Throughout the first episode of Non Non Biyori, the theme of country life is brought home the strongest at the previews for next week, which are shown on a TV in the corner of someone’s living room on a pleasant sunny day, with no one watching. Just a cat. I guess everyone is out working or going to school or doing something outside, since it’s such a nice day and all. That’s the way the show feels. We meet four girls of different ages who attend the same classes, since they’re about the only students, and later a transfer student from Tokyo. They show her (and, by extension, us) around the area, commenting on the lack of buses and convenience stores, and other things that come as a shock to Hotaru, the new girl. The local girls are utterly used to it, blasé in fact, even as they nonchalantly show her a beautiful sakura tree they eat their desserts under. It’s peaceful, slow-moving, usually only the sound of wind and the recorder Renge the first-grader plays. Thus it’s utterly different from the other shows currently running. A couple missteps: they set up a gag about rotting school floors and we see the one male student (not identified) has fallen through one, just standing there, a gag so out-of-place I wondered what was going on. Did he do that on purpose as a joke? Also Renge often talks above her age, though possibly that’s due to her much-older classmates, but she often seems to be trolling the others. Still, a solid start. Looking forward to more.
Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova has an interesting setup. Mankind’s been driven to what’s left of their land while the Fleet of Fog rules the seas and prevents all communication, except for one submarine, the I-401, commanded by a young recruit named Chihaya something, who helps mankind out as much as he can with the assistance of Iona, the submarine in girl-personification form. We learn later that all the enemy’s ships have girl personifications, making me wonder if they also work as mascots. This idea has nice promise for a naval battle show, but it doesn’t do itself any favors by making Chihaya an angry cold fish. Oh sure, he’s mulling over what happened to his father, vanished in the last great battle, and the fact that Iona’s last order was to obey him (hence a large part of the show’s mystery), but when you’re sullen all the time you’re boring. Iona is an emotionless robot, and his cohorts, friends from the academy, aren’t terribly interesting. Well, the guy isn’t. In spite of two battles the episode dragged and had me checking my watch. It’s altogether too slow and sober. But you have to forgive some shows for their episode ones, so I’ll keep watching.
Tokyo Ravens has a decent first episode. We got a world where Shamanic powers are mixed with the real world, with interesting results, and there’s our hero, Harutora, who’s supposed to be the heir to some great power but can’t sense spirits, let alone do magic, and seems on the surface to like it that way. We follow him around with his bud, er, didn’t get his name, and Hokuto, both “laymen” who think he’s wasting his talent and tell him so, more than once in this episode alone. That’s about the episode’s only misstep. Good friends ought to know not to push this button too much. Otherwise the friendship between the three feels natural. Same with the heir to the power, Natsume, in her one strained scene with Harutora. You get the sense that there’s a lot of history, personal and public, the show wants to dump on us, but it mostly (not completely) avoids infodumps. Then we get a weird blond girl showing up, licking things suggestively, and showing off her powers, and how stupid she is that she didn’t know the one she wants is a girl, but manages to wreak some havoc anyway. I liked the episode, though I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because they have some interesting mysteries but didn’t overdo the exposition, or I liked the way the three friends interacted, or maybe because it’s a routine first episode but didn’t do any especially stupid.
At the very end of BlazBlue-Alter Memory 1, Ragna prays to the gods to lift the curse afflicting fighting games turned into anime. You can imagine Tomokazu Sugita saying these lines. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well if he’s talking about bringing people in who haven’t played the game, or, like me, don’t game much at all. Even more than other such shows, this show feels like they took the script for a game and used it in the anime without any edits. The scenes feel disjointed, tossed in because that’s what happens next, even if they have nothing to do with anything, like the business with the girl in the anime suit who talks like a cat. To be fair, this structure does remove from the show obligations to explain anything. We know Ragna is going through an endless repeat of a life, battling to his death, and that’s all it bothers to tell us, for which I want to thank the show. Otherwise, however, we get people showing up to battle Ragna who people like me, never having played the game, don’t know, so there’s no thrill of recognition. So I’ll pass.
Ore no Nounai Sentakushi ga, Gakuen Love Comedy o Zenryoku de Jama Shiteiru, or NouKome for short, has a high school boy named Amakuse who is constantly confronted with choices. Not like someone deciding to take a bus or just walk, but more on the level of “Take off your top and shout like a Japanese man, or Take off your bottom and shout like an Amazon,” in the classroom. It’s done by some godlike being and if Amakuse refuses he gets some pain. Naturally, the rest of the class thinks he’s out of his mind. What makes this situation slightly more palatable is that two of his classmates, Yukuhira and Ouka, are also insane, so at least he has company. There’s not much more to it, apart from the end where a third girl falls from the sky (the better choice) and announces she’s going to rescue him. To start the episode there’s a too-long scene involving a skin mag, to introduce the concept, then an even longer scene showing us choices from history. But things improve a little when the girls are brought in. The episode is put together so that you can’t figure out if they’re geniuses or just inept. I’ve said that about shows before, and the answer is usually “inept.” But I’ll give it a chance.