Summer’s fabulous menu has me adding on ten new shows to my weekly anime, joining the already airing series Hyouka, Hunter x Hunter, Polar Bear Cafe, Poyopoyo, Space Brothers, Area no Kishi, and Phi Brain. OH MY GOODNESS.
Joining the party are Arcana Famiglia, Dog Days’, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, Moyashimon Returns, Muv-Luv Alternative, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Rinne no Lagrange 2, Sword Art Online, Tari Tari, and Uta Koi.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen it already, check out my spiffy new summer banner, which I’ve added to the rotation.
As much as this show looks like its predecessor, Hanasaku Iroha, and even shares similar aspects, the two are very different in terms of characters and goals. For one, our main character has a clear path set ahead of her, shooting for it without the slightest of deviations. Although Konatsu and Ohana both act out their activities with 110% of their effort, Konatsu’s objectives are more comprehensible and reach further ahead. She wants nothing more or less than to have the chance to sing and make up for the mistakes she made in the past. Whether that be in the form of her re-acceptance into the choir, a whole new singing club of her own, or perhaps a performance that will prove her worth, we still have yet to really see. As of now, the set-up is a typical one for high school anime: form a new club and get the members to fill it.
This outline makes it easy for the story to slowly introduce each one of its characters, letting us get to know them in much the same way that Konatsu will get to know them as she tries to recruit them. We’ve already been introduced with brief high lights into what I assume will be the main cast, and so far, I like what I see. For once, each of the individuals specializes in a completely separate area of interest, like horse riding, gardening, or badminton. There’s even a transfer student thrown into the mix to bring with him some comical culture misinterpretations and clashes.
Surprise ingredient(s): TARI TARI includes among its cast two teachers who stand at polar end of the student-teacher relationship. The vice principle, who doubles as the chorus leader, enacts an extremely strict management of her students. She doesn’t hesitate to cull those she considers an impediment to the group, and judges for herself whether or not a student has what it takes to make it as a singer. In opposition, Takai-sensei garners the adoration of her entire class. Instead of dismissing a student because of his or her appearance or mistakes, she continues to search for a solution or way of helping him or her.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia
Because of its promo art, I thought Arcana Famiglia would be a lot darker than it is. And maybe it will darken once the tournament begins, but for now, the show overflows with colorful characters who all seem to share a crush on the boss’ daughter. I was pleasantly surprised with the overall atmosphere show, which blends a shounen-like fighting anime with a revere harem cast. I think of the entire “family”, who in reality are a mafia, I only saw two females: the daughter, Felicita, and “Mama,” wife of the boss. When each of the other male members were introduced, I kept getting strong vibes of the various flavors that reverse harems like Hakuouki and La Corda give its female viewers. And I have absolutely no problem with that! This might be exactly what I was searching for in my fruitless attempt to find a reverse harem to surpass La Corda. And after a bit of research, I discovered that Arcana Famiglia indeed hails from an otome game.
For those of you who have no interest in reverse harems, let me assure you that it seems to be a very small inclusion to what looks to be an otherwise interesting show. At first, I was as appalled as everyone else at Papa’s decision to cast his daughter’s hand in marriage along with the title of “Papa” in a tournament dubbed the “Arcana Duello,” but it slowly dawned on me, even before Papa and Mama suggested the alternative, that Felicita could just challenge it herself and win her freedom. One of the most fun twists to the story is the supernatural element of the Arcana powers that each family member holds. For each member, there is one Arcana card that embues within its keeper unique powers.
Surprise ingredient(s): I couldn’t help but laugh that Pace, keeper of La Forza (Strength), was the gluttonous character. I could completely understand when he was torn between devouring that delicious-looking lasagna and jumping into the fray outside the restaurant.
