I'm getting back into new anime and am searching for interesting new titles. Some of my favorites include Witch Hunter Robin, Last Exile, Paranoia Agent, and Gunslinger Girl. The titles sound ridiculous to inexperienced Western ears, I know, but the stories are compelling. Last Exile and Gunslinger Girl feature wonderful character development with poignant philosophical reflection; Witch Hunter Robin explored a new artistic style, something not unlike art deco animation; Paranoia Agent was a compelling, deep psychological project that touched on the darkness in the human spirit with shocking clarity.
With those standards in place, I plunge back into the mix in search of new treasures. I used collect fansubbed anime--that is, anime that was recorded in Japan, translated rapidly by Japanese-speaking American fans (I'm guessing in their late teens and early 20s), subtitled with flashy and attractive artistic design, and then shared over Bit Torrent networks--but my collection grew too large for my storage capacity, and now I have a 200 GB drive sitting on my shelf, fat-packed with anime I've yet to watch.
But what I'm finding now is disappointing. This is largely because I don't know where to look, less that we're in a season of unimaginative story lines. Make no mistake: much of anime rests on the genre's laurels, making the same old jokes, redressing the same old characters, reenacting the same old relationships and plots. Knowing what I do of fanboys--and anime fanboys mistakenly call themselves otaku in the States--they like the familiar, they find it hard to accept and assimilate real innovation. A good example of this is the live-action series Firefly: many of the ideas seemed new but the characters were heavily cribbed from other less-popular series and the script sounded like a bunch of pasty, grub-like geeks, dizzy on Cheetos and Skittles, riffing as a group through one-liners and half-remembered exchanges in other TV shows and movies.
Kanokon is just irritating. Underage high school sex comedy... I don't need it. I started watching the first episode, where they run through the usual business of introducing each character and their generalized traits: Kouta is a hapless, underdeveloped boy, a transfer student (adding to his alienation and groundlessness) who is victimized by Chizuru, a teenage girl with large breasts and raging libido. Asahina is a bossy, prudish girl who enforces propriety and morality through verbal intimidation, and Tayura is a handsome, too-cool, indolent teenage boy who developed early and harbors a slight jealousy at the physical affection heaped upon Kouta. We learn all this within the first five minutes of the show, a very busy and trite five minutes. They would save more time by simply analogizing the main characters to the main characters of other shows they stole from. But something in the opening sequence that more is afoot: for no apparent reason, Chizuru is actually a fox-spirit in disguise, alluding to an ancient Japanese superstition frequently plundered by contemporary anime.
What can it all mean? I really don't care and won't stick with it to find out.
Kobato is also another disappointment. I'll let Wikipedia sum it up:
Kobato is sweet and perky girl, but also extremely naive about the world around her. She has a "mission," which is to fill a mysterious bottle of hers with the suffering from people's hearts so her wish to go a certain place that she desires to go can be granted. However, she has a restriction in that she is not allowed to fall in love with any person whom she heals the heart of.Yeah, I can see where this is headed. Lots of comedy as she fumbles blindly through social convention and learns the intricacies of human behavior, with the help of her "teacher," a blue stuffed dog toy that can speak and move when no one else is around (though I suspect, as per the formula, a few trusted friends will be allowed to see the toy come to life). And she'll fall in love with someone, and maybe that love will change her mind about travelling to this mysterious destination of hers. There's nothing in this for me, though the artwork is superior to that of Kanokon.
For a more fantastic bent, Isikai no Seikishi Monogatari ("Saint Knight in an Alternate World") starts with a beleaguered youngster implanted in a powerful semi-living suit of armor who is tasked to assist with the assassination of a young princess during her coronation as "king" (Japan believes that not only is king more powerful than queen, but that it's an office women can be promoted to, apparently, a concept not foreign to Western fantasy literature). In the first episode we learn he's being bullied into doing this so he can earn his freedom to return to a certain place (notice a pattern?), but first he has to get past the bodyguards, all of whom are female, the most powerful of which is a shapely, vain young woman in an all-pink semi-living suit of armor. Nothing happens in the first episode that compels me to care about any of these characters: no curiosity, no insight, nothing.