Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited – 01
I must confess the original Zettai Karen Children didn’t make too much of an impression on me. To the point, in fact, where I don’t remember a whole lot about it except the ESPER angle and three little girls with way too much power. The sequel – or rather, it seems “spinoff” is the term Manglobe is using – looked pretty interesting, though. And this is a studio I always root for, because they tend to handle challenging projects with limited commercial appeal (though I suppose that’s not what they think at the time they decide to produce them).
There’s some minor talent bleed between the ZKC anime and OVA and The Unlimited, and apparently creator Takase Shiina was behind the concept this time as well, but most of the staff is new along with the new studio. I have to say though, my overall impressions are about the same as last time – it’s perfectly competent stuff but it doesn’t seem to have anything special that makes it jump off the screen. You’ve got Suwabe Junichi and Yuusa Kouji playing guys way too young for them, the former Andy Hinomiya, Japanese-American prisoner (and spy) in an ESPER jail with no ESP powers (apparently) and the latter Hyoube Kyousuke, the leader of an ESPER paramilitary outfit with an agenda in the prison. That agenda prompts him to get himself captured, perfectly confident that the jail’s ESP-suppression system won’t work on his “unlimited” ability (he’s right) which he uses to spring his “queen” Yuugiri (Touyama Nao) who’s being subjected to experimentation by the military who runs the prison. For good measure there’s also a flying squirrel played by Kugimiya Rie.
It’s hard to pick out any one thing that’s especially subpar in this premiere, but it’s equally hard to pick out anything that’s noteworthy – and that’s the problem. We’ve certainly seen this basic premise used many times, the voice work is polished but a bit self-aware, and the visuals are fine if not especially eye-catching, and you don’t expect much subtlety from a show that gives the evil prison warden a Hitler mustache. The whole thing has a very second-hand feel to it, and not because it especially resembles the original ZKC. I’ll certainly give The Unlimited another episode or two to catch my interest, but for now it seems like a long-shot to stick in the rotation.
Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun – 01
Here’s another one that has the whiff of generic to it, but I found the premiere somewhat more engaging. Hakkenden definitely has a throwback quality to it – in terms of premise and character design, this is very much something that wouldn’t have looked amiss on the schedule from 5 or 10 years ago. That was also a time when slight shounen-ai vibes were much more common in mainstream anime, and this show definitely has them. If I were to compare my first impressions with another recent series it would be 07 Ghost – another DEEN show with a cast of pretty and girlish boys, somewhat operatic music and a lot of mysticism surrounding a stylized version of the Catholic Church – and even that has to reach 4 years back into the past.
There isn’t a whole lot of exposition in this manga adaptation – we get a little flashback of three kids near death as their world burns around them, and then we’re dropped in the middle of the story. There’s clearly a strong fantasy element here – the now 12 year-old Shino (Kakihara Tetsuya) frolics in a forest with a mélange of vaguely Shinto creatures, including a giant Hanzaki forest guardian and a talking crow named Murasame (Okamoto Nobuhiko, in one of the most appropriate and ironic casting choices in ages). Shino lives in a church with Sousuke (Hino Satoshi) and Hamaji (the always excellent Takagaki Ayahi), the other two survivors of his village, as well as two older priests, and his best friend is a village boy named Kenta (Sanpei Yuuko) who appears to be a normal human and ill-advised in getting too close to the others.
The rest comes in bits and pieces. Shino and Murasame apparently share the same body, and Sousuke is a dog youkai. A powerful clan of fox spirits led by Namikawa Daisuke and Kamiya Hiroshi take a great interest in the “demon children” (it’s unclear whether this term applies to Hamaji as well, or just her cooking) once they’re discovered to have survived their village’s annihilation, and do does the central body of the church. After the Osaki clan kidnaps Hamaji to lure the boys out, they leave for the capital to try and bring her home – and I assume most of the story will take place there.
This one is pretty much a flyer for me at this point, but as I said the premiere engaged me somewhat more than I might have expected. There’s something almost quaint about Hakkenden, as if it’s a sort of story anime doesn’t bother much with these days, and DEEN’s colorful and modest art and animation actually plays rather well in that context. I liked the music, I like the cast, and there’s enough potential in the story to make me think this could be worth at least watching. The manga is almost a decade old now – and from an author who, compared to this series, seems to specialize in somewhat less mainstream manga featuring bishounen – so Hakkenden is a bit of an odd choice for adaptation to begin with. There’s enough here than piques my interest to say this series has some potential.