Wednesday, October 16, 2013

President Dog Takes On... The Summer 2013 Anime Blitz!

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... Before I get started, a few bits of housekeeping:

  1. I apologize for the brief hiatus, life got in the way for a little while.
  2. The Kim Possible retrospective will be continuing and I promise it'll be the next entry.
  3. I've started watching about 8 different shows from the fall season, so expect highlights from them in the future.
  4. Scratch what I said I was going to do at the end of the Fantasista Doll review; we're going in a different direction, though if you're still interesting in Danaganropa, keep reading.

Okay, enough chit-chat, let's get down to business. The summer anime season of 2013 has been quite an eventful one and turned out to be an excellent time for me to jump back into the medium head-first. I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing the newest shows Japan has to offer over these past couple of months, but I haven't had the time, content or sheer patience to do a full review for each and every one, though I've certainly tried to give a few the full treatment. To remedy this, I figured I'd give you all a few quick hits and misses from the rest of this season, share why I liked or disliked them and give a little more insight into why they didn't get the full review I've provided some of the others. Also, for the shows I gave an initial review, I'd like to follow up on how they panned out and whether I recommend them after all is said and done. So strap in, listen up and get ready for...

President Dog's Summer 2013 Anime Blitz!

First off, let's knock out the shows I've already gone over in their own reviews (click the title of each show to go back to my initial review). I'm not going to recap the overall plot here, but pick up from where my initial review left off, as some stayed pretty consistent and other veered way off course, such as...

Wow, where to start on this one... Remember in my initial review how I went on that giant rant about Yura and the moment when she surrendered and got unjustly scolded by Sonora? Turns out that moment pretty much made our main character snap. No, she didn't go and shoot up her school or anything, but her mind pretty much warped around the fact that she showed weakness. This moment starts a gradual descent for Yura which lands her the dubious honor of being quite possibly my most hated character in all the shows I watched this year. Not only did I still despise her haircut (I will not let that go, especially when the OP and ED animations were inconsistent with it afterwards), it created a rather jarring tonal shift in the rest of the show. A few episodes after Yura's character shift it quickly becomes clear that the fun times are over for the viewer and serious, 'I don't want to play this if I'm not the best' Yura is here to stay. She becomes so obsessed with becoming strong that she pretty much takes over everything in the C3 Club, ignores her friends' needs and wants to have fun and eventually shuts them all out in her own personal quest to control every little thing around her. In doing so she alienates her team, breaks the rules in a tournament out of petty vengeance and even joins the rival team, though it does give the only moment where Yura gets some comeuppance for her attitude towards the game of airsoft and not knowing her role on a team. Therein lies the problem overall with this show, however; in the end, Yura truly receives no punishment for acting so horrible outside of her own guilt trip. No one gives her the scolding she really needs, no one acknowledges to her face how she's changed for the worse and when she finally returns to the C3 Club, they welcome her back like nothing ever happened. Even Sonora, the girl she was supposedly sharing a dorm with and the leader of the club, not only said nothing, but actively ignored Yura multiple times throughout the series. In short, every decision Yura made through the bulk of the series made me want to reach in the show, slap her and tell her to stop screwing up so much. Also, another big issue with the series is what I'm calling a case of show-stitching and this also goes back to my tonal shift issue. As I stated before, starting in the tail end of episode 3, the mood and tone of the show got considerably darker, focusing on Yura's downward spiral. Outside of a festival-type episode where the C3 Club puts together a shooting range, everything from episode 4 to the near the end of episode 11 is all one big shift from the somewhat upbeat mix of a new girl in a new school and cute girls doing cute things. However, once that ending for episode 11 happens, we're out of all the doom and gloom and back into silly fun. We even got a completely crazy episode 13 where all the girls in the entire series compete in an odd cross between an airsoft tournament and a beauty pageant! To be fair, it was the most enjoyable episode of the series, in my opinion, but still this whole setup reeked of Gainax either screwing with people's expectations or trying to have their cake and eat it too. If Stella Women's Academy could've decided whether it was a fun moe sports anime or a dark character study and stuck with that decision, it wouldn't have been the trainwreck it ended up becoming. I have to knock off a full point from my initial rating of 3.5/5 due to the inconsistent mood and for making me actively despise the main character, but as far as trainwrecks go it may still be worth a watch. Also, since I'd be remiss to wrap this up without mentioning it, here's the brilliant mashup between this show and the video game Spec Ops: The Line, an impactful, highly recommended military shooter that all the Call of Duty obsessed gamers need to play. Spoilers to both included, fair warning.

Okay, not as much to talk about here as there weren't as many major problems with the show from where I left off in my initial review. The big things that happened as the show went along were a somewhat meandering mystery plot between trying to find the cafe gunman who killed Kazuhito, which evolved into someone threatening Kirihime which in turn evolved into strange attacks by hypnotized civilians. Throw in some other crazy characters such as Kirihime's masochist editor who loves nothing more than to be tortured by her, Kazuhito's well-meaning, but equally off-the-rails sister who's obsessed with making curry and fights with a giant electric knife, a depressed, often suicidal young author who was behind the attacks by the hypnotized people (from reading hypnotic suggestions in her book, natch), a maid who loved showtunes but attacks anyone or anything that comes close to knowing her secret... the list goes on. The series didn't really have much of a conclusion, for better or worse, ending on an odd premise: what would happen if Kirihime got drunk? Let's just say it results in wedding bells, a trip to Hawaii and eventually a nice big off-screen blowing of chunks. Overall, this show was a lot of fun just to take in, despite its overarching aimlessness in the way of plot. The characters and situations they got in were enough to keep me going with pleasure and hopefully it receives a season two, as there appears to be much more that this world of young authors has to offer. I will have to knock off half a point in its rating for the lack of a real consistent plot, but it's still a 4/5 to me. Just an aside here, I feel at times I'm the only reviewer who didn't immediately write Dog and Scissors off as allegedly being garbage or a waste of the audience's time. I'll admit it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I can't deny having a lot of fun watching this show from start to finish. I'll recommend it personally, but I can understand if it's not followed through.

To make this short and sweet, I dropped this one soon after episode 3. All the issues I had with the show that I mentioned in my review took me completely out of it and frankly, any show that's going to take up until the fourth episode to actually start isn't worth my time and shouldn't be worth yours either. Also, by that time, the art style was far too grating with its constant lens flare and sunset lighting for me to tolerate it. Still think it wasted a brilliant setup, don't bother unless you have tons of patience to spare, moving on.

As I expressed at the beginning of my original review for this show, I went into it not expecting much, just hoping for a genuine old-school magical girl anime. What I got was a surprisingly pleasant little romp with just enough intrigue, interesting episode setups (including one all about playing poker, of all things) and character development to keep me invested, not to mention an active ongoing plot, especially compared to the other shows previously mentioned. There are a few nice little twists that I didn't see coming, plenty of action and humor, not to mention one of the silliest yet most awesome things in a show this season: The Friendship Cannon, where Sasara gets shot out of it like a human cannonball.

Uzume even gets a drum while the cannon is summoned to do a drum roll upon firing.

