A review of Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh coverLast month, early in my August daily writing binge, I put up a short post about the Azumanga Daioh opening theme Soramimi Cake and the memories it brought back. Memories of resting the morning after puking my insides out from college antics, so not exactly the best kind (or not the most wholesome anyway.)

Watching the then still pretty recent slice-of-life comedy Azumanga (this was back around 2006 from what I remember, and no I wasn’t 21 yet: I remember that much) helped ease my mind a few of those mornings. It was an unusual choice for me — back then, I didn’t have much of an interest in anime like this and was far more into the adult-oriented action, that dark and gritty stuff for manly men like me. I’m pretty sure I picked up Azumanga for the sole reason that images and animated gifs of it were all over the internet back then, or at least around the anime-enjoying parts of it, and those gifs especially were entrancing enough to make me take an interest.

Azumanga Daioh knucklehead dance

I just had to know, you can’t blame me

After writing that post, I decided to check back on the first couple of episodes of Azumanga. This 26-episode series aired over the spring and summer of 2002, based on an original manga by Kiyohiko Azuma published from 1999 to 2002 in Dengeki Daioh (which I went over in that post, but I can’t go without repeating the origin of the series’ name in this one.) Twenty years now makes this officially “old anime”, or maybe classic or vintage if you want to be fancy about it, and watching it again after 16 or 17 years felt like seeing it again for the first time, only with some hazy memories that made it all feel familiar: the very best kind of rewatching experience.

That was the feeling I had watching the first two episodes again, like a warm blanket on a cold morning, and about as close as I can get anymore to the warmth of a glass of whiskey along with it (though not in the morning, not even back then.) This feeling was so nice that I watched a few more episodes, and a few more the next day, and at some point I was halfway through and well on my way to a full rewatch because Azumanga Daioh ended up holding up even better than I thought it would. Strangely enough, even though it’s set in high school and mostly follows a central cast of six friends living their high school lives, I think I got more from the series as an embittered working adult than I did as a drunken idiot college student far closer in time to those days.

Yukari and Nyamo drinking

Part of it had to do with these two, but not entirely. Also yeah check out that 4×3 aspect ratio, such memories. That’s how you know Azumanga is vintage anime.

I plan to explore that feeling and others further along this post. But I don’t plan on writing this review in the typical way. The plot to Azumanga is extremely simple: a bunch of friends go through high school from start to finish. That’s really it. Azumanga isn’t the first anime series I’ve written about with no real plot to speak of beyond “cast of characters live their lives”, with just a couple of character-specific side-plots that show up now and then. But it is maybe the least plot-heavy (plot-lightest?) one I’ve taken on in comparison to its extremely strong emphasis on its characters. Since this is one of the most character-driven shows I’ve watched, I feel like outlining the central and supporting cast before getting in depth with my thoughts on the series as a whole. Starting with:

Sakaki

Sakaki from Azumanga Daioh

Just Sakaki — her given name is a mystery. She starts as a bit of an outsider thanks to her quiet and mild demeanor and her imposing aura — she’s tall and striking, excelling at both studies and sports and inspiring sort of girl-crushes in her class (and an actual romantic crush from another character I’ll get to later.) Despite her reputation, Sakaki loves cute things, especially cats (who don’t reciprocate her love and usually bite her when she tries to pet them) and wishes to be cute herself. She also has a tendency to daydream, making up elaborate fantasies that she occasionally mistakes for reality, though thankfully in a pretty harmless way. Though she’s not all that talkative, Sakaki slowly becomes a solid part of the central cast’s friend group.

Kagura

Kagura from Azumanga Daioh

The other girl in the central group with just one name we know. Kagura starts out in a different class from the rest of the group and sees Sakaki as a rival at athletics when they’re in different classes their first years (though not in academics, which she’s terrible at.) After being in the background for a while, she transfers to the main group’s class in their second year and befriends Sakaki and the rest. As the resident tomboy, Kagura is a tough girl, but she also has a softer side (so a pretty typical anime tomboy type? Still like her though.)

Koyomi Mizuhara

Koyomi Mizuhara from Azumanga Daioh

Better known as Yomi. Studious and serious, Yomi is often the voice of reason in the group, except when she loses her temper. She often fights with the next girl on this list, her childhood friend and classmate Tomo Takino, for reasons that are entirely understandable. Sometimes has a bit of a sarcastic and occasionally even a mean streak and is more than capable of scheming, but her heart’s usually in the right place. Yomi is also constantly watching her weight (and getting teased by Tomo about it.)

Tomo Takino

Tomo Takino from Azumanga Daioh

Yomi’s childhood friend and long-time classmate, and the self-appointed class clown and Kagura-appointed “idiot wildcat”, or I think that’s how it was translated. Tomo has an endless supply of energy, yet somehow she consistently shrugs off her studies, gets bad grades, and even fails at athletics. She’s also generally a reckless nuisance who inserts herself into any and every conversation and situation she feels like, often speaking and acting before thinking, and usually aggravating Yomi and starting fights between them. Despite Tomo’s obnoxious nature, she’s also a source of positive energy (sometimes positive anyway) and is still counted as a close friend of the group, bringing them together in sometimes unexpected ways. Even if it’s only to get yelled at by everyone else.

Chiyo Mihama

Chiyo Mihama from Azumanga Daioh

In some ways the most remarkable member of the central group, Chiyo is a newly minted high school student at only ten years old, a child prodigy who jumped several grades out of elementary school. You might expect a precocious brat out of a character like Chiyo, and though she is both from a wealthy family and extremely intelligent (not just for her age, but even compared to her much older classmates) she doesn’t have a superior attitude and tries hard to just be another high school student. Her total lack of physical coordination also helps balance her out a bit character-wise.

For their part, her friends at school treat her largely in just the way she wants, as just a friend and fellow classmate, though she does become something of a class mascot during their sports and cultural festivals. Chiyo also gets a bit bullied for her small stature sometimes, particularly by Tomo and their homeroom teacher (and man, more about her soon too.)

Ayumu Kasuga

Ayumu Kasuga (or Osaka) from Azumanga Daioh

And then there’s the most truly remarkable character in this central cast. You might not know the name Ayumu Kasuga, but find any list of popular anime characters over the last twenty years and you’ll find Osaka somewhere in there — this is the legend herself. Ayumu joins the class at the beginning of Azumanga as a transfer student from Osaka to Tokyo, yet despite Osakans’ reputation for being rowdy and loud (something like New Yorkers’ or Bostonians’ reputation here in the States maybe?) she’s just the opposite, both slow- and soft-spoken. Even though she defies Tomo’s expectations about how Osakans are supposed to act, Ayumu still gets pinned by her with the nickname “Osaka”. This new name instantly sticks to the point that it’s easy to forget that’s not her actual name, and also to the point that I’ll just be calling her Osaka too from now on.

