Or “it’s halfway through the new season and I still can’t think of much to say about these shows.”
One of the odder bits of history for me is that the original series of Infinite Stratos broke me out of a slump with anime that had, until then, lasted for several months. It was brain-dead entertainment with few, if any, redeeming features and I was happy to assign watching it as aberrant behaviour. After all the story just ends without conclusion or explanation which isn’t surprising when it is the epitome of the harem setup; but whatever the first anime series did half-heartedly, the second (with the oh-so confusing title, Infinite Stratos 2) does with ferociously awful gusto.
Not content with five girls all chasing the sole male, Ichika, two more are added (sisters, natch) and join the queue for wooing the dunderheaded lead. After all, this isn’t the story of a boy being able to pilot a heavily armed mechanical exoskeleton when only girls have been able to do it before. This isn’t even the story of a secret shadowy organisation trying to do… something nefarious. It’s about five, then seven, sexually frustrated girls trying to impose their own vision of lusty romance onto a boy whose obliviousness to their overtures borders on the mentally deficient. All the pesky and sporadically engaging CG combat just gets in the way of cooking for him! Or celebrating his birthday! Or going on play dates with him! Or just outright chasing him!
Screenshots aren’t going to sell you on the latest Yozakura Quartet anime: Hana no Uta (Song of Flowers). The borderline lazy and haphazard line work and wildly varying character styles between episodes will be enough to turn anyone with a jaded artistic eye away. If you actually watch it though, well the animation still errs on the side of janky, but aesthetic issues tend to ebb away when it becomes clear how refreshingly playful the thirteen episode series is.
This starts with a cast that is comprised of nothing less than a cat-eared telepath, a pair of terrifyingly strong ogre siblings, a half-demon who can summon objects with just a word and a nurse descended from Dr Frankenstein. Eclectic to say the least and the kind of barely restrained bedlam that constitutes interplay within the core group can range from dancing to a Wii fitness game during a town meeting to mock battles overseen by a lackadaisical town spirit.
The recent airing of the second series of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls poses the question of why the stylish but lacklustre first season was deemed worthy of a sequel, but also conjures up the spirit of genre stalwarts such as the long running Sekirei and Ikkitousen franchises - each series with a more ridiculous alliterative subtitle than the last - as well as one-offs such as Tenjho Tenge. The specific taxonomy of these series is usually spread between "fantasy", "martial arts" and the all-encompassing "fan service" categories, but works equally well as just "fighting fanservice" (FF).
With a few exceptions, the entire point of these series is to group voluptuous girls together so they can beat seven shades of tar out of one another, usually with disastrous consequences for their clothing and decency. Twice tickling the lizard brain for those who are titillated by such things then: violence and sex. Tweak the variables from breasts to blood though and you have horror (see Blood-C, Elfen Lied, Ga-Rei Zero etc.). Catering to base desires though doesn't leave a lot of room for story or character development with many of the plot lines and episodic stories simplistic even if they were in a children's Saturday morning cartoon and utterly worthless for anything other than hurtling the cast from one arena to the next.
Ben-to is completely crackers. And, for a while, you can believe it knows how crackers it is. Then it runs out of steam and its concept can no longer sustain what is already pretty flimsy.
It's in good company with the likes of Tenjou Tenge and Ikkitousen which take a similarly flippant view to the high-school brawler genre, populating their casts with impossibly buxom ladies. Here proportions are fast and loose with one recurring character - charmingly known only as "Brunette" - only ever shown from the neck down and waist up.
Obnoxious, but typifies the opening episodes which trudge through the regular tropes of harem building and "must get stronger" mentality from the protagonist. The story of bored students fighting over discount bento boxes is completely absurd, likely borne from a creatively blocked writer witnessing a minor scuffle one evening in a convenience store and spinning it out. From there it's only a short mental hop to the grandiosely titled "wolves" who value guts and glory over smart thinking, through to the lesser dogs or the belligerent boars.