I'm somewhat inclined to raise my rating of this up a half a point to a 4, but as I said before it depends on how much you enjoy some of the tropes of this sub-genre of anime. Like I said before, it scratched an itch in my viewing habits and did so admirably. Another show of which I wouldn't mind a second season and I do recommend.


Now that the recaps are completely done, let's break a little new ground with some of the other shows from this season I didn't get to cover in full.

Blood Lad

What's it about: An action tale of a vampire named Staz who is obsessed with the human world whose life gets turned upside down when a human girl name Fuyumi wanders into his world, dies and becomes a ghost. He vows to find a way to resurrect her which takes him across the four corners of the Demon World.

Brought to us by Brain's Base, the studio that gave us Baccano and Durarara!!, Blood Lad is the obvious choice for the dedicated action show of this season. The aesthetic of the show quickly reminds me of another supernatural action series that I particularly enjoyed, Soul Eater, though without the bigger set pieces and as many dark colors. However, outside of a few interesting characters and unorthodox fights (Including a boxing match with Staz's rival and ally Wolf and a strange portal-hopping fight with the eccentric Hydra Bell), this was really average action fare that never really had the time to get its feet under it, more than likely due to this show being only 10 episodes long, making it significantly shorter than most shows this season. Action shows generally need a longer run to really be impactful, to build their world and set up the powers of the main characters, much less the characters' personalities overall. Going back to my previous comparison to Soul Eater, that series took the first 3 episodes introducing the main cast gradually and in small groups, taking the time to establish a personality for each character, motivation to why they're in the story and built some enjoyable action around them. Blood Lad, while not having as many protagonists, still has to be forced to get its setup, very rough framework for character personality and motivation out in one episode and even then we only really get it for Staz. The final episode of the show does end on a cliffhanger though, so there's possibly more to come beyond this initial 10-episode run. Frankly I'd hope it gets more time and episodes to build up the mythos and details of the Demon World. At a bare minimum there is an OVA coming at the end of the year, so if supernatural action is what you're yearning for, you could do a lot worse than Blood Lad, though I'd stick with Soul Eater overall in this type of show. 3/5 from me.

Gatchaman Crowds

What's it (supposedly) about: In a modern, yet futuristic Tokyo, a team of superpowered people in personal armored suits fight evil anomalies to protect the city.

What I just wrote above is basically the same thing I originally read when scouting out shows to watch this season. Combine that with the name Gatchaman, which immediately brings to mind memories of the classic Battle of the Planets/G-Force style Gatchaman of the past and needless to say I had some decent hopes for a fun action romp. What I got, however, felt like something completely different and in my opinion, not for the best. There are some novel ideas at work in this show, especially on the matters of advancements in social media and people's decisions to help their fellow man in a technology driven society, but the core concept here seems far removed from the product we received. The main team of heroes is as loose a collection of people as you can get for a show like this, with none of them really standing out in a positive way. Even the suits the main Gatchaman team have are all completely different from each other in the style and structure, no theme or connecting elements between them at all. The most egregious offender, character-wise, is the show's lead, Hajime. Now let me get something straight here: I absolutely love the energetic, downright crazy girl archetype in most of my media. Haruhi Suzumiya, Harley Quinn, Izzy from the Total Drama franchise and yes, even Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic all rank in as some of my favorite characters to watch. Hajime, however, is probably the first character of this type that really turns me off. It's just the particular eccentric habits of this character that grate on me, like for example, whenever a character calls out to her or tries to get her attention she commonly answers back 'Yes, I'm Hajime!' like either she doesn't know the person calling out to her or the other person doesn't know her. She also tends to get along with random strangers uncommonly easy and vice versa. Normally, silly aspects about characters of this type endear them to me, but not these traits and not this character. Worst of all, the show tend to focus on Hajime's eccentricities for the bulk of the early going of the show, even taking away from the fighting and action to give us an extended scene of Hajime making friends and doing arts and crafts projects with people she randomly met up with on a train through social media. If you wanted to do social commentary on how things like Facebook and Twitter affect modern life, that's fine, I think it's actually a clever idea. Just don't made it a priority in a new entry into a longtime classic action franchise, especially when it keeps the viewer from what they came on board to see: sentai-style superpowered action. I can only muster up a 2.5/5 on Gatchaman Crowds; personally, I dropped this about 4 episodes into its run for lack of action and the annoyance level of Hajime. It may still be worth it for the previously mentioned implementation of social media to the story, but I expected far more from an iconic franchise than that.

Danganropa: The Animation

What's it about: A group of 15 teenagers with different special talents are mysteriously gathered, and subsequently locked inside, a state-of-the-art high school where the only way to escape and graduate is to murder one of their fellow classmates and not get caught.

Based on a visual novel/mystery game of the same name, Danganropa is basically what you'd get if you merged the board game Clue, the Phoenix Wright video games and the movie Battle Royale together. The main character of the show is Naegi, a lucky, optimistic but otherwise normal guy who just got accepted into the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy, the school for the crème de le crème of the high school world. The moment he sets foot on campus, he blacks out and when he comes to, he's assembled up with 14 other talented teens by the bizarre, creepy and silly plush bear/supposed principal of the school named Monobear. The ground rules for graduation are laid down (as mentioned above), the gears of murder and mystery are set in motion and it's up to Naegi and whoever he can align himself with to escape and survive the despair. Now the main reason I backed off from doing this as a full review is simple: it's a mystery story and doing anything in detail would ruin the show more than typical spoilers. In its most basic form, this is the main structure of the series: student get murdered, survivors investigate the crime scene, students have a class trial to determine the culprit, accused gets punished in a crazy yet fitting way to their super awesome talent. The brilliance is in the execution (no pun intended) of that framework with these characters and the motives for murder. At the beginning we get a somewhat disguised scene where in order to motivate the students towards playing his little game of murder, Monobear gives each one a message or video of something or someone they hold dear. We see Naegi's, as he's our protagonist and in the game the player character, but we never know the others. Combine that with the growing friendships and alliances between students, an overarching mystery of how they were trapped inside the school in the first place and the brilliant payoffs for those found guilty, there's a lot to keep the viewer motivated to watch. Another smart touch is that unlike typical shows, there's no 'next episode' preview after the end credits which gives even further incentive and debate as to what will happen next. The characters are varied enough to butt heads or work together nicely, as they take archetypes from all ends of the spectrum of teenagers and works well for this kind of show. We don't need to know everything about a given character for them to work here, just enough to keep us guessing about their motives and understand in some detail their personality. From what I know of the original game, the show follows the exact same plot, so fair warning. If you want to truly experience this story in the most immersive way, I'd seek the game out, but for someone like me who doesn't want to go through all the mess of figuring everything out on their own, this series is well worth a watch. It's well-paced, exciting, and like any good mystery, has enough twists and turns to motivate you to press on. 4/5.

Watamote (No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!)

What's it about: The life of a teenage female social outcast named Tomoko who laments how despite her success in dating sims and online life, she's hopelessly friendless in reality and vows in her own odd way to change that.

