Just Tryin to Impress…

“Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu” brings idiots, tests, and summoned beasts together into a surprisingly funny romantic comedy that overcomes its seemingly ridiculous premise. The anime is based on the light novel series by Kenji Inoue and Yui Haga, which has steadily climbed over the last three years to #1 in the 2010 Kono Light Novel wa Sugoi! annual rankings. It shares good company in those rankings, including notable and successful anime adaptations like Toradora!, Spice and Wolf, Bakemonogatari, and the Haruhi series.

Quick Synopsis:
Akihisa Yoshi has the worst grades in his class. In a school where students are divided into classes based on their test results and where the summoned beings that the students battle each other with have a power level also based on test results, Akihisa is the Ultimate Idiot. He is joined in the F class by Yuuji, his best friend, Himeji, the girl he likes, Minami, a tomboyish tsundere, Hideyoshi, the bishounen who looks like a girl, and Mutsuri, the camera-wielding pervert. Himeji is actually one of the smartest students in the school, but she collapsed during the placement exam due to a fever. Because the F classroom is in such bad condition, Akihisa is concerned for Himeji’s fragile health, and he convinces the F class to challenge other classes in summon being battles for their rooms and extra privileges. As the Ultimate Idiot and Punishment Inspector, Akihisa’s summoned being has the special ability of being able to touch real objects, but any damage it takes is also transmitted to Akihisa.

Notable Seiyu:
Akihisa Yoshi = Hiro Shimono (Kannagi – Jin Mikuriya, RahXephon – Ayato Kamina)

Before watching the first episode, I really had my doubts about the premise behind the show. Let’s face it, who wants to see a series about battling with chibi characters based on your test results. I’m not a nerd! [yes, I am…] But ep1 actually went by pretty painlessly and with the “battles” being so ridiculous and unserious and with Akihisa being such a funny idiot, I really enjoyed watching the episode. Thankfully, they don’t really dwell on the fighting concept between summoned beings and the “battles” consist really of over the top shouting and comedic dramaticism. The series has actually moved away, at least for now, from the whole class hierarchy and challenging for supremacy premise that the early episodes introduced.

Baka Test really begins to hit its stride in the third episode by bringing in and focusing on more elements of romantic comedy. Akihisa likes Himeji, but he misunderstands circumstances and thinks she likes Yuuji. Himeji and Minami both like Akihisa but they can’t express their feelings to him because the pure and innocent Himeji is too shy and Minami acts tsundere half the time and is interrupted by her yuri admirer the other half the time. The love triangle all go on a date and get into funny situations. The good flow of the jokes for each episode is one of the strong points of the series. Because Akihisa is forced to spent all his money on dates with Himeji and Minami, other jokes in ep3 build on how he has to save money with his meals. Splitting ramen, Kubo’s dropped piece of bread, sharing crepes, and further splitting ramen are spaced and executed well in the episode, and Akihisa’s meals become just one of the many recurring jokes throughout the series. Other staples include Shouko’s abuse of Yuuji, Minami’s breast size, Hideyoshi as a girl, and Himeji’s cooking.

For the romance in Baka Test, the plot developments to progress the relationships will likely be relatively non-existant, which would be expected in a gag comedy. Here, the love triangle situation feeds the comedy, so it probably stay static for as long as it can, whereas in a romantic comedy like Kimi Kiss or Ichigo 100%, the love triangle becomes the major problem the male protagonist needs to make a decision on, emphasizing the drama aspect of the series. If the show were to end pushing towards a resolution, between Himeji and Minami, I would say Himeji has the edge because most of the major flags are for her route – Akihisa’s standing up for her when she collapsed during the placement exam, wanting to change classroom for her sake, the misunderstanding with the love letter. Despite the focus on comedy, the few relationship scenes that Akihisa does have with Himeji and Minami are done pretty well and keeps the audience satisfied with leaving the romance with just that. Akihisa reminds me of Harima Kenji in that they may be idiots most of the time, but every now and then they manage to do the right thing to make the girl happy, even if they don’t realize it.