There isn’t any other character quite like Osaka. She’s sometimes considered dumb, with her constant trailing off and her difficulties with her studies, but she’s anything but — her mind just operates on a completely different wavelength than everyone else’s. Osaka often isn’t paying much attention to what’s happening around her, but that’s because she’s wondering about the origins of common expressions or words or simply about why life is the way it is. Like Sakaki, Osaka has bizarre dreams that she confuses with reality, but unlike Sakaki, she also seems to forever live in a semi-dreamlike state. She’s my favorite character in Azumanga without question, and that’s a high bar to clear.

In addition to this main cast, Azumanga features several important supporting characters, some of the more prominent including:

Yukari Tanizaki

Yukari Tanizaki from Azumanga Daioh

An English teacher and also homeroom teacher to the central group. Yukari is casual and offhanded despite her role as a teacher, even letting her students refer to her by her given name and even as Yukari-chan. Yukari still seems to want to be a student, an irresponsible adult if there ever was one — she’s inconsiderate and cheap as hell, a real contrast to her friend, former classmate, and current colleague Minamo Kurosawa. It’s not a big stretch to say Yukari is probably how Tomo will turn out if she stays on her current course.

All that said, Yukari still has a real impact on her class and on the central characters, most of whom are with her all three years of high school. I’d say her heart is also in the right place but I’m not so sure with Yukari. But then she sure doesn’t give any fucks, and I guess I can respect that to some extent.

Minamo Kurosawa

Minamo Kurosawa from Azumanga Daioh

A P.E./gym teacher and homeroom teacher in the class next to Yukari’s. In contrast with Yukari, Minamo is actually respected by her students throughout the series for her maturity and kindness, often inspiring jealousy in Yukari that she doesn’t bother to resolve by being a better teacher herself. Minamo and Yukari are still close friends despite Yukari being Yukari — they attended the very same high school they work at in the same class years earlier, and Minamo soon becomes known as Yukari’s nickname for her, “Nyamo”, by the central characters. In some ways, Nyamo is the most relatable character to me, which I suppose is probably a good sign for my mental maturity.

Kaorin

Poor Kaorin

Another student in the same grade as the central cast. Kaorin is friendly with everyone, and while she isn’t quite a solid part of that central cast, she does get invited along to hang out with them sometimes. Kaorin’s main thing, however, is her massive, no-question actual romantic crush on Sakaki — she’s constantly trying to find a way to get closer to her beloved, though sadly for Kaorin that love is never reciprocated. Though to be fair Kaorin never really expresses it either, and Sakaki does live in her own world most of the time and isn’t the most observant except when it comes to animals. Poor Kaorin.

Kimura

Kimura is a creep, Azumanga Daioh

Poor Kaorin, because the only person who expresses that kind of feeling about her is this guy. Kimura is the school’s Japanese literature teacher, an exceedingly strange and creepy man with a passion for high school girls. Yeah, specifically the girls. He’s shockingly open about his feelings and his thankfully futile attempts to get the girls to wear their swimsuits to class and so on. There are plenty of absurd aspects of Azumanga, but maybe the most absurd is the fact that Kimura still has a job by the end of the story. (But then again, maybe that’s not so unusual.)

There does seem to be a little more to Kimura than that, and he never goes beyond some creepy and bizarre behavior particularly towards Kaorin, who’s tragically placed in his class in her third year. But still, man. This fucking guy.

Chiyo’s father

HELLO EVERYNYAN

He’s a cat. Don’t tell him he isn’t a cat. Also speaks English, can fly, and has other useful powers.

These and a few other characters (a couple of other students, a few cats, a dog, and a mysterious woman you’ll get to discover for yourself) spend 26 episodes just living their lives. Again, there really isn’t any plot to speak of in Azumanga. That’s by design, because the show clearly doesn’t mean to have a plot, unless “high schoolers coming of age” counts. There’s no romance (aside from the running “Kaorin loves Sakaki” joke, and something that one-sided hardly qualfies) and no drama, only a bunch of comedy bits strung together across three years of high school and its full run of classes, exams, cultural festivals, sports days, and summer vacation trips.

That might not sound terribly impressive or interesting to you, and reading the premise on paper it doesn’t to me either. At least I would have said that before starting to get into the slice-of-life genre early this year. Azumanga feels very much like a precursor to that strangely anime/manga-only “slice-of-life/cute girls doing cute things” sort of hybrid genre, containing a wide variety of series with Lucky Star, Nichijou, Yuru Camp, and K-On! among the best-known. This series introduces a lot of the comedy and surreal humor this genre would become known for, and though these following series would have their own unique blends of those elements, some leaving out the surreal parts and others jacking up them even more (Nichijou, from what I’ve seen — it’s also on my list to watch) I think they all owe a lot to the work of Mr. Azuma and the team at the studio J.C.Staff that produced this adaptation.

Chiyo and her dog Mr. Tadakichi talk to Sakaki

Mr. Tadakichi is the dog

A lot of the character in Azumanga comes out of the VA performances. I’ve only watched the show subbed (I know, I’m that snooty sub elitist) and the voice actors all do excellent jobs, with Osaka’s languid trailing off lines being a special highlight for me. I still don’t have that much of an ear for it, but her VA Yuki Matsuoka is an Osaka native as well, and I know at least enough Japanese to hear some of that dialect in her speech — a nice touch there, like getting a Bostonian character an actor actually from Boston who doesn’t have to try to put on that accent.*

But setting my subtitle elitism aside, I’ve also heard the dub is pretty damn good and even iconic. Rare enough for an anime from 20 years ago to get that kind of attention to detail and quality in localization, though it still seems like a point of controversy that they decided to make Osaka into a country girl in her speech patterns both in the translated manga and the anime dub (look at Google Earth and go to Osaka; it’s anything but country.) But I’ve seen a few dub clips and it all works in the strange sort of way that somehow fits with the general strangeness of Azumanga. The only potential issue with watching the dub is that a few jokes based on language puns might not translate so well, but that’s not a new problem for translators and localizers working from Japanese to English. Maybe they found some creative ways around those issues.

Osaka from Azumanga Daioh wondering about the difference between escalators and elevators

This one doesn’t need explanation since they’re using English loanwords. When you think about it, “escalate” and “elevate” describe the same act, don’t they?

These characters don’t have a whole lot of development outside of Sakaki, who has her own separate story running through the series that resolves in a really nice and heartwarming way (and I don’t even mean “heartwarming” in the sappy sarcastic sense — it really works perfectly.) But I don’t think that matters since Azumanga stands well enough on its sometimes absurd comedy and on the occasional warm feelings it creates. I don’t think this series had a single episode I disliked or was at all bored by. That’s even considering the fact that some of its gags are drawn out with pauses and a lot of repetition, but they work perfectly well in this context.

Osaka floats off into the sea, Azumanga Daioh

Again, a lot of these scenes involve Osaka, seen here floating off totally oblivious into the sea. I think whether you like Osaka is a good test for whether you’ll like the series as a whole.

