Fall 2012 Simulcast Rankings – (11/13/12)

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks and it is time to rank the season’s simulcast anime again. Not a lot of movement, but we do have a new Tier 1 series, and it has moved ahead of some of the others. Without further ado…

Fall 2012 Simulcast Ranking:

Tier 1:

1. Psycho-Pass

Episodes watched: 5 – Streaming on Funimation.

Episodes for this review: 4 & 5

Current Rating: 5 of 5

Still the strongest one of the bunch, Psycho-Pass continues to push on with its distopian cyber-punk sensibilities. The recent arc with on-line avatars being taken over by a murderer was an excellent story, introduced the main antagonist (assuming the main antagonist is not actually, Kougami, the main male character himself… as in he is his own worst enemy…) and gave us a peek into Kougami’s past and a bit of explanation of the animosity between he and the male inspector.

There were a couple of plot issues with the arc, as in why the 2nd victim of the murderer didn’t get some protection, given her role in attempting to trap the guy, but that doesn’t really matter that much. The mood and pacing of the show are right on target, and the story is solid enough that it can withstand a few, “but wait? Wasn’t that a bonehead move?” moments.

2. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Episodes watched: 5 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Episodes for this review: 4 & 5

Current Rating: 4.75 of 5

Edging closer to the top, but retaining the number 2 spot is Pet Girl. The end of the first arc, which I have been told corresponds to the end of the first novel, was satisfying despite the obviousness of the conclusion. (Of course he was going to stay at Sakuraou! How else does the story continue!) It wasn’t where they were going that mattered, but how they got there. The revelations about Mashiro’s manga story line, the Tanabata wishes, the romantic tension for both of the potential couples in the dorm, and the way things resolved were sweet, charming, and very satisfying.

The next episode brings in the next complication: Nanami, the normal girl who is crushing hard on Sorata, moving to Sakurasou, bringing our main cast together in the den of insanity. The growth of her understanding of Sorata and Mashiro’s relationship and Sorata’s steps toward trying to realize his own dreams amid the insanity were well done and set up the tension for the next arc well.

3. Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest)

Episodes watched: 6 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Episodes for this review: 5 & 6

Current Rating: 4.5 of 5 for each

Cruising along at number 3, this show delivered some major plot advancement, a mystery to solve, a new character, a ton of back story, and some seriously great moments over these two episodes. We now know more about Aika and her relationship to both Yoshino and Mahiro, we know a bit about the mage clan, and have had hints that our mage in a barrel is not exactly what she seems. Is it possible that she is really the danger to the world and her brother is acting in the world’s best interest in thwarting her?

There were so many things revealed in these episodes that would be massive spoilers, that I cannot in good faith go into details, but suffice it to say that Yoshino may not be the nice guy he appears to be, Aika may have been considerably more of a manipulator that it had appeared, and Hakaze may be something entirely different, and tremendously more dangerous, than she appears. Yoshino is the real enigma here… What are his motivations? Why did he do the things he did in these episodes? And why doesn’t he like celery?

4. Robotics;Notes

Episodes watched: 5 – Streaming on Funimation.

Episodes for this review: 4 & 5

Current Rating: 4 of 5

OK, with episode 5, this story leapfrogged some shojo romances and landed itself in the midst of the Tier 1 ranking! The resolution of the initial storyline and the introduction of characters is just about over it seems, and now the group is forming together and bringing on the weird! The game-designer girl, known as “Frau”, appears to be a bit of a broken bird. Her social skills are amazingly humorous, and her speech patterns are fantastically eccentric. The silver haired girl from the ED, Airi, has been introduced, and she is a really great piece of the giant collection of weirdness that is Kai.

Some of the relationship dynamics were on display in these episodes as well, with Aki showing obvious signs of jealousy over Kai and Junna, the karate club girl, going on a “date”. (Even though it was nothing of the sort…) The back stories of our main protagonists, the involvement of other characters, like the shop owner who uses robotic leg braces to walk and Aki’s older sister, and the dark conspiracy threatening the world were all on display in this set of episodes. I have some issues with timeline in terms of what happened when, but I hope it all becomes more clear as we go on…

Suffice it to say that Robotics;Notes took a giant leap forward with these two episodes, the most recent one in particular.

