The spring 2006 anime season is upon us, with more new shows on tap in these two weeks than any other period in recent memory. HD sorts through the orbital bombardment of mediocrity in pursuit of diamonds in the rough, or at least a few choice screencaps.

Air Gear

After the hilarious misadventure that was Avex Mode’s production of Tenjou Tenge, Toei tries its hand at Oh! Great’s other panty-flashing, senseless-battle-filled opus, Air Gear. I was favorably impressed with this first episode, and while I don’t think anyone reads (or watches) Oh! Great for the plot, if Air Gear can keep up the pace with the snappy direction, decent animation and frequent fanservice I think they’ll have a winner on their hands. Then again, I said the same thing after the first TT episode – I’ll give this one through episode three to convince me Toei has what it takes to keep the show from degenerating into endless pans over neon drivel and cheesy digital power-up effects.

Initial Verdict: A-. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

The tender story of a girl and the butcher’s knife that is her one true love, the frenetic face-faults that fill most of this episode belie the slashfest sure to ensue down the road as the series descends into madness. Having little experience with the doujin “sound novel” that sparked the Higurashi boom I can’t say how faithful to the original this rendition is, but it does win best OP of the season thus far – crank it up and bathe in the electronic bliss. Those looking for solid production values should best turn away, but for a story that’s bound to keep you guessing and just a bit off balance as limbs start flying – and you know they will – Higurashi is what’s for dinner.

Initial Verdict: B. I’ll be waiting for the Kenta-kun arc before watching beyond this episode, though.

Kiba

Kiba is this season’s installment of shounen angstfest, pulled off with more style than the norm and a few twists that caught my attention beyond more typical fare in the genre. A good deal of thought obviously went into the world, vehicle and monster designs, and while it may fall apart thanks to poor direction and scriptwriting there’s a kernel of fine dystopia here that would be a shame to see go to waste.

Initial Verdict: B+. I’ll be watching unless and until the director screws it up too badly. Hey, the protagonist has a hot (and certifiably insane) mom; the season could use some good older women.

Simoun

If I were a pubescent lesbian I would kiss my partner too, if it would make my airplane fly faster. Simoun ties with Kiba for the inventive design prize of the season thus far, showing us a pastel watercolor world of industrial grit colliding with utopian pansexualism and inventive 3D mech designs the likes of which haven’t been seen since Last Exile. However, also like Kiba, Simoun suffers from pacing issues and technobabble that weaken the script to the point where it’s hard to recommend unilaterally, but hey – kissing lesbians!

Initial Verdict: B. Synch up the lip flap and convince me there’s a plot buried somewhere in all that window dressing and you’ll get yourself an A, Simoun-kun.

Strawberry Panic

Strawberry Panic is the Tokyo Tower to Marimite‘s Eiffel, boasting a cast of thousands and a Virgin Mary the size of the Statue of Liberty. Unlike Simoun the kisses in Strawberry Panic are less wanton, to the point where it could almost lay legitimate claim to its yuri pretensions – lilies frame the episode title card, for crying out loud – but unlike Marimite the writing doesn’t sparkle, and obviously panders to a male clinetele, feigned ignorance of which is certainly one of Marimite’s charm points. Strawberry Panic does bring some interesting cards to the table in the form of its massive cast and array of eye-catching uniforms, leaving potential for all sorts of bow-straightening and pregnant moments of comfort zone violation that are the grist of the yuri mill. Purists will want to stay away, but given the broad palette of characters at their disposal it’s unlikely the writers will run out of standard-grade material any time soon.

Initial Verdict: C+. A gentleman’s C+, one might say. Not likely to continue watching too far this unless the reviews take a turn for the awesome.

Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuu-utsu

Cast your mind back to junior high or high school. Your best friend stealing his parents’ camcorder with you to make a project for school, maybe English class or Humanities or Math, going overboard, editing on an early Matrox card late into the night to show your peers a work of staggering genius thought impossible for mere mortal teenagers – look back on that, shudder in horror, and watch Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuu-utsu.

