Do you like anime with great characters, gentle and warm story-telling of relatively `normal' events and aren't too worried about a relatively sedate pace? If not flee in terror from this tape...and leave me to watch it again.
Any anime series that begins with a dream with set in the series "To Heart" shows great promise in my opinion. The person having the dream being a relatively normal high school student. He's progressing through school, has a very good female friend and lives a normal life. But little does he know that one of his acquaintances plans to draw him into a nightmarish underground world, a world which may play a part in Japan's dreams of world conquest. A world full of super-hero's, tough guys and school-girls in minimal clothing. Yes, his weird friend wants him to enter the mysterious world of Doujinshi!
For those unfamiliar with the term it largely means amateur comics which may be original or derived from (or in parody of) commercial anime and manga titles. The other fact worth knowing is it's extremely large in scale, both in creators and collectors, and is more or less allowed by the copyright holders. In fact this paragraph doesn't go far enough to capture the true scale, variety and professionalism that exists within this immense community. In addition, like any other community, there are lots of customs and mysteries to discover, and this anime is going to show us.
Put aside any fear of this being some dry, overly otaku, documentary. It is primarily a story and has no shortage of character and characters, many of whom (in the True Heart tradition) are cute young females. The main thread is the lead becoming a creator of Doujinshi, finding his own style, learning the community and even discovering some things about himself. And along the way are various other characters, many of whom have a part to play. There's his strange friend who acts as instigator and narrator, the printer, the doujinshi author seduced by fame and the one who considers the ethics and heart of the community to be important. There's also his female friend who is, at least for the moment, horrified at his descent into this strange community. And, especially for a western fan, it's an extremely interesting peek into a community few of us will get to experience in reality.
It's also good. The characters, and events, are a little bit too convenient. Everyone has a role to play, and fills that space a little too neatly. And events occur with a little bit too much predictability. But it has such a nice and gentle flow, and the characters have so much life and energy, that it's easy to sink into it. It's not full of action or suspense, but it has charm and a sense of reality and meaning to give it more depth than you might suspect. It's also got a rich sense of humor, and doesn't take itself too seriously. Personally I adore this sort of stuff, but if you demand action and detest anything remotely shoujo'ish then best to move on.
I also find it interesting that while it has some signs of shoujo sensibility it has a shounen sense of energy and directness. The characters express themselves wonderfully, but they also seem human, get angry and act in not so noble, but very believable ways. The way in which his female friend is turned off by the heat, crowds and smells of the first convention is extremely believable. The `ugly' side of doujinshi fans, the arguments between the two doujinshi fans and various other interactions are a strange mixture of charming, humorous and deadly serious. And all of it is done with such skill that the story should suck you in. Even better it seems that, against anime tradition, the vast majority of females manage to avoid falling in love with the male lead character.
The animation is nothing special and is average quality for a TV series. Fortunately it is the characters and story that drive this series so the animation quality is not really an issue. Characters, and their moods, are brought out well and some of the girls are quite cute at times. There's a reasonable amount of super deformed stuff, and some visual effects, to bring out the humor of situations which is done quite well. Needless to say there's not a lot of scope for action, but the characters move well and are quite expressive in their movements. The voices are varied and good, the music was quite good too. I guess it's also worth mentioning that the show does seem to have a distinctive, and somewhat unique, sense of style in it's direction. And, like To Heart, may well fall into the gap between shoujo and shounen and be over-looked by a lot of people.
None of my regular sources have a review of this series so far.