And now we've come to possibly the most divisive series I have run into in a long time. The main anime reviewer/writer on Kotaku recently called this show 'the most mean-spirited anime [he'd] ever watched.' Honestly, I wouldn't quite go that far, but it's pretty uncomfortable and awkward to watch in my opinion. Others share my sentiments, others find it hilarious, others still even bond with the awkwardness. But let's get one thing straight: this is not the typical depiction of an obsessed otaku we normally see as a character in modern anime, far from it. This isn't like Konata from Lucky Star whose otaku nature is played for being silly and cute and quirky. Tomoko is basically all of the horror stories we were warned of before getting into our own nerdy hobbies and then some. She constantly has deep bags under her eyes from lack of sleep, she has an extremely pessimistic view of the people around her, frequently calling her peers unsavory names in her own internal monologue, has a crippling level of social anxiety so severe that she makes a personal victory out of being able to order fast food, for example, and constantly has life dump misfortune on top of misfortune upon her head. Now I've always believed in the concept that humor is a subjective thing and that there is no one joke or moment that is funny to everyone, but this is certainly not something I end up laughing at or feel anything outside of an odd mix of sympathy and awkwardness. I both want to help Tomoko, but realize, even at just being a teenager, she may be too far gone to help her get out of her warped mindset. There's being an introvert and then there's her. In the end, that's all this show is: a slice of a life we don't usually see portrayed in anime boiled down to its most exact and frankly unpleasant detail. I guess the only other thing I can really say is that it's at least important to give Watamote a shot. Who knows, you may find it funny in a schadenfreude kind of way, you could bond with it if you've been on the wrong side of the cruel hand of fate, or you could be like me and find it overrated and not funny. One final thing, the opening sequence and music are probably the most interesting thing I can find related to this show; though it really doesn't fit with the subject matter, outside of a lyric or two, it still rocks pretty hard and makes me wish it was being used for some psychological trip into the mind of a serial killer or something. But it's not. 2/5.

There's one last series I want to talk about from this season before I get absorbed into the massive blob of shows that makes up the fall anime season (49 shows!), but I actually want to give it the full review treatment, mainly because it's deserving of it and also deserves to be called my favorite anime of Summer 2013. Get ready to learn the science of the heart when next time, President Dog Takes On... Love Lab.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Kim Possible: A Retrospective, Part 1

Hello again everyone and welcome back to another edition of President Dog Takes On... This time around, we're going to be taking a detour from the world of Japanese animation to take a look back at, in my opinion, one of the most well-crafted and fun series of western animation of the past decade: Disney Channel's iconic teen hero action/comedy, Kim Possible. Don't worry, I'll get back to the anime soon, but I just want to change up the pace. Anyway, I digress...

To really get some perspective on the whole history of this show and its significance, we need to go back farther than when our subject today premiered, all the way back to the middle of the 1980s. It was around this time that the Walt Disney Company set their sights on making their first animated series for network television, a realm only previously explored by the company with live-action fare, such as Zorro, The Mickey Mouse Club and the iconic anthology The Wonderful World of Disney. The risk was very high, as at the time the mindset towards television animation was that shows were rather disposable, thus not worth spending substantial amounts of money to produce, even for major networks and their Saturday morning children's blocks. Disney decided to defy the industry's conventional logic, establishing the Walt Disney Television Animation studio in 1984 and soon after creating their first pair of original animated series, Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles (Interestingly enough, the two shows premiered on the same day and time slot on competing networks, NBC and CBS respectively). The shows were small to moderate hits, nothing too spectacular, but it was incentive enough for Disney Television Animation to aim higher. Taking some of their established property, in this case the long-running comic book stories of Donald Duck, his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, as well as Uncle Scrooge, creating original adventures for them and presenting it with their established high standard of animation quality, Disney gave the world DuckTales in 1987 and it was finally the hit the company was looking for on the television front. With the creation of DuckTales, and soon after Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Disney created a base for a programming package of high quality animated series that quickly became a cornerstone of a generation of children throughout the 1990s. For nearly a decade, Disney had shows that were just as iconic as the big budget animated features they were renowned for (some of which eventually became shows of their own, such as Aladdin, Hercules, 101 Dalmatians and a spinoff from The Lion King starring Timon and Pumbaa) and even showed range from episodic comedy shows to full fledged serious action shows like Gargoyles.

Unfortunately, the syndication and network children's programming market began to bog down near the turn of the 21st century with government mandates on providing specific kinds of programming, such as shows required to be educational, thus leading to the reduction or overall elimination of most blocks of animated series on major television networks and their affiliates, The Disney Afternoon, its contemporaries and successors included. In the meantime, and probably just as big a factor in this shift in the programming landscape as what was previously mentioned, the boom of specialty cable networks such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and most specifically in this case, The Disney Channel were in their prime to pick up the slack. One major difference between the channels however was the fact that for much of its lifespan, The Disney Channel was a pay channel along the lines of HBO and Cinemax; cable subscribers either paid a premium for it or didn't have it. This changed in 1999 when in negotiating conditions with cable operators, Disney pressured to either have Disney Channel carried as a basic cable channel or not renew their carriage contracts. Eventually the cable operators relented and Disney Channel was no longer premium fare. Despite this switch, to this day, the channel does not run traditional commercial ads, rather filling in time gaps with other features about their programming and other Disney media mixed with small sponsorship bumps. Around the time of the basic cable transition, Disney Channel began to ramp up their original productions focused on the preteen and teenage demographics, starting first in live-action programming but premiering their first original animated series, The Proud Family, in 2001. However, like the previous initial foray into animation, the initial offering was a mild success at best. It wasn't until June 7, 2002, that Disney Channel would find its equivalent show in terms of breaking ground for the future to DuckTales. That show was Kim Possible.

 Our heroes.

The brainchild of co-creators Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, who previously worked on shows such as the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command spinoff from Toy Story and wrote for several of Disney's direct-to-video sequels, Kim Possible centers around the titular teen hero battling evil, righting wrongs and spanning the globe, all while managing a typical high school life. Well, as typical a life as you can have while having the responsibility of saving the world. Luckily, Kim's not alone in her fight against the forces of evil; Always at her side is her sidekick and best friend (and eventual boyfriend) Ron Stoppable (yes, both Kim and Ron's name are puns and completely intentional), his pet naked mole rat/deus ex machina Rufus and the gadget-building supergenius prodigy Wade. With their help, Kim frequently thwarts the villainous efforts of mad scientists, corrupt billionaires, killer robots, mutated swamp monsters, twisted famemongering debutantes and much, much more, all in time to make it to cheerleading practice. So now that we've established what the show's all about, let's get down to the big burning question: why is this show so much fun? The answers are both simple and complex, so let's break it down.

  1. The characters are well constructed, with strengths and weaknesses, and are able to grow and change over the course of the four seasons of the show. In the case of the main teenage characters of the show, it falls right in line with the four year structure of a typical high school, going from freshmen in season 1 to fully acknowledged seniors in season 4. Breaking it down even further, several episodes give ample character development to our main cast, from Kim knowing her limits in world-saving and in normal life to Ron learning not rely on people and being capable in his own right outside of being a distraction of simply a sidekick on Kim's missions. By season 4 he even uses his skills at running and dodging villainous attacks to become their high school's star running back in football.
  2. The writing compliments the degree of detail the characters receive, while still providing lots of action and comedic moments throughout. It's rare when an action show has a rogue's gallery as entertaining as the main heroes, if not moreso. Case in point is Kim's arch enemy Dr. Drakken and his main henchwoman Shego, who have a dynamic together that's possibly even more enjoyable than Kim and Ron with their over-the-top ideas to take over the world coupled with ample snark and deconstruction of the hero/villain relationship over time. Also, I'm a big fan of a lot of the normal dialogue Ron gets, as they can swing him from simply thinking on a different odd wavelength at teenage life to being a total conspiracy nut at times. He is really the comedic base of the show and gives a lot of the show balance from both the civilian and world-saving angles.
  3. The animation and overall style of the show, while hit or miss in the first season due to using different animation studios, is very flowing and unique. It works well both capturing the grandiose action moments and the more low-key everyday life scenes as well. A lot of that credit goes to character designer Stephen Silver, who also designed the characters for the Clerks animated series and another favorite show of mine form the same time period, Danny Phantom (but that's for another time).

