New Spring 2014 #5

We start with fire!
We start with fire!

Let me get this straight. In Black Bullet, the “initiators” are cursed children who are keeping mankind safe from the nasty Gastrea bugs. They are teamed with “promoters” who do … what, exactly? We meet and follow Rentaro, an eighteen-or-so-old promoter, who has nothing special going for him and can’t even shoot all that well. His initiator Enju does all the work. In the first scene he comes to a sealed-off apartment where there’s a gastrea outbreak, all the cops and professionals there defer to him, though he does nothing special at all. Why can’t the initiators work with professional law-enforcement instead of these shills from a private company?

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It’s not all bad. There’s a good and vivid flashback to the bad old days to start off, and Rentaro, who could be just another bitter, angry kid, such as Eren, has both Enju and his boss, Kisara, to keep him grounded. The scenes with Rentaro and Enju, in spite of her come ons and his annoyed looks, are very sweet in a sibling way. Enju has chances to break out of her lethal-loli stereotype and she makes the most of them. But there are some infodumps later on, and that asshole with the mask, who kills a lot of cops and afterwards is completely forgotten by everyone. But overall, not bad. Worth another look.

Chatroom.
Chatroom.

No Game No Life has two NEET game geniuses, Sora and Shiro, people who use all their limbs to control four characters at once, challenged to a friendly game of online chess, and after they win, are asked a series of questions about life on Earth and if they’d prefer to go somewhere else. Since they consider life to be an unbeatable, no fun game, they say yes, and Whoosh! there they are free-falling while an enthusiastic young god named Tet gives them a long list of rules to follow. After they land and not die they quickly adapt to this game-happy land in ways that scare me a little.

They pick up on the rules awful quick.
They pick up on the rules awful quick.

I get the impression that these kids will rise to face great gaming challenges in this world. But Sora and Shiro are cynical NEETs who don’t seem to have much in the way of ethics. All they seem to care about are games, not people. Depending on how far they take it this could make this an interesting series or an unpleasant one. It’s already clear that even if the kids are amoral, so are some of the people they meet, and the two show a great deal of affection and trust toward one another, so they can’t be all bad. On the other hand, I don’t like their invincibility. The two are supposed to be shut-ins with difficulties dealing with people, but Sora could tell by his face that the innkeeper was ripping them off. These inconsistencies make me worry about the series in general, but we’ll see.

Steel butterflies or something.  I forget.
Steel butterflies or something. I forget.

In Hitsugi no Chaika, after a flashback where some demonic thing looks down at a small, frightened girl and gives pronouncements about how she’s Emperor Gaz’s daughter, has great power, and will have not any fun in her life, we jump to the present day were a guy named Tooru, hunting for food, comes across the same girl, now in fancy dress and carrying a coffin. They start their adventures together when they are attacked by an evil unicorn–you don’t see many evil unicorns, so I was happy with this development. Both Tooru and Chaika (the girl) whip out magic powers. We then turn to court intrigue, angry sisters, an attempted heist of a severed hand, the usual.

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In spite of the evil unicorn I was not all that impressed, but the setup is interesting. We aren’t told why Chaika is like she is, or what the fates have in store for her, in fact, one character is extremely surprised to see her alive. Others (who want to steal that hand as well), are keeping an eye on her. Yet she can barely take care of herself, hell, she can barely talk, making her attempts to communicate funny at times. Adding to the humor (or the attempts), Tooru and his sister Akira fight and quibble a lot, and the show lets us know early on that Akira is kind of stupid. Much of the laughs come from Tooru’s reactions to these two, that and the problems of sneaking hapless Chaika and her coffin into the mansion in the dead of night.

A generic old European town.
A generic old European town.

In Gochuumon wa Usagi Desuka?, a girl named Cocoa comes to a pseudo-European town to begin high school. She stops at the “Rabbit Café” to get directions and meet some rabbits and learns that she’s going to live and work there and that the only rabbit in the place is a big white furball that reminds me of the critter from Tamayura, except it talks and has a man’s voice. In fact, it’s the owner’s father, reincarnated or something. Also there is Chino, the daughter, and Rize, who tries to shoot her. And they are all cute and interact cutely. Well, it’s nice to have at least one show about cute girls doing cute things, right?

