The second batch of first episode reviews for the spring season are finally here, featuring two shows that were quite good and two that were quite torturous to watch (yes, I'm probably the only one who wasn't enthralled with one of them...). The previews from last time were pretty long, so I tried to streamline and shorten by comments as much as possible (with a heavy emphasis on try...). As before, these are my general thoughts on the shows covered below and their premiere episodes, not synopsises or great dissertations. That said, one of the bad ones first...
--In its preview entry, I expressed reluctance at watching BASQUASH!, concerned it would turn out like the sorry Aquarion did and become a total waste. After watching the first episode, I found that it wasn't a messy melting pot of ideas; rather, the disparate ideas of basketball and mecha mixed largely well together and didn't feel too much like a ripoff of Megas XLR. Besides that and the good work put into the animation and background designs, the show was a mess virtually everywhere else.
One of the chief problems was the overbearing energy of the show (even if lots of "energy" is given with this kind of show). Much of it is facilitated by the nigh-insufferable main character, Dan, who screeched out each line in all-too-typical shonen fashion (not to mention his occasional channeling of the more aggravating Apollo, from Aquarion). On the subject of age, the show is supposed to be geared toward a more "adult" crowd, but there is something of an identity crisis when the two primary characters are adolescents and act like they are in a shounen or kid's show, yet at the same time there is a good deal of dicey sexuality and fanservice being flaunted. One of them, Miyuki, looked like a pre-teen, yet has a large bust the anime was keen in constantly reminding the audience about, whether one of the characters mention it or whenever the camera is fixated on them jiggling around (which exactly what occurs during one over-extended scene). As discomforting as the overt sexuality was, it was at its worse during a long sequence between her and the main lead, in which a slew of suggestive banter was being thrown around with the camera stayed on the car-headed mecha they were -not- fooling around in. What probably would have been mildly funny with older characters (if done relatively to death elsewhere) was instead far creepier with characters as young as they were, which underlined another major issue with the episode.
If this were one with older characters, sans the kiddy excitement and designs, this would have looked more like an irreverent adult show; but if you removed the overbaked sex content, then you had a nice, well-produced kid's show (and a potential hit as a marketing and crossover product overseas). Instead, you have an ugly fusion of the two in a prettily-presented show. The brazen content was the biggest negative and soured what could have been a serviceable and rather unique opening episode. It wasn't the only problem, either, with the show, and it almost makes me dread watching the next episode, regardless of how intriguing the first ended.
--The only show in this review whose first episode I actually liked as a whole (Haruhi S2 notwithstanding--to an extent--as described later), Hanasakeru Seishounen and its charmingly quirky self quickly became a favorite of mine this season, even if it turned out differently than I thought it would. Originally, I was expecting a more straight-laced, formal harem-type drama with possibly-stellar animation (aside from the promo pic, the pre-debut screenshots said otherwise). Instead, I got a harem-type show that, while still dramatic, had a layer of quirkiness to it and a flair of '80s-theatrics only a manga from that era could conjure up. Propelling the episode was the very likable and eccentric female lead, Kajika, whose bizarre upbringing and deep adoration for her deceased panther(!), as well as her manner of speech and strong-willed personality made her an instant draw and a big reason to enjoy the show. The episode itself was more of an introductory one for her and her cohorts, which didn't address the chief plot until the towards the end of it, but that was fine. Much of it felt unconventional yet old-fashioned, and despite the animation quality being uneven in spots, it was still nicely done with a well-suited assortment of soft pastel colors. It was a joy to watch and had me anticipating the episodes to come.
...or "Twenty-Four Minutes of Facial Expressions"...
Really, I don't know what else I'm supposed to say about K-ON!, which wasn't nearly as good as its premise or exclamation mark suggested. The main turnoff about it was the excessive focus on apparently how many cutesy faces and expressions the staff could draw/squeeze out of the characters. Normally, I don't mind that sort of thing, but here, it felt more like there was little other purpose for the show other than to show off "adorable" characters and the cute things they do. I suppose this might be what some people lovingly/loathingly call "moe", but if I were to go by the definition given in the subtitles on the The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya DVDs--"turn-on"--I'd say all of it was a turn-off (or whatever it still means). It's as if they were trying to invoke the style used in last summer's Kannagi (oh, the irony...), yet failing to grasp its subtle use of expressions and body language. Quality has always been Kyoto Animation's strong suit, but here, it simply looks good, but not incredible or great.
Whatever the case, the once-interesting plot was buried by its animation style, which was also noticeably implemented for the new season of Haruhi. Because of the, I guess, "moe overload", the OP and ED are almost unbearably corny to watch and hard to appreciate, like much of the show. Overall, it felt vapid, empty, and filled with a fake, manufactured charm, that makes watching future episodes seem like a chore. That's something I never thought I would say about a Kyoto Animation show...
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya  (aka "Haruhi S2")! a>
--After three years of fan clamoring, "will they/won't they's", dropped hints, exposed plans, and much wringing of the hands, the continuance of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has finally arrived! With the 2006 series reairing Japan in chronological order (as opposed to the cleverly jumbled order during its first run), the new episodes, which cover the other novels in the series, will be airing in their appropriate spots in the timeline. With this, "Bamboo Leaf Rhasody" debuted in between "The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya" and "Mystérique Sign", and all this time later, the show still hasn't missed a beat. The writing and spirit that helped make the first season so great were there in earnest, as was the ingenuity, acting, and execution. What wasn't, though, was the stellar animation, which was more in the vein of K-ON!'s (Kyoto Animation's other anime airing this spring) than the OVA-quality and anally-retentive attention to detail that also defined the series back then. While it (thankfully) lacks K-ON!'s manic cutesy facial expressions, it does borrow much of its softer, less crisp detailing and colors, and just about everything else stylistically.
No one's going to mistake this season's artwork for the other's, nor does it mesh well when viewed contiguously, given that it should, technically. S2 doesn't hold a candle to S1 in that department, but it is at least adequate enough to make it watchable and not bring the rest of the show down with it. Outside of the change in animation style, the episode was still great and highly enjoyable, and it felt like the series never stopped--a remarkable feat given the length of time and the few changes in staff between the two seasons. I doubt the visuals will change when the next episode debuts down the (time)line (based on the ED) but as long as the core elements are there (e.g. writing, acting, flow, score, etc.), Haruhi S2 should be as enjoyable, and even perhaps more so (judging by what happens in the yet-to-be-covered novels...), as it was when audiences were first drawn in in 2006.