5. TIE
Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita)
My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)
Say, “I Love You” (Sukitte Il na yo)

Episodes watched: 6 – Streaming on Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Crunchyroll respectively.

Episodes for this review: 5 & 6

Current Rating: 4 of 5

Remaining tied, but moving behind the fast charging science adventure series, is our trio of shojo romance stories. Astute readers might notice that the order I put them in is different this week. that indicates the trending that each has shown and the potential direction they may head after the tie is eventually broken. In short, Kamisama Kiss, with its light hearted, sweet natured, fluffy and pleasant fantasy setting, with just enough of an edge to prevent sweetness overload, is poised to move ahead of the other two.

The primary reason for this is the continuing issues with misogynous-seeming content in both of the “realistic” romances. It is just enough to start them dropping behind the less realistic story of Kamisama Kiss.

The main relationship in Kamisama Kiss is a large portion of why it is such a joy to watch. The ups and downs of these past two episodes, the fantastically bizarre circumstances that continue to make our young land-god’s life a constant trial, and the wonderfully sweet budding romance story keep the show high on my priority list in terms of what to watch first each week.

My Little Monster also appears to be getting stronger, with a love rival appearing, a great deal of back story for Haru, and a bit of a better understanding of what makes Shizuku tick has kept me enthralled with this show. The bits of “I can’t believe he just said that” that crop up periodically are not that big of a deal with this show, and in fact, they have been used with flair, showing that some of the people around understand Haru’s lack of understanding of the finer points of social graces.

Say “I Love You” continues to be one of the sweetest stories around. New complications in the relationship between our two mismatched lovers crop up in these episodes, in the persons of a little sister, who may just be a bit of a soul sister of her brother’s girlfriend, despite her initial dislike of her, and a pushy model who appears to have transferred into their school specifically to bring the hyper attractive Yamato into her agencies clutches as a model that can stand up to her amazingness in front of the camera. The impact on Mei’s self-esteem is palpable, and hopefully short lived, as Yamato should be too attentive and sensitive a boyfriend to let his love feel unworthy of dating him. If they don’t handle it right, it could lead the show down the path to Tier 2.

Speaking of Tier 2… Their is no need for a 2nd article for those this week, as I haven’t seen enough of most of them to make further comments. What I have to say is as follows:

Tier 2:

8. Sword Art Online

Episodes watched: 19 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Episodes for this review: 18 & 19

Current Rating: overall 4 of 5 – recent episodes – 3.5 of 5

Sword Art Online continues on its path to questionable-love-interest-ville, but has some very nice action. The smarmy, squicky, smug villain is a bit over the top, and the story suffers greatly from Asuna being a game piece instead of a player. Leafa is an OK character, but the queasy feeling I get when the implications of the Leafa’s player’s real feelings doesn’t allow me to fully enjoy the story. Perhaps that is my problem and not the stories, but I don’t feel that it is.

9. Code: Breaker

Episodes watched: 4 – Streamig on Funimation.

Episodes for this review: 3 & 4

Current Rating: 2.5 of 5

The mixed-message style of this anime, with its inability to decide whether it wants to be gritty and real or funny and light, only got worse with these episodes. The blond haired, socially inappropriate sempai, with her pet names for and fondling of certain portions of Sakura’s anatomy, is a step beyond in terms of believable characters. It is as if she is a special needs kid who Sakura feels sorry for and allows to violate her personal space and basically molest her because she just feels like it would be mean to stop her. But the character is an upperclassmen at a fairly competitive high school and the daughter of a major political figure, so one would think that she would not be allowed to be so entirely inappropriate. However, reality holds no sway with this show, so it is just a recurring gag and a reason for the male characters to get in a little friendly sexual innuendo/harassment of our leading lady. Nothing to see here… move along…

10. Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World)

Episodes watched: 2 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Current Rating: 3 of 5

It may seem odd to have a show rated 2.5 about one rated 3, but the sad truth is that I have yet to watch any more of this show, so I can’t in good faith move it up. It almost moved down, becuase…

11. K

Episodes watched: 5 – Streaming on Hulu (from Viz Anime).