Bottomline Impressions:
Baka Test – A, many funny aspects and recurring jokes flow together into a well executed romantic comedy that will surprise viewers doubtful of its ridiculous premise.

Reminds me of: School Rumble, both have casts with baka characters and likable heroines, episodic situations and romantic relationships driving comedy, and recurring jokes that the devoted audience will continue to appreciate.


Director Takahiro Omori and production studio Brains Base reunite for a spiritual successor of sorts to Baccano! (2007) in the Winter 2010 release of Durarara!!, adaptation from the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita (author of Baccano!). Like Baccano!, the series begins with a fantastic OP featuring the vast ensemble of characters whose seemingly unrelated lives will be weaved together into the overall story plot. Slated for a good 24 episodes, Durarara!! shows promise to be one of the top new shows of the early 2010 anime.

Quick synopsis:
Durarara!! takes place in modern Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, reknown for its large commercial and entertainment businesses. Mikado Ryugamine has just moved from the dull countryside to Ikebukuro, where he hopes to change and have an exciting lifestyle filled with adventure. He reunites with his old childhood friend Masaomi Kida, who warns him that living in Ikebekuro will be easy as long as he avoids Shizuo Heiwajima, Izaya Orihara, and the mysterious gang called Dollars. Mikado also witnesses the urban legend going around Ikebukuro about a Rider on a black motorcycle. The Rider saves a girl from being tricked and kidnapped by a group of thugs. During the fight, the helmet of the Rider is knocked off, revealing that the Rider is headless as rumored, with just a cloud of black smoke coming out of the jacket. Just who or what is the Headless Rider?

Notable Seiyu: (many, to name only a few…)
Selty Sturluson = Miyuki Sawashiro (Galaxy Angel – Mint Blancmanche, Canaan – Canaan)
Masaomi Kida = Mamoru Miyano (Death Note – Light, Gundam 00 – Setsuna)
Izaya Orihara = Hiroshi Kamiya (Zetsubou series – Nozomu Itoshiki)

For all its comparisons to Baccano!, I want to first preface that I have not seen any of Baccano! except for its pretty famous OP, “Gun’s and Roses” by Paradise Lunch. From reviews I’ve read, I get that the story is pretty episodic with a large set of characters rather than the traditional focus on fixed protagonists and that there is a lot of interweaving for form the overall grand story – through the first few episodes of Durarara!!, I can definitely see how the format may parallel. A lot of what I’ve read so far about Durarara!! points to it doing all the good things that Baccano! did. That’s fine and I imagine Baccano is a pretty good series that I’ll have to get around to, but I don’t have that reference point, so I want to assure you that you don’t have to have seen Baccano! to appreciate Durarara!!. That said, when I got started on the series, the OP for Durarara!!, “Uragiri no Yuuyake” by Theatre Brook, got me pretty psyched going into the first episode. Cool song. Cool animation sequence. Introduction of all the unique characters during the OP, multiple potentially interesting stories, and good quality of animation and voice acting (I love the way Masaomi talks) all got me pretty hooked to the show by the end of Ep1. And come on, how cool is it that they’re carrying around a billboard of Horo (Spice and Wolf)?

There is a recurring mechanism of the different characters using online chat messages to discuss rumors and gossip circulating around Ikebukuro. It’s an interesting concept as the different screen names keep identities anonymous among the characters, allowing talk between odd pairs of characters. Unfortunately, for people with limited Japanese reading skills, this may not be easy to figure out exactly what each screen name says and I’m not sure if they’ve revealed who’s screen name is whose yet without resorting to Wiki. Until I actually figured out who was talking to who, the online chat scenes were kind of confusing and limited my interest.

In Ep4, Shinra Kishitani, an underground doctor in Ikebukuro, reveals who/what the Headless Rider actually is and tells the story about his relationship with the Rider, Selty Sturluson. I think this is a pretty cool supernatural element in the series, and its similar to the existence of immortality found in Baccano!. It also makes me think about a possible connection to another character in the series, but I’ll refrain from elaborating for sake of not spoiling the plot. After wondering about it for the first three episodes, Durarara!! picks a good point into the series to reveal  the secret of who/what the Headless Rider is – after three episodes, the mystery has accomplished its goal of sucking in and gaining viewers’ interests and now it can move on with it to build what will likely be the main encompassing story.

