Ninja Scroll

Type: The One You Were Too Young To Rent, But Saw Anyway

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Synopsis: So back in the 90’s, anime was still a relatively new thing in the States. With things like Speed Racer and Gundam being the only comparisons, many adults often made the mistake that “anime=for children.” So image your surprise when you walk into your local video store, your parents rent something called Ninja Scroll from the animation section, only to get home and watch a Japanese lord have sex with his concubine while a Kunoichi reports that all his ninja were slaughtered. Kids, be grateful you have the internet now.

Pros: From what I can gather, Ninja Scroll is one of the most famous anime movies in the west. In the same vain as Akira and Eva, its popularity can partly be attributed to the fact that it was actually released and dubbed for English speaking audiences during a time when anime was scarce. Thankfully, it  does live up to the hype. The movie is about a group of ninjas trying to get their hands on some gold, with our protagonists coming along mainly to kill people. This thing is a Hard-R, full of awesomely violent fight scenes, some nudity, and one sex scene. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for a modern movie, or some cable TV shows, but keep in mind that this was made in 1993.

Cons: If you somehow saw this back in the day thanks to the ignorance of the past…good for you? This thing is super violent and has one sexual assault (not rape, but close), so be cautious. The plot if fairly simple, being mostly about greed and revenge. I got a little confused about Kagero’s story line, because it seemed that in the beginning she resented being treated as a feudal woman, but in the end she falls in love with Jubei because, in her words, he treated her like a woman. Maybe she meant as an “equal” and it got lost in translation.

Watch it?: It’d give it a go

MVP: Jubei Kibagami

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Loosely based on an actual guy

Best Moment: The Last Fight (fire everywhere!)

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Ultra Maniac

Type: No one’s really a Maniac in this

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Synopsis: A middle school students makes friends with a Magical Girl, which leads to a lot of wacky misadventures. There’s the time they turned their pets into humans, the time a potion made everything bigger, and the time the girls turned into 20 year olds to go clubbing and their parents were totally cool with it. There’s also the main story involving five Holy Stones that determine the next princess of the Magical Kingdom, but I was mainly in it for the blushing and sparkling eyes.

Pros: This is an older anime from a time where animation gags and sitcom-like plots where the norm. The gag where Nina’s mom and dad acted super cutesy together was adorable. Like I said, Nina the Magical Girl’s second rate magic lead her friend Aya into a variety of comedic situations. Aya plays a pretty good straight-man to the ditzy Nina. Its a pretty light love-comedy, complete with the main character that has a crush on a boy that is seemingly very popular (but don’t worry, he likes her back). Their is actually an interesting character twist with the much sought after Kaji-Kun that moves him away from generic love interest territory, at least a little. This isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a pretty fun anime from a decade ago. (P.S. if you want something extra to do, this anime is based on a Manga that I’m pretty sure was targeted at young girls, so keep an eye out for the girl’s clothing. You’ll find them more stylish than usual).

Cons: Again, this is an old anime. If you weren’t a fan of that style of comedy, then move along. Story wise, two main plots compete from attention. The first is Aya’s crush on Kaji and Nina’s well meaning and hilarious attempts to use magic to help her out. This is apparently closer to the Manga the show is based on. The second is Nina’s “secret” quest for the five Holy Stones, which is not as interesting, and sure enough, not at all based on the Manga story. Sadly, the Aya-Kaji arc resolves itself about 5 episode before the finale to focus more on the Holy Stones, which just made Aya’s search for love seem inconsequential. Though in hindsight, her story is literally about the most popular girl in school dating the most popular boy in school. Also, Nina’s catchphrase, “Practice,” totally annoying.

Watch it: Simpler Jokes for Simpler Times (3/5)

MVP: Aya Tateishi

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I just really love her hair

Best Episode: Ep. 18″R&B” (kids pretending to be adults…wait a minute, that’s what being 20 is all about!)

