First Impressions Digest – No Game No Life, Fuuun Ishin Dai Shogun, Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara

NGNL - 01 -11 Shogun - 01 -12 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -14

Two LN adaptations, and it’s the original series that’s by far the worst show here.  Go figure.

No Game No Life – 01

NGNL - 01 -1 NGNL - 01 -2 NGNL - 01 -3
NGNL - 01 -4 NGNL - 01 -5 NGNL - 01 -6
NGNL - 01 -7 NGNL - 01 -8 NGNL - 01 -9
NGNL - 01 -10 NGNL - 01 -12 NGNL - 01 -13
NGNL - 01 -14 NGNL - 01 -15 NGNL - 01 -16
NGNL - 01 -17 NGNL - 01 -18 NGNL - 01 -19
NGNL - 01 -20 NGNL - 01 -21 NGNL - 01 -22

This is the premiere that seems to have generated the most buzz this week, and in a sense I can understand why – it’s executed with a lot of panache and flair.  But not for the first time I’m left to wonder what all the fuss is about, because as well-executed as the first episode of No Game No Life is, it seems like a well-executed trifle to me.

When push comes to shove, what do we really have here?  An elaborately constructed fantasy world that seems to exist for no other reason than to have a hook to tell a story.  A lot of moe pandering, complete with underage fanservice and suggestive behavior between an older brother and a preteen sister.  A lot of dialogue that tries (and occasionally manages) to sound smart and cynical.  In short, a classic light-novel scenario that happens to be better-constructed than most.  And it’s brought off with great style by Madhouse.  But if there’s anything more than that here, it’s not immediately obvious to me.

In many ways I think the story behind NGNL is more interesting that the series itself – the author, Kamiya, Yuu, is a transplant from Brazil whose real name is Thiago Lucas.  He’s attached to a series I absolutely detest, Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi, but that isn’t his fault – he just did the art, and NGNL is all Kamiya.  And this is certainly a visually distinctive series, with Madhouse’s prototypical saturated color schemes and some very interesting shot composition and backgrounds.  It’s the story of siblings Sora (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu) and Shrio (Kayano Ai) who dominate the world of online gaming under the non-name of “Blank”.  He’s 18 and a NEET – she’s 11 and flashes her panties (shima) a lot.  Both are gaming geniuses, to be sure, but the interesting thing about them is that they also cheat.

The hook here is that the two are whisked off to an alternate world where everything is decided by gaming, and governed by the “10 Pledges” set up by “God”.  The world itself is interesting to look at, but there just doesn’t seem to be much to this story besides the gimmick – the premiere gives me no reason to think it’s more than another LN where elaborate play worlds with an endless set of rules are devised to offset the need for actual character development or a real story. It may well be more, but my point is that there’s nothing in this episode to give one reason to think so – it’s just a lot of Shiro vamping, Sora sounding detached and cool, and some very clever direction from Ishizuka Atsuko overlaid on some lovely backgrounds by Iwase Eiji.

I’ll say this much – if the two new shows generating the most hype this season are Mahouka and NGNL (and wow, what a coup for Madhouse if that’s the case) this is certainly the more distinctive of the two so far.  Even if it’s doing no more than playing to its audience, it’s doing so very effectively.  I still can’t get excited about a story that seems like formula even if it’s good formula, but the eye candy is grabby enough to give it some time to prove to me that it really is something to get worked up over.


Fuuun Ishin Dai Shogun – 01

Shogun - 01 -1 Shogun - 01 -2 Shogun - 01 -3
Shogun - 01 -4 Shogun - 01 -5 Shogun - 01 -6
Shogun - 01 -7 Shogun - 01 -8 Shogun - 01 -9
Shogun - 01 -10 Shogun - 01 -11 Shogun - 01 -13

Well, that certainly wasn’t at all what I was expecting…

Fuuun Ishin Dai Shogun may just be the biggest disappointment of the season so far, which can happen when you’re dealing with original series.  With talented industry titan Satou Dai writing, a legitimate director and a synopsis that seemed to pack the potential for a historical mecha series with some political overtones, I had this pegged as a potential sleeper.  In point of fact, it was borderline awful.

The description for Dai Shogun sounded promising – a story set in 1875 in a Japan where the Meiji Restoration never happened because an ancient giant robot chased off the black ships.  With Satou’s willingness to dabble in social commentary and politics (and not from a nationalist perspective)  this sounded intriguing – but what we get is a poorly-executed sex comedy with a lot of censored T & A and lame gay jokes, with about 2 seconds of the robot.  Frankly it’s hard to believe Satou Dai wrote this at all, but his name is clearly on the credits.  Oh, and it’s cheaply made, too.

Frankly, I don’t want to waste any more time even talking about this one.  If you’re curious, check it out and maybe you won’t dislike it as much as I did.  But I wouldn’t make any bets on that.

Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara – 01

Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -1 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -2 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -3
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -4 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -5 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -6
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -7 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -8 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -9
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -10 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -11 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -12
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -13 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -15 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -16
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -17 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -18 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -19
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -20 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -21 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -22
Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -23 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -24 Kanojo ga Flag - 01 -25

Now that was genuinely interesting.

Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara more or less slipped by me this season.  It wasn’t until today that I realized that pretty much the entire Nazo no Kanojo X team was reassembled for this series – studio, director, animation director/character designer – and if I’d known that, I’d likely have been paying much closer attention, as that was one of my favorite shows of an extremely strong 2012.  And while this show clearly isn’t on that level, it definitely reveals its good genes in a thoroughly entertaining premiere.

Kanojo ga Flag is instantly recognizable as an heir to MGX in terms of visuals.  It has the same resolutely 80’s look, from the character designs to the backgrounds to the color palette (the design of the abandoned hotel in which Souta lives is gloriously old-fashioned and theatrical, as is the BGM).  And it has Watanabe Ayumu in very much the same directorial mode, not being too pushy but managing to present weird things in a very straightforward fashion that makes the pacing as smooth as silk.  If you like that sort of vibe I think there’s something in this show for you, because it’s not something you see a whole lot of in anime.

People will no doubt compare this series to Noucome (which was perfectly decent), and while the similarities are much more superficial than those to Nazo no Kanojo X they certainly exist.  The main character here is Hotate Hatate Souta (Ohsaka Ryouta), and instead of “Absolute Choice” his personal quirk is that he sees flags above people’s heads – death flags, romance flags, friendship flags.  And while the mechanics of how all this works aren’t clear yet, it seems he also has the power to break them.  On the way to his new school he witnesses an accident about to happen and breaks the death flag of a bystander, which is in turn witnessed by future classmate Nanami Knight Bladefield (16 year-old Kido Ibuki).  And Nanami’s personal quirk (aside from the fact that she seems to be the one person above whose head Souta sees no flags) is that she can’t bear an unsolved mystery.

The third spoke in the wheel at the heart of the series is Mahougasawa Akane, the heiress to a corporate fortune.  She dresses baby-doll style and speaks in a helium-induced tone, and I was puzzled by why this wasn’t annoying me until I realized she was played by Ai Kayano.  In fact I liked all three main characters here, each of them oddballs who are lonely for their own reasons (it turns out that Nanami is a Princess – one of 24 Princes and Princesses – of a tiny European monarchy called Bladefield).  There’s certainly cliche here, like Nanami’s tsundere and violent personality, but the chemistry is winning.  I like the little touches like the way all three of them end up calling each other by their first names with no honorific – highly unusual for Japanese, especially those who’ve barely met.  There’s some smart comedy too, like Souta busting the friendship flags of the baseball boys with the worst thing a baseball player can hear – “I like soccer”.  In fact the comic timing is generally excellent, as you’d expect from Watanabe.

I’m not going out on a limb and calling this a keeper yet, because there’s obviously the caveat that no matter how many MGX talents are involved here, this is not the same caliber of source material.  Superficially, this could easily be yet another silly LN premise (albeit a clever conceit) that’s executed well, and could wear thin pretty quickly.  But I’m getting a good feel off Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara – as if it could be the next in that R-15, MGX line of succession, ridiculous-premised shows with a lot of heart and surprising depth that are dismissed because viewers can’t see past their superficial impressions.

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27 comments

  1. w

    I was really looking forward to NGNL, mostly because it sounded similar to Mondaiji-tachi of last year which I really loved. The visuals were great here; colourful, eccentric, and with plenty of design flair. But I can't help but feel that that's all there was here. Plenty of style, with very little substance or heart. I'm disappointed, to be honest. The leads didn't exactly endear themselves to me, and I really didn't need to see panty shots from an 11 year old. Still, it looks like it could be a fun ride, so I'll give it a couple more weeks.

    Kanojo ga Flag on the other hand I really enjoyed. I thought the narrative was awkward in places but I'm digging the look, and I felt the humour here was really, really funny. I especially loved where Souta broke the friendship flag with the cliche 'loser/pervert best friend' classmate. It's nice to see it making fun of standard light novel conventions. Akane's limitless flags were hilarious as well. Osaka Ryouta seems to be pretty good at choosing his roles. Besides Hamatora, I think I've liked every single series he's been a major player in.

  2. P

    To be fair re: Dai-Shogun, that's not atypical of a mecha series. Most mecha series' first episode barely feature the robots until the end of the first episode. Look at Captain Earth, which ends with the launch of the mecha. Now that the mecha is introduced, the second episode is worth a watch to see how it gets used.

  3. If that were my biggest issue with this show, that would matter. I'm not even sure it's in the top 100.

  4. S

    I must say I entered NGNL with a lot of whishful thinking – I'm a huge sucker for games in all their forms (video and not) and would enjoy a fantasy story simply centred around playing one's way to victory with wits and even cheating. I liked Kaiji, I liked Liar Game, I even liked YuGiOh (for all its being quite dumb at times), and so I had high hopes for this, with the caveat that of course it is a LN adaptation which these days spells disaster more often than not.

    I must say, I think I've watched this through some sort of rose-tinted lenses () because I came out of it without having actually noticed all the panty shots and honestly thinking the relationship between the two brothers felt quite innocent. Thinking back to it, I might really have been too optimistic. Still, if this doesn't devolve into some disgusting lolicon moefest and it stays its course as a game-centred show I think I'll enjoy it, as mindless as that fun would be.

