In Lieu of a Weekly Press: Three Spring 2012 Anime You Should Also Watch
This week’s Anime Power Ranking, a collective effort by lots of anime bloggers to rank the best of what’s currently airing in Japan, is out now. And in case you hadn’t heard, this is the best season of new anime most of them can remember. Which seems fair to me, I certainly can’t think any other time that so many interesting projects were airing concurrently, but I’ve only been following currently airing anime for two years or so. This is about the time when I make note of what anime I want to follow up on later before dropping out on weekly viewings, since I prefer to watch series in long sittings rather than wait weeks at a time for follow-up. Besides, there’s a lot of much older anime I still need to see. But before I do that, I wanted to write up about several new series that aren’t getting much attention in the AniBlogging circles. Yes, this new season is so rich, you can rank ten reasonably good series and still miss out on some quality cartoons. Two of them have fairly narrow appeal that seem to be outside of the interest of most anime bloggers, but I’d like to think that in a season less rich with quality cartoons, these series would be getting a lot more attention than they have so far. None of them have cracked the Anime Power Ranking in the last few weeks, not even making the cut for the runner-up category. They are:
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
Which is an awful title, and its original was worse: Twilight Girl x Amnesia. Because of that, I had expected a lame Magical Girlfriend cartoon with horror undertones, but instead I got a clever Magical Girlfriend cartoon that plays with a mix of horror, school life and Magical Girlfriend tropes. Yuuko, the titular Twilight Girl, haunts a small corner of an old, overgrown school before latching herself to an (un?-)fortunate boy. It’s an unusual haunting- she seems primarily concerned with fucking with him, in both the literal and metaphorical sense of the term. Together they found a new club for paranormal investigations, with the ghost as president, and gain two members, one of whom is Yuuko’s great-great-niece, and the other has no idea that their absentee president is a ghost. She would probably be quite taken with the idea if she found out, though, since supernatural shenanigans excite her.
The series is a bit of a horror-drama-comedy -a horamedy, if you will- with the thin but passable level of characterization and story I’ve come to expect from light novel source material. I suppose it’s the limitations of a medium designed to be quickly read on public commutes. But the characters mix well together, with several nice ongoing gags. Yuuko is a very impish ghost, and since she’s been dead for a half-century, she’s also a bit loony and playful, largely out of relief that she finally has people to talk to after decades of isolation. She isn’t a particularly unique character, but it’s fun to see her mess with mortals, and she has the capacity to surprise, whether with her twisted sense of what’s proper or the weird ambiguity that surrounds her and how people perceive her. The drama and horror doesn’t work as well as the comedy, but that’s not from lack of trying. It has a nice visual style reminiscent of Shinbo’s distinctive work at SHAFT, but less overwhelmingly stylized. This is director Takashi Sakamoto’s first effort as chief director, and the visual style is so competent it might be worth remembering that name. Unfortunately, the story undercuts the drama of the visuals, but not enough that they completely impact. This is mid-tier, impulse streaming on a rainy day kind of anime for most people, though I’m sure there are some people who will love it. I’ll be keeping it in mind for a rainy day myself.
Basketball owes a lot of its popularity in Japan to a Shounen Jump comic from the 90’s. Slam Dunk was an extremely popular series a couple decades ago, and even cracked the Top Ten of viewer polls for Best Anime Ever several years ago. Its fandom seems to be primarily female, and any basketball anime that follows in its footsteps has to balance its appeal to both boys and fujoshi. The basketball anime I’ve seen leaned heavily towards the latter, but Kuroko’s Basketball, even with its pretty-boy designs, appeals to me as a fan of shounen comics.
Every hero in a Shounen Jump sports anime has some kind of a gimmicky talent, and Kuroko has one of the most interesting, He’s a bad basketball player in most respects- he’s short, not very athletic, and a poor shot. But, perhaps in part because he’s clearly bad at basketball, he excels at assists, by passing the ball to unexpected places or swiping from the other team when they least expect it. I love the idea of a sports hero who is heroic not for his amazing jump shot, or how hard he dunks the basketball, but for his assists. It really works in the idea that this is a team game. And he’s just one of several likable characters. Their freshman forward Kagami is brimming with talent and ambition, with the attitude of a punk outsider. He’s just a pompadour and a switchblade away from fitting in with the roughest of anime’s crowd of rebels. But my favorite is the coach. In true Shounen Jump tradition, the sensei must be an eccentric leader who trains his crew with clever gimmicks, but in this case, the “he” is a “she,” and she is an ambitious sophomore. Aida is actually my favorite character of the bunch- I love how dedicated she is to her hobby as a coach, with a mix of natural talent and naivete.
We’re only three episodes in, but if the pacing and the amount of comic left to go through is any indication, we’re probably in for a long adaptation. I would love that to be true- it certainly has the foundation to be enjoyable for many episodes to come.
Folktales from Japan
This is probably my third or fourth new favorite this season, so while I’m disappointed that almost nobody is talking about it, I kind of understand why. This feels more like PBS than anime, since its style and content is well outside of what most anime fans want to watch. And while a great watch, there’s not much to write about here. It’s exactly what the title says- a collection of Japanese fairy tales, with old men who discover gold, children born from peaches, greedy neighbors, lots of magic and morality about being a good neighbor and respecting your elders and authority. The presentation is charming- it’s gentle and colorful, with a great look despite its low budget. A pair of voice actors, one male and one female, tell each story and voice each character, and they’re a delight to listen. And that’s it. Really, that’s all it needs. This is something I’ll keep watching even though I’ve put everything else I’m interested in on hold, because it’s a fantastic break from everything else I look forward to every week.