The Episode 1 anime dice roll (rolls 8 – 10)

Another post so soon?! Impossible, I know. But this helps me out, since it gives me some motivation to actually start these anime series if I know I’m planning to write about them. So really, this post is as much about me pushing myself as it is about giving you the reader my first impressions.

Setting my selfish reasoning aside, let’s get on with it, starting with:

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou

That title can be translated 15 different ways, so I’m sticking to the Japanese one here by default, but it’s basically Higurashi New from what I can tell. The original visual novel series it’s based on takes place in the village of Hinamizawa, where the transfer student Keiichi Maebara has just moved. At first glance, this kid seems to have it pretty good — outgoing and surrounded by his new friends, all living a quiet life in the countryside. However, the village contains some dark secrets that Keiichi has just stumbled upon, and one of those new friends of his is acting pretty damn weird, and hey, is that a machete (edit: billhook, sorry, it’s a billhook) in her hand, and is she right behind him?

This is pretty much the first episode of Higurashi Gou. I watched the original 2006 anime adaptation shortly after it finished airing and I remember liking it a lot, but I’ve also forgotten enough about the story in the last 12/13 years that this feels like a new experience again. And Higurashi Gou apparently takes the story in a different direction from the original works, so it’s not just a straightforward remake, which I’m happy about as well.

This first episode was really well done, with some good misdirection (almost all of it is cute slice of life-style messing around with Keiichi and the girls, just as in the 2006 anime adaptation) and nice-looking character models by Akio Watanabe, the character designer for the Monogatari anime, still another draw for me. I figured I’d like this anyway — writer Ryukishi07 tells a good story, and I’ve heard Higurashi Gou more than lives up to the original Higurashi series, so I’ll certainly keep watching.

Blue Reflection Ray

I’ve written about both the game Blue Reflection and its soundtrack, so probably no surprise that I’m writing about this as well. The currently airing Blue Reflection Ray is a new story that takes place in the same world as the game, but at a different school with new magical girls. Ruki Hanari, a transfer student (yeah, again) has extreme social anxiety that makes it hard for her to connect with her classmates. Fortunately for her, she makes at least one new friend at Tsukinomiya High School: the outgoing Hiori Hirahara. But of course, Hiori is a Reflector (i.e. a magical girl) and Ruki comes across a ring by chance that connects with Hiori’s, and we know where that’s going.

That said, this first episode is a bit confusing, because it throws a lot at the viewer without explaining very much of it. I had some idea of what was going on because of the concepts it shares with the game, but even then I was kind of lost. I’m thinking episode 2 will contain a lot of these explanations, made to Ruki before she decides to become a Reflector herself. The show also has a weirdly 90s look, at least to me. Maybe that’s just a nice way of saying it looks kind of rough, but then some of the scenes look nice, so I don’t know. It might just be me, but I don’t mind too much.

The story and characters are a lot more important than the look, anyway, and I’ll be sticking with Blue Reflection Ray to see where it goes for now — 24 episodes are planned, so it has plenty of room to develop in interesting ways. There’s also a strong yuri vibe between Ruki and Hiori, so if you’re a yuri fan, this might be worth checking out.

Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro

Of course I wasn’t going to miss out on the Nagatoro anime considering how much I’ve enjoyed the manga up until now. I was a bit worried about whether it would measure up, since this is the first time I’ve watched an anime adaptation of a manga I’m currently reading as it airs (I’m not much of a manga reader, anyway.)

But after watching the first episode of the anime, all those worries were swept away, because they really nailed it. I wrote a general plot/character summary in my post about the manga linked above, but basically Nagatoro is a sporty, popular girl who bullies the hell out of her nerdy artist senior at school (merely called Senpai; he never gets a real name) but of course she actually likes him, and again we have a good idea of where this is going. The anime is extremely faithful to the manga so far and really translates Nagatoro and Senpai’s interactions well. Great opening theme and animation, too, though the flashing colors might give you a headache if you watch it a few times over.

Not much more to say about Nagatoro, except that it’s very promising and I’ll be watching it every week. Even if I already know what’s going to happen, since it doesn’t seem like it will stray too far from the original story.

