So, here we are again: round 2 of my rundown of the first episodes of the newly aired TV anime this fall season. I haven’t watched all of them, but the few that I did were a mixed bag of pleasant viewing and prettified boredom. Anyway, I just watched ep 1 of Naoto Hosoda’s latest TV series Mirai Nikki (produced by asread), an adaptation of a manga of the same name, and I found it to be surprisingly engaging despite my reservations concerning the material and everything else. I have no idea who or what kind of director/animator Naoto Hosoda is (though I did watch the first Koe de Oshigoto OVA, which was reasonably fun enough), but I saw in Mirai Nikki ep 1 that he was a capable director who knew how to evoke mood and control the pacing of whatever it is he’s working on to make the piece quite interesting and entertaining. The episode was brisk and crisp, getting straight into the nitty-gritty, seemingly without any wasted scenes, and the art/animation worked well enough to bring about some definite sense of suspense and dread during the particularly darker parts of the ep. I was also delighted to see that the character designs weren’t cheaply realized, but were rather pretty and elaborate enough to really seem like a step-up from their manga counterparts and to function effectively in animation–both in stills and in motion. I didn’t like how they resorted to rendering the Deus ex Machina character and his world in CGI, though, but since this is a TV anime and animating them normally would have been too much of a pain for the studio, I guess I can’t complain too much. Director Naoto Hosoda was in charge of storyboards/direction for episode 1.
However much I liked Mirai Nikki ep 1, I don’t think its quality is going to last for more than three episodes, so I’m still keeping my hopes relatively low. And I’m not exactly a fan of the material they’re working with in the first place, so I don’t think I can get into the swing of the anime that intensively. Still, the series did start off on the right foot, which hopefully succeeded at setting the stylistic tone of the rest of the series–that is, if they know what they’re doing with it.
Another new series I checked out was the third of Sunrise’s three fall TV anime (my, they sure are busy over there this year), the new incarnation of their fabled mecha franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, directed by Susumu Yamaguchi (whose presence I only realized when watching it). I can vaguely recognize him from his work on that other long-running Sunrise anime, Keroro Gunso (having directed/animated for a bunch of episodes/movies), his efforts for said series perhaps contributing somewhat into my impressions of the first ep. I actually enjoyed the first episode of Gundam AGE, because of the deft way it mixed in a lighthearted sense of childlike adventure and fascination into the trademark Gundam atmosphere of heavy tragedy and serious melodrama. Both of these seemingly contrasting parts were there in the episode, but the ep itself never fell back completely on either, standing as it was on a stable point of balance. It had the trappings of a kids’ mecha show–the child characters, designs and all that–but it never did totally feel like one, at least personally speaking. The director’s experience working on a series such as Keroro in recent years had probably seeped into this new series in generous amounts, but to me it’s actually more delightful that way. I can only take so much overbearingly tragic melodrama in my anime. It looks like it was a wise choice inserting him into this iteration of Gundam, in what is probably his debut as chief director of a series (correct me if I’m wrong). Of course, since this was a first episode, Susumu Yamaguchi himself handled both storyboards/direction. I forgot to say this in my earlier ‘first impressions’ post, but opening episodes are also important in another way: they set the stylistic approach and the general direction of the rest of the series, for better or worse.
Other notable names in the credits include Ken Otsuka (?) who was mecha AD of the episode, and also contributed animation, and Akira Amemiya, that Gainax animator who worked on Dantalian and that one OP of another recent kids’ show whose name I forgot (together with Hiroyuki Imaishi, his supposed mentor).
Contrary to Mirai Nikki ep 1, though, I find myself looking forward to the rest of this new Gundam series, firstly because I want to see how it expands on the appeal of the opener, and mostly because it’s the only mecha show airing on TV this season, and I am a fan of watching gigantic heaps of animated metal shoot one another with lasers, chop one another to bits with beam sabers, and just destroy one another in flashy explosions and shit. It should serve as a nice little companion piece to the new Gundam Unicorn episode (#4) to be released this month.
Also, this is a bit late, but I already watched the first two episodes of ufotable’s Fate/Zero. Directed by Ei Aoki (Ga-Rei: Zero, Hourou Musuko), the first two eps didn’t strike me outwardly as being the brilliant show that it was propped up to be months before airing–the first episode, in particular, feeling more than a bit hobbled by the sheer amount of exposition and words that got crammed into its 48-minute running time. I found the expansion of ep 1 into a 48-minute episode to be a double-edged sword: it enabled the series to get much of the necessary exposition out of the way early, but then again, that running time only exposed how little I cared about the material and the setting the show was narrating and showing to me. I was quite bored with it, to be honest.
Episode 2 was a slight improvement over the first, but only because its length was halved. I still found the story and characters to be of little interest, and I didn’t care about what they were saying and what they were doing, but I have to admit that the main thing that kept me from falling asleep was the skill with which they’ve produced the backgrounds and the art surrounding the characters. They could have used a little less CG, in my view, but the detailed and elaborately pretty art present in the show were richly processed, and with such technical skill that I find myself watching it to the end anyway. The blend of the darker tones and the brighter colors was fun to look at, and I thought they also enhanced the gritty, more vile atmosphere the show is trying to evoke. The studio, ufotable, is lauded for its attention to animation (which I can see, going by the OP of Fate/Zero), but for now I am more impressed by the more static aspects of their work–the background art and scene composition. The director is known for his proficiency in this field, and in fact, he had already stamped this kind of personalized styling in terms of photographing and art in his prior show Hourou Musuko, which I liked, and it seems as if he’d ported that over to this new show. Reservations about the material aside, I have to say that F/Z could turn out to be a more-than-watchable series, though I guess that is still hugely dependent on the outcome of the next few episodes. For the time being, though, I will say that this show is heads-and-shoulders above P4A. But then again, I guess accomplishing that isn’t exactly rocket science, isn’t it?