I have a weakness for shows about the making of shows, and this one hits home in a sucker punch of comedy gold. This episode views as an inspirational video – or cautionary tale – for all wannabe Steven Spielbergs and Hideaki Annos out there, a romp through the mind of a manic highschool film club directoress hyped up on the crack of Heisei-era Japanese popular culture and determined to take top prize at her school’s cultural festival or die trying (and take her clubmates down with her). This is the one show of the season thus far that I can firmly recommend as worth your valuable viewing time, and I can only hope the glimpses of Haruhi’s real life we get going into the next episode are as aggressively charming as this cinematic tour de force.

Initial Verdict: A++. Would watch (and wince) again.

Utawarerumono

Based on Leaf’s AVG / sim game by the same name, Utawarerumono boasts the most badass male protagonist of the season thus far. Though it’s sure to prompt a salvo of vitriol from the furry haters, this first episode went down quite well here and I’m anticipating the next. Leaf just may have a solid anime incarnation on their hands after a few years of doldrums…

Initial Verdict: A.

Disgaea

Boasting(?) some of the worst animation of the season, I watched this episode with the constant nagging feeling that I was missing something key that would make it all seem somehow, well, good. That something never showed up, and not having played the game there’s little keeping me with the anime beyond this first painful exposure.

Initial Verdict: D-. Possibly redeemable for fans of the franchise.

Garasu no Kantai

Ahahaha! Hahaha, hahah, bahahaha. Gwa, hahaha. Someone tell Okama to stick to bunny girls and moe ninjas, ok? The occasional foray into sci-fi toplessness is acceptable, but only if firmly reigned in by the old hands at Gainax; go mixing with Gonzo brutes and I’m not liable for what bastard child emerges.

Seriously: someone tell Okama to take another look at his Enlightenment-era costuming, and someone tell Gonzo to go back to epic space opera school until they learn the definition of the term.

Initial Verdict: F. Lest there be any confusion, F is for FAILURE.

Joshikousei

Joshikousei will be a hit with those who don’t have to interact with the real thing on a daily basis. This show is certainly a case of art imitating life, only far funnier and with more panties; to me it’s mildly depressing in a “yep, that’s them” sort of way. Don’t let that turn you off to the show, though its hardly artful in its use of fanservice and the animation quality is under par; if you need an excuse to shake your head at those wacky Japanese it might as well be this. Alternatively, treat it as pure fiction and enjoy it for the comedy(?).

Initial Verdict: C. Meh.

Rabuge-chu

The bi-annual animated incarnation of Japanese Idol finds its way into this season’s lineup in the form of Rabuge-chu, an insipid little show about a gang of girls who aspire to seiyuu stardom and the pantsless boy animator they come to live with. The best moment of the show (probably the whole show, including all forthcoming episodes) is the lovingly animated punch to the heroine’s gut dealt by the casting director of the studio where she goes to audition; it takes a lot of hard, punishing work to make a series on this theme stand out from the flock, and this one hasn’t gone the extra mile. If you like cookie-cutter heartwarming romantic harem comedies about aspiring actresses this will be right up your alley, if you don’t (or are allergic to concave chins) I’d advise staying away.

Initial Verdict: C-/D+.

Yoshinaga-san Uchi no Gargoyle

Wakamoto Norio in a role where his character (the gargoyle) is unable to move of its own volition, aside from teleporting. High wackiness potential, low wackiness yield, quick collapse into seriousness, disappointment all around. Hopes dashed for this show, nothing to see here, move along…

Initial Verdict: ;_;

Spring 2006 Anime Rundown Part II Candidates

The Peanut Gallery
Fighting Beauty Wulong season 2
School Rumble season 2
Fushigi Hoshi no Futago Hime Gyu
ARIA The Natural
Kintama
Gakuen Heaven
Ohran High School Host Club
Soul Link

Yet to Watch
Witchblade
Majipoka
XXXHolic
.hack//roots
Inukami!
NANA
Princess Princess
Ray The Animation
Zegapain
Nishi no Yoki Majo
Saiunkoku Monogatari
Himawari!
Yumetsukai
Black Lagoon
Sasami Mahou Shoujo Club
Tokko

Outlier
Kami-sama Kazoku

…and that’s a wrap! Hope to have part two out within a week (which will eliminate some of the later-breaking shows, but oh well). Opinions? Violent disagreement? Eviscerations? Onegaishimasu.