Spring 2014 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

April means the start of the spring anime season, and this time around there looks to be an unusually large crop of shows I want to try out. I generally don’t end up watching everything I try out all the way through, but to give an idea of what’s out there, here’s a snapshot of which first episodes I watched, why I chose them, and what I thought of them.

By quirk of luck, everything I want to check out this season is streaming exclusively at Crunchyroll for American viewers, with the exception of M3: the dark metal, which is at Daisuki..

Black Bullet


Why I Watched It: I really liked the promo art. The premise is that ten years ago humanity came under attack of the Gastrea Virus, which mutates humans into giant insect monsters. Though humans were eventually able to find a sense of stability again, outbreaks can still happen and are held in check by teams of Promoters and Initiators. Initiators are Cursed Children who were born from infected mothers and Promoters are their handlers.

What I Thought: Rentaro, the Promoter main character doesn’t break any new ground, but he’s just belligerent enough, just competent enough, and just likeable enough to keep me engaged. Unfortunately due to the timeline of the show his Initiator sidekick Enju has to be an elementary school girl, but she’s not written like one and her constant attempts to be Rentaro’s intimate girlfriend might eventually turn me off the show. It’s only “funny” because she’s ten. If she was older it would be sexual harassment. (Rentaro is clearly not interested.) I’m not sure what the greater plot is from the first episode, which features the duo taking out a final stage infected before it can cause an outbreak, but I like Rentaro and his friend Kisara (who I think has a nice chemistry with him) enough that I’ll give Black Bullet another go.

Verdict: Black Bullet actually ended up better than I thought it would be (if I ignore Enju), and I think in another season this would have been a contender for my viewing time, but this spring there are just too many shows.


Brynhildr in the Darkness


Why I Watched It: I liked the premise, that a boy meets a girl that looks like his childhood friend who died years ago. That this was a science fiction show and the girl escaped a research lab was known to me before I watched it, but it could have been a slice-of-life series and I still would have given it a shot.

What I Thought: The opening credits make this look like a more pulse-pounding and sinister show than I expected. I’m a little put off by what looks to be a predominantly female cast with a single male lead. In anime intended for a primarily male audience, this frequently means there will be a certain amount of fanservice and all the girls will end up falling in love with the main character. And in the first episode there are definitely some fanservice shots, though they are not nearly as egregious as other shows. Fortunately Ryota is a sympathetic protagonist and the story between him and his childhood friend Kuroneko is engaging enough that I want to see what happens between him and her look-alike Kuroha Neko, who appears to be a scientifically created witch and part of a network of people who can predict when others will die.

Verdict: I will be watching it. There are enough tantalizing bits regarding Kuroha’s past and her special abilities that I want to see more (and she has to be Ryota’s childhood friend somehow even though she’s missing the moles on her body that his friend had).


Chaika – The Coffin Princess


Why I Watched It: I wasn’t going to. I didn’t like the character designs and I didn’t like what I had heard of the main character, being a young teenage girl who only speaks in words and sentence fragments (presumably because it makes her adorably quirky). But I kept hearing about the carnivorous unicorn in the first episode so I figured it must be something awesome.

What I Thought: The unicorn wasn’t too shabby (actually a bit creepy right up until they fought it), but the setup where main character Chaika happens to meet super-powered siblings Toru and Akari and that they are willing to take a job from such a nutcase of a wizard as Chaika, is just a little too pat. I have trouble buying the fact the siblings are so broke as to be scrounging for food when they both possess a transformation ability that makes them superhumanly strong and immune to fear. Fortunately there are hints of a more complicated plot involving something that went down five years ago in a civil war, and mysterious faction that may or may not be on Chaika’s side.

Verdict: I might go back to this one if I have time or one of the series I intend to watch bombs out.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

jojosWhy I Watched It: When I was very new to anime, the original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure OAV series was one of the few that really stuck in my mind due to the crazy combination of the extremely manly art style, the level of violence, and the Stands, which I can’t really describe as anything other than mystic inner selves named after tarot cards. They’re a lot like the Personas in the Persona series, but predate them by several years.

