So instead of constantly switching titles around, I figured that I would find one and stick with it, at least for a season. I feel like I've seen a lot this week, but not very much at all, which I blame squarely on the feet of the first episode of Fate/Zero overloading my poor brain. That said, let's get started with a new "Super Six" that took form when the last of this fall's series came across my viewing zone.
Super Six as of October 21st, 2011
How on earth did I forget that the sequel to Last Exile was starting this season? I really liked the first series, although I'll be damned if I remember much about it, and I'll probably feel the same way about LE: Fam when it's over. What will stick with me is that the music is fantastic, the visuals are beautiful, and the air combat is exhilarating. This is popcorn anime that invites you to explore it's story as much as it invites you to get a bag of popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show making it a nearly perfect watch whenever it's available.
As far as the story in the first episode, Fam is a sky pirate who revels in being the first into battle and firing the "First Harpoon". When the Ades Federation decides to use a meeting to set up a peace treaty as an opportunity to declare war on the Kingdom of Turan, Fam's among the many sky pirates who are looking to collect wreckage. Fam doesn't want any old wreckage though, and engages in a ploy to take over the Kingdom of Turan's flagship in exchange for letting their princesses Milia and Liliana escape the attack. It's terrific eye candy, and in a flash will bring back all the things that you liked about Last Exile and make you happy for more.
For me, Bakuman is just such a comfortable ride, and the beginning episodes seem to be focusing on balancing advancement of the story with reminding viewers of topics from the first season. It's doing this in such an effortless way that it's enjoyable to watch. This episode brings back the relationship between Aoki (writer of last season's "hideout door") and Nakai who was her assistant on that effort. Nakai had a thing for Aoki, who now has teamed up with KOOGY to start a new series for Jack SQ. Nakai, in his own mind, bet everything he had on the success of "hideout door" and goes on a crusade to prove to Aoki that his art can bring her work to life, including spending his off hours drawing outside her apartment in the park to hone his skills.
Meanwhile, the story still advances with the first issue of Detective Trap getting third in the Shonen Jack poll. Mashiro and Takagi are concerned with the low placement and realize they just lost their best chance to get first in the poll and solidify their serialization. Miura seems happy with third place, and tells them that being in the top ten is an accomplishment.
It seems like Miura is going to be good for Ashirogi Muto in helping them learn how to run their finances with assistants, but there's a level of observance that Hattori had that Miura doesn't when it comes to the finer details of the work at hand. A snowstorm also forces the situation between Aoki and Nakai to come to a head, as the deadline for the fifth installment of Detective TRAP and the second early poll results come in. There's a lot going on, and the balance between the personal and professional is well done in the episode.
The fan in me wants to put this so much higher. The show is finding it's stride and like Bakuman, has achieved a balance of advancing the story while reaching back to scratch every nostalgic itch it can find. The pacing is still a bit fast for my liking and I'm still hoping that eventually it will slow down and take some time to just let the characters interact with each other so that people not familiar with the game before it can find out why it's fans love these characters so much.
As I said in my last blog, this episode was going to center around Chie getting her Persona, and that's what the episode accomplished. There's an established formula of where this is going in the early episodes, loading up the Investigation Team with characters and giving Yu more options from a combat standpoint. I liked the way that they revealed his ability to switch his Persona mid-combat and showed a hint of Yosuke's envy of that fact. Taking the time out to have Yosuke and Yu get arrested for Yosuke brandishing some weaponry at the Junes was another nice nostalgic moment, but don't let that blind you to the fact that Yu was making paper cranes while he was waiting (which in the game is a "job" which can be taken to raise your attributes at night). It's when the show does so much with a little that keeps is solidly in the Super Six, as much as my concerns want to drop it lower, and my (admitted) position as a Persona fanboy wants me to shoot it higher.
Much like another show on this list, Mirai Nikki just gets more strange and demented every moment that passes. The game is completely afoot right now, and the limits the competitors are willing to go to for their goals are on full display in the second episode. Amano is reminding me a lot of Ganta from Deadman Wonderland, possessing great power but too timid to really use it. Yuno is also quite like Shiro from that series, having great power, and being unafraid to use it causing the male protagonists of both series to rely, to their own detriment, on her. In this episode, Amano should be a "deadman" as his ineptitude should leave him easy pickings for a terrorist named Uryuu Minene ("Ninth") who has him pretty much dead to rights. It's Yuno's "Future Diary of Love" which allows her to turn the tide and begin moving Amano out of the situation. Her diary also tells that the actions they're taking would keep Amano alive, or her diary would tell her of Amano's death, so as long as her diary keeps filling, he's still alive. Amano's capture by his teachers and classmates leads both to a confrontation between Uryuu and Chief Kurusu ("Fourth"), and Yuno going berserk over her classmates and teacher's betrayal of Amano for their own safety.