Bottomline Impressions:
Durarara!! – A, unique and interesting characters drive story, good animation and voice work, and awesome OP + ED = great start to my current favorite new show of Winter 2010.

Reminds me of: Baccano! for a lot of reasons discussed above.

Since I started Allison & Lillia first, you’d think I’d get to ep3 and write about it first, but I had a free morning and decided to start another series. Here’s First Impressions of Shugo Chara!, the hit shoujo series that crunchyroll.com ranks as one of the top ‘all-time crunchiest anime’. Pink-haired girls are popular this year.

Quick Synopsis: Hinamori Amu is a recent transfer student at Seiyo Academy elementary school and has quickly become popular thanks to her punk goth appearance and “cool and spicy” personality. However, that exterior hides her real shy and bashful personality, and she wishes for courage to change and show her “would-be” self. One morning, three eggs appear, each containing a Guardian Character that is a reflection of a part of her true self, and as they hatch, each chibi guardian helps Amu bring out different parts of her personality. Of course, in true shoujo fashion, there is love interest, and Amu’s is the ‘princely’ Hotori Tadase, the leader of the school’s student council, the Guardians, a group of four students who also have Guardian Charas. Their goal is to protect the Guardian egg sleeping inside everybody from becoming corrupted and turning into an X-Egg. There is also a group of “bad guys” whose goal is to find the Embryo, a special wish granting egg, by extracting peoples’ sleeping eggs.

Notable Seiyu:
Hotori Tadase = Takagi Reiko (Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan – Kusakabe Sakura, La Corda D’Oro ~primo passo~ – Hino Kahoko)
Tsukiyomi Ikuto = Nakamura Yuichi (Macross Frontier – Saotome Alto, Clannad – Okazaki Tomoya)

First, Shugo Chara technically started in 2007, but it went 51 episodes well into 2008 and it seems its been renewed for a second season starting this October. Secondly, its always surprising whenever a big name series asks a relative newcomer to voice the main protagonist, so I’ll mention that Amu is voiced by Ito Kanae. I imagine it can’t be easy when you’re just starting out, but I really liked Amu’s character and her voice effectively conveyed the moods she was in. She’s very cute when she’s flustered by silly things or when she’s calling herself ‘baka’.

So let’s break down this shoujo anime starting with Amu. Compared to the other pink haired lead females so far, Amu seems to have the most dimensions as a character. Lala is primarily cheerful and playful while Moka is caring and kind hearted, but Amu is sometimes “cool and spicy” when showing her exterior, sometimes cute and klutzy, sometimes the “maiden in love” as with Tadase, and sometimes argumentative and combatative as while annoyed by her chara or (I think) potentially later with Ikuto. I think deep down, she’s always caring and good natured, even if she doesn’t show it – when her charas told her they’d disappear if she didn’t believe in them, she was totally tsundere. Personally, I think her punk goth looks good (better than her magical girl clothes) and I liked her initial “cool and spicy” personality, except its not very apparent in the later episodes even if people are still descibing her that way. Her cuteness from her ‘baka’ side and from acting insincerity with her feelings make her likability on par wth Lala’s, even when her chest size isn’t (and that’s impressive when ecchi doesn’t have to be thrown around to boost a character’s appeal). And the character’s desire to change herself is universal enough for viewers to relate to easily.

The first three episodes introduce Amu’s charas, and each one brings out/adds some special abilities, especially when she character changes. Ran is cheerful and energetic and makes Amu more honest and athletic, Miki is stubborn and easygoing and makes Amu more level-headed and artistic, and Suu is clumsy and girl and makes Amu more caring and better at domestic skills. The transformations resemble some of the outfits from Cardcaptor Sakura, but some of the actions while transformed, like the purification of X-eggs, feels more like Sailor Moon. Add in the two potential love interests – the ‘princely’ Tadase and the ‘wild and free’ Ikuto – and you’ve put together all the best parts of shoujo anime, which speaks to how popular this show is. And even as a guy probably too old this this kind of show, I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind continuing this show casually. The first three episodes went by quickly without much effort, I found some parts funny, and I’ve watch my share of similar shoujo anime – Cardcaptor Sakura and Full Moon – and liked it, so I won’t mind that this show isn’t in my ideal genre.