Ever since the sequel to one of my favorite shows was announced back in March, I eagerly waited for the summer season to arrive. Even if there were no other anime this season to interest me but this one, I would be satisfied, since this was a development I thought would never occur. Too much time had passed since the first season ended back in 2007 and there was already plenty of material out there: manga, microbe theater shorts, as well as a TV live action drama. Once I learned Moyashimon Returns was green-lit, I immediately picked up the live action for the first time to re-familiarize myself with the characters–it was there I noticed the directions that this new show would most likely take.
Being as the first season ended with Yuuki’s cross dressing, it made sense that he would likely remain in that state for the entirety of Returns. Professor Itsuki’s dream of the university’s brewing factory was featured heavily in the live action, as well as the goal of creating their own goods for the school festival–neither of which were shown in the first season. I’m excited to see how the second season’s portrayal of these events will go now that Haruka’s familial issues were already written into the first season even though the drama fused it with the festival. I’m not even sure which way the manga did it.
As for the crossover from the first to the second season, I approve of the smoother art in Returns that better inserts the microbes into the regular environment most other people see. Their numbers appeared more substantial without distracting too much from the human characters; I particularly loved that battle scene that Sawaki witnesses in the yeast. The hordes are ready to brew! I was dissatisfied, however, with the OP theme used featuring ClariS. The song could just as easily be used in any generic high school anime and sounded much too pop-y for a show that deserves a quirkier theme.
Surprise ingredient(s): I’ve always loved the microbe theater shorts and am glad to see it return after the ED credits. It also looks like the show also increased their scientific asides and explanations for the different kinds of microbes within the episode itself–you’ll notice little markers in the background from time to time pointing out new microbes.
As much as I expected this to be like many of the previous josei of which I’m a fan–Nodame Cantabile, Honey & Clover, Apollon–there’s a definite disconnect between them and Rendezvous. For one, there’s the gloomy male lead, Hazuki, who harbors a secret attraction for local florist Rokka, and secondly, a supernatural element that inserts a another road block for the protagonist. I’ve never encountered such negativity and competitive verbal jabs in a josei before, and that gives me hope.
Probably my favorite aspect of the first episode is the male rivalry over the widowed florist between our lead, who picks up a part-time job at her shop, and the ghost of her husband, Atsushi, who haunts both the shop and its upper living quarters. The low-key smugness in each of their perceived notions of “winning” had me cracking up in ways that other loud, slapstick anime usually fail to do; I’m particularly reminded of the scene where Hazuki feels smug over the simple fact that she said his name while Atsushi floated overhead.
Surprise ingredient(s): I particularly enjoyed the silence that often pervaded certain scenes where touchy questions were raised. Instead of outright telling us the answer, hints could be found in the slight movements that the characters made in reaction, like when Atsushi asks Hazuki if he’s a coward, or when Rokka immediately continues eating after asking Hazuki if he likes her.
Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi
Having just been introduced to Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the one hundred poems used in the uta-kurata card game, in the recently finished Chihayafuru, I was of course interested in Uta Koi’s premise. Each episode centers in on a couple of love poems and details its background and the people involved in its making. The first episode is interesting in that it sets two brothers back to back, one in an affair and the other in a mutually trustworthy marriage. There’s a five-year separation between their experiences, and I enjoyed that it’s the more recent affair between Narihira, a low-ranked retainer, and Takaiko, descendent of the Fujiwara household and future wife to the emperor that is shown first. Their early relationship consists of exchanged poems, though the affections greatly differ between their senders.
As much as the poems of the Hyakunin Isshu seem to hail from a time and way of life extremely distant from our own, the interactions between the men and women in UtaKoi still feel relatable, the expressed feelings transcending time and space. As lovely and experienced as Takaiko appears, she’s charmingly innocent in the bedroom. Her claim of detachment is transparent to both the viewer and Narihira-dono. I especially enjoyed the pillow talk and banter the two shared. If there’s one major complaint I have, it’s the art style. The entire color scheme seems faded and simply shaded, with only the kimono patterns showing any real detail. I also greatly dislike the heavy black inking around the characters.