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Planetes

Type: Space ain’t all its cracked up to be

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Synopsis: Space, the final frontiers. These are the non-voyages of Technora Corporation, Space Debris Section, DS-12 Toy Box. Their 26 episode mission: to explore the lives of mundance future people, to seek out meaning in the bleak nothingness of creation, to boldly go where most people have gone before in order to clean up their junk before it kill everyone.

Pros: Planetes really wanted to be a prestige anime. That’s not a knock, but you could really tell what it tried to be. It was made in 2003, but I though it was made in 2010! It was almost devoid of anime troupes, it had pretty consistent animation and tame character design, and the crux of the story dealt with the human condition. Specifically, Planetes was about ambition and social mobility, and how that will continue to evade people even in the future. Almost every character in the show wants, was denied, or has had, the opportunity to move up in the world, and the realities that goes with that. The show’s about space debris collectors, but its really about the people they encounter. It ironically shows a pretty down to earth future, where things like poverty and economic inequality are still very much real (they just spread to the stars). The show uses a mix of humor and drama to tell its story, and ends on a pretty positive note. It’s not “Drill to the Heavens!” but it leaves you with a smile. (P.S. It also uses a lot of hard science or whatever, I didn’t check for accuracy)

Cons: Did this succeed in becoming a cornerstone of anime? Yes and no. It’s good. Really good. But the fact that I didn’t even hear about it until recently kinda puts a blemish on its legacy. Its not Eva or Akira, even if the quality is arguably in the same ballpark. This show is thick. You cannot binge watch it. Even though a lot of episodes are stand alone, their each pretty packed. That being said, the anime doesn’t really do a good job at explaining what exactly is happening on Earth. From what I could gather, an UN like organization called INTO is creating a Hegemony, which most everyone seems cool with (unless you live in a third world state). INTO doesn’t really become important until the very end, where a terrorist organization attacks the station where the main character are at. They want equal distribution of space recourse, which they actually get (ah, spoilers). Its also kinda depressing since most of the topics explored hit close to home. On a personal note, I disliked Hachimaki, the “protagonist” of the series. I use quotation because even though he’s front and center in the opening and closing credits, I consider Tanabe a better main character. Hachimaki was a little too annoying for my taste.

Watch it?: You could easily make this live-action (4/5)

MVP: Fee Carmicheal

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I copy.

Best Episode: Ep. 05 “Fly Me to the Moon” (future problems)

 

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Grenadier

Type: Smiling Gunslinger

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Synopsis: Boobs are cool. They make us drool. We love ’em all, big and small. They’re especially great when using guns. You can bounce bullets off ’em for quick reloads. They also help comfort people. If you can use ’em to break a person’s will, then no fighting need take place. They’re really the key to the ultimate battle strategy.

Pros: Grenadier is a classic shonen adventure story. About 70% humor, 30% action. Good enough, but nothing impressive. The protagonist is a happy-go-lucky-fighter who mostly gets into trouble because of misunderstandings. Think Vash the Stampede, but with bigger breasts. On that topic, or topics, for the first time ever, an anime character with ludicrously bouncy boobs actually uses them in a fight. I wasn’t joking above, Rushuna actually does reload her gun by bouncy her bullets off her breasts (well, it happened once in the show). They’re also part of her “ultimate battle strategy” or removing the will to fight. Luckily, she mainly uses them in embraces, and doesn’t just flash them. I actually really liked Rushuna’s belief that sympathy and empathy where a superior answer to violence. It made her seem more heroic.

Cons: This thing goes by really fast. It’s 12 episodes makes it feel really stuffed with supporting characters who don’t get room to breath, story lines that come and go, and a general lack of character development. Just look at Yajiro, who just joined Rushuna because he was, what, bored? It’s a common problem with manga-anime that only gets one season. Some of Rushuna’s catchphrases and such are cute at first, but get tired afterwards. No Rushuna, I do not think you can pay a ransom with a smile. You ain’t Mary Tyler Moore. And the baths, always with the baths. Where is she getting the money for these things? And the fan service is…actually not bad. It’s more eye candy than anything else, with mostly cleavage and non-nudity nakedness.

