I guess with Thanksgiving having come and gone and family obligations to meet it's time to figure out the things that you're thankful for, and for this blog, that means the things that I'm thankful for as far as anime goes. This year's been quite good, and some things upon reflection stand out.
I'm thankful that I don't need to watch bad anime, because there's enough good out there.
I've started watching some real stinkers this year, but fortunately there's been enough good anime that I haven't had to stick with them very long. Hen Zemi, R-15, and Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere all stand out as terrible shows that were replaced by far superior things during their seasons, and the ability to opt out of a bad anime because of the amount of good to great things out there has been one of the best parts of watching anime in 2011. There's also been enough variety out there that there's no reason to watch a bad anime because there's probably a better variant of what you're watching playing somewhere else.
I'm thankful for shows that are better than they had any right to be.
The experimental anime which hit were one thing, but there were shows that could have been terrible that ended up being surprisingly great this season. Kore wa Zombie desu ka? and Oreimo were two shows that I had little hope for being good, and both were surprisingly very good. Zombie was unbelievably absurd to start with, but then they just kept piling more absurdity on top until you realized you were watching a show about a Vampiric Ninja who had fallen in love with a Zombie being controlled by a Necromancer who had stolen a magical girl's powers (and outfit). Just let that mental image set in, or just watch the show and embrace it's special blend of lunacy. Oreimo from the description was something I started watching expecting to be repulsed, but instead it told a good story of a brother helping his princess of a sister come to grips with the fact that she was, of all things, an otaku. There's something well done in the sibling rivalry, and fortunately it swiftly stepped away from things wihch could have been distasteful as most one paragraph descriptions would lead you to believe it would be about. Yeah, she's got a thing for little sister hentai, at least that doesn't translate into her wanting to be in one.
While these two shows were better than they had any right to be, there are two others this year which went from looking like rubbish to actually being among the best shows I've watched this year. Mayo Chiki! was not just any old stupid harem anime, it seemed intent on becoming the stupid harem anime. It adhered to the formula to a fault, but for every fault the harem anime genre has, every strength it had shined through as well. In the end the best thing about the show had to be that one of the tried and true tropes of harem anime wasn't present in this one, and that's the tsundere female lead. Except for a bit of a misunderstanding in the first episode, Kinjiro didn't have to fend off an violent love interest on top of the other problems he had to deal with. Kinjiro also was shown to be a defensive match for Subaru's offensive capacity, which was used mainly in defense of Subaru and, in the end, Kinjiro as well.
It's hard not to talk about shows that are better than they have any right to be an not mention Ben-To, so I'll do it here. I still haven't heard anyone talk about not liking this show, and haven't heard any reasons why it's as good as it is. Most people seem to say that they like it but can't put their finger exactly on why. It's just good, not because it's doing anything admirably well, or that there's some obvious thing that the show is hitting strongly. It just has good characters, a silly situation, and realizes that it should just run with it. A show about fights breaking out for half price Bento boxes doesn't seem like it should be one of the most entertaining shows I've watched in a long time, but there it is, delivering good action, some laughs, and some lessons you're free to ignore if you're so inclined. It's just better than it has any right to be, and that's good enough when there are so many shows which are worse than they should be.
I'm thankful for shows I have high hopes on and deliver.
If there's one thing that I'm happy about though it's the shows that I had hoped for great things from and delivered those things from the beginning. Chihayafuru was a show that I was throttling down expectations on because there was no way it'd be as good as the factors going in would lead one to believe. It was based on an award winning manga, and the artwork being shown before release was jawdropping. Even with it being based on an ancient card game that I only have slight knowledge of, the dynamics between the players were the things that interested me the most, and those dynamics are the things that the show has focused on. Great characters with believable motivations leads each episode to flow naturally like very few shows I've seen this year.
One of the shows that did flow as well as Chihayafuru this year however was the brilliant Usagi Drop. Regardless of what might happen later in the story, the opening of this story told a great tale of what it's like to become a father to someone who's already had part of their world view formed before you meet them. It's different than when you're raising your own child from birth, and the relationship in Usagi Drop is different than most since it focuses on the adjustment that needs to be made by both Kaga Rin and her new nephew Daikichi Kawachi who takes his six year old aunt in and decides to raise her to stop her from being put in a home. The growth of that relationship is possibly one of the best in any anime this year, and anyone who likes Josei anime should be watching this if they haven't already.
