Basing a series on a tyre-slashing, out of work bum who attempts to pay off his debts through high-stakes gambling might not sound like the most auspicious character to use; however that's exactly what Kaiji does and even at the ends of society, the show exudes a manly fragrance that's hard to shift. Dense with dialogue, the first three episodes are a tense, sometimes tortured look at a man pushed to the edge.
the questionable morality of obtaining money through gambling is offset by the work the protagonist puts in to win it
To say that the series is heavy on confabulation would be an understatement; most all of the introductory episodes are taken up with overwrought monologues either from the narrator, the delightful Fumihiko Tachiki, or from Itou Kaiji's many foes describing everything from what happened in the last episode to the byzantine logic used to win the most recent gamble; it's initially comical but surprisingly, rarely feels protracted. While most of the monologues are posturing and chest-beating, each episode is pocked with tiny victories and defeats which keep things moving along to what can only be hoped is a monumental climax. What the series lacks in visceral action is more than made up for by the most animate of faces; each one able to convey a range of emotion above and beyond what's ordinarily expected of anime characters. Only the most tertiary of characters are left stoically straight-faced yet even then the art style adds volumes to what could have been merely perfunctory.
Describing microbes and bacteria as "cute" or "adorable" is not something one ever expects to do, but this is just one of the plethora of things Moyashimon manages to achieve without being overbearing or trite. With only a petite eleven episodes to play with, the first three are wryly amusing, frequently educational and, ironically for a show with a starring cast of fungus, remarkably fresh.
the first episode is surprisingly gruesome, featuring a seal carcass filled with deceased sea-birds
When the central characters of a show are the sons of sake and yeast producers, a mole-like professor with a perchance for sucking the bowels of fermenting sea-birds and a rocker-chick graduate student who is frequently treated as a missing persons case, the show is either going to be very weird or weirdly excellent. Moyashimon tends more towards the latter than the former and focuses on a young man, Tadayasu Sawaki, who can see, hear and interact with microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Far from the black-and-white electron microscope visions of these that we're used to, the microbes Sawaki sees are anthropomorphised versions, all bright colours and huge grins, they squeak and chatter about their business in a charmingly jaunty way.
That is the smell of familiarity; tried-and-tested, often copied but rarely bettered, it's the smell of all-girl school comedy. Treading in the territory of giants such as Azumanga Daioh and recently Lucky Star, Minami-ke has had the bar set very highly for it. Whether you enjoy the slice-of-life monotony or the genuine, sometimes slapstick humour, the series has a lot going for it. However its real test will certainly be whether it can maintain such a standard throughout its run.
the boisterous and unfortunately less than intelligent Kana whose antics oscillate between charming and tiresome
Attempting to mix-up the formula somewhat, Minami-ke not only introduces a select number of male characters (currently only one) but breaks up the ordinary three sister group dynamic into home and school life, the latter of which is split across three different age ranges and subsequently three different schools. This is a superb move as it highlights one of the primary sources of humour for the series: age difference. In the first three episodes alone there are numerous times when Chiaki, the youngest, innocently asks about a topic ("weird activities" being the most prolific) while Kana, the hyperactive middle child, blithely continues rambling and Haruka, the eldest, is left to blush and to try and change the topic. It's not a great change from the otaku-tinged chattering of Lucky Star or the off-the-wall dialogues in Azumanga but it works by at once being age-specific while highlighting that there isn't any fundamental difference in what the different groups talk about.
It would be easy to be confused as to just where exactly Blue Drop sits in terms of genre if one went by the first three episodes: perhaps the all-girl school histrionics would give some indication, but juxtaposed with operatic science fiction it would seem that maybe the series is trying to tell a different, as yet, hidden story touching on old Gundam favourites such as the horrors of war or its effect on children. Blue Drop actually occupies the secret third option and the hint lies in the source manga's genre: yuri.
The quiet, fringe-afflicted girl shows up in an entirely out-of-place outfit consisting of a leotard crossed with navy regalia
This divulgence is able to put a lot of the introductory material into context, and while it certainly doesn't contain anything near the raunchy material of the manga, Blue Drop still seems uncertain as to who the series is aimed at. The character design is less than stellar, it seems that clichés are born and bred in the school the central characters attend and the animation does nothing to compensate for this, instead the aesthetics feel washed out and less than enticing. Development is restricted to the protagonist only, and the revelation that her nemesis is captain of a futuristic underwater craft comes across as more underwhelming than it was perhaps meant to. So with the interpersonal relationships and sexual content that series should have inherited from its parent missing, and the other typical trappings of the yuri genre absent, the question of what exactly the series offers becomes difficult to answer.
Bamboo Blade seems, upon first glance, a very ambivalent series at least in its introductory episodes. It never seems to know whether to settle in as a light-hearted school drama with kendo or a straight-faced kendo drama with school fluff (or a kendo face school with light fluff drama). On the one hand is the irredeemable captain who's only current goal is to win a bet and subsequently obtain free food for a year, and on the other is a sadistic and despicable antagonist whose callous disregard for fair-play and sanity is cause for discomfort. The twenty six episode series could swing either way however if the series retains its indecisiveness, it may very well even out at wearisome.
it is hard to shake the feeling that this is simply a by-the-numbers seinen show that is willing to run its course
Bamboo Blade eschews common first episode clichés by maintaining a languid and predictable pace that carries over to the subsequent two. Favouring character development over ground-breaking story, the first episodes have yet to introduce all the members of the five girl kendo team; instead there are solid introductions to the eclectic group. The characters are neatly skewed from their apparent archetypes: the quiet introvert harbours a naive and childish sense of justice ordinarily championed by sentai characters; the supposedly prim and proper looker of the group is girlfriend to the most unlikely of boys and has a mean vigilante streak to her; while the enigmatic fourth member seems interminably insane. The most tiresome of characters, a blonde firecracker, is thankfully the one also given the least attention while instead the cookie-cutter teacher (whose likeness to Yuuichi Tate from Mai-HiME is uncanny) is left to propel events along.