Thursday, October 10, 2013

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Preview 2013-14 Special:: noitaminA (Autumn, Winter)

After an abnormal spring/summer session, Fuji TV's noitaminA block returns with a vengeance-and-a-half, opening the fall season with one series by the helmsman of one of their recent darlings and the other by the most unexpected--but certainly among the most welcome--of talents.

As usual, there tends to be a certain, unintentional "theme" to each batch of shows and this time, there are two. The first is "welcome back", as Samurai Flamenco not only features the return of manglobe (2010's House of Five Leaves) but also Princess Jellyfish's director Takahiro Omori, who is making a rare (of recent) excursion outside of studio Brains Base. Even rarer is the blockbuster involvement of famed maverick director Yasuomi Umetsu in the second autumn series, Galilei Donna - Storia di tre sorelle a caccia di un mistero--his first full directorial project since 2008's Kite Liberator. And given that Omori is the director of crazily-complex (and crazy) Baccano! and Durarara!!, and Umetsu is the mastermind behind the lauded, and controversial, (A) Kite and Mezzo Forte, the second theme is, naturally: style.

Last season's Silver Spoon will be returning in January 2014 for its second season (and as the second series in the timeslot), whereas the two-cour Samurai Flamenco will be stretching into the winter, making Galilei Donna a single cour series for the fall. So, what do these two new autumn series in particular have going for them? Let's check them out below!

© manglobe/Project Samumenco

Samurai Flamenco
Alt. Title: Samumenco

Debut: October 10, 2013
Director: Takahiro Omori
Studio: manglobe
Links: Official Site, Official English Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: A young, wanna-be superhero (with no super abilities or talents to speak of) crosses paths with a young police officer on their respective journeys on what it truly means to be a "hero"…

Personal Take: Though Princess Jellyfish (Kugarehime) was far more a critical than commercial success, it's nice to see Takahiro Omori being given another seat behind a noitaminA series, and this time concerning another flair of his: action. Similar can be said of manglobe after the drama House of Five Leaves (Sarai-ya Goyou), which was quite good, but not everyone's cup of tea. While that and their more popular Samurai Champloo involved samurai, I doubt the unrelated Samurai Flamenco contains any (beyond costume design influences, a la super sentai/tokusatsu). What it may have more in common with is the mega-hit TIGER & BUNNY, which focused on the superheroes and the theme of what it really meant to be one.

Copycatting (or in nicer terms, "following the leader") has become a prevalent practice in recent anime (more so than in the past), but it has thankfully done more to open storytelling and talent reservoirs than spurn off droves of pale imitators, as experienced in the post-Evangelion landscape. Samumenco's (oye, that's a mouthful…why not "SamFlam" or something…) plot seems to differentiate itself enough to not feel like a retread with superpowers not playing a role (at least, on the outset) and with the super sentai vibes. The original series also appears to be in good hands with the very versatile Omori and screenwriter Hideyuki Kurata (Now and Then, Here and There, Kannagi, Bamboo Blade--though he has penned works I wasn't too fond of, either…(Brigadoon, R.O.D -The TV-, 3D Magical Play)). It also features some rather resplendent character designs from Chinatsu Kurahana (original) and Yoshimitsu Yamashita (animation) (Blade of the Immortal, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~) and with manglobe's caliber of artistry, the series should look plenty pleasing to the eye, as well.

While I don't expect Baccano!/Durarara!!-level shenanigans or energy, I do see what could be a very solid anime from Omori, despite the vagueness and familiarity of the material. It also has two cours (or around 22 eps. [11 eps. x 2] in noitaminA's world) to work with, which should be a good amount of time for things to flesh out.

Goody Stuff…: The official site hosts some humorous autographs/sketches by the staff and cast, a few contests (likely Japan only), and some promotional pictures.

Eps. 1-2 Review:  The synopsis was in line with what the show was about, though our "hero" in question is actually a model by day. The 19-year-old strikes up a friendship with said police officer after getting some help in an embarrassing pinch . The first episode felt a little bland, but the more interesting aspects of the tale and the titular character came to the surface towards the end, carrying over into the second episode. It is only familiar to T&B in passing concerning the "buddy" aspect, but even that is small, as the makeup and chemistry of the two leads and the real world-based trappings make it feel more "fresh" than "retread". In addition, the episodes felt at their strongest when they tackled and questioned the ills and norms of society, much without an air of high-minded idealism from screenwriter Kurata or pontificating, seeing both sides of the issue.

If you think some guy running around in a makeshift costume thinking he is vanquishing evil by confronting noisy teens out late and people placing their garbage out too early might have a few screws loose, you might be right. Though early on, the show doesn't seem to shy from questioning the young man's actions or mentality, either--well-intentioned they might be. Judging by some of that, what he says, and his admitted lack of talent, it feels like there could be more to him and his past than what is present at this junction. Meanwhile, the more skeptical and level-headed cop is a great foil to him and helps balance out the story. They mesh well together without it feeling unrealistic or forced-upon.

