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Cut for greater than usual amounts of tl;dr.

La storia della Arcana Famiglia: one of those shows that I feel is not doing nearly enough with its premise – in this case, that of a small island controlled by the eponymous pseudo-sorta-kinda-Mafia, whose members (at least the significant ones), have powers derived from the Major Arcana. I’m fond of gritty-yet-stylish Mafia action and of Tarot imagery; these are two great tastes that could easily go great together, but if the first episode is any indication, the Arcana Famiglia is more of a theme park Nerf Mafia whose guns are only used to shoot weapons out of enemy hands and whose swords and knives never seem to draw much blood. When a nameless mook in the pre-credits sequence is beaten by being stripped to his underwear via katana, I can guess that the show probably isn’t going to contain much of a body count or moral ambiguity, which I feel is to some extent missing the point of centering your story on a mob family, at least if you’re planning on taking it in any way seriously. (Okay, so apparently the Arcana Famiglia is actually a vigilante organization, but between their snappy suits and their Italian names they’re clearly meant to evoke the Mafia.)

The rest of the premise involves a tournament announced by the current “Papa” of the Famiglia to determine his successor. The winner also gets to marry his daughter, Felicita, who naturally objects to not having any say in the matter, but whose chosen method of expressing her objection – namely, trying to kick Papa in the head a couple of times – fails to accomplish anything whatsoever.

This could potentially go somewhere interesting with regards to gender politics and how Felicita and those closest to her deal with the situation. It could also go somewhere kind of skeevy. The writing of the episode isn’t all that great, which doesn’t give me very much encouragement that it’s likely to be the former. That Felicita’s Tarot power is mind-reading could be a means for her to gain control over her fate; it could help her accurately determine who’s actually on her side and who’s more interested in their own agenda, and it could help her understand and manipulate the people she can’t trust. There’s a lot of fertile ground here to work with. Episode one, though, establishes that she can’t control her mind-reading, and I can’t help but suspect that it’s going to turn out like a lot of other examples of characters whose telepathy never seems to kick in at any point that it would really matter much. Thus far, it’s used solely as an excuse for Felicita to haul off and kick guys who she catches fantasizing about her… and I’m also not a fan of the brand of tsundere characterization that involves beating up guys for perverted things they’re not actually doing.

I might give it another couple episodes to see where it looks like it’s heading. I really like the character designs, but I’m not sold on the rest.

Binbou-gami Ga!: I’m not personally a big follower of slapstick comedy anime, but Binbou-gami Ga! is kind of charming, if that’s the right term to use for an anime about a goddess of misfortune trying, and mostly failing, to normalize a spoiled rich girl who unconsciously absorbs other people’s luck. What makes it for me is mostly Ichiko’s characterization; she is genuinely a spoiled brat who has no intentions of letting Momiji bring her down to normal, but the first episode also got in a surprising hit to the heartstrings in the scenes that showed she is in fact capable of caring about others in specific (if bad at caring that much about other people in general). Wacky hijinks are popular here at animenite, so this one will probably stick around for a bit and I may have more to say about it later.

Campione: Animenite is slightly puzzled by the fact that female lead Erica’s magical girl transformation changes her from a frilly gown into a sensible trousers ensemble. Certainly more practical than the other way around, and yet at the same time there’s this sense of “doing it wrong”: if you’re going to be sensible enough to wear trousers into combat (and indeed it’s an attitude I personally encourage) then a magical girl transformation, even one as quick and simplistic as Erica’s, seems out of place and somehow backwards.

This is all somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course, but Campione’s first episode seems to suffer a bit from not pulling its various elements together very well. It’s a bit occult action-adventure (rogue gods wreaking havoc in Italy and a tablet with some sort of mystical power), a bit magical girl (Erica’s transformations) and a bit harem comedy (our hero inevitably being embarrassed by women in their underwear). Genre-blending is great when there’s an actual blend, but these elements are more tossed haphazardly together. Arcana Famiglia has a distinct style, even if its first episode doesn’t show many signs of using that style to potential. Campione seems more indecisive. Or maybe it’s just that the pacing is weird.

I gather that it’s going to turn into primarily a harem comedy as it goes on, which is not an area of my personal interest, so chances are I won’t keep following it.

Hagure Yuusha no Estetica: Estetica puts me in mind of nothing so much as Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou or High School of the Dead, two other potentially interesting concepts that were, for me, ruined by a parade of constant pantyshots and female jiggling. There’s some possibly interesting plot here involving travel between worlds, but I’m not willing to wade through this much fanservice to find out more about it.

Also animenite has a rule that if we see a female nipple, the show is over. There are certain kinds of shows for which that rule might be overridden, but this is not one of them.

Which is too bad, because at first blush the artwork and Akatsuki’s character design were interesting.

Hakuoki Reimeiroku: As someone who’s both seen the anime this is a prequel of and played the VN that previous anime is based on, I’m predisposed toward an interest in Reimeiroku. To anyone coming in blind – a category which includes the entire rest of animenite – the first episode is probably a very slow start, serving only to introduce most of the main cast and set up the initial state of affairs. Presumably a Japanese audience has more familiarity with the history involved and why it might be interesting to watch; the series is set over the founding of the Shinsengumi and the internal strife between the factions of Serizawa Kamo and Kondou Isamu, which sounds really dry when I put it like that but trust me when I say that this is the sort of moral ambiguity and intra-group political wrangling that I feel like Arcana Famiglia really should have and probably won’t.

