Anime Review: Baccano!

No anime reviews from me in months and then two in two weeks? In my defense, No. 6 and Baccano! are both awfully short shows.

Baccano! is a complicated series, featuring like a dozen main characters and a totally non-linear storyline. It’s set in the early 1930s and is chock full of mafia families and tommy guns and intrigue. It revolves around the events of one night aboard the transcontinental train “Flying Pussyfoot”, as three separate groups attempt to take over the train for their own ends. Meanwhile, a notorious serial killer known as the Rail Tracer stalks the train.

Also, there’s alchemy and immortality involved. So that’s pretty cool.

Baccano! is one of those shows that you have to pay relatively close attention to, because you never know when something trivial or silly in one scene will become something super important in another scene. With so many main characters, it’s easy for the show to take one meaningless occurence and switch the point of view, casting the situation in an entirely different light. And like I said, the storyline is non-linear, so it jumps around constantly between the night on the train, a year before that, a year after that, 200 years before that, and the present day. It’s worth it to pay attention, though, as it’s really a fun watch.One of the things I liked about this show is that (like Durarara!!, which is from the same studio) basically everyone is a hidden badass, but in different and interesting ways. One kid runs screaming from the idea of the Rail Tracer but later has a bombs-versus-flamethrowers battle with a guy on top of the train; a homunculus betrays her maker, not knowing what will happen to her own body when he dies; and the two ditziest characters in the history of anime pull off astoundingly ballsy heists on a regular basis.

It’s also got great female representation, with a cast that’s roughly fifty-fifty between genders, and filled with a wide range of character types and gender presentations. And those two ditzy robbers I mentioned earlier? Have one of the funniest, most awesome platonic male-female friendships I’ve seen in a show.

It also has one of the greatest OPs ever: the jazzy instrumental “Gun’s & Roses”, which has been stuck in my head for days now.

Baccano! is only thirteen episodes (with a three-episode special that isn’t really necessary for the canon, although it is fun), so I recommend you check it out!

Anime Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

So I missed Madoka fever when Madoka fever was all the rage. (That is, last summer.) But seeing as I’ll be at Otakon in a week, and basically every industry guest at Otakon is there because of their role in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica Japanese or English cast/production staff, I figured I’d give it a look-see. It is only twelve episodes, after all.

The plot of Madoka revolves around the character of Kyubey.  Kyubey is an extraterrestrial creature called an Incubator, who will grant you one wish—any wish—if you agree to let him turn you into a magical girl (mahou shoujo, a la Sailor Moon) and fight witches the rest of your life.

The deal is, quite obviously, rigged in Kyubey’s favor. The life of a magical girl is a twisted pyramid-scheme-slash-vicious-cycle that ultimately ends in despair and violent death.

Kaname Madoka (the cute pink-haired one below) is one of the girls Kyubey has chosen to take up the magical girl mantle, and the story of the anime follows her as she sees the effects of magical-girl life and makes her decision.

A friend once referred to Madoka as ‘the most fucked-up anime’ he’s ever seen. I wouldn’t go so far. I think Madoka is a pretty standard horror anime, and really a lightweight one at that, since the show ends on a happy note. The real horror of this show comes from the juxtaposition of the magical girl genre into an anime that is clearly horror. Everything about the peppy opening theme by ClariS, the bright and happy promotional art, and the cutesy character designs screams that this will be an adorable moe escapade, which is why it is all the more harsh and gruesome when the truths of magical girl life are one by one revealed.

This isn’t the be-all end-all of mindfuck anime. But it is actually really good (albeit depressing and horrific at times), and it’s so short that there’s really no reason to not watch it. Check it out!

Anime Review: Spring Series Triple Whammy

Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on the Slope

First of all, this is one of those anime that are equally referred to by their English and Japanese names, so I’m not sure what to call it. I’ll refer to it as SnA the rest of this post. SnA is not the kind of fare I usually seek out—emotional, slice-of-life stuff—but I was unfairly roped in by the one-two punch combination of Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, etc.) as director and Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell, Darker than Black) as composer.

Basically, this show is about three kids who are in love with jazz music and each other, living in Kyushu (the southernmost part of Japan) in the 1960s. The animation has a very different look and feel to it than most shows I’ve watched, the selection of jazz music was great even to me as a total jazz noob, and it definitely felt like it could have been a real-life story to me, which, I suppose, is high praise for a slice-of-life story. It’s also only twelve episodes, so it’s not a huge time commitment.

There were a few things I didn’t like about SnA—first of all, and this is not just my inner fujoshi speaking, the two boys and the two girls had far better chemistry with their same-sex friend than they did with their designated love interest. People really strongly defend Sentarou and Kaoru’s relationship as being platonic, and far be it from me to put a box on what straight male friendship in the 1960s looks like, but I don’t think that a guy who wasn’t just a little bit interested in his guy best friend would describe him as ‘so handsome that sometimes it takes my breath away.’ I honestly thought they might end up together at the end of the series. Also, it had a bit of a slow pace to it, but that’s probably just my action-loving brain being confused by a more thoughtful plot without lasers or robots or anything. I recommend it.

Haiyore! Nyarko-san!

Oh, Nyarko-san. I had such high hopes for you. The premise of this show was what pulled me in: Most of the cast is Lovecraftian gods/eldritch horrors/etc, but in the bodies of mostly adorable high school girls (and one boy). Nyarko is actually a Nyarlathotep, Hasuta is actually a god of winds, Kuko is actually Cthuga, a fire deity, etc. I was hoping that this would be fun, intellectual, and different. Instead it was just a Lovecraftian twist on a harem anime. Seriously, boring male lead with inexplicable number of supernatural love interests vying for his attention in ways that are probably definitely inappropriate for middle-schoolers (or ageless gods in middleschooler bodies), various homosexual crushes dismissed as disgusting and perverted, lots of non-consensual kissing. Don’t waste your time unless you really like harem anime.

Sengoku Collection

I was actually quite surprised by Sengoku Collection. I have this weird habit where I hope that one day harem anime will get less annoying and rapey and so I continue to watch it for one reason or another and continually get disappointed. (Love Hina someone recommended to me, I watched Shuffle for the dads, etc.) The description of and first episode of Sengoku Collection had me believing for sure this would be another example of this. (The gimmick in this show being, of course, Sengoku (Warring States) era warriors are falling through into modern day, except they’re from an alternate universe where all of them are beautiful young women rather than gruff old men.)

Like I said, I figured this would be another crappy harem anime, but actually each episode has taken the time to focus on a different Warring States figure and their individual conflicts upon arriving in modern times. The only real connecting thread is Oda Nobunaga, who wants to get back to the Sengoku period and is collecting magic power from the other women to do so. She usually shows up at the end of an episode and talks, bargains, or fights the other girl and then disappears again. This anime is twice the length of SnA and Nyarko-san, so it’s not over yet, but I’m actually enjoying tuning in every week as of right now. (Although I think they may be running out of Warring States-era figures, becaues the last episode I watched was about Kondou, Hijikata, and Okita of the Shinsengumi, who didn’t live until 300 years after the Sengoku era.) Either way, though, I do recommend this show.