Surprise ingredient(s): Takaiko’s ignorance of simple things like dew and mushrooms shows just how sheltered she is in the constrained world of women.
Sword Art Online
I’ll be honest here and admit that I was absolutely not considering SAO in my line-up after first looking at the summer chart. It wasn’t until all the hype started circulating online that I figured that I should probably give it a try. My fear was that we’d have a repeat of what happened with Guilty Crown, which despite its beautiful art was an utter disaster in terms of story and characters. The premise of SAO also didn’t really spark much of an interest in me, since the whole video game turned reality has been done several times before.
Thankfully, the premier delivered spectacularly. Tension quickly blossomed as press covering the release streamed over Kirito’s PC, showing the proud few 10,000 people who obtained copies of the revolutionary game. Keeping the protagonist’s face hidden until his avatar’s entrance into SAO also effectively inserted the viewer into his shoes as we saw through his eyes as he loaded into the game. Once play began, the environment truly had the feel of an MMO, complete with a beginner’s town, individuals partying up, and noobs begging more experienced players to teach them the ropes. Now, I’m not experienced in the slightest when it comes to MMORPGS, with the majority of my knowledge hailing from closed environment RPG Guild Wars, but I distinctly remember feeling so absorbed in the game that I found joy in mapping entire continents and admiring the scenery in the process. Klein and Kirito’s moment of rest in the twilight of Aincrad carried with it the pleasure that can be found in these alternate environments.
Care was not just taken with the positives of the game, but also with its all-too-real consequences. The missing log out option followed by the force teleport immediately made me uncomfortable as a viewer, and the game master’s entrance from what appeared to be a large pool of blood effectively turned this fantasy into a survival horror game. I had to admire Kirito for his quick decision to head for the next town amidst all the disbelief and fear the announcement had stirred up among all the other users. However, I am having to suspend disbelief in terms of how the players’ bodies are able to survive in real life, and how the game’s creator was able to get away with manufacturing and distributing a game that can only be controlled by one person.
Surprise ingredient(s): If you stuck around until after the credits, you were treated to a scene detailing the amount of deaths that had racked up after a single month. There was something so deliciously terrifying about seeing all the player names up on a wall and watching the lines slash through those who had died. It reminded me of Battle Royale, in a way.
Ignoring all inexplicable possessive apostrophes, DOG DAYS’ is an unasked for pleasure that I’m more than happy to add to my summer line-up. The premise is so ridiculously simple and displayed in an over-the-top way that you can’t help but go along with the grandiose athletic festival; instead of half-assing it with duels or small skirmishes, entire nations clash against one another for the glory of patriotism and good ol’ fun. To push the second season a notch above the prequel, Shinku brings along with him two of his friends: Nanami, a rival athlete, and Becky, a childhood friend. Nanami is immediately recruited by Galette, while Shinku reassumes his role as Biscotti’s hero. Even Becky isn’t safe from the enlistment, as the nation of Pastillage expresses interest at the very end for participating in the “war.” I’m not sure whether they’re a nation of squirrels or chipmunks, but I found Couvre’s excitement over possibly joining the fight with Becky leading the way infectious.
Being as “pastillage” is a dough used in edible decorations, I’m not sure just how serious the nation’s involvement will be, especially with a hero who has zero athletic experience of which we know. Perhaps they’ll be another funnel of comic relief in the style of Genoise. Fluffy and sweet, you mustn’t underestimate the power these confections may have over you!
Surprise ingredient(s): Seeing Eclair again had me grinning from ear to ear, and I absolutely loved that despite her reserved greeting of Shinku, she still couldn’t restrain her tail from wagging in excitement. TOO ADORABLE.
