Amagi Brilliant Park–Anime Early Impressions

Book
There a couple of things I have come to expect from a show made by Kyoto Animation. The first is that the animation quality will be very high. The second is that there will be a certain amount of quirkiness and risk-taking in the writing and direction. The show will not be ostentatiously unconventional but it definitely will not be an unimaginative retread of a tired formula.

That doesn’t mean that I always like the result. (Making “Endless Eight” was certainly taking a risk and they put a lot of effort into it, but I don’t know anyone who actually liked it.)
Princess with Moffle
However Amagi Brilliant Park has so far been the high point of a rather slow season. It’s unpredictable, it’s funny and it looks great.
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This Is Where I Leave You–Movie Review

4 Stars
This is Where I Leave You poster
This Is Where I Leave You (IMDB) is a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family. (I should emphasize that the family is “dysfunctional” in the move-comedy sense, not the movie-drama sense. That is, they quarrel a lot but they are all basically decent people.)

This movie did not thrill the critics but I found it quite entertaining, with some excellent performances.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has been having a bad week. First he came home early to surprise his wife (Abigail Spencer) on her birthday, only to find her in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard.) Then he learns that his father has suddenly passed away after a long illness. Then his mother (Jane Fonda) demands that all of the kids come and stay with her for a week to sit shiva (even though none of them are religious.)

The siblings are all a bit messed up, partly because their mother, a celebrity psychologist, published a best-selling book when they were children that revealed all of their most embarrassing secrets. Paul (Corey Stoll) the eldest, is stuffy and uptight. Wendy (Tina Fey) is nurturing and seems sensible but she always seems to have a drink in her hand. Phillip (Adam Driver) is the baby of the family who never really grew up. As for Judd, he’s always been devoted to arranging a perfect, conventional and risk-free life.
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Barakamon Ends

The ending wasn’t bad exactly. Barakamon (Funimation) is still my favorite show of the season. But it left me vaguely dissatisfied, with a feeling that this could have been even better.Messy room
Guardian Enzo is a big fan of the manga and has been complaining all season that the anime focused on the humor but left out all the best character-development stories. To which my immediate response was “So what? The anime stands on its own. It’s hilarious!”
Pummeling
But the last two episodes toned down the comedy and focused on the character development, which gave just a taste of what I had been missing.

They probably did the best they could given that they only had 12 episodes to work with. I suspect that they could have done better with 24, maybe even making this a classic. It’s not impossible for a seinen anime to get 2 cours. Last year’s Golden Time got that and Mushishi will have completed 4 by the end of the year.
Burnable, not burnable
Still and all it’s not a bad show. The ending is sort of heartwarming, but not too heartwarming. As I see it, Handa has made it only about half way from being an annoying insecure artist to being a fully-realized human being. That would leave room for a sequel if they get the money for one.

Tokyo ESP Ends

Tokyo ESP (Hulu) turned out to be a surprisingly good action-adventure series with characters I cared about, even if they were over-the-top.
Dual blocking
The only problem is that with only 12 episodes there was no way to tell the full story of the manga. So they limited themselves to a single story arc. The good guys get a minor victory but the main problem isn’t solved and there are a lot of loose ends dangling.
with fish
So maybe there will be a sequel to tell more of the story. The odds are that there won’t be enough sequels to tell the whole story, but you never know. If there is a sequel I’ll watch it.

Blue Spring Ride Ends

Looking at stars
Blue Spring Ride (Crunchyroll) is the best shoujo anime that I have seen in several years. It’s an unapologetic shoujo romance, but it tells a thoughtful story with intelligent characters. (If the characters do dumb things it is because they are young and inexperienced, not because they are stupid.)

Though it is based on an ongoing manga the anime selects a single story arc that stands by itself quite well. That’s about the best we could expect. The manga looks like something that could run for many years including too much material for any but the longest-running anime series.

Though I like this series there is something about it that makes me uneasy. I can’t discuss it without spoilers, so the rest is below the fold.
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Nozaki-kun Ends

Nozaki-ku fireworks
Nozaki-kun (Crunchyroll) ended about as well as any off-the-wall comedy could end. It stayed funny through all 12 episoded and avoided the temptation to betray its premise with a sappy ending.

Of course this show is mostly about skewering the tropes of shoujo manga, so I don’t know if it would appeal to someone who is totally unfamiliar with the genre. But if you do know something about shoujo manga (whether you love it or hate it) then you probably will find it pretty funny. It’s all in good humor and even the most devoted fans of shoujo will probably be more amused than offended.
Nozaki-kun tie pull

Cardcaptor Sakura on Crunchyroll

Cardcaptor SakuraCardcaptor 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!
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Tokyo ESP–Anime Quick Take

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.
Tokyo ESP dinner with penguin
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.
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Blue Spring Ride–Anime Quick Take

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.
Au Haru Ride end card
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.
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Sword Art Online II–Anime Quick Take

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.
SAO - Kirio in gunsight
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.
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