Watch it?: Fun characters, good jokes, generic shonen feel (3/5)

MVP: Rushuna Tendo

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Would you care to join her?

Best Episode: Ep.12 “The Smiling Senshi” (who takes a battle in the middle of a battlefield?)

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A Certain Magical Index Movie: Miracle of Endymion

Type: Cannon Movie Sequel

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Synopsis: Arisa lives in a world where things like Magicians and Espers really exist. She has no particular talent except signing and the ability to make the two protagonists her friends. Unfortunately she has also attracted the attention on Church approved magicians who keep trying to kidnap her without trying to explain why, which would have made the whole process much easier. It’s almost like story convenience was put ahead of basic logic.

Pros: The one most interesting thing about this movie is that it occurs after the events of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun. So this movie basically has two sets of characters interacting with the same plot. I found this fascinating. Story wise, the movie does what every anime movie based on a show does by revolving the story around one new character. Arisa is a cute (and literally radiant) singer who catchers Touma and Index’s attention. It later turns out she is part on some overarching plot to blow up the Earth…or something. Arisa of course falls for Touma a little, but its not really important. The other new character of note is Shutaura, Arisa’s secret bodyguard with tragic ties to the “Miracle of 88,” one of the central events to the movie plot. I found her way more interesting that Arisa, and luckily, she becomes a major plays later on in the film.

Cons: I kinda got lost towards the latter half of the story. I know they went to space and the bad guy wanted to blow up something. To be honest, I’m still not sure what the bad guy’s ultimate goal was. Or what the Miracle of Endymion was. I know it involved nudity…On a more objective note, I feel that a lot of characters were crammed in for no real reason. Since the “A Certain” franchise has produced two successful anime shows, they have a variety of characters to showcase. However, this couldn’t always be done organically, so there are a few times when characters feel forced in (cough Accelerator cough). It gets even worse if you haven’t watched both shows. I should also note that Arisa is a singer, so if your not a fan of pop concerts in your anime movie, your out of luck.

Watch it: The Author Wrote this Story, if you’re into that sort of thing

MVP: Shutaura

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Half of this is her story

Best Moment: The Fountain Fight (Awesome fight scenes)

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Minami-Ke Tadaima

Type: Please Don’t Expect Too Much From It

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Synopsis: Three sisters, each in elementary, middle, and high school respectively, live their lives for our amusement. After a great beginning/end and a lousy middle, the franchises adds yet another entry which I can only determine to be some kind of epilogue. You now, the epilogues that are open ended, don’t resolve anything, and leave an incredible amount of room for more stories.

Pros: Still really funny. Much like Season 1 and 3, this season of Minami-ke stuck to its traditional slice-of-life style comedy, this time around winter and spring. Yes, there is an entire scene dedicated to pretending to be hot in order to get invited to eat chilled noodles. So nothing really happens, but its a humorous nothing. I think Season 2 was just a temporary swing-and-a-miss for the franchise. Since this is the 4th season, a few of the supporting characters are given more attention, specifically Haruka’s high school friends (about 20% more). Hosaka and Hitomi stand out the most. The show also seems to have adopted the character design from season 3, so more of the characters look slicker and shinier.

Cons: Minami-ke suffers from Character Overload syndrome. Since it’s lasted so long and has three main protagonists, it has an overflow of supporting characters. Each of the Minami sisters have about three friends each, so that’s twelve characters right there. Plus, there are about seven boys, so that’s nineteen supporting characters. Plus the Minami uncle, so that’s twenty. I’m not saying that they each need an episode to themselves, I’m just saying that’s a lot of recurring characters for one show. I also noticed a bit more fan service snuck in, which was alright because the show knew how to play it for laughs, but I hope the next season doesn’t go overboard. It’s not that type of show.

Watch it?: Still Minami-Ke (4/5)

MVP: Hosaka

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I feel that he really came into his own this season, not shirt and all.