Episodes for this review: 5

Current Rating: 2.5 of 5

The plot line for K almost made an attempt to make sense in episode 5. There was a bit of expostulation about the color kingdoms and how the world is organized, a small amount of back story for a couple of the pretty boy magic wielders, and a bit of light frivolous cosplay while our protagonist agonizes over whether he is, in deed, the murderer from the video regardless of the impossibility of his being on campus when he was documented as being there and the time and location of the murder. If only the show showed signs that it was going to actually go to the trouble of fleshing out the myriad of minor characters and competing color legions it might actually become a quality story. As it is, it has potential when it focuses on comedy, with some of the finest slapstick comedy of the year occurring between our white haired protagonist, his black haired executioner turned assistant, and the lovable, lovely, and wonderfully created Neko.

Yep! Neko is worth the price of admission!

Other simulcasts that I haven’t watched yet, but plan to:

Busou Shinki
Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
Girls und Panzer
Ixion Saga DT
Magi
Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne
Litchi DE Hikari Club

Simulcasts that I don’t intend to try:

Teekyuu
Btooom!
Aoi Sekai no Chuushin de
Gintama’ Enchousen
Hayate no Gotoku! Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
Jormungand: Perfect Order
Medaka Box Abnormal
To LOVE-Ru Darkness
Hiiro no Kakera 2nd Season

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Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest) Episodes 1-4

Blast of Tempest

(Zetsuen no Tempest)

Episodes 1 – 4

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Availability:

Simulcasting on Crunchyroll Thursdays at 2:00 pm CDT. Licensed for home video release by Aniplex of America.

Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest)

Synopsis:

(From MAL)

The story revolves around Mahiro Fuwa, a teenager whose family was mysteriously murdered one year before and his friend Yoshino Takigawa. Mahiro is contacted by Hakase Kusaribe, the leader of the Kusaribe clan who was left stranded on an unknown desert island by her followers, and agrees to help Hakase in exchange of her help to find out the culprit for the death of his family. Upon learning of his friend’s intentions, Yoshino joins him on his quest to stand against the Kusaribe clan who intends to awake the “Tree of Zetsuen” whose power can bring ruin to the entire world.

Several dialogues and plot elements in Zetsuen no Tempest pay homage to the works of William Shakespeare.

Impressions:

When I read the initial description of this show, I figured out that they were doing some sort of riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. That is one of the works of Shakespeare that I haven’t seen or read, but I seem to know quite a bit about it none the less, as I have seen or read several science fiction stories that have used aspects of it in their plot or as “talking points”, so to speak. The two that come to mind are Dan Simmon’s Illium and Olympos, and an episode of the fan made Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II titled World Enough and Time, which guest starred the original series co-star George Takei. So watching the first episode, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mage on the island wasn’t a combination of Prospero and Miranda or if Mahiro was supposed to be a Caliban analog and his dead sister, who figures prominently in the first few episodes via flash backs and is featured heavily in both the OP and ED as well as the promotional art, was destined to become something along the lines of Ariel. (She is the brown haired girl on the left side of the picture above.) So far, I don’t really know enough about the original to say one way or the other, but there have already been some Shakespearean quotes, from Hamlet, interestingly enough, and a very “classical” tragic feeling to the mood.

[NOTE: I hesitate to go into too much detail in these type of reviews for fear of putting in too many spoilers, so I apologize if I give away anything from the plot that you would rather not have read, but there are some things in the story that just you just can’t write about without mentioning some details. For the most part, the specifics that I will mention are all revealed before the end of the first episode, though, and I wasn’t surprised by them when they were revealed. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like it was badly done, I just figured it out a bit before the reveal in the episode and smiled and nodded when they made explicit what they had been intimating for a good portion of the episode. That said, on with the review…]

Blast of Tempest shows a great deal of promise. The magical system presented is interesting, with the mages using the “fruits of civilization” to power their magic. The animation, particularly for the action sequences, is very well done and the visuals and characters designs are great too. The story is fairly strong so far, with enough explanation of how the world works and what is going on to make it comprehensible, but leaving enough out that it keeps you wondering why everything is happening the way it is.