Bottomline Impressions:
Shugo Chara! – B+, the appeal of this show to its target audience is pretty clear, and the likability of the main character easily pulls other viewers into the show. Continuing happily.

Reminds me of: Cardcaptor Sakura with Powerpuff girl guardians and Sailor Moon-like special moves.

PS. Thanks Crunchyroll.com for the screenshots (until you tell me to take them down >.<). All readers are encouraged to check out their site to an excellent variety of videos for online viewing.

First Impressions of Rosario+Vampire and the other pink-haired sci-fi beauty.

Quick Synopsis: Aono Tsukune, who didn’t get into high school because of his low test grades, was fortunately able to enroll at Yokai Academy, allowing him to become a high school student afterall. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mistake because it is actually a high school for monsters and demons that requires its students to disguise themselves as humans so that they can learn to fit into human society. And while he worries about keeping his human identity a secret and whether he can survive in a school of monsters, he is able to become friends with Akashiya Moka, a vampire who is initially attracted to Tsukune because of the taste of his blood, but later also because he protected her despite him being human and her being a vampire. As their relationship grows throughout the story, Tsukune and Moka also continue to make other friends and enemies at Yokai Academy in typical harem, love-comedy fashion.

Notable Seiyu:
Aono Tsukune = Kishio Daisuke (Vampire Knight – Kuran Kaname, AYAKASHI – Kusaka Yuu)
Akashiya Moka = Mizuki Nana (Naruto – Hyuga Hinata, Allison & Lillia – Allison Whittington; Lillia Whittington-Schultz, Tsuyokiss – Konoe Sunao, Basilisk – Oboro)

When I started watching this show, I was already thinking that watching two harem, love comedies was not gonna be one of my priorities, especially with a huge list of other shows to go through. So despite the respective high popularities of Rosario+Vampire and To Love-ru, one of them was prolly getting dropped. And although I tried to be as objective as possible and even took both shows to episode 5, I had to pick To Love-ru over Rosario+Vampire. Here’s some comparisons between the two shows:
Pink-haired girls: A large majority of choosing To Love-ru over Rosario+Vampire was from the simple fact that I liked Lala a lot more than Moka. Admittedly, Moka is pretty cute when trying to resist sucking blood from Tsukune, but she just doesn’t have the same charisma that Lala has whenever she brings out her malfunctioning inventions. A lot of this is just preference whether you want a more playful Lala or a more caring, kind-hearted Moka, but liking the show’s main driving character is huge. I mean, come on, guys aren’t watching these shows because they admire Rito or Tsukune.
Scrawny but wholesome protagonists: While we’re on the subject of Rito and Tsukune, I also thought that Rito was a stronger male character. Tsukune, even though he’s dependable enough to protect the girls in a pinch, admits to his own weakness. Not to say that Rito isn’t as physically weak, but depending on Moka to bail him out of every fight kinda wears on the viewer. Maybe its just the way the shows set up the problems where Rosario always requires someone to take down the troublemakers while To love-ru can leave their comical situations to resolve on their own. But I’m liking how Rito at least knows who he likes (though it’ll prolly change by the end of the series) while Tsukune hasn’t showed any major romantic aspirations with anyone yet, even with is more rapidly expanding harem.
The episode formula: For me, the biggest problem with Rosario + Vampire has been its repetitive episode formula, which is also the typical outline for harem building. Every episode has pretty much been 1) Introduce a new female character (if there is to be a new character introduced in the episode), 2) create a problem either associated with that new character or just one in general for the group, 3) develop Tsukune and Moka relationship either positively or negatively that will lead to positively, 4) resolve new character’s problem, usually through a confrontation ending with Moka’s transformation, 5) end the episode with harem members clinging around Tsukune. You could probably think of a similar formula for To love-ru, but I’ve found the situations created be at least be much more comical.
Ecchi factor: To love-ru does not give up on its ecchiness even after the first few episodes. Lala still ends up naked a lot and even Haruna and the newly introduced Tenjoin Saki get into questionable positions, often because of Lala. For Rosario+Vampire, the creator seems to prefer the relatively tame panty shot (and the Kurumu boob attack) over To love-ru’s full exposure. Its also amusing how the mouse-bat flys around as a censor sometimes. Basically a matter of preference, but I thought Rosario is more tasteful in this aspect despite the more hilarious situations the ecchi leads to in To love-ru. The creator of To love-ru also seems to have a thing for tentacles…
Transformation sequence: Which is more ridiculous, Lala’s clothes that make her gasp or Moka’s bats that increase her butt and breast size? Hey, what did you expect when you started watching a harem, love-comedy?