In the end it shows that a lot of love was put into the show from all aspects and the fans returned the love in spades. From its initial premiere on Disney Channel in 2002, it was the highest-rated and most-watched new show in the channel's history, the first episode, “Crush,” was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, and the show as a whole was nominated multiple times for Daytime Emmys, winning once for Outstanding Sound Mixing in 2005. However in February of 2005, after wrapping up its third season and 65 total episodes, it would end production and wrap up with the television movie “So The Drama.” Now I'm sure many of you are wondering about the three season thing when I just spoke about a season 4 not too much earlier. Well, due in large part to a major fan campaign and petition and the overall popularity of the show, Disney Channel decided to bring back Kim Possible for a fourth and final season in 2007, capping the final year of high school for Kim and Ron, ending in their graduation in the two-part finale, also named “Graduation.” Overall, the series ran a total of 87 episodes, including two made-for-TV movies, “A Sitch in Time” and the aforementioned “So the Drama.” That run gave it the honor of the longest running ongoing series on Disney Channel up until very recently when Phineas and Ferb surpassed it. Not a bad legacy for your basic average girl who can do anything.

So with that many episodes making up this series, it may be hard to figure out where to start checking out the show, especially with its overall episodic nature with ongoing parts sprinkled in here and there. For new viewers, I'd suggest starting at the beginning with “Crush” and go on in order from there. Conveniently, Disney has nearly every episode of the series posted on a YouTube channel for everyone's enjoyment here: (EDIT 6/27/14: Sorry folks, link doesn't work anymore, Disney made the playlist private.)

For others who may just want to cut to the chase and see the best and avoid the worst episodes the show has to offer, join me in the next part of this retrospective when President Dog Takes On... The Top 10 and Bottom 10 Kim Possible Episodes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Fantasista Doll (Summer Anime 2013 Part 4)

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... Summer Anime 2013. Recently a certain prominent critic, or guy who plays the character of a critic depending on your view, took a look back at the quintessential icon of the magical girl genre of anime, Sailor Moon. Granted, it was the hacked-to-pieces English dub DIC Entertainment produced (and mostly just the first episode for some reason), but between this, the supposed remake of the former series coming this winter and the subject of today's review, Fantasista Doll, I've been in a bit of a mood to talk about this staple genre of the medium.

For those unfamiliar with the archetype genres of anime, magical girl anime tend to center around a middle-to-high school age girl who, through either an encounter with a magical being or object, is endowed with special powers which they use to fight evil and right wrongs. For such a simple premise, there have been countless variations on the basic formula, adding psychological drama, tragedy, satire, parody and more in with the original elements that make up a show of its kind, though for the most part staying lighthearted and palatable for a variety of ages. In other words it was the fluffy, ineffectual genre looked at mostly as kids' stuff. I do admit that even as a male in his mid 20s I have watched my fair share of this genre and I dare say a few of them were some of the most influential to me in getting into anime as a whole. The previously mentioned Sailor Moon was a staple of my after-school viewing from its days on Cartoon Network's Toonami block and the English version of Cardcaptor Sakura was also high on my radar during its run. 

However, a lot of the more wholesome elements flew right out the window with one show from 2011: Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I won't go too far into the details of it, as just the shock of thinking 'This is actually happening in a magical girl anime?!' is worth the price of admission, but it significantly darkened the genre into something, quite frankly, it shouldn't have been and other shows have since followed suit, leaving me to wonder the fate of the traditional magical girl anime. I'm all for expanding the boundaries of a time-worn genre, but sometimes I just want the genuine article and I don't believe there's anything wrong with making a show like that as long as it has personality and doesn't bore me to death or get me angry watching it.Referring back to the original guide from Kotaku I have been using as inspiration for my choice in this review series, there were three new series of this type: an alternate universe to the Fate/Stay Night series (I'm not familiar with the base series, so that was out), Daybreak Illusion, which looked to me like something along the Madoka Magica line of overly dark and trying to be mature in both subject matter and art style, and Fantasista Doll. Thankfully, the final of the three was just what I needed to scratch my itch, though with a slight, but not too off-course twist.

Unlike my previous entries in this series, Fantasista Doll doesn't come from a big name production studio, which in and of itself could be a blessing for the show. Instead it comes from the relatively recent Hoods Entertainment, which only has a few shows under its belt such as Mysterious Girlfriend X and few scattered OVAs, though they will be producing the upcoming BlazBlue anime in the fall, so it's certainly a group to keep an eye on for the future. For now, let's jump into their most current work.

On a stormy night we find a young girl watching a horror movie, though not really enjoying herself too much and looking pretty scared, clutching a pillow. This is our main character Uzume, who will find out much more about after the opening scene. Meanwhile, in a mysterious building, we see a figure opening a cabinet revealing a row of glowing cards with silhouettes on the faces of them. Interspersed with more of Uzume watching her movie, the figure runs and drops the cards, spilling them onto the dirty floor and giving the viewer a better look at the silhouettes, revealing the outlines of female figures on them. Now between the juxtaposed scenes here, only one is actually important to the show and it's not too hard to guess which, though the scene with Uzume running scared from the movie into the bathroom and screaming after running into her sister was pretty funny. Can't say that something similar hasn't happened to me personally, though with was never as a result of a movie. 

 Oh, these figures couldn't be anything important, could they?

Anyway, onto the opening sequence and along with it, the first thing that really grabbed me about this show: the theme. I have to say, I'm a bit of a sucker for choirs in opening themes for anime, even if the contribution is minor. The choir part of the opening for Sunday Without God was the only part that I enjoyed of that theme and it fits the tone of that show overall. In this theme for Fantasista Doll, it's really the hook to its chorus (and the first words of the song) that, at least in my case, gets me excited for the show to come. It's a simple as saying the name of the show, but it's effective. The song from there has a slightly harder edge than your typical upbeat magical anime, with a well-placed guitar riff mixed into its core that lifts it up back into that earworm of a chorus. I admit it's not profound music by any means, but it's just an infectious sound that sets a fun tone for a show of this type. Throw in a few nice action scenes and even what looks like a little Sailor Moon tribute at the end and it's a nicely well-rounded opening.

We start out the first episode proper with a small flashback to a young Uzume playing a card game that bears a striking resemblance to Magic: the Gathering (a personal pastime of my own) in a big tournament and landing the deciding play to win. But in the current time, our heroine has overslept in typical magical girl heroine fashion and runs to get ready and head out the door to another day of school. Of course getting dirty looks from rude businessmen and getting squished like a sardine on the train don't make for a pleasant morning either.

 Uzume, it could be a whole lot worse for a girl your age in this situation. Just grin and bear it.

However, on that train a stranger grabs Uzume's bag and pulls it back into the train cab, but we never see who or what happens to it and neither does she, so she lets it slide until she finds an odd, ornate cell phone-looking device in her bag. 

During one of her classes, the image a of a blonde haired girl appears on her notebook out of the corner of her eye and we see other girls of different colors around other parts of the classroom, though no one else can see them. Uzume thinks she's just seeing things again and goes on with the rest of her day, getting asked to join a card game club in the process by one of her classmates, citing her tournament prowess and dropping a fun, more direct reference to Magic.

 I love little nods to things like this, though it always makes me wonder what a MTG anime would be like.

Later on, as she's getting ready for a tennis game, Uzume is startled by a rattling of the locker room door and a mysterious hand trying to grab her. She dashes off in fear and hides in a closet, calling out for help. Just then, an unknown, somewhat robotic voice calls out that it could be of assistance and out of desperation, Uzume accepts, though for some reason this 'entry process' requires everything from the typical name and blood type information, to favorite foods and the age when she had her first crush. 

 But after all that, a light flashes from her pocket and the newly acquired phone device and from it a girl appears, calling Uzume her master. This is Sasara, the first of Uzume's newly acquired team of Fantasista Dolls and well... she has a little bit of an attitude problem. Of course I'd be irritated a bit as well if I was just in my skivvies for the first meeting of this kind, but that's beside the point. 

After that, another girl, dressed in the same school uniform as our heroine, enters, summons her own ninja-like doll and attacks Uzume and Sasara, the latter trying to protect against the ninja doll while Uzume tries to escape. The chase leads to the school gym where Sasara finally gets equipped to fight after teaching her master how to properly summon her dolls. Apparently inside the card collecting phone device they keep all of the clothes and equipment for the dolls in giant bullet trains. Go figure. 

Anyway, with Sasara fully equipped, we really down to business into an excellent, but short fight scene, between her and the ninja doll. Flips, dueling on top of a balance beam, flying kicks into one of those vault horse thing (I seriously don't know the proper name of it), it packs in a lot of action in a short amount of time. Uzume even gets in on the action, inadvertently, by headbutting the ninja doll out of panic. 

After defeating the girl and the ninja, Sasara explains that there are evil forces out to get her and the rest of her group of dolls and that as her master, Uzume is their only hope to keep them out of harm's way. Obviously this is a lot for a young girl to take in all at once, so she's hesitant at first and asks for more time to truly decide. Later that night, Uzume meets the other dolls under her service, though they make it kind of tough for her to take her bath, as they all want one too. One thing to keep in mind with the dolls: they aren't just holograms or digital representations of beings. When summoned they take on physical forms, though they are somewhat tethered to the summoning device of their master. However, even though they're meant to serve their master, they won't do everything on command and have a certain level of free will, such as Sasara coming out of the summoner at will and the dolls giving some resistance when Uzume wants to use them to do her homework and clean her room. 

But after some talking out their misunderstandings and filling in the gaps of the whole master/doll relationship that Sasara neglected to mention during the entry process, Uzume thanks her for coming to her defense and risking injury for her sake. This touches the dolls deeply; they had never been directly thanked for their actions by their master before, though they thank Uzume in return for allowing them to be free once more and under the guidance of a master again. Just then, she receives a phone call from a strange man named Lord Rafflesia, congratulating her for forming a bond with the dolls and tossing a bouquet of flowers to her from her bedroom window. We then see another mysterious figure, this time all in white with a cape standing on top of a telephone poll. Apparently, he is the one who bestowed upon Uzume the summoner and the dolls in hopes that she would become a great master. Plus I can't help but mention he bears a resemblance to Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon, just needing a bunch of roses to really seal the look. 

Beyond the first episode, the series the goes on to give each of Uzume's dolls a focus in the next handful of episodes respectively, which gives us time to get to know their personalities and abilities more in depth than what we ever could have in the opening episode. I personally enjoy when shows take this level of time to dedicate to character development, most notably when Soul Eater did it for each of the main groups that made up their ensemble cast, which in essence is what we have here as well.  Along with the spotlight on each doll, Uzume gets a lot of growth as a character too, starting as a bit of a scaredy-cat in the beginning but growing more and more confident as things go along, as well as getting more knowledge on the world of her dolls and others that have them. For those main reasons, I didn't want to go too much further into the show from the first episode, despite the fact it leaves this review a little shorter and less detailed than previous entries. I encourage you to go farther and look at the next five episodes if this show sounds appealing; by then the cast is much more fleshed out, the plot ongoing and the setting more three-dimensional. I will say that the dolls have a nice mix of energy and personality and are thoroughly pleasant to watch, whether just being funny, experiencing the world around them or getting into brawls with other dolls. The animation's solid once again, no real complaints on that front, but nothing too spectacular. It does get points for being so crisp from a relatively new production company (roughly 3 years old as far as I can find), but it's nothing that will set your world on fire. Echoing my sentiment on the opening, the music when noticeable is solid as well, though the ending theme may be slightly too sugary sweet for most people as well as the visuals that go with it. I can forgive that since it's a very female-heavy show in its cast and all, but it is worth giving a heads-up just in case.

Overall, if you took Cardcaptor Sakura, modernized it and threw it in a blender with a Magic: the Gathering deck, you'd probably end up with Fantasista Doll... and a very nasty, gummed up blender. I give the show a 3.5 out of 5 though it can go up closer to a 4 depending on how much of a fan of the genre you are and how deep you like to get into knowing the characters. It's not truly remarkable by any means, but it's very solid for what kind of show it is and sometimes that's all I really want in a show. Fantasista Doll airs its simulcast on Sundays at 2:30 PM on Crunchyroll. Next time, it's going to take more than a clue and your best Phoenix Wright impression to escape this school alive. President Dog Takes On... Danganropa: The Animation.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Coming Soon to President Dog Takes On...

Hello everyone, just wanted to give a heads-up to a few of the future entries of the blog coming up.

  • First of all, as I said at the end of the Sunday Without God review, the next entry in the Summer Anime 2013 series is for Fantasista Doll. Beyond that, I intend to review the shows Danganropa: The Animation and Blood Lad, though which one I tackle first has not been decided.  
  • Next, I may do an entry in the near future as a few quick hits on some of the rest of the season's offerings, depending on the amount I have to talk about each series. Not a definite idea, but possible. 
  • Finally, and most important of all, I will be doing a special entry for Otakon 2013, showing and summarizing some of the highlights of the convention. Please note this will be a much different kind of entry as it will be even more visually based than normal. That means plenty of pictures and maybe even some video, depending on time and capability. I do have responsibilities that take precedent over gathering content for this blog while I'm there, but I will do my best to put together a little special something.
Last, a note directly from me: I would love to have people spread the word about my blog and share the love and opinions expressed here with as many as I can. Please share, tweet and spread the site to anyone who could be interested! I can't get better unless people know and read what I write and I'm just one dog here.