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Things that liven up this potentially dull situation: Rize is a soldier’s daughter and a gun nut, and she’s a little lonely because she goes to her home every night. Chino is our deadpan girl for the series and so gets a lot of the good comebacks. Nothing much going for Cocoa, however, though she’s good at math. We’ll meet more cute girls next week, I assume. As for the show itself, I don’t have high hopes. They set up predictable gags and then take their time getting to the inevitable punchline. But at one point they have bit where we watch Chino make a latte, grinding beans, pouring water, and while it was unnecessary, it wasn’t boring, either. It was part of the flow of work that Chino does everyday. If they can add other little moments like that the show might be all right.

I don't know what's going on with this opening.
I don’t know what’s going on with this opening.

In the past couple years, NoitaminA given us shows that have different subject matter than we normally see, but nothing with a divergent style, shows like Trapeze or Katanagatari. But Ping Pong: the Animation, we again get something that looks and feels different than other shows out there. It’s this that strikes me the most about episode one. The artwork is sketchy, sometimes barely fleshed in, and the characters are all normal looking, not anime characters we usually see. The animation, when it settles on one moment and doesn’t cut away or go to split screens, which they usually do, is both fluid and jerky. When you add the dirty, sweaty world that the people here live inn, and the lives of the characters, it’s almost a visceral look at crude and vaguely unpleasant lives.

Is this a shot directly from the manga?
Is this a shot directly from the manga?

Not unpleasant to watch, however. I love the world they’ve invented. I’m also intrigued by the story itself. Smile and his friend Peco are two talented first-years in their school’s ping-pong club, too bored to play the lesser-talented upperclassmen, who would bully them anyway. Peco is the impulsive and confident one, while Smile (named so because he doesn’t) is the sidekick, or that’s how it seems, until they sneak to another another school to watch a Chinese ringer they brought in. This guy, Kong, destroys Peco when he insists on a game, but is more interested in Smile. Kong could tell the quality of their game from the roof, just by listening to them play.

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I’ve mentioned the show’s impressive style, but not all of it works. There was a moment when Kong and his buddy were on the roof, Peco and Smile playing on the tables below, and the screen went to white. With hindsight I knew what they were up to: they wanted us to concentrate on the sound of the game rather than anything visual. Unfortunately, my reaction was “Why the hell are they wasting time with this whiteout?” Maybe they miscalculated, maybe I should forget the nearly two-dozen shows I’ve watched recently, put the way I watch anime out of my mind, and learn how to watch this show. Or a little of both. Either way, this and Mushishi are the only two series I’ve watched that I’m definitely keeping. They’re also the ones that look different.

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I suppose just about any anime series would look normal and mundane next to Ping Pong, but that’s what noitaminA’s got for their other new series, Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin. Still, it’s not the type of show you’d normally see in this timeslot. We have a guy named Juugo, who’s arrived at an island in the pacific to do his third year of high school after getting kicked out of his house. It starts like Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou, the kid soaking it all in, but tropical. But there’s weirdness in his new place. He’s got a live-in ghost named Nanana who sits around the place all day eating puddings, watching TV, and playing games. Your typical annoying roommate, I suppose, except she’s beautiful.

Juugo witnesses Nanana's phantom hand technique.
Juugo witnesses Nanana’s phantom hand technique.

After things settle down the show begins to feed us backstory. Nanana was one of the seven geniuses who made the island possible (the sexy landlady was another). She doesn’t know who killed her, and there’s treasure she buried stashed all over the island. Question: is this show going to be about finding Nanana’s killer and moving on, or is it about that treasure? In other words, what’s Juugo going to do? Well, the next part of the puzzle seems to be literally floating down towards him, whereupon we’ll meet some other people, so I’m assuming treasure, or at least some adventures, are coming up. Episode one was all right, not inspiring, but not bad. Juugo is hardly surprised at the existence of Nanana, which sounds like the creators aren’t paying attention, but Nanana then makes the same observation. All of the other characters so far seem to by types. Still, an interesting start.

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