  5. e

    No no not noticing the panties shots means you aren't someone who pays a bit too much attention to what the characters are wearing and then turn around and yells about what they are wearing.

  6. M

    Dai Shogun's animation is so bad I can't tell whether the show is serious or parody. Even the fanservice, the element most emphasised in this episode, was done cheap CG effects. You think J.C. Staff's getting poor, Enzo?

  7. I don't – I think they just didn't prioritize this show. It's more shocking to me that Satou Dai would write such a piece of crap.

  8. N

    No JoJo review?

    What shows will you blog this fall? I am curious…

  9. R

    GE doesn't like at all "Gar" series (that is what I understand after 2 years reading the blog) so it would be difficult to see a review. A complete injustice because stardust crusaders is great and have lot of things to comment… but it is gar.

  10. I like GAR shows plenty, as any survey of the last couple of years would show. I've already reviewed the first few eps of the JoJo revival, explained till I'm blue in the face why though I more or less like it I don't intend to blog it, so I just don't see much point in doing it again.

  11. m

    When I read your tagline about one being the worst I thought that just had to be Kanojo Flag. I saw the preview of the ep last week which was 15mins, but it didn't remind me at all of MGX. It reminded me of just another nonsense harem. NouCome had its funny parts at least, but this doesn't seem to be funny at all.
    The sub of Dai Shogun didn't come out before I went to sleep last night, so I didn't watch it but that's a huge disappointment that it turned out to be that kind of show. It really seems like the summary was meant to fool people into watching, which is silly bc its not like people are gonna say "oh I started watching so might as well watch it all and buy the BD)

  12. A

    How is it legal to sexualize young girls the way anime so often does?

  13. e

    Because the japanese understand the difference between reality and fantasy

  14. m

    Yeah it's super weird. It's not llike sexualized children are ok in fantasy worlds. There's way too much of that in anime, also waayyy too much rape related scenes in manga/anime. My guess would be it's all due to the fact that their culture seems to have a more taboo outlook towards sexuality in general. Or at least what constitutes PDA and general affection. Countries with more open sexual values tend to see less strange stuff like that.

  15. k

    "Because the japanese understand the difference between reality and fantasy"

    So that's why they have gravure videos of kindergarteners… (Sure, it's not something mainstream, but the fact that they're apparently allowed to exist tells a lot.)

  16. Z

    "Because the japanese understand the difference between reality and fantasy"

    Although some Japanese like to cross that line.

  17. g

    Enzo – I'm surprised that you did not enjoy NGNL as much as I did. To me, it feels like a modern/fantasy take on a gambling anime like One Outs or Kaiji, where the goal is to out cheat the cheaters and whatnot.

    As for the whole brocon/siscon angle, I'm not buying it. I could be wrong, but I didn't feel an inkling of sexual tension between the two. They feel more like a gross-but-amusing pair of symbiotic rejects that need each other to function than anything else. I think the sister's reaction to this naked princess next ep will be telling – but assuming she doesn't get all jealous, I think we are safely in platonic territory here…

    Off topic – how bizarre/awesome was ping pong? I hope you end up blogging 5 sports anime this season…

  18. You know, I'm not much of a fan of One Outs – I like baseball too much. The whole thing was too incredibly silly for my tastes, though I did watch it.

    What can I tell you? NGNL looked great, real panache, but it just struck me as another LN with an elaborate construct in place of real plot or characters. I don't necessarily see the siblings as incestuous but I found the way Shiro was displayed in the premiere to be pretty distasteful. And you know as well as I do the relationship is fully intended to create appeal for the crowd that likes that sort of thing, whether there's any real incestuous development or not.

  19. G

    Uh….I couldn't finish NGNL…>>…I don't know what that says about my taste. There is something seriously off about it. Madhouse….why oh why..

    And on to Dai Shogun, Dai-sensei……why oh why…Honest, I was very suspicious going in, because J.C Staff is simply not a studio that excels in sci-fi – it doesn't mean they won't ever, but the chances are pretty slim knowing their comfort zone. I almost couldn't believe Dai Sato was working on this, but now I kinda speechless…..again..why oh why.

  20. Z

    Madhouse just aren't what they used to be.

  21. Z

    And on that subject J.C Staff was gutted of most of its talent a few years ago.

  22. Z

    I don't know about original. It seems to be based on all that Enka Oudou Dai Shogun merchandise that has been floating around since 2009.

  23. J

    I seriously hope that Dai Shogun gets better. For all our sakes.

  24. Well it won't be for my sake, because I'm certainly not subjecting myself to another episode.

  25. R

    If nothing else, NGNL wins hands down for flashiest premier. That color palattte and character design. I'm not sure how well or if the story will hold up but that premier man. I have a soft spot for visual flair….:'>

  26. e

    @guardian enzo i was read a little of the ln and without spoil i can tell you that there will be intresting and sireous moments in some of the games that you will enjoy

  27. e

    in ngnl there is a logical reason why the brother and sister are so perfect but this will be explained very soon

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