What I Thought: I mostly watched this out of curiousity, since the original OAV series did not cover the first half of the Stardust Crusaders story arc so I started in the middle. It’s funny watching it because the story takes place in 1989, which was current day when the manga ran, but makes this a historical piece now. It’s exactly what I expected, even with stylized sound effects just like you would see in a manga panel, except animated. JoJo’s is completely unapologetic about its age and makes no effort to update itself. The manga has been running for over twenty-five years and knows what it is to the tune of 110 volumes and counting.

Verdict: It’s JoJo’s, which means a lot of muscly guys screaming at each other while fighting and I already know where the story’s going. It’s worth a look for someone who wants an introduction to one of Japan’s longest continually running manga series and the story arc is self-contained, but doesn’t offer much more than updated animation for someone who saw the earlier version.


M3: the dark metal

m3Why I Watched It: I like shows with a bit of mystery around them. Near future Tokyo is slowly being swallowed by a blackness called the Lightless Realm that consumes anyone who tries to explore it, and there is a strange song that comes from its guardians where if someone hears it they will die in nine days.

What I Thought: This show feels like it should always be taking place at night, because that’s when its most effective scenes are. The scenes in full daylight lose the feeling of menace that should be coming from the Lightless Realm and the mysterious Admonitions and Corpses that emerge from it. The show has a gender-balanced ensemble cast consisting of a special class of students who are being trained to eventually explore the zone and emerge alive thanks to new technology. However most of the first episode focuses around Akashi, who so far looks be talented, but relatively unsympathetic. By the end of the first episode we get a little bit of insight into what the Admonitions are, which is appropriately disturbing, and most of the cast hears a Corpse’s song.

Verdict: I will be watching it. No one in the cast has particularly won me over, but the atmosphere certainly did. I’d like to see what happens when they finally start exploration and what it is that they’ll find inside.


One Week Friends

oneweekfriendsWhy I Watched It: I liked the premise. It sounded very sweet. Kaori Fujimiya is a high school girl who loses memories of people who she wants to spend time with, who are important to her (barring family members), with the start of every Monday. This makes it impossible for her to make friends, but one boy, Yuuki Hase, picks up on her loneliness and resolves to become her friend every week.

What I Thought: OMG the feels. Kaori and Yuuki are absolutely adorable together. The first episode covers the course of a week as they gradually and believably begin to become friends, and the animation easily picks up every bit of their awkward conversations as she tries to dance around her peculiar condition and Yuuki tries not to feel rejected. It’s an easy tug on the heartstrings, but the end of that first episode when Yuuki resolves to tell her “I want to be your friend” at the start of every week was so sweet. I’m not sure how the show will progress if Kaori is constantly resetting, but it’s definitely earned a place on my list.

Verdict: Must watch! End of story.


The World is Still Beautiful

worldisstillbeautifulWhy I Watched It: Shoujo (girls) comics are infrequently adapted into anime, and even though the character designs don’t quite do anything for me, I wanted to give this one a shot. The premise is that the Sun King conquered most of the world, but agreed to leave the Duchy of Rain alone in exchange for one of the duke’s daughters in marriage. Princess Nike loses a game of rock-paper-scissors against her sisters and is prompted shipped off to marry a king she has never met, but the king turns out to be a boy younger than she is and she’s no shrinking violet.

What I Thought: It turned out to be a sillier show than I thought it would be, even breaking the fourth wall at one point. Nike gets into what I would consider horrible situations if it had been anyone else, but they get played for laughs and she never takes anything too badly. It helps that she can command the weather and she’s not afraid to use it. I like that she has a lot of confidence and isn’t overly girly, which is atypical of shoujo heroines. The boy king is only introduced at the very end of the episode, so it’s not possible to see what their relationship is going to be like, but he looks just young enough for it to feel a little squicky. According to Wikipedia he’s supposed to be 15 but he looks like he’s 12.

Verdict: I’m going to keep watching this one to see if it gets better. It’s hard to judge a romantic comedy when half the couple has barely been on screen by the end of the first episode.

Conspicuously missing

Knights of Sidonia – The most serious science fiction offering of the season, featuring massive colony ships, genetically engineered humans to better survive in a harsh environment, and giant robots (okay, maybe that part isn’t so serious) is a Netflix exclusive and will not be appearing in the US until Summer 2014. In an era of simulcasting that seems a terrible business decision. By the time it makes its way over here fans will be talking about the next season of shows.



laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: Samurai Flamenco

written by Laurie Tom

Samurai Flamenco is a send-up/meta-commentary of the Japanese superhero genre, particularly the various Super Sentai series, which Americans have mostly been exposed to in the form of Power Rangers.

