Boys, never break a promise you made to your cute female childhood friend, especially when she shows up in a fashionable sundress, bag, and hat to indirectly tell you how lonely she is to be warding off spirits and wants you to join in on the fight, even if you can’t see them at all. Oh, and make sure to not tell her she’s not cute at all; otherwise, you’re going to have a bad time.
Spirits, family prestige, and shamans. Where’s the action and drama? A good three-quarters of the episode was spent by helping us warm up to Tsuchimikado Harutora and his friends in what is otherwise a normal, countryside high school life in the summer. Certainly a good way to distract us from spiritual phenomena happening in Tokyo, we get a sense of peace and tranquility while taking time to understand his relationships with wingman Ato Touji, tomboy Hokuto, and childhood friend Natsume. For a second, I thought I was watching a reboot of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, mixed in with a little bit of Bakemonogatari because I could have sworn that Natsume was Nadeko for a second (it helps that their voice actresses are the same person).
In light of very real friendships and family connections between our four main characters introduced so far, there is something about this world that we are instructed to question in terms of our beliefs in magic and spirits. Shamanic powers are real and used to police spiritual anomalies, the spirit world seems to be causing some rather negative influences on society despite it being considered a normal occurrence, and those who belong to families such as the Tsuchimikado clan are either destined to become shamans or arbiters of these spiritual matters whether they like it or not, assuming they possess the ability in the first place. In Harutora’s case, he chooses to lead as much of a normal life as possible because he claims he hasn’t the ability his family has. Because of this, it was interesting to see Hokuto’s attempts at keeping Harutora’s hopes up about becoming a shaman and Natsume’s indirect words of consideration for that path despite his handicap since we really don’t know if it is something he is purposefully suppressing within himself or is a power he truly doesn’t have.
Rounding out the episode is the introduction of Dairenji Suzuka, who is identified as the youngest of the Twelve Divine Generals and initially mistakes Harutora for Natsume in an attempt to test the powers of a magic ritual performed by Tsuchimikado Yakou some time ago. Despite her outwardly playful demeanor, she seemed rather demented, careless, and spiteful as she held Harutora hostage in front of Hokuto at the end of the summer festival and declared she’ll eventually capture Natsume for whatever experiments she wants to carry out. Whether she’ll be a main antagonist or just a persistent roadblock in Harutora’s spiritual development later on is something of a mystery. Without her, what else would there have been to create some tension among what already seems like a solid set of lead/supporting characters? I sense more than just a spirit/baddie-of-the-week formula here.
First Impression: Vivid colors, attractive character designs, and a soundtrack that knows how to go from subtle piano keystrokes to typical electro rock battle music make for an inviting story of the supernatural and those that attempt to keep them from spilling into modern Japan. Considering this is 8bit animating this series, it almost feels like what Macross Frontier’s slice-of-life aspects were (I can’t be the only one who thought the mask Hokuto was showing off was Ranka Lee at first) and what Infinite Stratos would be if it took the back-stories of its main female cast more seriously. It will be nice to see how much further Hokuto and Natsume will go to support Harutora, whether we will see more of Touji playing the wise brother figure, and how much of a role the world of the spiritual will play as we witness Harutora’s weaknesses and how he overcomes them.