Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. What a mouthful. To fully explain the title would be to give away spoilers for one of Japan’s most popular and critically acclaimed visual novels. Unfortunately, this is a flaw that the anime itself suffers from: the backstory is much too rich for the anime to convey.
The animation is done by studio Satelight, famous for their work on Noein. More recently, they were responsible for the animation of Bodacious Space Pirates. If you’re one to tolerate (or indeed, enjoy) fanservice that panders to the male teenager audience, you won’t be disappointed - the pilots’ suits leave *very little* to the imagination, to say the least. Still, the character designs are fairly compelling, and the mecha designs don’t seem overly contrived like some of the more esoteric Gundams (sorry Gundam fans) nor realistically primitive like some of the Arm Slaves from the Full Metal Panic! series.
The premise of the story is that the world is fighting a war against a completely foreign form of life, one that has systematically and brutally destroyed every region it has spread to. In this world, the year is 2001, and human progress has taken a different route than our modern world, with humanity united under the UN and mobilized against the invading aliens - and, of course, mechas. With no apparent ability to communicate or negotiate, the aliens, called BETA, quickly gain territory and indeed, have taken a very heavy toll on the world.
(Aside: Interestingly, this creates a clever rationale for the high amount of gender integration in the military forces - adults and males were first on the front lines for so long, and humanity has been pushed back so far, the gender composition and age group has shifted to be younger and increasingly female. Thankfully, this hasn’t - so far - been exploited to create a light-hearted military harem - anything but. They say early on that the average life expectancy of a new recruit in battle is eight minutes, and, well, let’s just say that when the series gets into it, the action is indeed pretty intense.)
Dialogue is well-scripted, as the series doesn’t produce hackneyed, cringe-inducing lines that you might expect from other series, and the multinational cast doesn’t act overly Japanese in their mannerisms.The grimdark tone set by the opening episodes create a fantastic backdrop for and add context to what will no doubt be an engaging plotline. On the other hand, the pacing has been rather erratic: strong opening episodes with hard-hitting battles were followed up with considerable character development, then the plot all but stopped. While developing the personal relationships within the cast is important, it was accomplished with swimsuit episodes, which were, sadly, uncharacteristically trite and generic, and passed on some fairly interesting subplot. In doing so, it also delayed the preparations for the first real battle of the cast by two episodes.
With all that said, though, the series is based on some excellent source material, and appears to be gearing back up for some interesting battles and further plot development. Stay tuned, and if you’re looking for some teenage wish fulfillment with a bit of darkness instead of sugar, the visuals, mech battles, and sci-fi world of Total Eclipse just might scratch your itch.
Originally a visual novel game released for the PSP, La storia della Arcana Famiglia centers around an organization that acts both as a governing body and protectors of the island they live on. What makes the members of the organization, called the "Aracana Famiglia", different from other residents of the island is the fact that each member of the "family" has made a pact with an Arcana card, and therefore receives special powers in return.
The story focuses on the daughter of the current head of the family, Felicità, and her fight to win her own freedom and choose her own path. Her father has decided to retire, and announces that his successor shall be the winner of a tournament he is holding, the "Arcana Duello", in which all Arcana users will participate. The winner not only receives his title of "Papa," but will also get one wish granted and his daughter's hand in marriage. Hence, Felicita decides to enter the tournament as well for a chance to obtain her independence.
Something tells me that this visual novel was also part dating sim as well, given the sheer number of attractive boys and men in this series. Okay, so there's really only 7 main guys, but when Felicita is the only girl aside from her 3 maids and mother, I think it's pretty obvious. Luckily, I'm easily swayed by cute guys, so this show is like eye candy for me. Also, Jun Fukuyama voices Libertà, one of the two guys always by Felicità's side, and that's pretty much an instant win for me. (The other guy glued to her side is the serious and subdued Nova, played by Tsubasa Yonaga)
The story at the beginning is pretty light-hearted, with the first few episodes mainly being comedic while introducing the audience to the main characters and their powers. However, there are glimpses of a darker side to many of the characters, particularly Libertà, whose painful childhood is sealed away. Something tells me that once the Arcana Duello tournament actually gets up and running, the series will shift towards a more serious tone. For now though, it's fun to watch the characters antics and interactions, particularly the siller ones like Pace and Luca.
In terms of action, the fight scenes have been fairly short so far, but it's cool to see each character fight in his/her own way, be with weapons or martial arts or the power of their Arcana. I found it really kick-ass that Felicità is not only well-trained in hand-to-hand combat (or, in this case, leg to head), but has throwing daggers strapped on her thigh at all times; a girl's gotta be prepared, after all. In fact, one of the things that I appreciated most about this series was the fact that Felicità is portrayed as a strong female lead, being able to fight and hold her own against the other members of the family. She goes on missions and patrols with the rest of them, and is never treated as a weakling. When she finds out her father's plan, she challenges him to a fight on the spot, and despite losing, is determined to take matters into her own hands. Despite being the only daughter of the head of the Arcana Famiglia, she isn't spoiled or completely clueless about the world, although she does have her innocent moments.
The first season of Dog Days followed the protagonist, Sink, who finds himself in the mystical world of Flonyard where he is entrusted with a magic sword and becomes Hero of the Biscotti Republic. Essentially thrown into the plot of Tenchi Muyo, he decides to make the best of things and saves the world with enough time left to make a date with his friend Rebecca Anderson at the end of summer.
After the obligatory falling through a hole in the sky and seeing a foreign land several thousand miles below shots, the three teenagers receive a royal welcome. By that I mean royalty welcomes them and then drives them to a mock war that is being held to honor Sink’s return (maybe?). After witnessing Sink enthusiastically join in and instantaneously disarm and blast the clothes off an elite squad of female knights, Nanami decides this is what she has been waiting for her entire life and wastes no time joining in for the opposing Galette Lion Army. Despite her initial reticence, Rebecca eventually joins the combat as well with yet a third kingdom, the Principality of Pastillage.
It is at this point that we would perhaps expect the series to take a dramatic turn. Rivalries between our protagonists souring and becoming hatred, perhaps? Maybe Rebecca finds that she likes fighting so much, after living a life as a quiet school girl, that she forgets her own morality and must be saved by the love of her friends?
Instead it turns out all these warring nations are just having fun and our heroes are superstars in a sport in which the objective of the game is to fire the biggest and shiniest lasers. Everyone fights because fighting is awesome and there really doesn't seem to be anything more important to do. The carefree pace and artistic styling makes it difficult to determine if the series is intentionally tongue-in-cheek or if the characters are even genre aware. Events repeatedly seem to be on the brink of introducing a serious theme only to drop them in favor of fanservice and spell combat.
Ultimately Dog Days is a cathartic experience, or perhaps a guilty pleasure, as we watch our bashfully innocent protagonist Sink (and two female friends) live out our deeply hidden and much denied dreams of finding ourselves in a world of fantasy where we can spend our summer gleefully participating in zero consequence combat, irresponsibly using magic, flying, and fending off hordes of cat eared girls eagerly begging us for petting sessions.