One of the key plot points has to do with Mahiro’s sister, Aika, who was killed nearly a year before the “present time” in the anime. We are introduced to her through flashbacks and memory. In the opening, she comments that Yoshino is a con man who can “lie with a straight face” and Mahiro seems to think that she doesn’t like him. However, by the end of the first episode, and much sooner than that, in reality, we come to realize that the text message that Yoshino keeps looking at on his phone that is from his “girlfriend” is actually a message from Aika. While Mahiro is bent on revenge against his sisters unknown killer(s), Yoshino is suffering in silence, since he was in love with her, but for some reason doesn’t want Mahiro to know. (It is fairly clear that Mahiro was rather over protective of his sister and probably wouldn’t look fondly on even his one “friend” being in a relationship with her.

Another strong point to the story is the “friendship” between Mahiro and Yoshino. The two seem to be incompatible to say the least and it is hard to tell why they would be friends. Yoshino frequently says unkind things abut Mahiro, and it is not entirely clear that he actually considers Yoshino, or anyone living, to be his friend. In fact, the enigma that is Yoshino is one of the most fascinating things about the story.

Episodes two and three serve to introduce more of the characters and the world, display how magic works, and provide an opportunity to demonstrate how intelligent, or perhaps how devious, Yoshino is. It also delves a bit into the mystery surrounding  Aika (and Mahiro’s parents’) death, and shows a bit about how the Japanese government is handling the strange occurrences that are resulting in people turning into metal. But it is episode 4 that really digs in and lets us get to know the two main characters, with a back story that answers many questions about their relationship, but also brings up new questions, about Yoshino in particular.

Of special note with this series is the music. The OP, Spirit Inspiration by Nothing’s Carved in Stone, which is entirely in English, is a hard driving, powerful piece that sets the tone for the show well. The incidental music is also very strong. The ED, happy endings by Kana Hanazawa, who also does the voice of Aika, who is featured prominently in the ED animation, is a bit of a conundrum. It is a fantastic song, beautifully sung, but many feel that it doesn’t fit the show and breaks the mood that each episode is prone to end with by the change in tone. I am unsure of how I feel about the song at this point, other than the fact that, as a piece of music considered in its own right, it is wonderful and the singer does a fantastic job with it.

All in all, this is one of my favorite shows of the season. It has the potential to go off the rails, as all modern fantasy stories do, if it concentrates too much on flash at the expense of substance, or if the story is not worthy of the very well done set-up. So far, it looks like it will stay on course.

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou – Episode 3

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Episode 3

Rating: 5 of 5

Impressions:

At the end of episode 2, Sorata discovered that Mashiro is not the person he thought she was. He had seen her manga drawings and recognized her talent, but he also recognized that her work was inherently flawed in terms of story and considered her someone striving to be a manga artist but with no major accomplishments and no common sense. When he discovered how wrong he was, it was a bit of a shock, because Mashiro is not only an unaccomplished manga artist, she is also a world renowned master painter who has had her work exhibited in many of the finest galleries in the world.

Finding out that the girl he looked at as an incompetent, but talented person who was only marginally capable of functioning at school without his help is actually a famous, extremely talented, and highly respected artist whose work has been considered groundbreaking was a big shock. He was already harboring a major inferiority complex about the other residents of Sakura Hall, but this pushed it to another level. It seems that a major reason why he wants to move out of Sakura Hall and back to the regular dorms is this sense that he doesn’t belong there. Yes, the dorm is generally for people who don’t function well in a regular dorm, but it seems that the reality of the situation is that the residents are really problem children because of their brilliance, not because of behavior or attitude problems.

To avoid spoilers, I will not go into specifics about what makes this episode the best of the season thus far. Suffice it to say that the emotional roller-coaster ride of this episode is a thing of beauty! Sorata, and to a certain extent Jin, the screen-writer/playboy, both are suffering from similar issues: the feeling that they don’t belong or are unable to be an equal to those around them, or to a specific person in Jin’s case. This causes them to behave in ways that seem to be contrary to their interests. There is loads of character development, including an indication that Sorata may have more than “protective” or “caretaker” feelings for Mashiro, though he doesn’t seem to have acknowledged them entirely. The relationship between Jin and Misaki, the anime creator, is also explored, with their issues coming into focus for much of the episode. In the end, Sorata learns a great deal about Mashiro and that he really didn’t understand her at all. The question of whether he understands himself appears to be one of the primary plot points to be explored in the coming episodes.