Maybe it’s strange that I like Azumanga so much. I’ve heard other fans say that the sense of nostalgia it creates is a big part of its appeal, and I can see that myself. It’s one of those series that transported me back to a time when I didn’t have bills to pay, and when life still held at least a little hope — when I still had some sense that there might be something out there in the world for me that I just hadn’t found yet. It’s a little melancholic going back to Azumanga so long after all that hope’s been fully crushed and disposed of, but my feelings when rewatching it were far more positive than that on the whole.

No, the strange part in my case is that my high school life was a fucking misery too, just in a different way. Being a painfully awkward and socially inept kid through most of middle school and the first few years of high school, I holed up with books and games. Not so much with anime, not back then, but I had plenty to keep me occupied in my own bubble, and by the time I’d started finally getting fed up and breaking out of my shell a bit, it was far too late to overcome first impressions, so I waited until college to bother with that.

So why the fuck should I enjoy a show about high school? Or any of these shows set in high school for that matter? I don’t have any warm fuzzy feelings about that godforsaken place, not even today, looking back near two decades after leaving.

Yukari and Nyamo at their desks at work, Azumanga Daioh

Depends on who you were and what you mean by easygoing, Yukari. But Yukari is easygoing even as an adult.

Maybe Azumanga works for me despite that because it’s still pretty far removed from my own American high school experience. On top of all the show’s surreal weirdness, that may create enough of a distance that I’m not exactly reminded of my own school life while still getting the benefit of nostalgic feelings from earlier childhood before that bullshit began. I can certainly relate to the girls’ struggles through their entrance exams, but I’m mostly digging the nicer memories of being a kid up from those earlier years.

At the same time, my current self can strongly relate with Minamo’s thoughts about adulthood in particular (since Yukari doesn’t seem to have those thoughts too much herself.) The idea of having to “get serious”, thinking about starting a family (and getting pressure from family yourself) is almost painfully relatable. Maybe a bit less for a man than a woman, but at least in the culture I was partly raised in, we get it as well.

If anything at all pained me about watching Azumanga, it was these occasional looks into my present and future as an adult with responsibilities. The show doesn’t dwell too much on these adult moments, but they’re nice breaks from all the high school-related insanity going on for the vast majority of its running time, and I especially like how the students are depicted as looking up to Minamo and not quite as much up to Yukari (and as for Kimura, again, the less said, the better.)

Yukari and Nyamo at nighttime, Azumanga Daioh

I’m looking for a Nyamo in my life, but I’ll probably end up with a Yukari, God help me. I also wonder what Yukari said to make their surprise blind dates bail on them — it’s left a mystery.

Once again I’ve written probably far too much about a simple comedy. But you know, sometimes what seems simple really isn’t, and seeing Azumanga again stirred up a lot of feelings in me, so I had to express them fully. Looking back now, the soundtrack did a lot to stir up those feelings too: I already wrote about the appropriately bizarre/lighthearted opener “Soramimi Cake”, but the show is full of memorable background music, many tracks that instantly came back into my mind the moment they began playing. I would post examples here, but there are so many that I’ll just put up this playlist I found on YouTube of both OSTs.

Sakaki and Kagura walking home from Azumanga Daioh

Oh such memories, such a simpler time, having to deal with evil stray cats on the way home

My final word on Azumanga Daioh is that it’s a great series that truly deserves to be called a classic. Maybe the production value isn’t quite up to today’s standards — certainly Azumanga isn’t nearly as detailed or nice-looking as some modern series — but the style works perfectly in its context, and every other element of the series works so well that I didn’t even notice the aged look of the show (though again this is coming from someone who loved almost all of Legend of the Galactic Heroes as well, and the original version too.) Azumanga may not be for you, for example if you absolutely need some serious action in your anime or you’re so deathly allergic to school-setting series that you can’t stand the sight of a sailor suit in any context at all. But even if these describe you, I’d encourage you to at least watch the first episode, because you might find something new to love like I did.

 

* Watch Scorsese’s The Departed. Good movie if you’re up for a lot of gang violence, but apparently it features some of the worst Boston accents in any movie. If you’re a Bostonian maybe check it out and see what you think of it.

A review of Spy x Family (first cour)

If there was ever a post I didn’t need to write, it was this one. But since my entire blog is unnecessary, that means there’s no such thing as a more unnecessary post than usual.

So here’s a look at the first cour of Spy x Family, the massive smash hit anime that just finished the first part of its run. Just about everyone was watching this. Even one of my cousins who never watches anime had heard of it, and if she knows about an anime, that means people damn well know about it, and well outside the usual fan circles. It was hyped up before it even started airing based on the source manga, and now that its first cour is done, the anime so far has been praised to the heavens, getting close to the top of the charts on MAL and Anilist.

But does this first cour of Spy x Family live up to all that praise and hype according to the asshole who writes this blog? I’ll answer that question in way too much detail below. (I should also clarify why I’m calling this the first cour* and not the first season: because it seems like it’s specifically meant to be a “split cour” series of 24 episodes in total, with the second set of 12 airing again in the fall season. So it’s not exactly two seasons, even if it technically is airing over two seasons. I guess? I’m still not sure about these naming conventions. Fuck it — on to the review.)

Our story opens with a spy codenamed Twilight from the state of Westalis. As a top Westalian intelligence agent with a talent for depiction and disguise, Twilight is entrusted with difficult operations, but his next mission may be the most difficult and delicate yet. Twilight is commanded to travel to Ostania (yeah, they purposely weren’t too creative with the countries’ names) and to start a family, complete with wife and child, as soon as possible.

Twilight is shocked by this command, considering how much time and effort starting a family normally takes. But he doesn’t have time to spare: prominent Ostanian politician Donovan Desmond is poised to start a massive war between their two states, and Twilight has to make contact with him under false pretenses to stop his plan by getting his kid into the same elite school as Desmond’s and befriending him. Twilight’s bosses at WISE tell him this is the only way to get within reach of this guy considering how cautious he is. So he accepts and puts on a respectable family man act, taking on the identity of the doctor “Loid Forger”, securing an apartment, and immediately afterwards heading down to the local orphanage to pick out a child smart enough to pass Eden College’s entrance exam.

Enter the first member of Loid Forger’s new family. When Loid asks for a kid who can read, he’s brought to Anya, a small girl who hardly looks more than four or five. Despite that, she can fill out a difficult crossword puzzle perfectly and without hesitation right in front of Loid, so he picks her out for his new daughter, figuring he’s struck gold. What he doesn’t realize is Anya is cheating at the puzzle by reading his mind while he watched her: she’s a telepath, the product of a shady supernatural power training program. The upshot of all this is Anya instantly realizes her new father is putting on an act and that he’s a spy.

Luckily (?) for him, Anya loves spies and similar excitement, so she’s happy to come home with him and to keep his secret. But since leaving the training program, she was told not to tell anyone about her mind-reading powers, so she conceals those powers from Loid.

After having an all too real spy adventure in the second half of episode 1 in which she’s briefly kidnapped and rescued by her new dad, Anya takes the Eden College entrance exam with some help from Franky, Loid’s connection/fixer who gets them an answer sheet. But there’s still another complication: applicants are also required to hold family interviews with the headmasters of the school, including both parents. No exceptions. Anya points out that Mama doesn’t exist, so Loid is off to find a wife.

