watching the older episodes at the same time, you really get this sense that Bleach is not a show that has a larger narrative to it or has any plans, at least in the near term, for significant growth and change. It's fun and has a lot of style to it that's been built upon since the start, but the lack of clear vision and a plan looks to be doing the show some harm at this point in time.
This series dealing with a high school student that's always changing schools coming back to an earlier one has all the appeal of many slice of life shows centered in this kind of location. It has some really beautiful animation, great locales and a growing cast of attractive and interesting young women. While the production values are great, it's really lacking that one hook in there to make it a show you come back to. At least until the last thirty seconds of the first episode when they darkly reveal that there's vampires within this school. The show is one that is definitely slow in nature, getting to these points because it wants to build up the daytime school elements and show the lead reconnecting with the people from his past, but those few moments of darkness do draw you back in. Fortune Aterial is the kind of show that teases you well enough at the start to gain your attention, but it's reaching the point where it needs to let the viewer in a bit more to truly hold onto them.
We originally started watching this one back during the summer and fell in love with how powerful the story had become with its emotion and the utter destruction of the Leaf village. Similar to Bleach, we're watching this one on DVD for the earlier episodes and watching the new ones live so there's a gap of knowledge in there but no gap in fun. At least until the fall period got underway as the last several episodes have all been about flashback stories to when Naruto was just starting out which is reminding me of why I hated the original series for so long. These episodes are hard to watch, especially after the incredible peak the main arc just had, but all of that tells me that it's definitely worth continuing on with since there's a lot of manga material still yet to animate. This is a show I always thought I'd hate, but the summer season proved otherwise and that helps me to get through this bleak period.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
Viz Media only has one show simulcasting this season and it's a continuation from the summer season. Based on the quite popular manga, it deals with a young man who is set to be the Third Heir of a yokai clan but he doesn't want to be. He's half yokai in that he has a night time self that comes out on occasion that's older, more mature and fairly deadly. And handsome. Unfortunately, the show is terribly uneven and poorly executed in the first half and it carries on in the second half as well as new group has arrived to take down the Nura clan and Rikuo in particular. It shifts between silly school comedy material and serious stuff while populating it with a diverse cast of characters that are, generally speaking, not terribly likable. They're not bad, but they're just simple and uninteresting. With the way it shifts between stories and has a lead character that was far too whiny at the start, but has settled down, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan started off badly and has barely climbed up to being mediocre at best.
While the show is being shown about a year behind it's original release, it is one that Viz Media adds a new episode or two for every week. And it's generally been one of my favorite shows of the year so I wanted to include it here. Cross Game is a high school show about baseball and it's one of the more honest ones out there, and one that starts off by going through the kids lives across a few different years for the first several episodes. First as children who undergo a tragedy, then in junior high and eventually to high school. The baseball segments are pretty thrilling throughout as it doesn't overdramatize it since it goes for the serious side and it doesn't make anyone a mega star. It's a real world kind of series that also deals with high school relationships and pasts that haunt them, but again without it being melodramatic. Few shows play the viewer as well as this which makes watching the lead characters of Ko and Aoba so engaging. They may not be fully fleshed out, but they have conflicting emotions, passions about things in their lives beyond any potential boyfriend and girlfriend and they come across as real. They're people you can easily identify with and would want to hang out with and get to know more. When it gets to the baseball, it avoids many of the usual cliches and stands out strongly with a real love of the game but a realistic look at it. It's definitely the off the radar show more people should be watching.
Hetalia: World Series
This show is kind of in an awkward stage as the first season of it ran back in the spring but only recently started streaming from FUNimation and it has caught up to the fall season now with the first few episodes. With it being just five minutes an episode, they get added as batches which is how we review them as well. Coinciding with the home video release of the first two seasons, Hetalia simply offers up more of the same but with a more diversified cast. And while that has a lot of appeal as it introduces more countries-as-characters to its gags and fun, moving away from the core group of the Axis and Allies characters reduces a lot of the fun. For many, Hetalia is heavily identified with the Italy and Germany characters and they have a much reduced role in the first half of World Series but eventually do pick up steam. The show has a lot of fun with its jokes and gags with how it pokes everyone on the arm but it's lost a bit of what made it a bit more biting in the first two seasons. It's enjoyable and an easy watch because of its shortness, which helps it from running the gags into the ground.