That’s all for this round. I promise I’m going to make an effort to actually continue a few of the other series I’ve written about in these posts — in fact, I’ve watched all of Blend S, and a full review will be coming soon. Probably early next month, though, because first there’s more Atelier to get to. That series has taken over my life recently and it’s not letting me go just yet. I’ve started a draft about Escha & Logy and it just keeps growing, so if you like my rambling-style posts, you can look forward to that one.

The Episode 1 anime dice roll (rolls 4 – 7)

Today I keep on rolling rolling rolling through my lists of anime that I haven’t watched yet to find something promising. This time I ended up with a mix of complete despair and hope for humanity, leaving me pretty balanced out in my usual moderately depressive state. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So let’s get started with:

Girls’ Last Tour

Starting with a nice and dark one, an adaptation of a manga series about two young girls who are orphaned (I think at least that’s implied) by a massive world war and are forced to search the ruins of civilization for food and other resources to survive. Chito drives their small commandeered military vehicle, while Yuuri rides in the back and takes gunning duties (though who exactly these girls might have to shoot is still a mystery.)

The dynamic between these two is interesting; they’ve clearly been together for a while and know each other well, and it’s implied that they were friends back during the war that tore humanity apart. They also have a nice contrast going, with Chito being the levelheaded, calm one and Yuuri the impulsive weirdo. The one aspect of Girls’ Last Tour that I might have to get used to is the artstyle — Chito and Yuuri are designed in this super-deformed cutesy Hidamari Sketch-looking style like you’d expect out of a light slice-of-life show like that, but everything around them is realistic-looking and drab. That contrast definitely feels intentional, but I don’t know if it works for me that well.

I’ll still probably keep watching this at some point, though. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, so when I’m in the mood for something soul-crushing again I’ll pick it back up.

Penguindrum

Also known as Mawaru Penguindrum, but on Hi-Dive/VRV it’s just listed as Penguindrum so I guess that’s what it’s titled over here. This is one I remember being talked about a long time ago but that I never got around to watching. Two brothers Shoma and Kanba live alone with their terminally ill younger sister Himari. One day they all go to an aquarium at Himari’s request, and while there she collapses and is declared dead by emergency services.

The brothers are devastated, but they get a real shock when Himari is revived seemingly by a miracle. Somehow, the penguin hat she was wearing at the time that she bought at the gift shop contains the spirit of a penguin princess girl (this is my best guess of what she is at least) who briefly possess Himari’s body and speaks through her, telling her brothers that they have to find the Penguindrum, whatever the fuck that is. Said penguin princess is also keeping Himari alive for the time being, though she either can’t or won’t maintain her power for very long, so the clock is ticking for her. The boys have no idea where to find this Penguindrum thing, but thankfully they and their sister have help in their search in the form of three seemingly intelligent penguins, each assigned to assist one of them.

I don’t know if any of that made sense to you. It barely did to me and I just watched the thing. But as I’ve said before, I like weird stuff like this, and Penguindrum promises a lot in its first episode that I hope it can keep up. This isn’t produced by Studio SHAFT, but I get a SHAFT-y vibe from the general weirdness of the show so far, especially the trippy sequence where the brothers are first confronted by the princess, and for me that’s a good thing. I just hope the show doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of extremely heavy drama, because my tolerance for that kind of stuff isn’t that high (though it depends on how interesting it is too.) Penguindrum is looking good so far, though.

A Place Further Than the Universe

Another penguin-related anime, though none have showed up yet (aside from one stuffed penguin toy at the beginning, which was a nice touch.) I’ve only ever heard good things about this series, so it’s one that’s been on my to-watch list for a while. A Place Further Than the Universe is centered on high school student Mari, who wants to make the most of her youth but is afraid of the consequences of taking any risk at all to the point that she feels she hasn’t done anything worthwhile. That changes when she runs into Shirase, an older classmate who’s determined to go to Antarctica to find her missing explorer/author mother. Mari, sick of being afraid of taking risks, agrees to go with her.