Hack Hollywood romcom writers take note of this meet cute, you can’t do better

And finally the family is complete when Loid runs into a beautiful woman at a tailor’s shop. Yor Briar is stressed out because of her single status, with both her younger brother breathing down her neck and insisting that she start to settle down and her colleagues at her job at Town Hall gossiping about her. Yor’s been invited to a party and is expected to bring her boyfriend, who doesn’t exist. There’s an initial spark between Loid and Yor, and Anya, using her telepathy, realizes that they’re perfectly matched to play fake boyfriend and wife respectively but that neither of them are recognizing it themselves, with Yor assuming Loid is married since he has a daughter. So Anya starts singing out loud about how her mother doesn’t exist and how much she misses said non-existent mother like it’s a tune from a musical.

Loid and Yor explain their situations to each other and agree to play their respective parts. However, later that evening, Loid attends the party late after taking on a quick but extremely bloody side job from WISE, and in his rush and confusion he declares himself Yor’s husband. By accident, their relationship is now pretty much cemented, so they decide to run with it, and by the start of the third episode they’re legally married.

And oh yeah, Yor is an assassin.

Here’s an unlikely family dynamic, then: a father pretending to be a psychiatrist who’s actually a spy working on enemy ground, a mother pretending to be a normal citizen who’s actually an assassin, and their daughter, a telepath who doesn’t tell anyone about her powers but knows her adoptive parents’ real occupations, though she can’t tell them she knows. While Loid, Yor, and Anya are all deceiving each other, they’re also together in deceiving the rest of the world about their relationship as a legitimate family.

A joint production of studios Wit and CloverWorks, Spy x Family is an adaptation of a popular manga that I’ve heard recommended to me for a while. It’s too bad I’m so lazy about following up on manga recommendations, because I’m sure I would have taken to this one instantly. Normally I wait until I’m a bit further along these posts to start heaping praise on something I like, but there’s no point this time: this first cour of Spy x Family was excellent, starting with the unique “fake family” setup and following through with a lot of great comedy and some nice action, sometimes mixed together in the same scenes.

And all in the context of highest-stakes plot imaginable.

The strongest aspect of Spy x Family for me so far is not really its plot, however, but its characters. The overall story makes for a nice spy thriller, but taken on its own it’s not that special. Cool handsome spy man has to save the world by taking on a disguise and starting a family in the rival country to his. Before getting to the disguise and family parts, that describes the plot of every James Bond movie ever made (and I guess every James Bond novel, though I’m not sure what else that weirdo Ian Fleming might have written that didn’t make it onto the screen.) And maybe Mr. Bond even takes on a disguise sometimes, though from what I remember he usually doesn’t bother too much with that sort of thing as long as he can punch and fuck his way through his problems.

In the first episode, Twilight seems like he might be exactly this James Bond type — sitting across from a woman he’s in a fake romantic relationship with under an assumed identity, and a relationship he literally gets up and walks away from after telling her he’s dumping her. All for his job, but he does come off here like the cool and even cold James Bond type. But that’s all overturned by the end of the first episode, when his new daughter Anya starts to become attached to him. Even his reasoning for abandoning her at this point goes against his mission: he doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way and reasons out that he can somehow carry his mission out without using a fake son or daughter. But he gives in and keeps Anya, and seemingly not just for the sake of his job.

This isn’t for the mission at all — it’s Loid actually being a man with feelings, maybe for the people he cares most about even if he doesn’t realize it yet? Yeah, that’s where this is going.

The same turns out to be true of his new fake wife, Yor. Loid again reasons out that he’s doing all this false family stuff for his mission. But we see him getting genuinely angry with people who give Yor a hard time for supposedly doing some unseemly things with men for money (which she didn’t — a cover for her assassination job, which is a lot more unseemly really) and for being a stepmother who can’t cook or be a “proper” wife as she is at the party and the later family interview with the headmasters at Anya’s school. He even wonders at how and why he’s getting emotional over these attacks on a woman he doesn’t really care about when it comes down to it.

But then we can guess where all this is headed. As Irina wrote in a post I linked a while back, Loid isn’t James Bond, and that’s a good thing in so far as he seems to be forming real emotional bonds with his new family despite his intentions. He’s actually a good guy and a genuine one himself.

If you can get a wife who’s normally cute and pleasant but does this if your child is threatened, you got a good one

Yor is more of a mystery at this point. We’re in Loid’s head far more often, and even in Anya’s especially when she’s at school. Yor seems very much like a genuine person too, a woman who despite appearances is insanely strong and skilled at fighting. She also doesn’t seem to realize her own strength, which even makes her feel more honest of a person to me while also making her more of a menace to society and to the people around her.

Even so, she really comes off as wanting to be a good wife to Loid and a good mother to Anya, even when she realizes that she’s taking part in a complete put-on to fool her colleagues and her brother, and for Loid’s sake to fool Anya’s school. I think this along with her earnestness and near-complete lack of guile makes her pretty endearing. Though there’s still a giant question mark about her real job, which she continues to carry out. Should Yor get a pass for murdering people, even if they’re pretty shitty people from what’s been suggested? And is she only getting a pass from everyone because she’s hot? These are interesting questions, and I hope the second cour helps us answer at least one of them (but I’m pretty sure part of the answer to the second question is yeah, probably. I’ve seen the fanart, I know.)

And does her little brother Yuri get a pass too? This guy is nuts for all kinds of reasons, but I really like him so far. But I’ll leave him out of this post so you can find out for yourself.

Then there’s Anya, the face of Spy x Family as far as I’ve seen. Anya is the rare case of a child character written in a way that’s not 1) unrealistic or 2) annoying. That’s hard as hell to do. I haven’t even bothered trying it myself, not yet. There are a lot of pitfalls there, and especially with a child character who has a special ability like Anya does. It’s easy to write a kid who’s precocious and extremely irritating for just that reason.

Yet I haven’t seen anyone say that about Anya, and I wouldn’t say it either. Like her parents, she’s just endearing. It helps that despite her telepathic powers, there’s not much special about her. She’s certainly not a genius, and she’s about as uncoordinated as any average kid her age would be. Anya is really just a little kid who likes spy cartoons and wants to mess around and doesn’t care for studying or practicing proper table manners.

That contrasts nicely with the fact that Anya is the one with the most information about all the rest of the characters in the series by far. Loid tries to get her to act in accordance with his mission by telling her to study hard and to get make friends with Desmond’s son Damian, but since she can read his mind, she knows world peace hangs in the balance, so despite not really wanting to study or to be friendly with Damian (at first seemingly a rich little shit, but actually with a bit more to him) she decides to do so anyway. She doesn’t even seem to mind that her mom is an assassin, though Yor’s casual thoughts about blood and death still shock her a little.