Legend of Legendary Heroes
Few shows frustrate me like the Legend of Legendary Heroes. A summer season show that is still ongoing, it started off strong and then did several episodes of flashback before getting back to the present. And once there, it split its storytelling awkwardly between the political and intrigue side with the action and adventure part with the characters searching out Hero Relics from the past. Each has its appeal but the blending has not worked at all and the political side has people that are so overtly evil and conspiratorial that you can't help but wonder why they're given such a wide berth. There's some really striking action and choreography to the show, but each episode seems to bring the show further into a train wreck status that you don't even know where it could begin to try and salvage itself. The two stories are good, but they didn't belong together as main stories taking away from each other. If not for review purposes, I would have given up on this show after the first couple of episodes.
Best. Simulcast. Period. I hated One Piece when I got the first DVDs but kept watching it and liked it well enough. But then I started watching it in the Impel Down storyline in the early 400's and have been going at it for fifty or so episodes now. And as that arc and the current arc have played out, I have gained a huge amount of respect for this property. One Piece is damn hard to get into at this point if you haven't seen earlier episodes, but if you watch the first voyage sets you can easily leap to the present, or just do some reading. One Piece is building a massive cohesive storyline that's run over ten years in anime form at this point and the episodes airing at this point are among the best in bringing together so many different things from that history and playing it all off of each other. Infused with emotion, action and plenty of depth, it's consistently the show that I look forward to eagerly every week. And I never, ever, thought that I would say that.
Horror based shows are few and far between and Shiki, a summer show that took a bit of a hiatus before its return in the fall, has consistently been one of the more engaging ones. Involving a rural village that's suddenly seeing a spike in deaths seemingly by natural causes, it turns out that there's an unnatural force at work. What makes this a Very Good show is that it goes for chills and atmosphere rather than outright splatter or shocks. It's the kind of horror that plays you through the music, the quiet moments and possibility of something appearing out of nowhere. With a two track investigation going into the deaths, it deals with it logically and realistically until the only conclusion is the supernatural. Shiki takes it a step further with really intriguing character designs for those that come back from the dead which only adds to the atmosphere of otherworldliness.
If there's a show that can go one way or another this season, it's Samurai Girls. Probably one of the worst named shows I've ever seen, it's an alternate timeline series where we see that the Tokugawa period extends into the 21st century. With the government heavily involved in all walks of life, it blends the old and new in a way that doesn't seem gimmicky or corny. And into this world there's a revolution that's forming and a mysterious girl that literally falls out of the sky. While the story is still really forming, what sells it is that it's very unusual with its animation design with heavy line work and a setting that feels unique. It's heavily stylized and there's a lot of sexual connotations to it that may cause you to avoid the show as it feels like a spiritual successor to High School of the Dead. At this stage, this is the show with the most potential to really break out into something amazing, but it's held back by some basic plotting issues and a dreadful name. It's definitely the show to watch though.
Misaki Ayuzawa is the Student Council President of Seika High School, a formerly all-boys school that recently went co-ed. As the first female student council president of a school that is still majority male, she has her work cut out for her keeping them all in line. Unfortunately for Misaki, her family is very poor (her father having run off), so she has to work a part-time job after school to help pay the bills. The job? Working in a maid cafe. Her secret is safe until she somehow attracts the attention of the unofficial prince of Seika High, Takumi Usui. Like many a long-running shoujo romance, this one moves along at a snail's pace, taking one step forward, two steps (sometimes more) back in bringing the obvious couple together. It doesn't help that Misaki is as dense as lead and Usui is so perfect it's near annoying. Those who enjoy slow-moving shoujo romances will probably be happy with it, and there are colorful and amusing minor characters (as well as very annoying ones) to entertain you while the writers don't advance the romance. If you need action and fast-paced adventure with your romance, this is not the show for you.