The Queue is Closed:
Are there any trends or anime you're thankful for during this season? Write below and let everyone know what you think!
I'm still processing thoughts on things I'm watching, mainly because I've ripped through nearly the entire first season of Honey and Clover in the last week. I'm liking the show, and it looks like there's a similar relationship chain now developed between Yuuta, Shinobu, and Hagumi, as there was between Rika, Takumi, and Ayumi. The dynamic is different, but looking at what I've watched in the last few weeks has made me examine something about anime that I haven't considered before.
It's not just Honey and Clover which made me consider this, but also the fact that anime which I've dropped I've seemed to continue watching, including a rather unfortunate episode of MajiKoi that I discussed last week. There's also anime that on the face of it I couldn't explain why I'm watching, and I think that the issue of the anime's density might have something to do with it. Ben-To is not the most brilliant thing I've ever seen, but it's so lightweight that it seems like a nice change of pace and an easy thing to zone out to and watch. It lures you into seeing it on the play list and gravitating to it because it's easy to consume. Meanwhile, I've had a hard time watching a show like Last Exile which seems more dense with characters, intrigue, and motivations. Last Exile is still something I'm looking forward to, but it also the anime that seems like the jumping off point for a larger point.
Last Exile has the same issue that a show I adored in the last two seasons had, the issue that the narrative felt dense enough that watching it in small doses made it feel like details were slipping through my fingers, and that I was missing something. It was only by walking away and letting the episodes build up until finally hitting a point where I could run through them in short order that it developed enough narrative flow and continuity that I finally found myself becoming entranced by it. Tom's Watch and Learn format didn't allow him to push through the more dense parts of Steins;Gate, and stopped at episode six of the watch and learn, which was about the point where I was starting to allow the show to gain critical mass and pushed through the sixth through ninth episodes in one sitting.
Where Last Exile might be a show like that this season, another show this season has had that breakthrough point happen first, and it's the show that displaced it on the Super Six. It's strange, since Fate/Zero is the first show where that point of needing to build up momentum happened so early, but the first episode is so richly dense, and in fairness it's a double episode, that it was hard trying to digest everything I was seeing to the point where pressing on to the second episode seemed pointless. It's the radical change in tone once the setup has taken place that made watching three episodes of Fate/Zero in a row push it past anime that I like more, but don't respect as much on my list. I think that having a show that despite, or because, of it's density still shines as being entertaining is something that I put a large value on when I try to slot shows into my own personal list of favorite currently running shows. Shows that aim for density are taking a risk, as they're like any object being launched like that. It's easier to throw a basketball than it is a medicine ball, but at a certain point, that medicine ball can gain enough momentum if propelled right to push past the basketball. Steins;Gate pushed past shows like Hanasaku Iroha because it had more density in the end and enough propulsion to shoot it past that series. Mawaru Penguindrum holds itself in high order on that list for the same reason.
Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere on the other hand failed to do anything interesting under it's burgeoning weight and was cast aside in the drop pile. MajiKoi and Mashiro-Iro Symphony on the other hand still end up in my viewing rotation, although I should know better, and in the case of MajiKoi after episode 6, I should really know better. The thing is, I'll still probably still watch the seventh episode, just not before I watch the seventh episode of Persona 4 or the 20th episode of Honey and Clover.
Thoughts and opinions on the measure of density to anime? Post them in the comments here... ok, down a little, now over... there.
I'll be honest, there's a lot of things that I wanted to watch throughout this week that I haven't, just out of work issues, so instead of looking at a few specific anime, I'm just going to give some sporadic thoughts on the stuff that I have been watching over the last week.
Honey and Clover and MajiKoi?