Anya is just doing her best, and in a world that up until now has rejected her. She also seems to be the glue holding the family together. She’s still too young to put it in these terms, but it feels appropriate since her new parents are both outcasts and outsiders in their own ways too.

She also realizes along with us where the Loid/Yor relationship is almost certainly headed, nice setup here

The above was probably far too much to write about characters in a comedy, but what the hell — why not. These are excellent characters with a lot more to recommend them than just their designs, which are great too. Credit to manga author and illustrator Tatsuya Endo for all of that, and also to the studios Wit and CloverWorks for putting it all into beautiful-looking and stylish anime form. And credit to Gen Hoshino for the really nice ending theme Comedy, an appropriate title too.

I’ll save the rest for when Spy x Family returns this fall for its second cour. I’m hopeful that it will keep up the consistently high quality we got with this first cour — aside from a couple of unexpectedly goofy episodes like the fifth and the final one it was all amazing, and even those were pretty fun to watch even if they felt a little over-the-top or out of place.

Looking forward to more of Anya’s elite private school life, which isn’t sugarcoated either

And if you haven’t seen Spy x Family at all yet, go and watch it. You don’t have much excuse for skipping this one — I watched it on Crunchyroll, but you can also find it on Netflix and even on Disney+, so if you’re only subscribed to Disney for all your Star Wars and Marvel movie and series needs, try Spy x Family for a change. This feels like one of the rare anime series that might have a lot of appeal outside the usual fanbases. i.e. feel free to recommend this one to your normal friends, something I almost certainly won’t say about the next anime I’ll be having a look at. I have a couple of games I’ll probably be writing about first though. Until then.

 

* Bonus unnecessary explanatory endnote: I was interested to know where “cour” comes from since I’ve never heard it used outside of those anime-watching circles. Apparently it’s been taken as a loanword from the Japanese クール / kuru, which itself is a loanword taken from the French cours meaning course as in a series of classes. That’s the explanation I’ve read most often anyway, and it’s interesting if true, since the word would have changed a lot in meaning in its jump from French to English via Japanese. Really unusual path for an English word to take too, since most of our French-derived words come directly from French, both old Norman (thanks to this asshole) and later varieties.

I don’t know, is any of this shit interesting to you? If it is, go check out the History of English podcast. Sounds dry from the description but it’s both extremely informative and entertaining if you like words, and maybe you do if you read my overlong posts.

A review of Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

Who from the what now? I wouldn’t be surprised if this title produces a total blank for you — I saw absolutely no talk about this anime while it was airing last season. The only reason I discovered it was VRV’s recommendation system back when I was still using that site in its last days, and when I was rolling for first episodes of anime to watch in those roulette posts. If you remember all the way back to that part 2 post, Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department (aka Kaijin Kaihatsubu no Kuroitsu-san) was one of the few choices VRV’s algorithm presented that hit for me, so when I had an actual break from work for once I decided to sit in front of my beat up used tablet and watch the rest of it, the remaining 11 of 12 episodes.

So Kuroitsu really came out of nowhere, but I’m happy it did, because big spoilers: I liked it. This review will be on the shorter side just because there’s not as much to say as usual, this being a pretty straightforward comedy despite appearances. But more below this screenshot anyway.

Touka Kuroitsu, above, is a scientist working at the evil organization Agastia, which aspires to world domination despite the efforts of various super sentai warriors and magical girls to stop them. Kuroitsu’s specialty is monster development, which she works on alongside her supervisor Dr. Sadamaki. Together, the two use bizarre and possibly unethical DNA fuckery to custom design and grow living beings in a water tank for the purposes of combat among other miscellaneous duties the company might need done.

So far a fairly normal sort of job. However, in the first episode matters get even more complicated when Sadamaki and Kuroitsu’s new promising monster Wolf Bete, a muscular wolf man in development, ends up getting converted into a lithe wolf girl after the fearsome leader of Agastia decides that would be cuter.

Wolf girl fresh from the oven. See also fearsome leader Akashic, who is of course a massively powerful small girl, what’s new.

Very unfortunately for Bete, there wasn’t time and/or the budget to convert his brain to a female’s, so he’s left with some gender mismatch issues that he ends up dealing with for the rest of the series, the poor guy. Wolf-kun, as Kuroitsu refers to him, is still revved up to do his job, however, which is to defeat one of Agastia’s greatest enemies, the warrior of justice Divine Swordsman Blader.

But also unfortunately, Blader is a hard guy to defeat.

After Wolf-kun is defeated in one-on-one combat, Kuroitsu and Sadamaki return to the drawing board and enlist his help in the lab and around the office. And there’s a lot for him to help with, because though Agastia is an evil organization full of superpowered monsters and executives who can shoot lasers out of their eyes, it’s run more or less like a typical corporation. Project approval requires the assent of Akashic and her board of executives, many of them fearsome monsters themselves, and Kuroitsu and Sadamaki have to fight over their budget with the many other departments in the company, some of which are also involved more peripherally in monster development but enough to be an annoyance.

The world of fighting magical girls and warriors of justice with lab-created monsters is surprisingly mundane most of the time — an executive audit is legitimately more of a worry than a giant robot attack.

Almost immediately, then, it’s apparent that Kuroitsu isn’t what you might expect from the cover. I wonder whether viewers were passing on this one because it might have looked like a generic sci-fi anime. If that was the case, it’s too bad, because while it has plenty of super sentai, magical girl, and mad scientist/monster stuff going on, Kuroitsu is mostly a workplace comedy, and a pretty fine one too. The list of jokes that can be made about professional life at a large corporation and all the red tape and procedural nightmares that go with it is endless, and all the better when some fun characters, creative designs, and bizarrely comic situations are thrown into the mix.

Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

In that roulette post, I mentioned that the first episode of Kuroitsu reminded me of Jahy-sama, another series featuring a mix of human and superhuman characters thrown together into more of a slice-of-life sort of comedy. Kuroitsu isn’t a copy of Jahy-sama at all — the two series take different approaches with their plots and character relationships, but they do have some overlap in the sense that I think the sort of person who might enjoy Jahy-sama might also enjoy this.

I think that partly because I’m that sort of person myself. You might have guessed already this comparison was coming since I’ve made it once before, but both remind me of the Disgaea series, which I love for some of the same reasons.* Kuroitsu also has just that sort of energy, but with more of an emphasis on both the perks and responsibilities of the corporate life.

Wolf-kun on assignment with the boss, checking up on the amusement park her evil corporation maintains as a front. They’re not just having fun going on rides and eating carnival food, no. This is serious business.

I especially like that despite its self-description as an evil entity bent on taking over the world, Agastia really isn’t that evil. It’s not exactly the most well-run organization, firstly — see the screwup with Wolf-kun in episode 1, perhaps a good lesson for top executives not to go messing around with projects last-minute and without proper planning beforehand, but also an indication that world domination isn’t quite in the cards for the company. However, it also has a sort of social conscience strangely enough: its amusement park front seems like a genuinely nice place for families and kids to visit, and when a brawl gets started by a monster from a rival organization and a pair of magical girls get mixed up in the fight, Wolf-kun and his monster colleagues are concerned firstly with protecting the park patrons and getting them out of harm’s way.

