Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: Studio Deen
Brief Overview: Ryuji is a normal boy, living alone while his parents are overseas. His life takes a turn for the unusual when his second-cousin Eriko returns to town, and Ryuji meets the mysterious girl Rose, who's actually a legendary Red Dragon. On top of that, she falls madly in love with Ryuji.
Episode Summary: Ryuji is ready for another lazy Summer day at school. At noon on the dot, however, his second-cousin Eriko bursts into his classroom, walks over to his desk, and drags him out of class and into her van. She's starting a treasure hunting group, and dupes Ryuji into being its first member. As her first "heist," she's chosen to intervene in the Fang group's acquisition of a mysterious item, something which turns out to be more difficult and dangerous than planned. The suitcase they steal ends up to hold more than just a "Lost Precious;" inside is a tiny blonde girl who packs a mean punch and throws their pursuers off their tracks.
The girl takes to Ryuji right away and even seems to know his name, though he can't fathom why. He and Eriko decide to name her Rose after the pattern of scales on her hand (she's a Red Dragon, after all - much more valuable than the S-class Lost Precious Eriko was after). Things go as well as can be expected (meaning, Rose throws a fit every time Ryuji tries to leave the house) until a helicopter shows up, presumably to take Rose back to where she belongs.
Thoughts: My personal set of beliefs don't have room for the concept of hell, but if they did, I think it would take the form of some Clockwork Orange style torture chamber where I would be forced for all of eternity to listen to Rie Kugimiya shout "Ryuji!" again and again. If you hadn't guessed from previous comments of mine, I wasn't a fan of Toradora! for various reasons, one major one being that Ms. Kugimiya's voice, at least the one she uses to bring to life her most iconic tsundere characters, is like nails upon a chalkboard to me (and that's not even being fair to the chalkboard). I can only imagine that part of the motivation for giving her a leading role in this production is was to give her devoted fans another chance to hear her squall "Ryuji!" repeatedly in her tiny, chihuahua-like voice. Unfortunately, a prime reason why I feel compelled to comment on this is because it's probably one of the few memorable bits of the entire episode; the rest is just a lot of recycled magical girlfriend fluff, where we're left wondering why such a powerful draconic creature would bother to take a second glance at such a bland, personality-less male lead instead of just finding something better to do.
This episode takes the well-worn trope of the average boy being thrown together with an above-average girl, and does nothing with it other than cough it right back up, unaltered, for our viewing pleasure. The girl is all kinds of powerful - we see her wield some deadly flames to help keep the members of the Fang group off of Eriko's and Ryuji's tail - and yet that power is undermined by the fact that she's been made mentally-deficient (unable to communicate beyond obnoxious one-word cries) and therefore completely dependent on whoever has control of her at the time. There's a creepy undercurrent of human trafficking that comes along with the way that Rose is treated like nothing more than a valuable object, locked into a suitcase like some old contraband artifact or large amount of money. I suppose it says something that Eriko, for all her greedy treasure-hunting ways, and Ryuji are perfectly willing to treat Rose like a person, albeit one whose intellect is thus far shown to be less than her probable age, yet there's something very unsettling about making a character "moe" by essentially clipping her wings and infantilizing her; the effect has little of the calculated menace that made Mina Tepes of Dance in the Vampire Bund's child-like appearance so creepy. Instead, it's just another attempt to capitalize on "cute," and while I certainly love a little Hello Kitty now and then, this kind of "cuteness from lack of mental capability" doesn't sit well with me at all.
The rest of the episode seems drawn from a "how to put together an extremely standard anime" checklist. There's some (but not too much!) fanservice, mostly provided in the form of Eriko's large breasts; they're used by the animators to emphasize her enthusiastic body movements, as well as announce that she's not wearing a bra (because if she were, they wouldn't move that way). Ryuji even gets an uncomfortable face-full of them at one point - I suppose that's where the "she's a second-cousin so it's sort of incest but not quite" creepiness comes into play (man, and I thought I was done with this season's incestuous plot lines, darn it!). There's some action, too; the car chase that ensues after the Fang group figures out what Eriko is up to is probably one of the high points of the episode because it's exciting enough to be enjoyed on its own. And, of course, there's some bland, very basic comedy that takes advantage of Ryuji's general ineffectual cluelessness and the contrast between Rose's mental innocence and her potential for destructiveness. If just one of these aspects had been handled with a bit more nuance I may not have as much reason to chide its creators, but for shame! These are the types of things that put an end to my ability to just accept and enjoy every anime series that was put in front of me (which, in the end, was a very good thing), and I still can't tolerate it very well when I see series still bottom-feeding from the same moldy trope barrel.
Other than the automobiles which participated in the car-chase (which are rendered in 3D and actually blend fairly well with the setting), the artistry of the show is strictly average. The character designs are tolerable but indistinct, reminiscent of just about any other second-tier production of the last few years. Rose stands out simply because of her bright blonde hair and unusual blue eyes and Ryuji could participate in a lineup between quite a few male protagonists from other series and I'm not really sure I could pick him out. Granted, the characters do escape that level of frightening, android-like sameness that affects many series based around extremely moe dating-sims (to be clear, this one isn't; it's based on a novel series), and for that I'm thankful; though this season has so far been a mixed bag like any other, I haven't yet had to deal with another doe-eyed nightmare cast as I have during many past seasons. The animation is passable, though I would have expected a little better from a series opener; Rose gets the most attention during the second half of the episode, mainly as emphasis to whatever cute thing she's doing at the moment (eating, hugging Ryuji... eating). It's altogether very run-of-the-mill.
I don't think that this is a terrible show, but I really do think it's lazy and that it's been getting more attention than is warranted considering its relative quality. I read a quick review of the first episode by a user at another website, and he/she essentially gave the first episode high marks for originality, simply because none of the female characters introduced thus far was a tsundere. If that's the only minor variation required for a show to be lauded for innovation, well... let's just say that I don't feel quite so complimentary. "Magical girlfriend" is a genre unto itself, but even considering that it has its own expectations to fulfill, I don't think it's out of line to expect a creator to add a little bit more flavor here and there. The final product may not end up being a work of genius, but a little heart and soul can go a long way to gloss over plenty of other shortcomings.
- Normally for most mediocre episodes I can think of one positive thing to say... this time around, it's hard. The car chase was pretty exciting, I suppose.
- Extreme mediocrity on almost all counts. The story doesn't try, the characters aren't interesting, the production values lack.
- I could go throughout my life without hearing Rie Kugimiya's shrill squeaking ever again. She can voice adult characters just fine, so it would be nice if she were allowed to go that route more often.
Recommended? No, it's just not worth the half-hour of anyone's time. This is the kind of stuff that seems really fresh until you've been watching anime for a year or two; then all the tropes begin to rear their ugly heads.