Rinne no Lagrange 2
Yet another sequel has arrived, and once again I am eager to re-continue that journey exactly from where it left off last time. Well, not exactly, as we are now three months ahead in full summer mode, with Madoka all on her lonesome and Lan and Muginami butting heads far away in space. Madoka’s present issues are literally and figuratively worlds apart from her best friends, with both her teachers and her father starting to worry about her lack of a career path. In turn, Lan and Muginami are set against one another by their family loyalties–this time around, I have to side more with Villagulio despite not knowing his true motives. We’re treated to a sick experiment involving Lan’s Vox Lympha, with her older brother and the traitorous Balance pushing the buttons. I will not stand for any pain caused to my darling blue-haired princess!
The first episode of this second season effectively jumped up a notch in terms of pace and atmosphere. I think the main complaint about the prequel was that it was too slow and full of high school girl slice of lie. After the second’s premier, I have a feeling that those dreamy days are long gone. With all the character build up that was wasted on some, seeing Lan and Muginami’s battle faces targeted at one another bothers me almost as much as it does Madoka. As her high school life ticks to its end, so too do her idle days working for the cafe. It seems that her friends’ presences are required for her to have what it takes to get Vox Aura up and running, though I am curious about the more technical reasons for why Midori sometimes does and doesn’t work.
Surprise ingredient(s): It appears that this second part will dive more in depth into the Vox units’ history and capabilities. The lack of information about them in the first season really bothered me, and they felt like inconsequential additions to a show mostly about the friendship of the three girls. Now with all our relationships established, we can finally get into the nitty-gritties of the dark fate that was repeatedly brought up in the first season.
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse
It took two episodes for me to decide to go ahead and give this a try. Others who had seen the full two-episode premier at AX convinced me to not drop the show after the first part and also noted that this was all just backstory–hence the rush of events. I still don’t think that the second episode made up for the first’s fast pacing, but it did help impress upon me the horrifying and life-changing experience of who I assume will be our main character, Yui. As the sole survivor of her unit–who not only assumed part of the responsibility for the other girls as co-leader, but also witnessed their grotesque deaths–I can imagine that the nightmares of that day will haunt her throughout the rest of the series. I kind of look forward to the day that she either has to grit her teeth and shoot her comrade, or actually has the skill to save him or her.
Again, I’m still not 100% sure that I’m going to stick with this show since I’m a bit put off by the shiny boob suits that the girls wear. I’ve heard that the anime version is a lot tamer than the original design, but I found myself still staring at the sheen on their chests more than at their faces.
Surprise ingredient(s): As of now, there wasn’t anything really special that caught my eye except the way the Beta ate Yui’s unit members. I couldn’t help but compare the censored scenes to those from Blood-C.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
I admit that I was a bit frightened after the first episode, being treated to such scenes as fully-skinned chickens alive and on the run, carrot bread suicide, and mystery food admittedly made with less than desirable ingredients. I didn’t immediately add the show to my summer list because I wasn’t sure if the bizarre was there simply to shock, or for a deeper purpose. But the following episode clinched it; I had no choice but to include Jintai, not only for its witty main character, but also for wrapping up its consumerist commentary in such a morbidly colorful package.
It seems like there have been a good number of extra vibrant shows lately, with Mawaru Penguindrum and Tsuritama, but Jintai probably aligns more with Penguindrum’s heavy symbolism in almost every single scene. Here, too, is a fairy tale likeness. There’s even one moment where the assistant shows a picture book full of a bunch of cutely drawn deaths of a group of children. Having the ugly realities of hunger and poverty dressed in pastels and decorated with fairies somehow only emphasizes the strangeness of following capitalist ideals despite the current climate.
Surprise ingredient(s): The perhaps unintended consequence of the Fairy Co. products is the sentience that they form. Higher intelligence not only graces the food, but even the hair growth serum!
Dropped: Binbou-Gami ga!, Joshiraku, Kokoro Connect
Backlogged: Hakuouki Reimeiroku, Eureka Seven AO, Folktales of Japan