So looking through Netflix, the series Honey and Clover caught my eye again. I keep meaning to watch it, but for some reason I usually fall into a show that's not to be named, (at least until later), but this weekend I decided with a day off from work to load up Honey and Clover. I was struck at how similar the situations that the show has reflects what's being done so poorly in MajiKoi. There's a downward mechanic between Rika, Takumi, and Ayumi which matches up with the same mechanic that's in MajiKoi's Momoyo, Yamato, and Miyako. The difference is that Honey and Clover uses this as a side story, and there's a real relationship developing in the foreground, while in MajiKoi this mechanic is in the foreground, and is charged with enough nudity and innuendo to choke an elephant. It's just interesting to see how the same dynamic is handled so differently between the two shows, but not as interesting as the fact that while I figured I was going to drop the show, I had the misfortune of watching the sixth episode. The only positive I'll take out of a half hour of phallic imagery and fellatio jokes is the fact that it reminded me that I really should play "Shadows of the Damned" at some point, if for no other reason than because I hear the phallic jokes in the game are from all reports actually funny.
Chie vs Ai, FIGHT!
A lot of words were spent about Persona 4's fifth episode, which included two social links, and a catfight between Chie Satonaka and Ai Ebihara. I made my thoughts on Ai known when I was looking ahead to the series and made my dislike for the nouveax riche Ebihara known. Yes, the catfight and people's lack of reaction to it might have seemed out of place, but I couldn't help but have my own internal "Yay!/Boo!" dialogue going through my head as they hauled off on each other. If you really want to take anything away from the fifth episode of Persona 4, take this away. Kou has great taste in women, and most people on Whiskey Media would agree, Chie over all. Now granted, I'm a fan of redheads, so Rise's more my speed, but damned if Chie's not great.
Some great shows just remain great
I posted a few weeks ago about how much I was enjoying Fate/Zero, and that it was challenging Last Exile for that last slot in the Super Six. After watching the sixth episode, it's made it's way on the list, bouncing Last Exile out of the list. This isn't to say that Last Exile has become worse, it's still really good, it's just that as the action ratchets up in Fate/Zero, it's place on the list wasn't going to be denied. It's actually moved not only on the list, but up the list as well, becoming one of my favorite shows of the season. Assassin's remaining in the shadows, as a good assassin should, Caster's made himself known (and has mistaken Saber for Jeanne D'Arc instead of King Arthur), and it'll be interesting if we see a bit more background on Berserker soon, as he's been shown but not really examined, and the side story of his master is one of the more interesting motivations anyone has in this Holy Grail War. The list as it stands is as such right now:
(* Fate/Zero joins the list for the first time, Last Exile ~Fam, the Silver Wing~ finds itself off the list.)
Bakuman was nearing an exit from the list as well until the arc with Mashiro's health came into play. It's a good time to reintroduce Azuki Miho back to the group, and to show that silly promises don't mean as much as each other's health and suffering. Mashiro's hell bent on drawing, but the preview for the next episode makes it clear that a certain someone's about to step in and put an end to this in order to give Mashiro time to have his surgery and recover from the issues which are causing his failing health. Last Exile would have stayed around if not for that twist in Bakuman's story, which cemented how dear those characters have become over thirty episodes.
There are shows which are not to be named.
This is more an observation from a time where I owned a comic book and hobby store, there were four shows I found that if you were starting to watch them or read the manga, I would always advise people new to the series to hold their tongue and never mention they were watching or reading these things until they were fully caught up. The four shows of death should be obvious, but in case they're not, they are Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and Death Note. A true story about Naruto, is that my son when he was little started watching Naruto when going to bed. We always kept a few episodes on the DVR when Cartoon Network started showing them, because it got to the point where an episode of "Ruto" almost became the signal to the little one that it was time to be quiet, and by the end of the episode, sleep was usually not far behind.
I did most of the Naruto watching with my son, but my wife began watching too, and one day in the shop she made the fatal mistake of mentioning that she was watching it. Someone enthusiastically asked what episode she was on and she said 53, at which time he started going into what happend in episode 53... OF NARUTO SHIPPUDEN. Yes, roles had changed, friends were now enemies, enemies were now friends, and the dynamics built over 220 episodes were completely ruined for her. She's never watched another episode of Naruto since that day. If you're new to anime, and watching any of these series, do not tell your anime loving friends, for the love of god that you are. Watch some short form stuff, but until you're current, keep these shows a dirty dark secret. And for most of the people reading, remember that like with video games, flexing your deep rich knowledge of the thing you love doesn't make it so that new people regard you as an expert, but more of a braggadocio know it all that's to be avoided. Recommend, but never spoil, these great things and let the person new to anime bring you what wonderful things you find, and then discuss those things with them, and maybe make some recommendations based on what they like. A friend who comes to me and liked Usagi Drop will get a Wandering Son reference if they wish there was a bit more meat on the bone. Someone who likes K-On! will get an Azumanga Daioh recommendation from me if they loved how cute that show is.
