Cardcaptor Sakura is now available for streaming on Crunchyroll here. This is big news for American anime fans who have gone for years without a legal way to watch it. (DVDs and Blu-rays are also available.) I reviewed the series based on the old Geneon DVDs here.
If you haven’t seen this show you probably should. This is a true classic, probably the best straight magical girl series ever. (By “straight” I mean that it is not a parody or a deconstruction like Madoka Magica.)
Some of the old classics really show their age, but this one holds up very well. In fact it still looks great!
From my point of view Tokyo ESP (Hulu) has two strikes against it: It’s bloodier than I usually like and it looks very derivative of Marvel’s X-Men franchise. But I find that I’m still watching it anyway because I like the main characters.
The first episode almost made me drop it though. It starts out right in the middle of the story with the bad guys doing all sorts of horrible things while the main characters (the ones I actually like) barely had walk-on roles. Things improved quite a bit with the second episode.
The premise is that there are mysterious glowing fish flying around Tokyo. If one of them swims into your body you get a psychic power which you can use for good or evil. Whether you’re good or bad, the non-powered majority are going to be suspicious of you and generally give you a hard time.
While Nozaki-kun is a hilarious take-off on standard shoujo tropes, Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) (Crunchyroll) is pure, unadulterated unapologetic shoujo. So be warned, if that isn’t your thing then you need read no farther.
This reminds me more than a little of KImi ni Todoke (Crunchyroll) from 2009-2010. For one thing the drawing style looks similar, probably because both are from the same studio, Production IG. The characters are actually quite different but the basic structure is similar. Once again we have a high school girl who has trouble fitting in, a potential boyfriend who initially seems out of reach, and a subtext that reminds us that while the boyfriend may get more screen time, reliable female friends are even more important.
There’s not too much that I can say about Sword Art Online II (Crunchyroll). If you liked the first season you are probably already watching the second. If you are unfamiliar with the first season you can read my comments here.
The new season has Kirito in a new game world tracking down a new supervillain with a new companion (a girl who plays a cold-blooded sniper in the game, but is attempting to use the game to deal with her real-world panic attacks.)
I actually like the new season a bit better than the first. SAO was Reki Kawahara’s first published work and I think his storytelling skills improved as the series progressed.
I’ve already posted about Barakamon and Nozaki-kun, and I remain convinced that those two are the big winners of the Summer anime season. However there are some other shows which aren’t quite in the same league but are still workmanlike and entertaining. I think some of these deserve at least a brief mention.
Locodol (Crunchyroll) is the most lightweight of the lot, a simple show about cute girls being cute. That kind of thing usually gets boring quickly but this one has managed to hold my interest.
The full title is Futsuu no Joshikousei ga ‘Locodol’ Yattemita (“Ordinary High School Girls Tried Being ‘Locodols’”.) I commend Crunchyroll’s decision to shorten it.
The heroine, Nanako, is a shy and awkward high school girl. Her uncle is a local bureaucrat charged with promoting business in the minor city of Nagarekawa. His problem is that Nagarekawa has little to recommend it. It is a typical town distinguished only by its unsurpassed mediocrity.
So he decides to put together a group of “locodols” (“local idols.”) These are basically cute girls who make public appearances to promote local businesses. He makes Nanako join the group because she is available and will work cheap.
Guardians of the Galaxy (IMDB) is an action comedy based on a Marvel comic book. It might have been better with a bit less action and a bit more comedy.
The hero, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a small boy by a flying saucer in 1989. He has grown up to be a roguish interstellar thief. He carries around some mementos of his childhood; the most precious is a mix tape of 1970s pop music hits that his mother gave him. (Much of the humor is based on pop culture references from the 1970s and 80s.)
At the beginning of the movie Quill steals a mysterious orb which apparently has some sort of mysterious evil power. Naturally everyone wants it.
He gets thrown into prison and teams up with four other misfits: a beautiful green-skinned cyborg assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldanaa), a muscle-bound warrior with a huge vocabulary named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a walking humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel), and a bad-tempered talking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper). (“Rocky Raccoon,” get it? Don’t say that to his face or he’ll kill you.)
As with most films by Richard Linklater, I found Boyhood (IMDB) fascinating, but it probably won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you liked his Before Sunrise series (IMDB) then you’ll probably like this too. If you hated it you’ll probably hate this even more.
The movie, about a boy (Ellar Coltrane) growing up, looks like a documentary but it is actually a work of fiction. The unique thing is that it was filmed over a 12-year period, allowing the characters to age naturally.
The thing that struck me most was how Linklater was able to get terrific performances from the child actors. The usual Hollywood practice is to cast teenagers as pre-teens (and not to expect too much from them) and to use twenty-somethings to play teenagers. Ellar Coltrane started out as a 7 year old actor playing a six-year-old, and his performance feels dead-solid perfect.
If you like shoujo anime you might like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun) (Crunchyroll). On the other hand, if you don’t like shoujo anime, you may still like Nozaki-kun. It’s an adaptation of a shounen gag-manga and does a hilarious take on shoujo tropes.
Due to its origins as a 4-panel comic, each 24-minute episode consists of a series of short sketches, all of which combine to more-or-less tell a story.
Unlike Bakuman, a shounen manga and anime about the creation of a shounen manga, this does not attempt to give a realistic depiction of how shoujo manga are created. It’s mostly playing for laughs, and it does it quite well.
So far my favorite show of the Summer anime season is Barakamon (Funimation). That surprised me a bit. The descriptions I read didn’t make it sound all that interesting–a sort of slice-of-life, coming-of-age story about a troubled young man exiled to a remote farming community.
But what makes a show great is the execution, not the premise. As it turns out, this show is both charming and very funny.
Seishuu Handa, the protagonist, is a promising young caligrapher. He’s obsessively dedicated to his craft, determined to work hard and become a great master.
At the time I wrote my “early impressions” post I thought The World is Still Beautiful” (Crunchyroll) was my favorite anime of the Spring season. It later fell in my estimation, but I have to admit that the ending was great!
While a traditional fairy tale would commonly end at the point where the heroine was chosen to marry the king, this one starts at that point. It is wise enough to recognize that this is when her real problems would begin.
But the show lost some energy in the middle section. Livi seemed most interesting when he was a spoiled tyrant. Things seemed to sag a bit once he started spouting the romantic lines expected of a shoujo leading man. That had to happen eventually but I couldn’t help feeling that Nike won him over too quickly. Part of the problem may stem from the difficulties of cramming 7 manga volumes into 12 anime episodes.