Everything about this series is promising: the characters seem pretty compelling, and I like the course of the story so far. There’s a lot of that youthful wonder about the world that ends up being completely destroyed and replaced with bitter resignation after you become an adult (or maybe that’s just my experience?) It’s nice to see, anyway. The production is also very high-quality, as expected of Madhouse — it looks beautiful so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show depicts Antarctica and to seeing how the story plays out in general.

Saki

Somehow I didn’t watch any of this show for over a decade after it aired, not until just last week. It’s one of the only mahjong-centered anime series I know about, the other one being Akagi, which is one of my favorites of all time (and I think that silly-looking one about former Prime Minister Koizumi playing mahjong against other world leaders might have been animated too?)

But I’m happy that I finally got around to remembering this show exists and picking it up, because it seems like a good time. And much like Akagi, it seems like mahjong itself isn’t the main point of the show, but just a template to tell a larger story about the characters playing the game. Saki is a new first-year high schooler who gets dragged into a mahjong club by her friend, despite insisting that she hates the game. When she plays a game with the club, however, she manages to maintain a score of +/-0 throughout, which is incredibly unlikely. Both the club president and top mahjong ace Nodoka realize that it’s no coincidence; from how she plays, Saki clearly has demonic skills, though for some reason she’s not using them to try to win. They try to get her to return to the club, but Saki seems reluctant. Will she give in and join, and will we discover why she hates the game so much despite being so good at it?

Of course the answer to both questions is going to be yes, since this series goes on for 25 episodes + 13 episodes of what looks like a sequel series, and Saki is the title character of both. And I’ll be continuing it for a while at least. Saki doesn’t seem that different from the typical sports anime so far, and I don’t normally go for those shows, but it might just be my stupid bias at work, because I like playing riichi mahjong (even if I am total shit at it, unlike Saki.) However, the mahjong itself might act as a barrier to entry for some watchers, because it’s a complicated game and the show doesn’t even bother explaining the basics, jumping right into the values of different yaku and han and fu and all that shit. Even Akagi did better in that regard. I was also surprised by just how many fanservice shots were in this episode — plenty of low-angle shots + skirts so short I’d question the school principal’s motives in approving them. This is one of those cases where I completely get the complaints about fanservice that I brought up a while ago.

Even so, I’ll keep watching Saki. It feels like the kind of show I can watch to unwind, even if it does look like it might have some more heavy drama later on regarding Saki’s family situation.

And now I have enough series to watch that I probably don’t need to do more of these for a while. However, I still have anime in the backlog that I intend to get to at some point, including a lot of “how the fuck haven’t you watched this” ones like Konosuba and some I know I want to watch like the new Higurashi series. Teasing Master Takagi-san is the first newly-finished one this year I’ve gotten around to writing about (and it’s very worth watching if you haven’t read that post) but I’ve got some others lined up as well that I’m partly or all the way through by now. I just haven’t been able to write anything coherent about them yet.

More game-related posts are also on their way, so don’t worry about that — I haven’t gone through a total format change here like radio stations used to do back when people listened to AM/FM radio (do you remember those days, or am I just getting old? The 90s seem so far away now.) I also plan to get done with that Megami Tensei post series soon, though maybe using a very liberal definition of the word “soon”. See you all in a while.

The Episode 1 anime dice roll (rolls 1 – 3)

So I’ve recently been digging through the anime watchlists I’ve created on VRV (a service that combines the Crunchyroll and Hi-Dive catalogues — a nice one to have, though their streaming player could not possibly be more garbage) and Funimation (which somehow has an even worse player, but they have licensed some series I know I want to watch, so not much choice there) and I felt like writing about some first impressions of series I’ve gotten based on their first episodes alone so far. I have to give the credit for this idea to pix1001 over at Shoot the Rookie, however, and also my apologies for borrowing (i.e. stealing) it. But please head over there for better posts about anime than you’ll ever read here.