But if they liked Hetalia, I still don't know what I'd tell them. :) That show's just a beast unto itself. (Use the comments, what would you recommend to a new anime watcher who's only exposure to anime is Hetalia and wants to watch something else?)
The Queue is Closed!
Hopefully next week I'll return to having a little more structure to the blog, but this week's been so sporadic with my anime watching, that it was little things that caught my attention instead of sweeping opinions on any series in general.
It's cleanup time in my blog, which means catching up on a show that I've been withholding comment on for a while, a new recommendation to watch, and taking out some garbage and throwing it away.
Phi Brain - Kami no Puzzle (Episode 5)
So after watching the first episode of Phi Brain I made the decision to give it a few episodes to let it reveal it's plot and what direction it's going to go in, and it's walking the line of being good and bad and remaining at being "there". There's something about the art style that's not working for me and is a bit distracting, but I like the concept and the characters despite that. I'm glad that I was able to get the fifth episode in, as it fills in a bit about "Einstein"'s love/hate relationship with the puzzles and why he's offended at the use of those puzzles as death traps. The relationships of the other "Solvers" are starting to round themselves out, and seeing different attitudes of the "Givers" is also interesting, and a good thing that most of them aren't murderous crybabies like I would have thought after watching episode 3. The fourth episode finally introduced a Giver who's reaction to their puzzle being solved wasn't indignation but actually happiness at the solving, which was needed to break up the fits of rage and temper tantrums thrown by the other Givers when bested. I'm still interested enough in this series to keep watching, and would probably put it in last week's "If you like this type of thing, you'll like this thing of that type" category, which I'd also do with the next show, much to my surprise.
Ben-To (Episode 4)
So after listening to episode 105 of the Anime Addicts Anonymous podcast, I was surprised to hear that Chiaki liked Ben-To but couldn't describe why. Like Phi Brain, it has some things going against it, like the tsundere "Ice Queen" who's the leader of this particular pack of "wolves" in a no-holds barred battle for cheap bento boxes. I think the absurdity that I enjoyed in Kore wa Zombie desu ka? that I thought I'd get in C3 is present here, and that might be why I'm enjoying it despite it's flaws. The set up is ridiculous, but that's never stopped me from liking a series with a ludicrous kick off to it's action. There's a part of me that thinks at time that I'm over-analyzing the show, that it might be trying to say something about honor in battle, and codes of ethics, instead of just being about people beating each other up for cheap eats. I'm sure it's there, but it might be more fun to watch this without thinking too much about it. It's a good "brain off" series as it's entertaining for what it is, and again, if you like this type of thing (absurd comedy), you'll like this thing of that type.
I try to have positive things to say about most shows, since maybe when it comes to anime I'm an optimist at heart. These shows, however, prove to be poor examples of what they're trying to accomplish, and there's better things to be watching instead, and I've already given twelve shows this season which fall into that category. I'm not saying you might not like them, or even love them, I was one of the people who loved Mayo Chiki! last season so you should know that my opinions are my own, and my opinions are that these shows shouldn't be watched in lieu of shows that in my opinion are better options.
Mashiro-Iro Symphony (Episode 5)
I don't object to a good harem romance, and that's something that Mashiro-Iro Symphony isn't. It has the pacing of a slice of life show, and a main character who's too much of a blank slate to get a read on him. He's just "the nice guy". Whatever the nicest option is for him to do, is what he's going to do. "You need to leave and want me to do the rest of your work? That's ok, because I'm the nice guy." "You're going to show outright hostility towards me? I'll win you over by being the nice guy." "I may have done something unknowingly which you took offense to and have blown out of proportion? I'll smooth things over because I'm the nice guy."
