Straight up, a pilot can make or break a series. There are exceptions, of course: some shows only find their footing after a bit of wiggling and a little feedback. Still, I say the audience needs to be drawn in immediately if there's be any hope of follow up.
I thought about this a lot whilst sampling some pilots in Crunchy Roll's new Spring Simulcasts. Out of the 30 or so options, I chose four series that seemed interesting and looked at the first episode of each. How many were actually any good, though? Well, read on to find out...
Gloomy bullied teen Arata can’t catch a break. His best friends loathe him, he’s teased and bullied at school - - things really can’t get much worse. That is, until Arata trades lives with a cross-dressing warrior who's on the run; framed for a magical princess’ murder in the far-off, distant land of Amawakuni. The lanky Arata swaps places with his mystical namesake through an enchanted forest switcheroo and finds himself caught up in a bloody revolution that somehow comes with funky crystals, green fire and some lofty expectations from warrior-Arata’s fierce grandma.
The design of ARATA THE LEGEND is slick and nuanced: much less cartoonish than some of the other anime I’ve watched. The FREAKY FRIDAY life swap is intriguing, and coming-of-age drama mashed up with fish-out-of-water humor with a dash of the supernatural would certainly be a draw for me. By the end of the pilot, I found myself cheering on this depressed underdog with low self-esteem (and also wondering how the hell Arata the warrior will fare in a modern day high-school).
RATING: WILL WATCH AGAIN
The year is 2110, and an evil galactic empire from Jupiter is getting its "invade" on. When all seems lost, the secret military agency MJP (think CIA...?) launches a gene manipulation project to make humans who can live in space. Enter Team Rabbit, a gang of children thrown into mecha-type suits called “Ash” and sent to protect Earth for this "Global Defense Force."
These kids call themselves the “Fail Five”, and really can’t seem to do anything right. MAJESTIC PRINCE tries to add some slapstick up into your typical mecha: the space action is easily the best part of the show, but the added silliness is a little juvenile for my taste. It’s not a dealbreaker, but I found my interest waning whenever the Fail Five weren’t kicking aliens around.
RATING: MIGHT WATCH ANOTHER TIME
Like I mentioned earlier, a bad pilot can instantly turn you off into a show...
...and MIROMI-SAN did exactly that. Ugh. Just... ugh.
Luckily, the episode was only 12 minutes long. Basically, a boy named Takurou is out fishing one day when he hooks a painfully obnoxious mermaid named Miromi-San. She eats all his bait, taunts him by rubbing lotion all over herself, and speaks in a hyper, breathy tone that made me want to turn my sound off.
It’s quirky and cute in all the wrong ways. Definitely not for me.
RATING: WON'T EVER WATCH AGAIN
This pilot starts out pretty slow, but hints at future potential. I chose yet another sci-fi/fantasy series, set on the peaceful planet of Aquafall. When a cloud of meteorites releases a mysterious evil that threatens the entire population, a little spite/pixie type named Syrop sets off to find the strongest beings in Aquafall to defend their planet against extinction. She runs into her first potential new friend, Leviathan, in this pilot.
The tone of ZETTAI BOEI LEVIANTAN starts out very slow, easing along until Syrop shows up. While the premise seems like a straightforward adventure, the pacing left me a little bored. Hopefully subsequent episodes ramp up the pace and make adequate use of their adorable, spritely lead.
RATING: MIGHT WATCH SOME TIME
THE FINAL THOUGHT:
All said, I enjoyed exactly half of these, and that can be chalked up to my personal preference for complex, supernatural plots over juvenile humor. If you figure that most pilot samplings are going to have more misses than hits, then that's actually a decent ratio.
Still, it’s nice to have a taste of what a show has to offer and see what’s worth pursuing. I think I'll dip a little further into CrunchyRoll’s Spring Simulcasts sometime soon and see if I can mine another gem from this cave of duds. Do you vicers have any recommendations for me?
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine