Or “it’s halfway through the new season and I still can’t think of much to say about these shows.”
The formula is all too familar: alien lands on earth, befriends local youth and romantic hijinks ensue. The opening episodes of Asobi ni iku yo! do nothing to tweak this formula beyond adding cat-ears and a tail to the buxom interplanetary interloper. The recent Ano Natsu de Materu at least kept things clean, here the feline Eris is disrobed and in the protagonist's bed within minutes. Seconds later and the domineering childhood friend arrives (how inconvenient!) and the quiet and traditional Japanese beauty follows shortly afterwards.
Those who, somewhat rightly, switch off after those episodes though would be missing what turns out to be a surprisingly entertaining romp through science fiction of old and a locale less travelled: Okinawa.
I should know better really, I do it every year. The summer or autumn anime season rolls around and my interest in keeping up week-on-week ebbs as quickly as the long nights. It doesn't so much break a habit as press pause on a lifestyle, leaving other hobbies and interests fill the vacuum.
A lot can be said for a good story well told. Ano Natsu de Matteru rockets into the romance genre with a concept that by all rights should be weary from overuse, but is instead energised by likeable characters and a story that is impassioned and dramatic with little triteness.
Not surprising really given the talent behind almost every facet: the director has past triumphs with Toradora!, Ano Hi Mita Hana and A Certain Scientific Railgun, the writer is the same person responsible for Please! Teacher and music is provided by the imitable I'VE SOUND group including opening lyrics penned by none other than alumni KOTOKO - it's like getting the band back together. The creators indelible fingerprints are everywhere, whether it's the cerulean skies and over-saturated greenery encapsulating a youthful summer or the skilful manipulation of character affections and steady meting out of drama; to say it was well produced would be doing it a disservice.
Following up the critically acclaimed and astoundingly brilliant The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was never going to be an easy prospect but with a timbre shift sure to cement Mamoru Hosoda's role as a world-class director, Summer Wars proves to be a worthy successor both creatively and aesthetically. Taking the fluidity Madhouse gifted his previous film with, the animation is dialled up until innumerable characters are all raucously moving at once - breathing, laughing, talking and living on screen. Pomp and flair help avoid the stereotypes that so often go with virtual-world stories and though it still degenerates into a touch typing marathon, the excitable charm it displays throughout elevates it from the standard, tepid blockbuster fare.
Kenji is asked by one of the prettiest girls in school, Natsuki, to help with a summer job; unbeknownst to him however is that her grandmother is soon to be turning ninety and Natsuki has told her family about a fictional fiancé that he must now assume the role of. Travelling out into the countryside around Ueda, he is introduced to the bustling, varied personalities of Natsuki's extended family and the palatial house and grounds that have belonged to the Shinohara clan for generations. In the virtual world of OZ however, a malevolent entity is wreaking untold havoc - shutting down vital utilities and gobbling up user accounts with nobody able to stop it. Inconvenience is only the start when it transpires the entity has a close link with the Shinoharas and it may only be Kenji, Natsuki and other members of the family who can stop real world devastation from occurring.