This show wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so intent on keeping the "atmosphere" cozy. Some conflict and emotion would go a long way towards rounding out the characters and their real feelings for each other. They're just being so nice to each other, that they're burying anything that might resemble an emotional trait that I could attach myself to. Instead, it looks like it's going to continue being a cycle of misunderstanding causes potential PVC figure to get their feelings hurt, and nice guy smooths everything over so we can get on to the next episode. It's spinning it's wheels, and not doing so in a remotely interesting way.
If you're looking for something like this, go watch any number of better shows. Love Hina, Ai Yori Aoshi, Mayo Chiki!, or the spectacular Kimi Ni Todoke, just ignore this one, since even Manglobe couldn't save this from the drop pile.
Un-Go (Episode 3)
How much disappointment do I have towards Un-Go? So much that I'm going to ruin this show by letting you watch the best parts of it. Here's the first thing that's great about this show.
What a great opening, terrific music (from School Food Punishment who did the closing theme to [C]-Control), great character designs, interesting environment, terrific animation, what could possibly go wrong here? Well, here's the other great thing about this show.
Fans of No. 6 will recognize the LAMA music at the end of the show and again, fantastic and meaningful lyrics to what should be another terrific Noitamina production. Unfortunately, everything you see between these two things is boring garbage. The show spends more time throwing a myriad of characters at you, that by the time something happens you don't care who the culprit is. Pick a random dude that looks sketchy, that's what it seems like this "defeated detective" does, because it's not like anyone has any recognizable motivation here. Watch Case Closed if you want a detective series instead of this.
Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon (episode 1)
It's a rare show that after one episode turns me off of it so much that I won't give it a second chance. I even watched two episodes of the absolutely dreadful R-15 before retiring that series to the garbage heap. The only shows in recent memory that I've watched one episode of and bailed on were Hen Zemi (which is more trashy than R-15) and now Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere. It fails for the same reason Un-Go does, except even more so. The first episode felt like I was sighted in someone's "Random Anime Trope Generator Machine Gun v4.23", they flipped the switch to fully automatic, and then hammered down the trigger for 23 minutes. "Don't like this character, how about this one? Maybe this one? How about this one, she has wings! Ok, this one has a Robot! This one IS a robot!" Not a single character seemed to have any shred of intelligence to them, and most looked like they went for second and third helpings of cup size rather than common sense. Add in that the "leader" of this group, none of which I could remember the names of since it seemed more important to try to sell another PVC figure with large breasts, comes in long enough to announce that he skipped class to buy an eroge, but after he finishes it he's going to confess his feelings for "Horizon" who's been dead for 10 years, but before that, he's going to grope his teacher. And then you're going to give me the serious voice over during the ending theme to try to tell me that there's something more going on here than slapstick comedy? I can't imagine that in my projected Super Six that this was above Last Exile, Fate/Zero, or even Un-Go, and that it went from there to dropped in less than 25 minutes is amazing to me. Garbage. If you want a show that goes with a theme of retelling history, go watch Fate/Zero, it's light years better than this.
Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai! (episode 5)
Can someone tell me when this show gets back to what it was doing in the first two episodes? There was a giant battle that was reminiscent of a Baka To Test class battle to start with, and in the second episode there was some hint that there was some great conspiracy that these kids were going to get involved in. And in the third episode, there were breasts. And in the fourth episode, more breasts and naked girls. And in the fifth episode, did I mention breasts and naked girls, because there's a lot of those in this show. I've almost forgot about those first two episodes because every time I queue up an episode of this my brain shuts down from pantsu overload and my eyes glaze over. It looked like it was going to try to do something interesting, a samurai spin on Full Metal Panic! possibly, but it got bogged down in awkward advances of cute samurai girls to a character who is so hung up on a different cute samurai girl that he can't see the forest for the trees. Someone needs to sit the main character down with a copy of School Days and say, "Do this, just don't go overboard so you can avoid what happens in the last few episodes" and make it a hentai already. Watch Baka To Test or Full Metal Panic! instead of this, unless you really, and I mean really, like samurai girls.
Next week, I might look around at some other anime that I haven't been watching this season, and revise the Super Six to see if Fate/Zero is able to make it's way in, since after a shaky start, it's progressed brilliantly since.