Twenty-year-old Masayoshi Hazama grew up idolizing the televised superheroes of his childhood, so much so that even into adulthood he never gave up his dream of becoming a hero. He lives in a world much like ours, where criminals are handled by the police; a world that doesn’t have or need superheroes. But Masayoshi isn’t like normal people.

He has an uncompromising sense of morality and in his homemade costume as Samurai Flamenco, he decides to make the world a better place, even if it’s just as simple as getting someone to stop littering.

His first attempt at being a hero is downright miserable (Batman he is not), but fortunately he soon meets Hidenori Goto, a jaded policeman a few years older than him. At first all they have in common is a fondness for childhood superhero shows, but as time passes, Goto starts to help out Masayoshi as he gets in over his head. As a vigilante, it helps to have a friend on the police force, and for the audience Goto serves as the straight man to antics that only Masayoshi could possibly take seriously.

Eventually Masayoshi makes allies, rivals, and even enemies. During episode 7 the show takes a huge right turn that is completely crazy and runs against everything that had been set up about how the world works, but it’s just so damn good and completely in the spirit of the show that it’s hard not to just roll with it. Episode 7 is really what sets the tone of the rest to follow.

Once the real spirit of the show reveals itself Samurai Flamenco runs fast and furious, barely stopping to take a breath. Like in a TV series, the hero defeats one enemy only for another to appear, but it does what would be 5-6 seasons in another show in just two (and it works!). There was one point where I wondered just how the hell the series could possibly wrap up in the wake of ever escalating adversaries, but wrap up it does, and it does it in the unexpected and completely off-beat manner that the show has been displaying its entire run.

Samurai Flamenco manages a neat balancing act between the laughs and the drama, sometimes even juggling both in the exact same scene, with a couple teary-eyed moments I just wasn’t expecting.

That said though, this is a series I find difficult to recommend, since so much of the humor hinges around Japanese superheroes. If you watched Power Rangers as a kid and know a little bit about its Super Sentai origins, or if you happen to be a fan of the American comic Kick-Ass, I’d say this is worth giving a shot, but it’s probably too bizarre to be someone’s intro to anime.

Otherwise, if you’re an anime fan looking for something new, there really isn’t anything else like Samurai Flamenco.

Lasting 22 episodes, Samurai Flamenco recently finished its run with the end of the winter 2014 anime season.

Pluses: commentary on the staples of Japanese superheroes is hilarious, story never loses sight of itself, clear that the creative staff loved what they were doing

Minuses: takes a few episodes to get to the real plot, most of the villains don’t last long enough to make an impact, very niche appeal

Samurai Flamenco is currently streaming at CrunchyRoll and is available subtitled. Aniplex of America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.



Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.


Anime Catch-Up Review: Guilty Crown

written by Laurie Tom

Guilty Crown debuted as part of the fall 2011 anime season, but at the time it was up against Persona 4 for my viewing time, and being a Persona fan, that pretty much meant everything else, unfairly or not, was getting shut out.

But over the coming years, I’d occasionally see something that reminded me of it. I liked what I had seen of the character designs, there was that odd yet memorable title, and I liked the song “My Dearest” which plays over the first set of opening credits (which, by the way, gives a pretty accurate snapshot of who and what appears in the show).

Otherwise I didn’t know much about it except that somewhere I had read that the middle arc of the story reminded the viewer of the first Devil Survivor game, which I had enjoyed.

So when I found myself completely caught up on my simulcasts and still in the mood to watch more anime, I fired up Guilty Crown.

Guilty Crown is not an anime series that plays all its cards up front. For a near future science fiction series heavily centered around action, it brings up a lot of questions, and, I’m happy to say, answers nearly all of them.

The premise is that ten years ago, there was an outbreak in Japan of what became known as the Apocalypse Virus. It was so bad that foreign forces had to come in and take control of the country in order to keep the virus contained, and they’ve remained there ever since.

