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It’s the same old story: too much anime, not enough time. The new spring season kicks off in Japan this week, and here I am still trying to catch up with last season’s offerings. Well at least I can save myself – and maybe you – some time; this month’s first episodes round up features two shows I might watch more of and two I’ll shortly be dragging to the trash can. Still, that’s not to say you might not enjoy them.

Kurogane no Linebarrels (2008 – 2009)

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What do you do when one tired, creaking, over-milked anime formula just isn’t enough? Why, get two of course, and force them to mate and reproduce yet more dull, retarded spawn. Like Gonzo‘s Kurogane no Linebarrels (Linebarrels of Iron). Based on the shōnen manga by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, it combines both the magical girlfriend and mecha genres in the most painfully obvious way possible. Kouichi Hayase is a 14 year old schoolboy who, surprise surprise, is being bullied by some of his school mates, while some of the others, apparently meant to be his friends, just patronise him. That is, of course until a mysterious girl falls on top of him from the sky (they do seem to have a nasty habit of doing that), and somehow gives a giant mech to pilot. Or something.

This show really has nothing to recommend it. The art is at best generic, and at times just nasty – the CGI mechs in particular are hideous to look at, failing completely to sit realistically in front of the 2D backgrounds and looking like they where rendered on a Sega Saturn. The plot is, well, minimal in the first episode, and the characters apparently just another collection of overused stereotypes. The whole thing feels like someone left it to the last minute, panicked, and then just tried to rip off Neon Genesis Evangelion yet again, but with all the clever and beautiful bits left out. Shame, as I had heard interesting things about the manga in the past, and while I might still check that out I won’t be coming back to the anime again. Next.

Kurokami (2009)

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Produced by Sunrise and based on Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park‘s manga, Kurokami (Black God) is, thankfully, much more interesting. While it again plays with established ideas like magical girlfriends and the supernatural, it does so in a more intelligent and challenging way. The plot is based around Keita Ibuki, a young computer programmer haunted by the death of his mother at an early age, and obsessed with discovering to truth about her doppelganger that somehow seems to be responsible. One night, while eating alone at a Ramen stand, he encounters a young homeless girl Kuro, who transpires is actually a Tera Guardian/Mototsumitama – a God-like being charged with maintaining the balance of existence.

The art is better than average, with some nice, moody depictions of Tokyo and some attractive, if not highly original character designs. The dark-edged script is where the show really shines though, with the first episode delivering a shocking, jaw-dropping ending. Worth checking out.

Kuroshitsuji (2008 – 2009)

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Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler) looks interesting at first – yet again based on a successful manga and the fact that it’s set in Victorian era London certainly grabbed my attention. Sebastian Michaelis is the butler to 12 year old Ciel Phantomhive, the head of an aristocratic family and their sweet and toy producing empire. But, of course, Sebastian isn’t just your average butler – that wouldn’t be in anyway interesting enough. He is in fact – guess what! – a demon.

I’ll be completely honest with you; I didn’t make it past the advert break in the first episode. While the artwork looks interesting at first with it’s kind of moe-goth take on Victorian England, I just couldn’t see past the childish humour and stereotypical characters I’m afraid. Granted, I’m probably not the target demographic for this one – I’m guessing 13 year old emo girls will be loving swooning over the enigmatic Sebastian – so if you fit that description give it a go and let me know how wrong I am.

White Album (2009)

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Seven Arc‘s White Album is actually based on a visual novel (or dating sim – a uniquely Japanese form of video game) and a subsequent manga. The central protagonist is university student Tōya Fujii, and the show is based on his angst ridden stumble through life, and in particular his relationship (or lack of it) with up and coming idol singer Yuki Morikawa.

Any show that opens with a dream sequence triggered by it’s hapless main character waking to the sounds of his girlfriend being interviewed on TV instantly gets my attention for some inventiveness with it’s narrative, and similarly the show is highly polished visually. The problem was as I followed it’s characters bumble around campus life, endlessly talking about relationships, I couldn’t help feeling that I might be watching the Japanese equivalent of the OC or Dawson’s Creek. Having said that the scripting is pretty tight, and – time permitting – it is quite likely I might be coming back to check out some more.

So there you go – as always, let me know in the comments below if you think I’m missing the point about one of these shows or just utterly wrong. And check back over the next few weeks to find out what I think about some of the new season’s premieres.