(I don’t know why I keep using Arcana Famiglia as a comparison point for this season.)

For now I’ll just note that the historical Serizawa once fired a cannon into a fabric store. With this kind of a background of events to work with, Reimeiroku stands a good chance of being much more interesting than its first episode suggests, and that’s even before the inevitable addition of vampires.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita: The “what the hell did I just watch?” winner of the season. The title means “Humanity Has Declined,” and it’s an exercise in the juxtaposition of pleasant pastoral scenery and candy-colored pastel visuals with subject matter that’s by turns bizarre, bleak, and downright disturbing. The fairies with whom our nameless rose-haired heroine liaises on humanity’s behalf are tiny elfin things with broad, frozen smiles on their faces, incapable of understanding the chronic food shortage that the human community is struggling with beyond eventually grasping, when the heroine painstakingly explains it to them, that the humans will not have any sweets to share with them, probably not for a long time.

Through most of the first episode there’s a pervasive sense of weary helplessness from the heroine, the kind often expressed in Japanese via the phrase “shikatta ga nai (it can’t be helped).” She doesn’t want to have to butcher the town’s chickens for meat, but the men are all out hunting and the other village girls are even less equipped to do it than she is. When the effort fails and the chickens escape, all she can say is “The chickens have earned the right to live, and we humans will starve.” She’s held partly responsible, but in the end who’s to blame doesn’t matter since no matter who they say is at fault, either way there’s no meat. She can’t make the fairies properly understand humanity’s plight – before she gets it through to them that there will be no sweets, they hold an enthusiastic conversation about how starving to death might become an interesting fad. She tries to hold up her end by experimenting with homemade chewing gum, but they won’t accept gum as a proper sweet since it’s not something you swallow, and anyway the gum she produces tastes terrible.

It’s impossible to tell from just one episode where this is going. If you like your anime trippy as all hell, though – and animenite very much does – it could be worth watching.

Joshiraku: This anime is up-front about its purpose: it’s a show about cute girls being cute, mostly by having quirky conversations about trivial subjects (including, to start with, what exactly the point is in making an anime about girls sitting around talking about trivial subjects). It’s nominally set around a rakugo theater, and I think I’d actually be more interested if the theater and its uniquely Japanese art form (a kind of minimalist comic storytelling) had more relevance to the goings-on. As it is, “cute girls doing cute things” is not a genre of anime I have much interest in.

Animenite has, however, determined that I am Kukuru (something about being sleepy and beef bowl, points I cannot dispute), Kristin is Kigurumi, Ashley is Marii, Melissa is Tetora, and Heather is Gankyou. Form whatever impressions of us from this that you wish.

Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate: Love, Politics, and Chocolate: a high school student ventures into the cutthroat world of his school’s student council to save the “snacks club” from being disbanded.

Most of the first episode consists of light comedy focused on the club, the activities of which seem to sum up as “snack foods as Serious Business.” The opening and closing scenes, showing a student photographer being run down by a car for getting too close to some unpleasant truth, almost seem to belong to an entirely different anime, although the relatively few scenes involving the student council suggest that these disparate elements will be pulled together somehow. What either has to do with the plot point about the protagonist seeing things about other people that no one else sees, like the propeller on one guy’s head, I have no idea. It hasn’t really piqued my interest much based on the first episode.

Moyashimon Returns: Moyashimon belongs to that odd genre of anime that uses its narrative and its cast of characters to frame a series of informative lectures about a specialized topic of interest. Other examples of this genre include Yakitate!! Japan, a shonen sports tournament series about baking bread, and Upotte!, which as far as I could tell from the first episode is a schoolgirl sex comedy about moe anthropomorphic firearms.

Moyashimon itself is slice-of-life agricultural university hijinks featuring a guy who can see and communicate with microorganisms, used as an excuse to expound about those selfsame microorganisms and more particularly about fermentation and fermented products. It’s possibly my favorite example of this weird genre, both because I went to an agricultural college and because you guys the talking cartoon microorganisms are adorable.

Returns is the second season; I encourage you to give season 1 a try if you think you wouldn’t be too put off by the repeated pause-for-infodump segments.

Sword Art Online: I’m told that Sword Art Online is very similar to .hack//. Disclaimer: I have seen exactly none of .hack//, so I can’t comment on the extent of any similarities.

The premise of a virtual reality (in this case an MMORPG) becoming more real than its participants bargained for is in any case something that’s been done before in many more forms than just .hack// – Dennis L. McKiernan’s Caverns of Socrates is still among my favorite books, to name just one example. Animenite’s Melissa aptly observed that “if you die in the game you die for real” could easily be either incredibly cliche or genuinely interesting; SAO, at least from the vantage of the first episode, seems to be leaning in the latter direction. Granted, thus far the reason and the means by which the players are trapped in the game is, as presented, mostly an excuse, and it remains to be seen if there’s more to it than appears at face value or not, or if the series is planning to explore the existential questions that this kind of story so often exists to explore. The protagonist, Kirito, is at least appealing enough as a main character, and the game as depicted is familiar enough to animenite’s MMO players that there were some comments to the effect of “yeah, it’d be like that,” and “yeah, I’d approach it that way too.”

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August 2012

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