Shu Ouma, is the sort of nice-guy high school student protagonist that appears in many anime series, and in the first episode he is unfortunately the weakest element of the show. He accidentally gets tangled up in a resistance group called Funeral Parlor that is trying to overthrow the GHQ, the health organization that now rules Japan. Due to circumstances, he unintentionally absorbs an experimental fluid called the Void Genome that gives him “the power of kings” and allows him to pull objects out of other people that represent their hearts. These manifestations are called Voids.

Fortunately the first Void he pulls turns out to be a gigantic sword, which comes in handy in the action piece that closes out the first episode. Having him take out opposing mecha on foot is an amazing bit of shorthand to show just how powerful his new ability is, and if the story of Guilty Crown occasionally disappoints, the battles do not.

Shu initially tries to continue living a normal life after having gained the Void Genome, but circumstances conspire again and again to show him there’s really no going back; whether it’s the Funeral Parlor member who transfers to his school or a classmate who could sell him out after witnessing Shu fighting alongside the resistance.

In the early episodes Shu is largely pulled along by the will of other people and the shows works in its appreciably large cast, moving between the people in Funeral Parlor, the students at school, and the members of GHQ. After the bulk of the major players have been revealed, Shu starts to mature. The stakes rise and he begins to take ownership of his situation.

The first season in particular has light-hearted moments, such as Shu trying to figure out the identity of the student who was spying on him by pulling out the student’s Void. All he has to go on is the Void’s appearance, so he ends up running around campus randomly pulling things out of other kids (while profusely apologizing) to the entertainment of the viewer.

But the second season takes a much darker turn and nearly all of the levity is gone. At this point, it’s clear that there’s no such thing as normal.

The rest of the large cast varies in depth, though all are fairly distinctive. Aside from a couple of the senior GHQ members early on, I never had trouble telling anyone apart, though there isn’t the time in a 22-episode series for everyone to be drawn out as fully realized people. Still, with a large cast, there’s likely to be someone to root for even when the main characters aren’t pulling their best.

A few of my favorites:

Ayase is unusual in that she is a disabled character, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, but what is really remarkable is that she’s not the brainy hacker character. No, Ayase is Funeral Parlor’s kickass Endlave (mecha) pilot. Who cares if she’s in a wheelchair? She doesn’t need to walk to pilot a giant robot! I love that everyone in Funeral Parlor simply treats her as part of the team and no one comments on her disability until Shu joins the group and opens his mouth (and then she gives him a good tongue-lashing).

I have a tendency to like characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons, and Shu’s classmate Yahiro is that kind of character. His Void is a freakish pair of shears with the ability to sever life, but when we learn why his Void takes that form, the reason isn’t sadistic at all. Being a pragmatist, Yahiro is also the guy willing to make hard choices and present uncomfortable suggestions, and he does it without ever going off the deep end and becoming a monster like many of his counterparts in other anime series.

The last character I’ll mention is Daryl Yan, who is a part of the GHQ. He’s initially presented as a misanthropic villain who gets off on killing, but partway through the series the audience gets to see another side of him that makes him a more sympathetic character. Personally I wish Daryl had more chance to develop, because I liked where his arc was going, but I can understand why for plot reasons the writers ended up cutting that off. It just makes for a weird about-face near the end.

Unfortunately, with a large cast, that also means there are some characters that just never click. Inori, though the main heroine, is one of many emotionless girls popular in anime and her character arc is not anything that hasn’t been done before. I found I cared about her fate more because of Shu than because I cared about her.

Though Shu is clearly the main character with a tremendous special ability, Guilty Crown is pretty good at giving everyone a piece of the action. It never comes to a point where everyone sits back and lets Shu do his thing. The job is too big for a single person.

Overall, this series was a fun ride that only accelerated as it progressed. Though there were still a few “Huh?” moments that prevent the story from being completely coherent, they weren’t enough to ruin the ending. I’d recommend it.

Pluses: Nicely fleshed out world, excellent action set pieces, large cast makes it easy to find someone to like, large number of memorable vocal tracks

Minuses: Occasional bits of fanservice, plot sometimes take a backseat, some of the characters are archetypes we’ve seen before and don’t rise above their predecessors

Guilty Crown is currently streaming at Hulu and Funimation and is available both subtitled and dubbed. The subtitled version was watched for this review.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.