In numerical/alphabetical order for once:

22/7

This series aired just last year, but it totally passed me by. However, a post about it on another WP blog that I now can’t find got me interested in it (but if I do find that post, I’ll link to it here later.) In its first episode, the musically talented but angst-filled and unsociable high school student Miu Takigawa is approached by a major studio and offered a chance to join a new idol group. But she and her seven new idol colleagues are confused when they’re told they don’t have to audition for their roles. They’re even more confused when they’re taken to the massive state-of-the-art headquarters built specifically for their training, which includes an entity simply called “the Wall” that issues orders to the studio that, for some reason, they absolutely have to follow to the letter — starting with the strange name for their new idol group, 22/7.

I like weird stuff like this, and this first episode was definitely intriguing. On the other hand, I’ve been burned by anime series before that promise a whole lot and then write themselves into corners that they can’t get out of without making a mess of everything. I hope that’s not the case this time. If it isn’t, I’m even willing to put up with some more angst and extra-anime-style speeches about how humanity is full of scum and liars etc. that we got from Miu in this first episode. To be fair, I’ve heard how screwed up the idol scene can be, so maybe this show is going to be a take on that. In any case, 22/7 has my attention, and I’ll keep going with it to see where it takes me.

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!

Shifting over to something very different in tone, a currently airing very short comedy based on a four-panel comic series based on a fanservice-filled mobile game. I might have mentioned here that I’ve played Azur Lane during my time in gacha hell, the latter of two mobile games that take World War II-era warships and turn them all into cute girls. I know, big surprise. To its credit, the game’s rates aren’t as bad as other gacha games’ from what I can tell, but it’s still the work of Satan like all gachas are.

There’s a more dramatic-looking main series featured over on Funimation (because yeah, the game does have a plot to it) but Slow Ahead! is just a comedy, also filled with fanservice if that’s not obvious from looking at the poster. This is really just dessert for Azur Lane players who want to see the four starter destroyer girls getting into crazy situations along with their many shipgirl friends and colleagues. Each episode is only seven or eight minutes long so far, so it’s a quick watch, but I’d say not worth it unless you’re into this game already since none of the references will make sense otherwise. If I keep watching this, I probably won’t have anything else to write about it, so that’s the review I guess. It seems all right for what it is. (Edit: I just checked out the 4koma, specifically Chapter 49 that came up at random, and hooh. Akagi and Kaga in a public bath and that’s all I need to say. I’m a fan of those busty fox ladies. Maybe I’ll just read the comic.)

Blend S

Oh look, another anime series filled with cute girls, what a surprise AK is watching it. Yeah yeah I know. But I feel like I’m automatically extra-critical of stuff like this for that very reason. You can’t just throw some girls in frilly maid costumes at me and expect my brain to shut down, you know?

Fortunately, Blend S is actually good, or at least the first episode is. Maika Sakuranomiya (the protagonist, holding the cake, left) is a student who’s desperate for a part-time job so she can finance her own study-abroad trip without relying on her family. However, she’s turned down everywhere because of the inadvertently scary look in her eyes she gets when she’s stressed or worried; not exactly ideal for any customer service job. But there’s one place where she fits right in: a café that employs waitresses based on character type themes like tsundere and little sister — and the manager thinks Maika is perfect to fill the new “sadist” role.

This is a wacky, fast-paced comedy based on another four-panel comic. I’m not always a fan of that kind of stuff; when it’s done wrong it can just turn into an irritating mess for me, but thankfully I’m really liking Blend S so far. It’s pretty amusing to see the extremely polite, demure Maika doing her best to give her customers what they want by treating them like shit against her every instinct. The manager Dino seems like he might get kind of annoying in the future (is it a stereotype in Japan that Italian guys are crazy and overly emotional? I guess that is a stereotype here in the US too somewhat) but so far I really like how the characters fit together, and I’ll definitely be continuing this series.

And that’s it for now. The fact that I only went in alphanumeric order from 22 to B is probably just a coincidence, but I still do have a very long list of anime series to check out, and more recommendations are always appreciated. Or maybe you think the title I gave this feature is bad or clunky, in which case please let me know about that too and I might try to think of a better one.

In any case, I hope you liked this break from the usual. Maybe I’ll write more of these in the future. Next up, though, I’ll be taking a look at a series I actually finished watching. Until then!