The show uses a great deal of bawdy humor, classic misunderstandings, and fan service to spice it up, but its heart seems to be in the right place. There is surprising depth to the characters and their relationships, as well as a fairly strong philosophical bent to the storytelling style. I look forward to seeing where the show leads us as we get to know the residents of Sakurasou over the next season of anime.

Compare and Contrast – Two Fall 2012 anime with a similar premise, but very different results

My Little Monster and Say, “I Love You” 

(Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun and Sukitte Ii na yo.)

Episodes 1 – 2

Ratings: 4 of 5 for both.

Availability:

My Little Monster: Simulcasting on Crunchyroll Mondays at 12:30pm CDT.
Say, “I Love You”: Simulcasting on Crunchyroll Saturdays at 10AM Pacific Time starting October 27.

Say, “I Love you”

My Little Monster

Synopses:

General: A girl who has spent her entire school life friendless, seemingly by her own preference, is suddenly befriended by an energetic boy who pursues her despite her apparent indifference.

Specific:

My Little Monster:

A girl, Shizuku Mizutani, who cares only for her grades and her long term goal of landing a high wage job as a result of those grades, is asked by her teacher to deliver some handouts to the boy, Haru Yoshida, who is supposed to be seated next to her in class, but has been missing since the first day of school because he was suspended for a violent attack on a group of upperclassmen. Upon delivering the handouts, he takes her bringing them as a sign that they are friends, because that is one of the things friends do in manga and anime, after all – bring handouts to sick classmates. (Never mind the fact that he is not sick, that she has only ever seen him in passing, and that they are only classmates in the sense that they were assigned to the same class, as he has never attended.)

The teacher has an ulterior motive, as his suspension has been lifted, since it was determined that, while he went a bit overboard, the upperclassmen were actually at fault. However, Haru has refused to respond to any of his teachers requests to come to school. Since school attendance is not compulsory at the high school level, there is nothing the teacher can officially do, so she tries an “end-around”, so to speak, by sending a classmate to try to convince him to attend.

Shizuku has no intention of encouraging Haru to come to school. She just wants to deliver the handouts and go home. Haru, has other plans though. He seems to have no real concept of how to function in polite society, alternating between violent, impulsive behavior and a naive desire to be friends with someone. He latches on to Shizuku as being “his friend” and even goes so far as to confess his love to her.

How will this cold-hearted girl and naive, impulsive boy deal with school and each other, now that she can’t seem to get rid of him?

Say, “I Love you:

Mei Tachibana has spent her entire life without either a boyfriend or friends of any sort. She doesn’t trust other people, feeling that trusting others only leads to betrayal. It is suggested that this opinion comes from past personal experience. One day, as a result of a misunderstanding, she accidentally injures the most popular boy in her high school, Yamato Kurosawa. Much to her surprise, this doesn’t result in him getting angry at her. Instead it has the opposite effect: he decides, quite unilaterally, that they are friends. She rebuffs his advances, even to the point of refusing to exchange cell phone numbers or e-mail addresses with him, but he gives her his on a piece of paper anyway.

Later that evening, when leaving her part-time job at a convenience store, Mei finds she is being followed by a creepy older man that had been shopping in the store. Fearing the worst, the attempts to call her mother for help, but cannot get through to her. Having nowhere else to turn, she ducks into a store and digs out Yamato’s phone number and begs him to help her. He comes to her rescue in a startling manner, leaving Mei’s previous existence as a loner-by-choice in definite danger of being shattered.

Can the girl who cannot, and will not, trust anyone learn to be friends, or perhaps even lovers, with a boy that could have his pick of the other girls in school merely by asking? Why does a boy with model looks and a winning personality want so desperately to win the affections of a girl who would rather be left alone?

Impressions:

On first glance, these two series seem to be cut from the same bolt of cloth, and it is not a shiny new piece of cloth to say the least! The “Lonely/Loser Girl” meets “Energetic/Popular Boy” trope has been done over and over in shoujo manga and anime, much like its counterpart in shounen land: the “Hapless/Boring/Loser/Nondescript Guy” somehow attracts the attention of the “Popular/Beautiful Girl” has been beaten into the ground. It is hard to do something fresh and new when the basic premise has been done so many times before. It is a basic wish-fulfillment story line aimed at the teenage girls who the manga the anime is based on is marketed to. Interestingly, both of these anime are based on manga that began their syndication in the year, 2008, in the same shoujo manga magazine: Dessert. I guess it is no surprise that they ended up being adapted to anime in the very same season.