Best Episode: Ep. 8 “Vegetables with Your Merry Friends on Your Day Off” (I warned them!)

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Oreimo

Type: My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute (well, mine are. I  can’t speak for yours)

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Synopsis: Hey, did you hear about Kirino Kosaka, that middle school straight-A track and field star who models professionally on the side? God, I hate her. But I heard from my friend Runi, who hear it from her friend Saori, that Miss Perfect is actually a gigantic neeeeeeeeeeeerd. That she actually loves to play eroge games, especially siscon ones, and watches all kinds of anime. Ha! What kind of loser would spend any of their precious free time watching ANIME!? What a loser.

Pros: Oreimo is considered one of the funnier anime in a while, and it doesn’t disappoint. Being based on a Light Novel, every episode is divided between comedy and melodrama. Luckily, the division is executed well enough thanks to music cues. The emotional conflict that drives both the comedy and drama is the reveal that popular girl Kirino is an Otoku. Kirino had the interesting problem of wanting to keep being feminine and stylish while also being a raging Otoku, but feeling that she can’t be both openly. I think we can all relate to that on some level. It falls on her brother Kyosuke to provide emotional support and help her “come out” as a Otoku (and to take the brunt of her Tsundere abuse).  The show manages to dodge the incest question by addressing it immediately (the show is pretty self aware), which allows Kirino’s and Kyosuke’s relationship to come off as more sweet than gross. I’ll state it for the record, both as a viewer and older brother, Kyosuke damn well earned every “Thanks, Aniki” he got from Kirino.

Cons: Just because the show shoots down the incest question doesn’t mean their still isn’t some percentage of it. So unfortunately, we do get that one scene where Kirino and Kyosuke fall over and Kyosuke’s hand miraculously lands on Kirino’s boob. We also get a lot of Kirino booty shots. Speaking of Kirino’s body (ew), her character proportions weren’t always consistence. Sometimes she was drawn like a small-ish middle school student, but other times she seemed as tall as a young woman. Then again, Brittany Spears addressed this topic years ago, so who am I to criticize. Story wise, I felt that the Anime Production sub-plot was tacked on, coming out of nowhere and going nowhere. The reactions Kirino got to her nerdom bordered on the silly side, with the closest parallel being actually coming out of the closet. Though in Kirino’s case, it always came down to her love of erotic games, so I don’t know how to root for. The show also never explains why Kirino and Kyosuke are so estranged at the beginning of the show, though I know for a fact that it is addressed in the second season.

Watch it?: This is the first anime I’ve ever seen to say the word “Halloween” (4/5)

MVP: Kyosuke Kosaka

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This man takes so many bullets for his little sister

Best Episode: Ep. 9 “There’s No Way My Little Sister Can Play Eroge Like This” (so mellow)

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Full Metal Panic!

Type: Plus Second Raid

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Synopsis: A child soldier named Sousuke Sagura is sent to Japan school to guard a possibly magic girl named Kaname Chidori. Weirdly, the international peace keeping force that sent him neglected the fact that he has not espionage skills, or that he would fall in love. Because of this incredible oversight, his cover in blown right off the bat, putting himself and his charge in constant danger. On the positive side, this does mean the two get to go on the occasional date/counter-terrorist mission.

Pros: This show is the more serious parent series of Fumoffu, which is considered one of the funnier anime series around. For those wondering, yes, during the less action packed episodes, Full Metal Panic! can be just as funny as Fumoffu. The series itself is a military themed action-drama in which the Sausuke Saguar and the counter-terrorist organization “Mithrill”  fight Cobra, I mean the bad guys. Both season one and two have respective big bads, though I’d give the nudge to Season 1’s bat-shit scary Gauron. That man was frightening. The show has really strong characters, each feeling like they have depth and personality, even if they only show up for one scene. Tessa, for example, was portrayed a competent military officer, despite having a jealous crush on Sagura and being designed like the typical “pure” character. The fact that she came off as a “real” person speak volumes for the character work in the show (that one scene in S.2, Ep. 8 was so good!).