So in closing, that's what you should come to expect over the next few weeks or so and I hope everyone reading enjoys it!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Sunday Without God (Summer Anime 2013 Part 3)

Hello again and welcome back to President Dog Takes On... continuing my series on the anime of Summer 2013. Remember how in my introduction to this blog I stated 'be prepared to disagree with me?' I've got a feeling this is where it's all going to truly start, so I'm putting my flame shield up for this review, but first a little discussion on a specific element of creativity. Don't worry, I won't try to bore you to death, but I feel it's important to explain myself.

I've talked a lot already about potential in the first two shows I've reviewed, both good and bad and feel that, especially when it comes to first impressions, shows should always have that in mind. The amount of shows I've seen with interesting premises, characterization, settings, plot twists, and the like are more numerous to count, but only a fraction of them truly turn out to be well-executed. Often, the people creating these programs either forget to act upon good ideas when it can be beneficial or play all their cards right from the start. Committing either one of these errors makes the given show lose its impact, makes the viewer's interest wane, and thus creative potential is wasted. Granted, the possibilities of any creative piece are limited to those in charge of creating it and no one person can think of every single viable outcome the viewer could see. It's simply unreasonable to the creators to expect a completely thorough assessment of all aspects of a show's potential, though some are better than others. A show with a premise as engaging as today's subject, Sunday Without God, is another unfortunate victim of wasted potential.

As before, we'll start with the production side of things, and yet again, it's from another production studio with a deep pedigree (I swear to you, I'm not ordering these reviews like this on purpose). Madhouse is behind this one and if you haven't heard of them specifically, if you're a fan of the medium, you have certainly heard of their work. Having been around since the 1980s, they began their work on films such as Ninja Scroll and Demon City Shinjuku, but can be most attributed to a vast array of shows that could be considered iconic of their genre. Cardcaptor Sakura, Death Note, Highschool of the Dead, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, the list goes on and on. They've also contributed some of the most classic Studio Ghibli works and provided the opening animation to my own beloved Otakon convention back in 2009, but there will be more time for me to gush over that convention in about two weeks, so expect a special entry about this year's con in the middle of August.

So what is this premise I was alluding to just a few moments ago? It goes a little something like this: In your typical fantasy styled world, God abandoned the entire world. Why is this such a big deal, you may ask? Well, it means, for a reason not completely explained, no one can give birth and no one can die, even if their body is gravely wounded or injured. The only way the supposed dead can rest is with the aid of someone known as a gravekeeper, this world's version of a priest and more prominently, a gravedigger, who uses a specially blessed shovel. Alright, outside of the lack of explanation beyond 'God left, just up and left,' it sounds pretty decent, but seriously, the Almighty didn't even call the pope and tell him He had ladies' polio or something? Anyway, I digress. That setup does seem like we'd have some medieval shovel-on-zombie head action upcoming, so let's jump into the first episode. 

We start out with both an albino looking guy in black walking into a village and a small girl who we can assume by the shovel is a gravekeeper, doing what else but digging graves. The girl is Ai, our main character and her villages' gravekeeper. I certainly like her design, from her big, sunburst looking hat to her somewhat steampunk looking outfit, she is a nicely designed character who looks like she'd be a sweet, fun little protagonist in a world as described before. The albino looking guy, however, is where this show hits its first major stumbling block. Ai and the man in black immediately have a dramatic standoff as soon as we see them meet in the town square; apparently the entire population of the village is dead and he is the one responsible.

However, the albino begs to differ saying all he did was get the villagers to stop moving and that actually killing them is a gravekeeper's job. Now in the context of the this show I guess that would make sense, but the aspect of this that really begins to stick in my craw personally is the conceit in his voice, which even Ai cannot accept and begins to attack him with her shovel. And then this happens...

Not cool, man. Not cool.

Yes, the guy pretty much punts a 12 year old girl. Dude, you are not doing yourself any favors in this review by any means. We then get some more explanation on how Ai became a gravekeeper after her mother's death, taking up her mantle and shovel at just the age of 7 and from them on watched over the village and dug graves for each of the people to prepare for the day she would have to lay them to rest. At least she seems to be handling the responsibility positively, so that's a plus.

 This face won't last long.

With that established we go on to the opening sequence, which, outside of the opening cathedral choir singing, is somewhat unremarkable. The song becomes a rather generic rock song, not particularly hard, accompanying various characters (some we still haven't met and won't for a while) looking depressed or emo as scenery and set pieces pass by. Hardly anything really stands out besides the initial choir at the beginning of the song...

 Some of the few parts of this opening that aren't being generic or emo. Kind of hard to find.

...and for some reason, the presence of what's basically a Volkswagen bus with Ai inside riding past the viewer near the end. It amazing how one small detail like that can throw off the time scale of an entire show and feel completely out of place (We do eventually see where the bus comes from by the time episode 4 comes, but it still throws off the overall atmosphere of the fantasy setting of the series).

Seriously, there are fossil fuels in this fantasy world?!

Back with the story again, we get another 'explanation' of the whole 'God created everything then bailed' situation, which is to be pointed out as more efficient than the tradition Bible version of the creation of the earth in the book of Genesis by taking five days instead of six, resting on day six and then, in the shows' terms, forsaking the world on the seventh. Apparently one day a giant flash of light spoke to the whole world saying that both Heaven and Hell were too full and soon the earth would be as well. 

Sounds like our divine creator wasn't a very good long-term planner, and thus people stopped dying, giving birth and basically turned into zombies when they were supposed to die naturally. To be fair, it takes about as much faith as normal religion to believe a story and setup such as this, but if this is all the show establishes for how the world works, it's a bit hard to swallow. At least we get a cute little scene with the villagers welcoming Ai back into town and giving her tons of sweets. 

From here we see that said village has pretty much adopted her, giving her a place to stay and people to look after her, since she's still a kid, even with all the pressure and responsibility she has to burden. One day, Ai finishes digging the last grave for her village and decides to go back and see if anyone else needs her help but returns to find the village abandoned. Trying to find someone, she runs into the man in black from the opening scene, quite literally, who whips out a pistol and points it at her. Once again, such a charming and rational character we have here, don't you agree? 

Only place I've seen such a reaction to running into a stranger like that is in downtown Baltimore. And not the good parts.

After he backs off and Ai introduces herself as the gravekeeper of the area, the albino man asks her, in a rather odd robotic way, if she knows of a woman name Hana. Ai can't recall anyone of that name or the type he describes, but before he leaves she asks him his name, which he introduces himself as Humpnie Humbert, the Man-Eating Toy, which happens to be the name she recalls as her father's according to what her later mother told her. The man in black denies being her father, saying he looks far too young and doesn't fit what Ai imagined her father looking like either, but Ai is still sure that the man is her father by intuition alone. However, her joy quickly turns as Humbert asks her for a favor as a gravekeeper and returns us to the opening scene, showing that everyone in the village is dead from what appears to be numerous rounds of gunfire including Ai's caretakers. The fight from said opening scene ensues and we skip ahead to Ai using those conveniently pre-dug graves she made for the villagers a bit earlier than she expected, interspersed with her grief and rage at Humbert saying that her father would never commit such a horrible act. 

Of course it doesn't help Humbert's case when he accuses Ai of not really being a gravekeeper, calling her a 'weirdo' and God an 'asshole,' and basically saying that everything Ai knew of her life was either a lie or fabrication; even his name isn't really his, he stole it from a toy. Our protagonist truly sums it up well with one short phrase... 