Seeing how similar the basic premises of the stories were, I thought I would check them both out and see what made each one unique enough to warrant a coveted half-hour of Japanese late night TV broadcasting space. What I found was that, while the premises of the two are strikingly similar, the actual mood and delivery is startlingly different. A true testament to the way that two different creative minds can take the same basic idea and produce very different results. Interestingly enough, they both seem to have great potential to be among my favorite shows of the Fall 2012 season!

My Little Monster was the first of the two that I watched. The first episode gave me a strong Kare Kano vibe, with many of the same plot-points being used, such as the girl who is focused on grades and was mortified to find that she wasn’t the top scorer on the entrance exams for high school, the attractive boy who was the guy who outperformed her on those exams, and the guy falling for the girl early on in the story, only to be turned down. However, beyond these basic plot points, there was much that came across as fresh and different. Shizuku is a very strong lead female character. She doesn’t seem to have any deep emotional scars that cause avoid friendships and withdraw from society. On the contrary, she chooses to avoid the distractions of petty entanglements, concentrating on her grades and long term goals. Haru is also a very different character than you might expect. He is a loose canon! His grasp of social concepts is so poor that even the terse and isolated Shizuku is much more adept at understanding social situations than he is. The defining characteristic of Haru is a drive to find friends, something that Shizuku doesn’t really understand.

Say, I Love You starts out with a very different vibe. Mei is also a “loner”, who prefers to keep to herself and doesn’t have any friends, but in her case, it seems that this behavior is founded on past social failures and some fairly deep personal pain resulting from trusted friends turning on her and betraying her trust. She seems much more like a wounded flower than a strong, independent young woman. She doesn’t dress fashionably and other girls in the school pick on her because of it, making it clear that, even living her isolated lifestyle, she is not happy with her school life. Yamato, on the other hand, is the picture of the “School All-Star”. He is surrounded by hanger’s on, both male and female, the girls seeking to curry his favor and the guys just trying to pick up the leftovers and be seen as more cool by the girls, because they hang with the cool guy. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to seek this out or even enjoy the attention, though he does seem to earnestly respond to each individual with kindness and openness, despite the fact that they appear display none of those characteristics back to him. Everybody wants something from him and he doesn’t really want anything from anyone.

An interesting coincidence has these two first episodes featuring a “flash-back” scene of the lead females dealing with an elementary school classroom crisis: the death of the classes pet bunny. To highlight the difference in approach between the two stories, in My Little Monster, the reaction of Shizuku is lack of comprehension. She feels nothing when the bunny dies and can’t really understand why all of the other kids are so distraught about the death of a mere animal. (This does suggest that there could be some “issues” that she may have to deal with, such as a lack of empathy or a real emotional disability of some sort, and the story does take a bit of that approach as it goes on.) In Say, “I Love You”, the scene is played out quite differently. Mei is blamed for the bunnies death, because a “friend” singles her out as the person who got the bunny out of the cage, leading to the situation that lead to its demise. It is suggested that the accuser is the actual person that was to blame, but Mei is unable to defend herself and runs off in tears, relegated to pariah status by her immature and cruel classmates. This difference speaks volumes about how these two seemingly similar shows are, in fact, miles apart.

Another similarity between the two is the way the first episodes end and the similar impact the ending has on the heroine. In a break from the norm, both of these series end the first episode with a kiss between the male and female leads. In both cases, it is initiated by the boy and the impact on the girl is powerful, if a bit predictable, with Mei staring wide-eyed and blushing thinking “My first kiss…” and Shizuku having a more visceral, and comically displayed, reaction of a full face blush, visible sweat on her brow, and her heart beating audibly. Interestingly, it appears at this point that both of the young men involved are a not necessarily enamored with the leading ladies, based on the reaction after the kiss by one and the reason for the kiss with the other.