Last week I went over the six series which make up the new Super Six, but there's more that I've been watching, and I wanted to spend some time with those series which didn't make the initial list. It's not to say that some of the series might not crawl up into that group, and a few are making pretty strong cases that they deserve to be there. Without further ado, the other shows I've been watching this season which may, or may not, be worth your time.
Fate/Zero (Episode 4)
I briefly mentioned last week that the first episode of Fate/Zero was making my head hurt. It's the polar opposite of Persona 4 in that there's a whole lot of context being put out during the first episode, so much that it needed a double shot to cram as much in as possible. There's so much going on that it borders on overwhelming someone who isn't familiar with the universe, and last week after fighting through the episode, I was walking the tightrope of walking away from the show. It's a good thing I didn't. I ran through the next three episodes in short order. I love the spin on the Arthurian legend with Saber, and love even more how the masters and their legendary charges are rarely in line with each other. You have some of the greatest heroes in history, many who had great military conquests, and it makes sense that they won't be listening to or adhering closely to their "Masters" wishes, despite what those Magus had thought going into the conflict. The fighting is paced incredibly well, and it's shocking to me that this is the first ufotable anime I've watched (though their style is familiar from the Disgaea games).
If not for the laborious start of the show, this would be Last Exile's spot and Fate/Zero would be in the Super Six. Even with it not being there, anyone interested shouldn't wait to start watching, and should maybe send a poke at Levance to continue blogging about the show (if not too busy with University and Higurashi/Umineko).
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (Episode 3)
By the inclusion of Mayo Chiki! in last season's Super Six, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I don't object to a good harem comedy. I like the concept of Tomodachi, but the characters could stand to spend a little less time bickering and fighting among each other. I like Kodaka as a main character, and I haven't changed my opinion that this show is going to sink or swim based on him. It was good to see a bit of Kodaka's messed up home life, and the interaction between him and Sena in the second half of the third episode worked well to start advancing the relationships between the initial characters in the Neighbor's Club before the requisite increase in
potential PVC figcharacters come into the club. There's still potential for it to be decent, as long as it continues to focus on developing the growth in the friendships between the characters, and not just their adversarial interactions with each other.
Guilty Crown (Episode 2)
To find out if you like Guilty Crown, you only need to ask yourself one question. Would you have watched Code Geass if Lelouch was a weakling? Because if you wanted that, then come look behind this curtain, because I have a show for you. Shu is nearly the exact opposite character archtype as Lelouch but put through the same process. Japan under martial law and relegated to outside rule? Check. Strange girl bestowing great power? Check. Shadow Organization wanting to use this new power to advance a political uprising? Check. Gorgeous animation and great music? Check. This is basically Code Geass version 1.1, and if you liked that show you'll love this one. If you thought it was too pretentious or nationalistic, you'll think this show's too pretentious or nationalistic too. It's no shock that the same writer did both series, so if you have an opinion on one, you'll have an opinion on both.
If you haven't watched Code Geass and are still wondering if you should watch Guilty Crown, then ask yourself if you want an almost obnoxiously overconfident hero, or one who's reluctant to use this newfound power. This series is for those who want the latter, for the former, skip this and watch Code Geass instead.
C3 (Episode 3)
Two weeks ago I mentioned how I was moments away from shutting this show down and putting it in the drop pile before it went into Elfen Lied mode and began an insane fight scene filled with blood and gore. I said at that time that Fear-in-Cube had better do her best Lucy impression if the show was going to keep me interested. And that's exactly what episode 3 delivered, Fear in a crazed destructive fury tearing limbs off her attacker and basically going berserk. There's plenty of dark action here and if you liked Elfen Lied, you'll probably feel right at home here, as Fear is more a Lucy/Nyu hybrid than she is a Eucliwood Hellsythe.
That's it for this week, as next week I plan on looking at series which are in serious jeapordy of being dropped and giving them one last week to sink or swim. This is becoming an excellent season for new anime, and there's too many good series out there for bad ones to survive on my watchlist for long. I also want to take a look at Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle, which I said I wouldn't comment on until Episode 4 to give it time to develop.