 My thoughts exactly.

Humbert then says that if Ai was actually a gravekeeper she'd be unemotional, bear no ill will towards others or desire to attack others, which she clearly is not, being on the verge of both rage and tears. Honestly, you try keeping a straight face after being told everything you know is wrong by the guy who just killed everyone you held dear. Not exactly a walk in the park.

After the reveal of another gravekeeper coming out of the shadows, that's the end of the episode. Needless to say, not really the most riveting start to a new show. The ending technically starts over the last minute of the show with the end credits and music starting to roll just as Ai world begins to crumble, which just feels distasteful and doesn't give the ending a fair amount of respect, even with the state of confusion the show has crafted. The song itself is a slow, melancholic piece that get paired with another shot of the overall cast, just panning from top to bottom, once again succeeding in being very generic. 

 Again, not cool. The scene's already screwed up emotionally, at least go with it without covering it up with the ending music.

As for the characters, I think my attitude towards 'Humpnie Humbert' came through over the course of explaining things, but let me sum it up: he's a douche. Aloof, cruel, and clearly has no ounce of compassion, especially towards Ai. The punt and the gun drawing moment speak enough towards that. Ai, on the other hand, definitely gets some sympathy for basically having her life and dreams crushed and being a young, sweet looking girl with a ton of baggage on her shoulders. More focus on her and much less involving the dick in the black jacket would go a long way in making this show better. And just because I dislike this character this much, small spoiler incoming: Humbert really is Ai's father, was immortal up until the end where much to my delight, he finally gets killed at the end of the third episode. Good riddance to you for keeping the plot from getting started for three whole episodes. It's truly bad where in a scene when said character is captured by a marauding gang that I'm actually hoping that the gang finally puts and end to him and only gets worse when in the end they story wants us to sympathize with him and his plight of being immortal. Sorry, the only one I'm sympathizing with is the little girl you've threatened, traumatized and nearly killed, not to mention destroying her entire world and mindset. We do eventually meet a few more permanent characters by that third episode though: Yuri, a childhood friend of Humbert who sought revenge on him for destroying his wife after she had turned undead, and Scar, the silent, emotionless gravekeeper we briefly saw at the end of the first episode. After the events of episode 3 the show finally starts going as it should and could possibly get back to that potential version of the show, but at this point it's beginning to lose my personal interest. Considering most brand new shows from Japan work on a 12 to 13 episodes run to start, this show basically wasted its first quarter doing nothing but setting up a motive for Ai to begin her adventure, something that could've been done much quicker, easier and without the aggravation of such a terrible character fueling it.

One other point I have to bring up is the art style of this show, one aspect in particular. As you can see from the screen shots I've scattered throughout this review, the show has an aesthetic where it constantly appears to be either sunrise or sunset from the use of light, colors and shadows. At first, it's a nice visual touch, especially on the more expansive shots of scenery, but after a while it begins to get grating. Even the scenes where it's night or when it tries to be bright daylight, there's a constant annoying lens flare coming from any possible reflective surface and it grows distracting very quickly. It lessens how crisp the animation and art in general should look, despite a high amount of ambition clearly put into the art itself.

Overall, Sunday Without God has a good idea and a good show buried in it somewhere, but it appears to be trapped under a lack of motivation in its pacing, stylish yet distracting artwork, an extremely crippling main cast member and a plot and lore with far more questions than answers. I can only give this show a 2.5 out of 5, the extra half a point going toward holding out some semblance of hope that the show can pull itself up to the lofty expectations something with such a high-minded plot would set for itself. If you truly want to see what all my fussing is about, Sunday Without God is simulcast of Tuesday afternoons on Crunchyroll. Next time, we take a look at a show that has, at least in my mind, revitalized a classic anime genre from the depths of its attempts to be something it's not. Suit up, shuffle up, and watch out for traps. President Dog Takes On... Fantasista Doll.

Monday, July 22, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Dog and Scissors (Summer Anime 2013 Part 2)

Hello again and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... continuing the look at summer 2013's new crop of anime. This time around we've got a doozy, probably my favorite show so far of the entire lot and it doesn't waste any time getting good, so get your head out of that summer reading and let's dive into reviewing Dog and Scissors. As with my previous review of Stella Women's Academy, I'm going to basically summarize the first episode and add my own remarks here and there, so once again, advance warning for spoilers.

Oddly enough on the production side, this series comes to us from the studio GONZO, and no, it has nothing to do with the weird blue Muppet of the same name. Rather, this studio is made up of former staff members from Gainax (a coincidence in my choices to be assured), whose lineup of previous works also speaks for itself, given its short span of existence in producing full animated series and OVAs. Hellsing, Full Metal Panic!, Welcome to the NHK, Rosario + Vampire and the Toonami classic Blue Submarine No. 6 are just a few of their previous creations. This studio was also highly involved in the animated sequences for the Lunar series of RPGS, Blazblue and Super Street Fighter IV, which I have all highly enjoyed, and even the music video for Linkin Park's song "Breaking the Habit." So needless to say, another studio with an excellent pedigree for their newest creation to live up to, so let's see how it holds up. 

The first episode begins with books, a big wall of them, and a girl all in black writing at a desk. On the floor next to her is a small dachshund dog with another book, seemingly reading.

 All of a sudden the girl turns to the dog and says “Hey, why don't you try dying for me?”

… okay, what?

The dog even reacts in your typical anime rage-mark-on-head fashion and... TALKS BACK TO HER.

Okay... WHAT?!

Something is very odd here to say the least, but don't worry, the rest of the first episode will explain it. We quickly get the impression that the girl is pretty morbid and sadistic by her thoughts and her dog, getting past the method it's communicating to her, is a pretty snarky son of a bitch (no pun intended). He quickly shuts up however when the girl whips out a pair of scissors (from a holster on her thigh, no less) and begins to try and stab him. 

It actually turns into kind of a funny fight scene, with the dog dodging each attempted stab and getting chased by the girl around her room. I do have to note that the room overall is very visually appealing between its rows of books, plants and different colors and patterns. As the dog is getting chased, our narration begins explaining how the dog, named Kazuhito, loves books and up until very recently was a... human?

Once again... WHAT?!?!

Like I said, this will all get explained as we go on, but this opening scene establishes pretty quickly how crazy this show can get. And trust me, this is a good, entertaining kind of crazy, which gets reinforced by the opening sequence and music. Suffice it to say, it would be hard for me to describe this in any rational thought bit by bit, but I'll just sum it up with pictures. Tons of bright colors, characters dancing in dog and cat ears, characters dancing like dogs and cats, there's even barking worked into the opening theme! It really is a lot of fun and establishes a mood very quickly that Dog and Scissors is going to be a silly fun ride from the start. 

(EDIT 8/21: I finally figured out how to embed videos into these posts, so enjoy the craziness of this intro in its entirety.)

Anyway, the story begins with Kazuhito, still as a human, running to his favorite bookstore where he fills up a pretty sizable bag of new books. So okay, he likes to read, a lot of us do. Flash forward to him arriving to his apartment. Outside of a small futon, every available surface from the floor up to the ceiling is stacked with books. Kazuhito's narration even explains how he didn't want to move with the rest of his family in fear of delays on the release dates of his books. Okay, this has clearly gone from innocent pastime to crippling hording and obsession very quickly. Oh well, people could always be obsessed with worse things...