OP/ED: The OP theme for To love-ru was pretty catchy for me. I found myself humming it in the elevator and caught myself wondering where I had heard it. The OP theme for Rosario was ok, but personally nothing special. I’ll probably like the ED theme for To love-ru more than for Rosario if I listened to them more frequently. Needless to say, the quality of the OP and ED animation is a lot higher in To love-ru.

Story sequencing: This is a minor thing that probably other shows have taken liberties with, but (Wiki tells me) the episode order for the anime doesn’t match up with the story order in the manga. For example, Episode 3 is actually Chapter 5 while Episode 5 is Chapter 3. This seems weird and you’d think it’d affect the animation for subsequent episodes (like having to include the girl introduced in Ep3/Ch5 into Ep5/Ch3) but in fact, Episode 4 is already an anime exclusive (hurray to some maybe, but that translates to “filler” for me) so the anime is just based off of the manga (Switching Ep3 and Ep5 may not seem like a big deal, but consider it when Ep8 is Ch12, Ep 10 is Ch15-17, and then Ep11 is Ch8). Just seems like a bizarre decision to me and makes me want to simply read the manga instead.

Bottomline impressions:
Rosario to Vampire: C, dropping the anime, but may consider switch to manga-form.

Reminds me of: Monster Princess/Princess Resurrection, but less horror/action and more emphasis on harem love and comedy. Moka is also more Lala-like than Hime-like.

First Impressions of To Love-ru and Shonen Jump’s troublesome alien princess.

Quick synopsis: To Love-ru, illustrated by Black Cat creator Yabuki Kentaro, is a harem, love-comedy about Yuuki Rito and the Deviluke princess, Lala, who teleports into Rito’s bathroom naked while he was taking a bath and lamenting over his failures in confessing to the girl of his dreams, Sairenji Haruna. Lala comes to Earth to escape her father and the arranged marriage plans he tries to make for her. Through various circumstances and misunderstandings, Rito becomes Lala’s fiance and his life becomes filled with all the troubles of living together, love triangles, and protecting Lala from various intergalactic suitors. The show’s title in hiragana (toraburu) is a play on the word ‘trouble’. Lala believes that the decision to marry should be based on love and be up to her, and so begins a story of freedom and fan service for all.

Notable Seiyu:
Sairenji Haruna = Saiyuri Yahagi (Karin/Chibi Vampire – Maaka Karin)
Lala Satalin Deviluke = Tomatsu Haruka (Kyoran Kazoku Nikki – Midarezaki Chika)

The main word that I could think of to describe this series is ‘ridiculous’. Ridiculous (and ridiculously ecchi) introduction of Lala. Ridiculous love comedy circumstances. Ridiculous (and ridiculously ecchi) clothes transformation sequence. Ridiculously ecchi OP animation. Ridiculous inventions created by Lala. Ridiculous alien outfits. Ridiculous jiggliness of Lala’s cleavage. A lot of these may or may sound very appealing to you, but for me, the one definite plus is how ridiculously cute and likeable Lala’s character is. She’s childishly playful and very cheerful, and I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the things she does. But seriously, the amount of fan service is to the point where watching too many of these kinds of shows (Kanokon quickly comes to mind) would turn you into a ‘no good, useless person’.