As the shows progress, we get to know some of the supporting cast, like the perverted friend of Yamato who caused the misunderstanding that lead to the two protagonists meeting, and his busty friend from middle-school who obviously has a major crush on him. It is also made clear that Mei is not the only girl in their school who has shared a kiss, or possibly even more than a kiss, with Yamato. As a matter of fact, it is rumored that he has kissed every girl in the school, except for the one girl he was rumored to be dating in middle school. Mei begins to wonder if his attentions to her mean he is really interested in her or if he is really some kind of womanizer.

Meanwhile, Shizuku is coming to the horrifying, for her at least, realization that the physiological reactions she has to Haru’s presence could mean that she’s falling in love with him. This is not something that she is prepared for, as she has studiously avoided any friendships or romantic entanglements. We also meet one of their classmates, Asako Natsume, a very pretty and athletic girl who needs help studying for her make-up exams so she can avoid remedial classes over break. Her reason is that there is a real-life meeting of an on-line community she belongs to that conflicts with the remedial classes. This portion of the story line brings into clear focus one of the key story lines of the show, at least so far: the difficulty some people have finding true friends. Haru doesn’t really know how to deal with people and is usually either starting fights or being taken advantage of by people, Shizuku claims to not want friendship, considering it a bother and a waste of her time, and Asako is pursued by boys because of her looks and shunned by girls for the same reason. The only people she has been able to become friends with are on the on-line community. Shizuku, of course, refuses to help her, but Haru, who was the top scorer on the entrance exam, agrees to help, if she will take him to this real-life meeting.

One section of dialog  in episode 2 of My Little Monster really highlights this theme. Shizuku asks Haru if it really matter that people don’t like him. He responds first by telling her she is “really special”, then asking her this:

“Have you ever felt empty inside? So empty you can’t feel a thing. Surrounded by darkness. It really scares me. But I’m not scared anymore… because I have you.”

By the end of the episode, we have also met another classmate who plays baseball that went to middle school with Haru, learned that Haru is a horrible teacher, and had a variety of mishaps and arguments over a chicken. However, Shizuku has also come to the realization that it might be nice to live in a world where other people care about her and she cares about them, and she confesses her love to Haru. Quite a bit of progress for two episodes of shoujo anime. By contrast, as Mei learns more about Yamato, mostly from Asako, the more she starts to question his character, but at the same time she seems be more and more fixated on him. We also get to see a bit of how he is treated by his “friends” and it is pretty clear that, while he is almost always friendly with them, he isn’t particularly happy to be around them. Along the way, Mei seems to be developing a friendship with Asako, doing things like going out for coffee and using the same cell-phone straps. She also does a small amount of matchmaking, helping Yamato’s perverted friend decide to actually express his true feelings to Asako, after which, the begin to date. By the end of the episode, she confronts Yamato about his playboy reputation, and he, rather aggressively, teaches her about different types of kisses, and asks her if she loves him. She, in a manner of speaking, confesses that she does, and they share a “real” kiss.

So, by the end of episode 2, both of these shows have pretty much reached the same point in their respective stories, but have taken very different paths to get there. Interestingly, I can see shades of the shoujo romances that I am most familiar with each. My Little Monster has the mismatched personalities and penchant for super-deformed character transformations reminiscent of Kare Kano, as well as the crazy, outrageous comical situations of both Kare Kano and Ouran Host Club. Say, “I Love You”, seems to draw more from the serious side of Kare Kano‘s story telling style, with a realistic approach to dialog, and the downright meanness of some high school girls and much less broad comedy. The contrast extends to art style, with My Little Monster being presented in bright tones, with a clean shoujo style to the character designs, but  a more sharp edges and exaggerated character reactions, while Say, “I Love You” brings a softer palette, with plenty of pastels and a strong shoujo/josei character style, similar to the more serious chapters of Kare Kano and shows like Kids on the Slope.

Both of these shows are fun to watch and have compelling characters. The stories, while not gaining many points for originality, aside from some rather bizarre side story sections in My Little Monster that feature a rooster that the tenderhearted, or possibly just tender-headed, Haru inexplicably wants to try to protect from the rain. What they do have, however, is generally impressive level of execution and enough freshness in the characters and plot lines to prevent them from seeming too old hat. The one thing that holds them both back, in my opinion, is some slight issues with word choice and character actions that seem a bit on the misogynist side of the appropriateness needle. It is hard to tell if that type of issue is due to real sexism issues or is more a case of cultural differences in interpretation.