He then begins to profess an appreciation for his favorite author, Shinobu Akiyama, a very famous up-and-coming author who has gripped the populace harder than J.K. Rowling ever did with the Harry Potter books and in every genre under the sun, also. Kazuhito mentions specifically a series the author wrote based on the seven deadly sins that changed his life, noting that the final volume, Lust, has yet to be released and says he couldn't die without reading it. We then see him in a cafe reading Akiyama's latest book, when suddenly a scruffy looking man at the counter pull out a shotgun (kind of excessive, don't you think?), aims it square at the waiter and starts to rob the cafe. 

The robber shouts 'You two over there, stand up!' and aims his shotgun at Kazuhito. He does as he's told, but notices a girl in the other booth (the girl from the opening scene) simply writing. She appears not to notice her surroundings and doesn't see the robber or anyone else around her booth in the cafe, focused solely on her writing. The robber moves closer and closer to her telling her to stand up and getting angrier with every moment of cold shoulder he's receiving from the girl. He then shouts, aims his gun at her and begins to pull the trigger. Kazuhito shouts and charges at the robber, attempting to wrestle the gun away from him; all the while the girl continues to write. He gets knocked to the ground by the robber and the gun aimed right his head. BANG! Kazuhito gets a headshot for all his nobility. Well this is wonderful, we're killing off our main character seven minutes into the first episode. That's got to be close to a record here.

Even after the shot, the girl continues to write, as if the whole scene never occurred in the first place. We fade to black then cut to a brightly colored field of stars with Kazuhito's soul floating and his life flashing before his eyes, all his loved ones and all the books he still hadn't read, including the last Deadly Sin book he pined for earlier. Suddenly in a flash of light a book with the title Lust appears before him. He reaches out for it but it turns into a small dog and sucks him into it.
Books can turn into dogs when you follow the bright light to heaven. That's the power of faith for you.

Somehow, Kazuhito wakes up to see the bars of a cage and an older dark-skinned man with a giant afro. He's of course happy to be alive, knowing he can read again, but begins to question why the afro-man is calling him a dog. Looking around the room, he sees a mirror with the reflection of the dog we saw in the opening looking back at him. Fortunately it doesn't take him long to figure out from there he's actually become the dog. 

After a brief shot of an odd girl in a maid outfit swinging a broom around and a girl in an idol outfit singing on a TV (A.K.A., foreshadowing future characters), we cut back to Kazuhito explaining how he ended up in the pet shop after being found abandoned by the afro-man. He's even accepted being a dog but he begins to throw a fit over not having read a book in a week and has read every single thing there is to read in the pet shop.

The only thing worse to him than getting hit with a rolled-up newspaper is not being able to read it afterwards.

He sees the afro-man reading a book and begs for him to bring it closer, but he just gets food instead. Things start to look bleak for our avid reader-turned-pooch (going by the calendar near Kazuhito's cage it'd been nine whole days) until who should walk into the pet shop but the girl in black, getting a pretty cool, yet ominous floor-to-head pan up, highlighting her scissors and her crimson red eyes, saying 'The protagonist has appeared.' A real nice touch in my book, knowing what her personality is. As she slowly walks up to the counter, her black heeled boots clicking on the floor, all the animals cower in fear. 

She looks at Kazuhito and plainly asks how much he costs to buy. When told by the afro-man Kazuhito isn't for sale, her eyes narrow, she pulls out her scissors and gives the cage a flurry of cuts with an added acrobatic spin and sheathing. Somehow the cage practically explodes (slightly crushing Kazuhito with the roof of it) and she asks again, just as plainly as before, how much for the dog. 

Jump to Kazuhito somehow tied up in a bag by a rope in what looks like the girl's basement. 
Well, that escalated quickly.

Through another little scene of the girl torturing Kazuhito, he discovers that the girl can somehow hear his thoughts and read his mind (but only his, no other animals or anything), thus leading to direct communication and establishing the dialogue between the two for the rest of the series. It turns out of the last few days in the pet shop, our canine protagonist had been calling out to be saved in his thoughts, all of which were heard by the girl, who we finally find out is named Kirihime Natsuno. 

 Apparently, being a woman equals being James Bond.

Kazuhito pines for his luck, between the robbery, the reincarnation and Kirihime, the first of which makes him realize that she is the girl from the cafe he sacrificed his life to save from the robber. The first episode wraps up with some fanservice... 

Kazuhito's discovery of Kirihime's massive library...

Like a man in a desert finding an oasis. 

...setup for the next episode, and one final revelation: Kirihime is actually, by way of using a pen name, Shinobu Akiyama.

The ending theme and music are a bit more subdued than the opening, but in the way a jalapeno pepper would be less spicy than a habanero; there's still something plenty of spice and weirdness to go around. Flying jets shaped like scissors, the blonde idol girl from the foreshadowing moment singing another peppy song and more potential torture for our canine hero. 

 Sometimes a pair of scissors is just a pair of scissors. Other times it's a hypersonic jet. Go figure.
As for our main characters, Kazuhito is a decent enough protagonist, trying to make the best of a ridiculous twist of fate while his love of reading keeps him motivated enough to put up with it all. His wit to the situation unfolding around him definitely keeps the show lighthearted and silly enough for something with this premise. On top of that, I love his design as a dog and he gets very expressive despite his small stature; he even get made into several plush versions of himself for some of the girls in the cast to hug during the end credits. If that's not a sign of a well designed character, I wouldn't know what is.

Kirihime/Shinobu is certainly something else, in both looks and personality. She's an imposing figure to be sure, dressed all in black from head to toe, save for the bit of zettai ryouki we get from her black stockings and her red accents and eyes. Seeing her flash an ill-meaning smile at Kazuhito while inflicting her little tortures on him comes off both cruel and hilarious. Clearly sadistic and focused when we first get to know her, we find out she is actually a very well-rounded person when it comes to different skills outside of her writing, both domestically and in hobbies such as martial arts, all of which go into her writing. 

The dynamic between the two is the centerpiece of the show so far as it expands out into a small mystery in the next few episodes trying to track down the robber from the cafe and whatnot. As of episode 3 it's still building the cast up a bit, so I can't comment too much beyond our main pair here, but from what I've seen it's bound to get even crazier once we mix more in (Keep an eye out for Kirihime's book editor and the idol girl I've mentioned previously if you decide to check this out). Art style, animation and music are all solid (both the opening and ending themes are catchy as previously mentioned), as well as the pace of the story. No big issues with characterization so far, like in the last review of Stella Women's Academy, so that also bodes well. The only downside I've seen so far is that the series will only be 12 episodes long, but if the quality stays consistent or even goes up it won't be a big factor. Overall, Dog and Scissors gets a 4.5 out of 5 for me, with positive potential to grow on top of that as the show progresses. The show airs on Mondays in Japan and simulcast the same day on Crunchyroll.

Next time, unfortunately, they can't all be winners. Bring out your dead, folks, they aren't getting livelier. President Dog Takes On... Sundays Without God.