Agastia is even conscientious towards its own employees. Aside from a couple of red tape and inefficiency-related slip-ups, it seems like a pretty good company to work for. The fact that they treat not just their human employees but also their monsters with respect is admirable, especially since that’s not a given among similar evil organizations as we see near the end of the series. A lot of this goodwill flows down from the terrifying-looking but fair-minded second-in-command Megistus, who uses positive reinforcement and encourages his subordinates to take time off when they need it and to ask for extensions when their schedules are too crowded.

He looks scary but is actually an effective manager who cares about his employees. What a great boss. Shit, I’ve worked at way worse places than Agastia.

There aren’t too many ways to keep writing “Kuroitsu was consistently funny and I liked it”, so it’s probably enough just to write that and leave it there, since I don’t think there’s much else to explore here. There’s just one serious criticism I can think of to make about this series: it looks pretty damn cheap, and quite a bit cheaper than Jahy-sama did which I’ve been comparing it to, and which didn’t look amazing itself.

But as with Jahy-sama, I really don’t mind the cheap look most of the time, because Kuroitsu is also entertaining enough without having to rely on visual spectacle. It might have even been a purposeful decision — the low-budget look fits well with the evil scientists vs. super sentai theme somehow, especially when I think back to some of that cheesy-looking live action Power Rangers stuff airing when I was a kid. In any case, it’s probably pretty easy to make that stylistic decision when you don’t have much of a budget anyway, but since I don’t know what the studio Quad was working with (and I’ve never seen anything they’ve produced before Kuroitsu, so that’s no help) I can’t speculate.

Cool-looking massive robots cost a whole lot both to build, and Agastia definitely doesn’t have the budget to build any of those, so don’t expect to see any.

So Kuroitsu was a fun comedy. Might work even better for you if you’re especially into that classic super sentai and/or magical girl stuff, which I’m not really, and it still worked well enough for me, so hopefully that speaks to its quality. It’s a shame Kuroitsu, Wolf-kun, and their friends and enemies alike didn’t get more notice (or much of any at all from what I could tell) but at least hopefully fans of the source manga enjoyed it. I might have to check that out myself. And as for you dub-only fans out there, despite flying under the radar here, Kuroitsu got an English dub — a great choice to watch if you’re allergic to subtitles! No idea how the dub sounds myself since I don’t watch them, but it’s nice that Crunchyroll is providing that option anyway. More work for VAs is always good.

I still think Crunchyroll is a giant pile of shit, though. Thanks for restricting screenshotting on mobile, you fucks. Are you afraid that I’m going to screenshot every frame and rip the episode to a piracy site (you know, the kind you were when you started out?) I guess I’m throwing away my 0.00000001% chance at ever getting sponsored by you and your bosses at Sony, but it’s worth it to keep complaining.

 

* And a note that I’ll probably be getting Disgaea 6 Complete when it comes out on the PS4 in a few days. So much for no more lengthy JRPGs aside from Atelier… but I have to make an exception here too, right? I’m also amazed that we’re still getting games for the PS4 after so long; that system has had an impressive lifespan.

A review of Cop Craft

Let’s finally close the book on the summer 2019 anime series Cop Craft.  My weekly review posts were all extremely spoiler-laden, so if you’re looking to go into Cop Craft more or less blind, read this spoiler-free review instead to find out if you might like it enough to check it out on Funimation’s streaming service (or to find the episodes in other very obvious ways that I won’t address here.)

Tilarna will chase down and arrest all pirates

Our tale starts with Kei Matoba, a grizzled detective in San Teresa, a large American city on the Pacific coast (which I’m still positive is meant to be alternate universe San Francisco.)  San Teresa has a special status as the gateway city to a group of immigrants called Semanians from a planet connected to Earth through a mysterious wormhole gate thing that appeared out of nowhere some years back.  At the beginning of the series, Kei’s partner is killed by a corpse being controlled by Semanian magic during a sting operation gone wrong, and in the course of the investigation a new partner is assigned to him: the Semanian knight Tilarna Exedilica, a young noble lady with a haughty bearing but an honest and straightforward personality.  Kei and Tilarna clash at first, but they end up working together and even developing a strong bond as they learn to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They also live together in an Odd Couple-style arrangement

If that sounds familiar, it might be because this is the basic setup of every buddy cop series and movie ever made.  Cop Craft was a bit different from most of the other series airing last season for just that reason — it borrows a lot from western sources, namely from American cop dramas, and throws in a whole lot of sci-fi and mixes them together.  This invited a lot of comparisons to Bright, the Netflix original movie with a somewhat similar premise that took a beating from critics in 2017.  Cop Craft is based on a light novel series that started in 2009, though, so there certainly wasn’t any inspiration from that film here.  In fact, a better comparison might be another Will Smith movie: Men In Black, only Tommy Lee Jones is 30 years younger and Will Smith is a cute sword-wielding girl from another planet where due process and defendant rights don’t exist.

Tilarna-style interrogation. I guess this alternate-universe USA doesn’t have Section 1983 protections against police misconduct.

The story of Cop Craft is decent enough — there are a few plots that start and get resolved throughout the 12-episode run that are presumably taken from writer Shoji Gatoh‘s light novel work.  These plots are contained within a larger story about the clash of cultures between Earth natives and Semanians, a clash that plays out on a small scale between Kei and Tilarna.  This both gives our protagonists more depth and raises the story’s stakes, especially in the second half of the series, which deals directly with issues relevant to real life like nativism and xenophobia.  Thankfully, Cop Craft deals with these issues in a way that’s neither preachy nor heavyhanded.  Tilarna does face discrimination while working with Kei because of her origin, but the show doesn’t treat her detractors as faceless villains — they’re all depicted as real people with real fears.  Misguided fears, to be sure, because Cop Craft has an obvious anti-xenophobic message.  But that message is effective precisely because it treats these issues as complex.

The greatest strength of Cop Craft lies in its characters, however, and specifically in the relationship between Kei and Tilarna.  Kei is the jaded old cop who’s been forced to accept corruption and the influence of money and politics in his work, and Tilarna is the young hothead who acts before she thinks but who also forces Kei to remember his old ideals.  Beyond that basic archetypal stuff, these characters are just really well-written and grow closer over the series in a believable way.

The context to this scene is pretty interesting, but I’ll let you find out about it for yourself.

There’s not much more I can say about the plot or characters without spoiling, so I’ll leave it at this: Cop Craft is worth watching just for Kei and Tilarna.  A few of the surrounding cast of characters are interesting as well, particularly the police coroner Cecil, but Kei and Tilarna are almost always at the center of the action, which is a good thing.