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou – Episodes 1 and 2

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Episodes 1 and 2

Rating: 4 of 5

Availability:

Simulcasting on Crunchyroll Wednesdays at 2:00 pm Central Time.

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Synopsis

(From MAL)

The school romantic comedy revolves around a second-year high school student named Sorata Kanda who lives in Sakurasou, the dormitory for problem children at Sorata’s school. One day, Mashiro Shiina – a cute girl who happens to be also a cosmopolitan, brilliant artist – moves into Sakurasou.

Sorata thinks to himself that he should protect Mashiro from the weirdos at Sakurasou, but Mashiro has a surprising secret: she has no idea how to take care of herself. She gets lost if she goes out, and her room is a complete mess. Sorata’s dorm mates designate him as the “master” of Mashiro, and thus, an ordinary boy and a brilliant girl must live like “a master and his pet.”

Impressions:

When I saw the description of this anime earlier in the year, I was curious enough to look into the source material. What I found was a translation of the first three chapters of the manga adaptation. I found it funny and a bit surprising, given the level of cliche elements the story uses.

Now that the anime is available, my opinion has not really changed all that much. The show has a large amount of standard romantic comedy tropes, including the transfer student, the girl that is obviously in love with the protagonist without his having a clue, the 30 year old single teacher who is in search of a man, etc… However, the show also has quite a bit going for it. The first thing that struck me as a major positive is the protagonist: Sorata. He is not your average milquetoast boring guy. Yes, he is a milquetoast boring guy, but the fact that he has the self awareness right from the start to suggest that perhaps it isn’t his life that is boring puts him a cut above. Also, his inability to take a pass on helping a creature in need, cats in particular (which is the reason he is living in Sakurasou – he got caught taking care of stray cats in his dorm room), gives him a leg up in terms of the “nice guy” image. Yes, all milquetoast boring guys are “nice guys” unless the trope is subverted, but this is one that I actually can buy. I have known people that were unable to send a stray packing, even to the point that it put their apartment lease in jeopardy. (We ended up keeping her cats for quite a while after they were found. The fact that she was watching ours the weekend that the landlord found them did pile on the guilt a bit… Maybe it was our dumb cats that got caught?)

Then there is the female lead: Mashiro. Many people have commented on her as a major negative point in the show. I don’t see her as a negative at all. By the end of episode 2, we have a good feel for her as a character. She is flighty beyond all reason, has very little ability to function on her own in society, and very little, if any, modesty. But she also has a refreshing openness and a unique way of looking at the world which really pushes her character into a different realm. The portrayal of Mashiro is almost as a savant, similar to “Rainman”, but with art, instead of math, as the innate talent of the character. However, it seems to stop just shy of that. At the same time, she isn’t just a flighty slob who can’t take care of herself, she is a genius that doesn’t function on the same level as an ordinary human. There is a sequence where she is studying Sorata’s facial expressions that suggests she has a lot more going on upstairs than she gets credit for. She appears to be fully aware of what she is doing in that scene and manipulates Sorata to elicit the reactions she is wanting to study in a fairly deliberate and skillful manner. She also doesn’t come across as entirely naive and innocent in that scene. And, as Sorata finds out at the end of episode two, she is a world renowned artist. Having a brilliant artist character portrayed as having a rather loose grip on reality is not a particularly new thing, but it is also not something that detracts from the series.

The supporting characters are entertaining, from the over-the-top anime creator and her childhood friend, playboy scriptwriter to the computer nerd that only communicates through his “maid avatar” personal assistant program, to the “normal girl” with a crush on Sorata who dreams of being a voice actress, and the 30 year old, massively inappropriate teacher and dorm “mom”, who also happens to be Mashiro’s cousin. Some of them have the potential to become annoying, but for the time being, they add to the fun of the show.

The music is quite nice, but doesn’t really stand out in any way, though the ED does have a certain charm to it. The art is well done, with bright tones and a slightly washed out brightness to many of the scenes, but it is also not the strong point of the series. So far, what stands out for me is the character dynamics and chemistry between the two leads, the humor, and a surprising depth in the direction the story is going, with a strong emphasis on the difference between the thought processes of a “genius” vs an “average” person.