Cons: This show ebbs in its pacing. It has really intense action arcs, but then really mellow episodes in between. So it goes really fast, then really slow. The first season was particularly guilty of this, being 25 episodes, some being clearly filler. Season 2 less so because it was only 13 episodes. In fact, Season 2 had a lot less high school scenes than season 1, though Fumoffu had premiered in between, so it sorta balances out. Full Metal Panic! is based on Light Novels, meaning that in classic Light Novel Anime fashion, we don’t get the full story. We don’t know what the “whispered” are. We don’t know about Amalgam. And we end on and open-ended finale. The anime itself is also pretty violent at times, veering from PG-13 to R regularly during the action episodes.

Watch it?: As far as military/high school anime goes, its pretty good. (4/5)

MVP: Tessa Testarossa

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Honestly, even I underestimated her

Best Episode: S.2, Ep. 8 “Jungle Groove” (honestly, S.2 Ep.7-13 are must watches)

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Encouragement of Climb

Type: Can’t spell Encouragement without Courage

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Synopsis: Here’s the deali-o. Aoi is a high school student whose afraid of heights and kinda anti-social. This was working great for her so far, until she runs into her old friend Hinata, who makes her keep a childhood promise of climbing a mountain together. Sadly, Aoi couldn’t pretend to not notice her, because their in the same class.

Pros: Every episode is only 3 minutes. If you don’t have time to watch this, you may need to reflect on your time management. It’s a typical slice-of-life anime with a female bent. The character’s are kinda cutesy, there’s humor, but nothing raunchy, and the main story is about Aoi becoming a more open person. All in all, an easy to digest cute anime.

Cons: There was this weird moment at the end where the girls were changing in the locker room that made me think “who is this for?” My assertion that this was made for a female audience may have been mistaken. This is probably more for a moe audience. That would also explain why some of the girls look a bit too young to be high school students.

Watch it: You can knock this out in less than an hour (4/5)

MVP: Aoi

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I also fell off something once. It’s not something I’d like to repeat again.

Best Episode: Too short (you pick)

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Time of Eve

Type: No Robots were harmed in the making of this anime

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Synopsis: In this little cafe in Japan, probably, I mean, the anime isn’t sure so why should I be? Just because everyone looks, acts like, and speaks Japanese. They could be in Detroit for all I know! The cafe, called Time of Eve, serves as a little refuge for humans and androids to interact with each other freely. There’s also a lot of talk about the Three Laws of Robotics: Serve the Public Trust, Protect the Innocent, and Uphold the Law.

Pros: I was super apprehensive about watching this show once I learned what it was about. The only worse than a sad robot story is a sad dog story. Luckily, nothing super depressing happens to any of the robots in the show (well, except that one guy). The plot is mainly about Rikou learning that androids have feelings, such as his own android, Sammy. The show is a sci-fi drama, exploring the social facets of a life with androids. Should they be treated as people, can they fall in love, do they have emotions, all these topics are explored. Something in the vein of A.I. and Bicentennial Man, or even a more serious version of Chobits. Everything from the shaky cam to color pallet has a near-future vibe to it. And with only 15 minute episodes, its a fast watch.

Cons: I honestly kept expecting things to do dark really fast, but it didn’t, and I am grateful. I already saw the Animatrix, I don’t need to be reminded of man’s inhumanity again. The stories don’t go beyond the main characters going to the cafe and dealing with their own prejudices and preconceptions about androids. The story alludes to a bigger political battle in the background, but nothing ever comes of it. So its an intimate story, but at the same time it feels unfinished. (P.S. Episode 4 is a particularly sad robot story, so I’d advise anyone not wanting to cry to skip it).

Watch it?: There’s a compilation movie of the show, so you could also watch that (4/5)

MVP: Sammy

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I wish there had been one episode from her point of view

Best Episode: Ep. 3 “Koji & Rina: Lovers of Eve” (Is love a human emotion?)

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