Speaking of action, there is action in this show and a lot of it looks lousy.  The animation in Cop Craft is wildly inconsistent, ranging from decent to awful.  If you saw the above stills and thought “wow, this show looks beautiful” — yeah, some of the still shots are detailed and nicely show off the excellent work of character designer Range Murata, but the action scenes look rough, with a lot of obvious animation shortcuts.  I don’t know much about the technical aspects of animation, but I do know what looks good to me and what doesn’t.  Most of Cop Craft looks like it was made on an extremely tight budget, with 95% of the detail reserved for the scenes where the studio obviously wanted to make Tilarna look really good.  Even some of the still shots lack detail to a distracting extent.

There’s also one episode that’s so dark you can barely make out anything.

I have to assume the studio (Millepensee, who also co-produced the widely hated 2016 adaptation of Berserk and what look like a few “cute girls doing cute things” comedies I’ve never heard of) just didn’t have the funds or time to make something that looked better. It’s a real shame — I know there are people who will avoid watching Cop Craft because of its rough animation, and I can’t blame them for that. This is a visual medium, and the visuals matter.

Still, if any of the above stuff sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking out Cop Craft, even if it is visually rough around the edges sometimes.  Look at it this way: if I told you the visuals and animation in Cop Craft were beautiful but that the characters and story were dogshit, I wouldn’t be recommending it at all.  If I want to see nice visuals and nothing else, I’ll look at my artbooks again.

We got a lot of shots of Tilarna being cute and pouty, and that’s all that really matters

And that’s about it for Cop Craft.  Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be getting a second season considering how little attention the anime series seems to have gotten.  The light novel series is still being written and published, though, so there’s always a chance.  Maybe when the isekai craze finally dies down, there will be more demand for an urban sci-fi fantasy cop show and a better studio with more resources will be able to produce it, and then I won’t have to qualify my recommendation at all.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 8

What the fuck did I just watch?

I know how this looks, but it’s not what you think

Summary: Tilarna and Kei confiscate a shipment of illicit Semanian goods.  While Tilarna inspects them to sniff out any latena that might be in there, Kei’s cat Kuroi accidentally shoots Tilarna in the arm with a miniature crossbow in the collection that somehow transfers her consciousness to Tilarna’s body and Tilarna’s to hers.  “Tilarna” wakes Kei up the next morning by crawling into bed with him and trying to lick his face much to his confusion, but the real Tilarna in cat form freaks out and stops her.

Cat-Tilarna doing her best to prevent any weirdness/misunderstandings

Kei thinks Tilarna has just come down with a weird illness and leaves her to sleep it off while taking out the trash on the way to work (the crossbow also toppled into the trash can, so now it’s out in the dumpster.)  In a panic, cat-Tilarna texts Cecil that she and Kuroi have switched minds and asks her to come over and get the crossbow out of the trash, because she needs it to return to her own body, but not to tell Kei anything.  Cecil gets the gist of what’s going on after cat-Tilarna frantically gestures for a few seconds and uses her cell phone to write out messages.  Unfortunately, when Kuroi sees Cecil, she leaps on her, accidentally knocking her out.  When Cecil awakes, the dumpster is empty.  Cecil and cat-Tilarna take off to follow the garbage truck, but not before Cecil is forced to run back inside to close the blinds because Kuroi in Tilarna form is currently roaming around Kei’s apartment half-naked.

MY ASS IS HANGING OUT OF THE WINDOW, PLEASE FUCKING CLOSE THE BLINDS

And would you believe it?  For this episode, there’s a fucking cliffhanger ending as the garbage truck passes by their car while Cecil is in Kei’s apartment, and then she drives in the opposite direction.

Analysis: It’s not much of a cliffhanger if you ask me.  There were certainly a lot of stupid coincidences that came together to cause this problem, but we know Tilarna and Kuroi are going to get back into their own bodies in the end.  Unless this is going to become a show about a cop and his cop cat partner.  Like Turner & Hooch, only Hooch is a cat.  Now that would be a shitty twist.

Meanwhile, Kuroi doesn’t seem too concerned with the body swap situation

I guess this episode, and probably the next one where Tilarna and Kuroi switch places again, are the big fanservice episodes of the season.  I have to admit I didn’t see this coming at all.  I was thinking more like a beach episode, not Tilarna crawling around like a cat in her underwear and taking a dump in a litter box (this actually happens in the episode, though the camera tastefully pans away while cat-Tilarna looks on in horror.)  I know I’ve pretty much admitted to being a weirdo who likes catgirls, but this isn’t what I had in mind.

Wait, the cat’s name is Chloe? The subtitles call her Kuroi.  Whatever, I’ll keep going with Kuroi since I’ve been using it this whole time

I don’t have much else to say this time.  I can see some people being put off by this episode, I guess.  I’m still on board, of course, but it was definitely a strange one.  If you’re still on board too, I’ll see you next episode.  Until then, stay safe, and try to avoid getting shot by a magical crossbow that can switch your mind with a cat’s mind.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 5

Cop Craft time again.

Kei and Tilarna at the office. It’s good that they included a little administrative work in the story.  Police work isn’t all magic swordfights, after all.

Summary: Our supernatural cop adventure continues as we follow Tilarna to the morgue, where she’s trying to defend Cecil from the corpse-turned-hot lady monster that killed her assistant.  Kei shows up at the last minute to help out in the fight and the monster vanishes after losing one of her arms.  Back at the office, Tilarna tells Kei that that thing was a vampire that has regenerative powers, as we learn when she later attacks and feeds on more humans around town.  Tilarna uses her magical nose to sniff out Vampire Lady (what I’m calling her now since she doesn’t get a name) at a mall where she’s holed up.  When they storm the mall, Kei gets knocked out and Tilarna ends up tied up in the vampire’s makeshift lair in a vacant shop lot.  Vampire Lady is trying to learn more about the world she’s just woken up in and questions Tilarna about it, but after Tilarna calls her a monster, she decides it’s time to feed again.

In a different context this could be quite a nice scene, but no, she’s a vampire.

Thankfully, Kei has recovered and bursts into the room with backup before Vampire Lady can kill Tilarna (or turn her or however it works.)  Tilarna warns that the vampire is invincible, but the cops fill her with bullets that seem to hurt her before she disappears and escapes again, this time into the subway.  Vampire Lady is guided by a magic light into a tunnel that leads her to a young man in a suit speaking in a familiar voice (the man doesn’t name himself, but he is definitely Zelada possessing some poor guy’s body.)  Almost-certainly-Zelada offers to help her but she bites his neck instead for some reason, killing him (but probably not killing Zelada himself; I’m sure we’ll see him again soon enough.)  Kei and Tilarna meanwhile hunt Vampire Lady down in the subway tunnels and fight her, there’s a suspenseful moment as she and Kei grapple in front of an oncoming train, and Tilarna saves Kei at the last second while Vampire Lady is run over by the train and dies, her body shattered into pieces like a broken vase.

Tilarna kicks Kei for again not thanking her for saving his life, and the episode ends.

Analysis: RIP Cecil’s shitty lazy assistant coroner.  You died before we knew anything else about you.