The show has followed a pretty standard sci-fi love comedy formula in the first few episodes, and the love triangle between Rito-Haruna-Lala will probably be the major underlying equation for the show even when they fully establish the harem (the OP shows the other female characters to be introduced as the show continues) and potentially other less minor suitor characters for Lala. Rito initially reminded me of Tsuna from Katekyo Hitman Reborn due to their similar look and build and timidness around girls, but Rito quickly shows he is a bit more decisive and dependable (I liked Tsuna a lot more after he started using the X-gloves). You can also kind of see the similarities in hair style between Rito and Train from Black Cat. I think Rito and Lala can definitely be interesting characters and develop into a nice couple, but I worry about the freshness of the show and whether it’ll still hold my attention after a couple more episodes. The problem with some harem love-comedies is that it falls into repetitiveness, either in itself or in the same pattern as other shows in the genre, but I don’t mind giving Lala a couple more episodes to totally impress me without resorting to getting naked. :p

Bottomline impressions:
To Love-ru: B-, continuing happily but reserving the right to drop.

Reminds me of: Beating Angel Dokoro-chan, but with nicer curves and the constant beatings to death replaced with constant naked-inducing ecchi situations.

The first show in the First Impressions series of blogs is Vampire Knight.

Quick Synopsis: At a boarding school, there are two classes of students – the day class, which is normal humans, and the night class, which are vampires. To keep the secret that the smart and handsome bishies (there are a few females too) of the night class are actually vampires, Kurosu Yuki and Kiryu Zero, another bishie with a Sasuke-like emo personality stemming from a tragic past, work as prefects to keep all day class screaming girls from mauling their vampire/bishie idols. Of course, Yuki also has feelings for the dormhead of the vampire bishies and other main male protagonist, Kuran Kaname, who saved her from a vampire attack when she was young. There are a lot of contrasting views on the vampires – the head of the school, Yuki and Zero’s adoptive father, wants humans and vampires to learn to coexist, which fits well with Yuki, who sees that there are good vampires like Kaname, but not so much with Zero, who hates them because of his tragic past and thinks of them as monsters hiding in human form.

Notable seiyu:
Kusosu Yuki = Horie Yui – Fruits Basket (Tohru Honda), School Rumble (Tsukamoto Tenma), Love Hina (Narusegawa Naru)
Kiryu Zero = Miyano Mamoru – Deathnote (Yagami Light), Wolf’s Rain (Kiba), Soul Eater (Death the Kid)

So I’m typically not very enthusiastic about starting a bishonen series (wasn’t a big fan of Fruits Basket or Hana yori Dango, but I did like Ouran Host Club and X), but thought I was obligated to take a look at Vampire Knight, which many people (I’m thinking a female majority) seem to really like. It starts off as expected with one girl and two lead guys as the most likely love interest candidates and what they give initially of Yuki and Zero’s backstories is pretty standard, but I can def. see why Zero would make some fangirls squeal, and he only gets cooler after showing off that sleek handgun (the unnecessary chain connected to it is clearly for stylistic effect :p). But even when he starts getting whiny/emo like Sasuke after ep2, I still prefer him over the more conventional “mysterious hero who saved me when I was little and I got lost in his bishie eyes” that Kaname brings to the table. And with the end of ep3, how can any fangirl not love the “deep internal struggle that he was tragically and unavoidably destined to face” that goes along with clearly as cool a name as Zero. Just shows how  well designed a bishie anime Vampire Knight really is.

In re-reading above, I thinking I’m a little too hard on this show for its bishie stereotypes, and I should say that I’ve honestly enjoyed the show so far. It hasn’t been hard to watch at all (there have been no boring or stupid points that make me want to fastforward or bash my head in) and Yuki seems like a strong interesting main character, which is huge because one-dimensional or weak main characters like Honda from Fruits Basket and Yuji from Shakugan no Shana have easily made some series disappointing to me. And some of the powers the different vampires use hints at the potential for good action later on in the series.

Bottomline impressions:
Vampire Knight – B, continuing with some anticipation.

Reminds me of: Ayashi no Ceres, but with modern animation and a more interesting/broader appealing fantasy element