Samurai Flamenco does a pretty job setting itself up across its first two episodes. It's not perfect, but there is plenty of room to explore the concept of a "hero" in a real-world setting and what truly constitutes as a "crime" or "evil" in society. It could have a lot to say if it plays its cards right. It could easily miss the mark and fall flat on its face, though the series has some solid talent behind it. My one caveat is the inconsistent animation quality, likely the result of having to stretch the budget across two straight cours. Sometimes, the characters looking pleasantly rendered (see the second half of Ep. 1 and parts of Ep. 2), but most of the time, they look haphazardly drawn and incongruent from scene to scene. Hopefully manglobe is the type of studio that likes reanimating scenes for disc releases (they've got their work cut out for them here if that's going to be the case…).


Galilei Donna - Storia di tre sorelle a caccia di un mistero
Alt. Titles: Galilei Donna, Galileidonna

Debut: October 10, 2013
Director: Yasuomi Umetsu
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official SitenoitaminA English SiteANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: A trio of discordant sisters, descendants of Galileo Galilei, suddenly find themselves on the run from a mysterious organization bent on obtaining the "Galileo Tesoro", which was allegedly discovered by the inventor…

Personal Take: Dude, Yasuomi Umetsu is back!! Well, he technically was never gone, as he directed part of Dante's Inferno and has done the OPs/EDs (i.e. And Yet The Town Moves OP, Ikki Tousen: Great Guardians ED, Girl's High ED) and key animation for a few shows since his last real show (including, perhaps, my favorite OP in the last decade with BLOOD-C). Galilei Donna is not only his first full directorial work since the aforementioned Kite Liberator OVA, it is his first TV series since his very first one in Mezzo DSA a decade ago (2003)!

Suffice to say, given Umetsu's distinctive panache and visuals, and his infrequent trips to the helm, any chance to see him at work is a treat (and not only is he directing GD, he is also doing another (non-noitaminA) show in January 2014 called "Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil", at ARMS). However, this production is made even more notable in that it is the first show he is directing that does not feature his trademark character designs and animation direction, with Sword Art Online's Shingo Adachi handling those duties (Dante not withstanding. I suppose it was only a matter of time; Umetsu's done many other peoples' designs, after all… His January show will feature his own.). Still, the show seems to retain his fidelity towards high-quality animation, design work, and detail in the trailers (all of that right up A-1's alley), and Adachi is certainly able in his own right.

The old ultra-sex-and-violence Umetsu's been gone for a long time (apparently, the former was due to producers' demands, though his stuff can still get messy in the latter's department…) and has been ostensibly replaced by the action-packing, fun-time-having Umetsu, which we will likely be seeing in his next two series. All goodwill aside, I'm not entirely sure about show itself. The plot itself is decent and open to exploration, but I'm not that bowled over by it, either, and Umetsu's stuff can get pretty out-there. The series also doesn't look a whole lot different than other moe-type show (the model is getting old), but with action and a higher budget/pedigree. At least Umetsu, Adachi, and A-1 comprise of that pedigree, along with contributions from Niθ (mechanical design) (Blassreiter (also original character designer), Samurai Girls/Bride (original character designer)) and Shiroh Hamaguchi (score) (Hanasaku Iroha, Ah! My Goddess).

From the unanticipated return of Cowboy Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe last year (Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)) to Yasuomi Umetsu this month with Galilei Donna? A very nice nab by noitaminA, and rather befitting of their mantra of stepping outside the box and going bold…

Goody Stuff…: GD's official website is offering wallpaper and a trio of nice 'n' big Twitter icons of the sisters, as well as promotion pictures, production art, and autographs/sketches from the staff and cast. You can also find other nice pictures on their official Twitter page.

Eps. 1-2 Review: The first two episodes of Galilei Donna got the story off to a strong start. I wasn't expecting that, as I was bracing for something more convoluted and obtuse. The show is true to its stated premise, only that the family dynamic is a little more fractured and dynamic than at first blush. The eldest sister is a failed law student with a penchant for getting drunk and the middle one is a loner that excels in martial arts, meanwhile, the Galileo brilliancy bug seems to have only bitten the youngest one, who has managed to toil away at fantastical devices in her own enclosed world.

The theme of "separation" seems to loom large in the series, as the oldest lives by herself, the middle sister with their engineer Italian mother (a descendant of Galileo), and the youngest with their hippy-ish Japanese father. The parents themselves, as you can surmise, are no longer together, but at one point they were and the family was not as distant as they are now. All of that changes one day, as each of the siblings find themselves chased and attacked by mysterious individuals. The parents are inevitably sucked in, as well, and are all asked of the whereabouts of "Galileo's inheritance", but it is not just them they have to watch out for, as air pirates and even the police are vying for possession of it.

Said theme and the family relationships are handled solidly here. The characters are portrayed well and have likable quirks to them. The animation and action sequences are very well done, as are the dramatic elements, and Umetsu's slight and careful use of jump cuts help give the storytelling a bit more flavor. There is a sense of purpose present early on that elevates it beyond just a cut-and-dry action/adventure title, too, which helps the series feel more substantive. On the other hand, while it helps to shut off your brain in the wake of young Hozuki's fruits-of-labor and just go with it, it still remains just a little outlandish that someone that young could build what she builds in her basement without anyone noticing and with no help whatsoever (unless this is all addressed at a later time).

Overall, GD is off to a very good start. It's solid and nicely-made, thus far, and has enough of a plot to feasibly carry you across the remaining nine. Some of the more "amazing" parts may require some suspension-of-disbelief, but not to a point of detriment, though I hope that the series' promising thematic elements get some time to shine themselves.

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