Also, god damn but was this episode dark.  I don’t mean in tone, though I guess it was a bit dark in tone with Tilarna almost getting her neck sucked dry by Vampire Lady.  About 80% of the episode takes place in the dark, either outside at night or in a mall after closing time, so it was sometimes hard to make out the action.  I also don’t get what happened when Tilarna grabbed Kei away from Vampire Lady before the train would have hit them both.  They were all covered in glowing light.  More magic, I guess.

I like Vampire Lady’s design, very classically vampiric-looking. But since her body shattered at the end of the episode, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing her again.

This episode feels as close to “standard action show” as we’ve had from the series so far.  That’s not a bad thing, it just feels slightly filler-ish.  It does establish that Zelada is still around causing trouble (unless that’s some other evil wizard voiced by the same guy who voiced Zelada, which seems unlikely) and drop a few more hints that Kei has some latent magical power.  It also gives us a few more moments between Tilarna and Kei, like the one in which Tilarna tells Kei she knows a form of magic that can only be performed while naked (I think it’s supposed to be the magic Vampire Lady is using to regenerate) and then yells at Kei because she thinks he’s now picturing her naked.  Yeah, the show is going in that direction.  I’ll bet real money that there’s going to be an episode soon in which Tilarna and Kei have to go undercover to the beach and she yells at him for looking at her in her swimsuit.  Who’s taking?

Another bet: a closeup shot of Tilarna getting pissed off at Kei will be in every episode in the series.

A couple of the side characters other than Cecil are also becoming a little more prominent, especially Kei and Tilarna’s new supervisor Zimmer.  He’s sort of the stereotypical cop movie angry boss, but he also seems like the “tough but fair” type who has their backs as long as they’re in the right.  We’ll have to wait and see if he tells Kei and/or Tilarna to turn in their guns and badges at some point.  I guess Tilarna would get to keep her sword, at least, since she brought it from home.

I also look forward to learning more about Tilarna’s magic, especially that one kind where she has to be naked to use it.

Sorry, sorry! I was just kidding, I swear.

That’s all for now.  Until next time, stay safe.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 1

Welcome to the site’s newest feature, which I thought of today while stuck in downtown traffic: the Seasonal Anime Draft.*  The idea behind this feature is that at the beginning of each new season, I’ll pick one anime series to watch and review episode by episode.  My pick will be based purely on what I think I’d like from the plot synopsis and previews, but even if I end up hating it, I won’t drop it: I’ll keep the reviews going until the very end of the series, along with an all-around review of the entire season at the end, even if it turns into absolute garbage.  That’s a promise.  My apologies to all the real anime bloggers out there: it’s been actual years since I wrote anything substantive about an anime series, but I hope I can contribute something meaningful with my own dumb opinions.  Also, this feature is going to be an addition to, not a replacement of, my usual stream of infrequent game and music reviews and bitter, drunken complainy rants.  Rest assured, I still have plenty of games to play, music to hear, and complaints to air.

So, what’s the first series to receive this great honor?  I don’t know why I’m trying to build tension, because it’s in the title of my post: it’s Cop Craft, an adaptation of a light novel series written by Shoji Gatoh and illustrated by Range Murata.

I won’t lie: the fact that Murata is involved is most of the reason I’m picking it to review.  If that sounds like a silly reason for watching a show, you might be right.  But Murata has such a unique style combining realistic, futuristic, and fantastic elements that I have to believe any show he works on is going to be special in some way.  Hell, I own two of his artbooks, so I’m bound to check out anything he’s associated with.  Of course, nice visuals alone don’t necessarily mean a show will be good, or that it will stay good throughout its run, but that’s the gamble we all take when we start watching something, isn’t it?

Anyway, on to the review.

Summary: Sgt. Kei Matoba is a gruff detective living and working in San Teresa, a coastal city situated near an interdimensional portal that suddenly appeared over the sea one day and that a bunch of aliens and fairies and demons have entered Earth through.  Matoba loses his partner during a sting operation involving the illegal sale of a fairy trapped in a jar that ends in a gunfight with two suspects.  Matoba believes a powerful group of wizards from the Farbani Kingdom is to blame , since they apparently have the power to possess people’s minds and control their actions.  The main perp manages to escape with the fairy, who seems to have great importance, though it’s not yet clear why or to what effect.

If your name and titles take more than one subtitle to say, they’re too long.

Shortly after his partner’s death, Matoba is sent off on a ship to the portal to meet a noble VIP from Farbani named Tilarna Exedilica (her full name is a lot longer, but she shortens it for our convenience, which is nice.)  Tilarna is a knight and apparently an important official of her native kingdom, despite being a kid.  Or maybe she just looks like a kid, but she’s really not.  Either way, she’s come to Earth to look for that kidnapped fairy from the first scene of the episode, and as a consequence she’s named Matoba’s new partner.  Tilarna and Matoba don’t get along, and both object to being paired up at first.  But they’re convinced to go along with the arrangement and start their investigation for the greater good and all that stuff.  Matoba starts out treating Tilarna like a kid he’s been given to babysit, but it turns out that Tilarna is both great with a sword and able to literally smell danger, both of which come in handy in a fight.

“Stop or my extradimensional cosplay girl partner will slice you with her blade!” doesn’t roll off the tongue so well.

After getting a tip from a corrupt priest who runs a combination church/brothel (yeah, I don’t know, that’s my best guess of what that scene was about) Matoba and Tilarna conduct a raid on an apartment and end up in the middle of a gunfight with a couple of bad guys, which is where the episode ends.

Analysis: Are you fucking serious?  Ending the episode in the middle of a gunfight.  These guys have some nerve.

Matoba and Tilarna have a cute dynamic going on so far.  He’s a bitter, jaded detective who’s seen everything, and she’s a haughty noble girl who can kick ass in a fight but who also doesn’t know how elevators or cars work.  Even though the two don’t quite trust each other, it seems that they need each other’s skills to solve the case they’ve been tasked with.  The funny thing is that this is exactly the kind of setup your standard buddy cop show has.  I’d find this boring if it were taking place in a totally realistic setting, but the fact that one of the cops is a sword-wielding alien girl makes it better somehow.  Sort of like how Men In Black was different from other buddy cop movies too.

I also like the art style.  Maybe it’s just the fact that Tilarna stands out so completely, both from the environment around her and from the other characters, all of which are taken straight out of your typical cop show.  She also goes through an extremely quick magical-girl-style costume transformation before she’s ready to fight, which is a bit weird.  Maybe they’ll address that next episode.

Ready for action!

Hopefully now that the basics of this setting are established, the pace of the next episode will slow a bit.  Despite the infodumpy feel I got from this opening episode, though, it did get me interested in the series.  I’m not one for cop dramas, and that’s exactly what Cop Craft seems to be.  If it weren’t for the fantasy/sci-fi element, there’s no way I would have picked this show to watch.  But it’s there, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the writers do with it.

*After writing this post, I realized the acronym for this series is SAD.  Which makes it the perfect name for the series, since I am a sad excuse for a human being, so I’m definitely keeping it.