Mirai Nikki at times is confusing with all of the hidden information coming into and out of view, changing as the characters act differently then the diaries say they will, and making the whole exercise look like a fight against the fate Deus Ex Machina has laid out for them. I think this is what happens when you take Steins;Gate and Deadman Wonderland, throw them in a blender, and pour out the results. It's kinetic and fascinating and never lets you gain your footing for more than a moment before it shifts, twists around itself, and moves in directions you're not expecting. It's also one of the biggest surprises of the season, although not the biggest, since that's going to be saved for last.
One of the things about Penguindrum that I've loved, is the fact that it doesn't generally leave you on a cliffhanger, but opts more often to make you watch the next episode to try to figure out what you just watched. Maybe somewhere it will be explained, or the series will take on a more familiar or straightforward narrative device. I also said that it's ability to change up it's pacing is the ultimate in control, and something that no other show displays as adeptly.
The end of this episode takes a character, dangles them over the edge of the abyss, grins maniacally at you, and ends. Unlike a similar end scene near the end of Kamisama Dolls, there's actually tension at the end scene of this episode, because unlike Kamisama Dolls, Mawaru Penguindrum has built up enough credibility that it's just messed up that it might do what it's threatening. That's the control, the credibility, the brilliance that it's wielding right now that no other series running has. Unlike Kamisama Dolls, Penguindrum doesn't wave this as an idle threat, and even took the time to use this episode to strip any potential savior out of the picture. It controls, then isolates, and then threatens with true malice.
In a few weeks, someone needs to sneak this under Tom's nose with a post-it note that says, "Watch and Learn". Except it's the entire anime industry who should be watching and learning from Penguindrum, because this series is taking just about everything else currently running to school for a lesson on how twisted psychological horror should be done.
So after lavishing so much praise on Mawaru Penguindrum, how does it not take the top spot in my Super Six?
It's because the one thing that Penguindrum doesn't do well, character development, Chihayafuru does better than all other series running right now. It's triangle of Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi are so lovingly detailed, and intricately motivated, that they don't seem like creations or characters anymore. They have clear and understandable motivation, and are set on a path, and allowed to react as if they were real people.
The show made a brilliant decision to show the characters in "present day" then move them back and allow you to watch their foundations with each other form and eventually break. The third episode revolves around the three going to a karuta club and being enthusiastically embraced as younger members of the club. They engage in a team battle against another group of younger players, and Arata's ability alone is enough to seal the match for the newly formed team, but Arata wants to play with others, be involved with others, he's just having a hard time adjusting to not doing everything himself. They enter a tournament together, but before that event Taichi is enrolled to start in a Kaimeisei Middle School, probably an equivolent of the mystical Tokyo University (that every harem anime male lead seems to fail to get into, multiple times). At the same time, Arata's father suffers a cerebral hemorrhage, which will need him to go back to Fukui. The tournament is the last time that they'll play together which causes Chihaya to feel abandoned and not want to go through with it. Eventually the Doctor in charge of the karuta club gets through to Chihaya the amount of work Taichi had to put in to play karuta and still get into the prestigious school, and that Arata's grandfather is a karuta master who obviously taught his grandson the game. The arrival of the team's shirt to Chihaya (Team Chihaya Furu) is the last nudge to send Chihaya to the center to play her last games of karuta with her friends. A tournament which ends early due to Arata's illness and an imposing opponent who finished second to him in the previous year's national championships.
The motivations are all there, the characters are bound by this game, and will continue playing it because it's the bond they share with each other. As the story looks to leave this formative arc, it serves as the motivation for the continuation of these characters playing. It's the tie that binds and looks to bring them together again, for the rest of the story that's about to be told. It's a small show, focusing on detailed small things, and does so with such incredible deftness that it should be watched by all who like sports, slice-of-life, or romantic anime.
Next week, the shows I'm watching that, to this point, aren't quite at the level of these shows, including one that made a miraculous save from the "drop pile" with some good ol' ultraviolence.
The slow trickle at the end of the Fall Season's launch ended with UN-GO and Guilty Crown hitting airwaves this week, and while many shows are into their second or third (in the case of Squid Girl) episode, all others have at least started to display their opening moves enough to start forming opinions. While I've deviated a bit in what I wanted to watch, but did so to revisit Samurai Champloo on Netflix, I've still watched probably more anime in the last week than I've played Dark Souls, which is a shame since that game's pretty damn good. That being said, some of the new season hasn't been half bad either, and some was flat out incredible.
Additions to the Super Six from the Fall Season have been a mixed bag, with the two shows I earmarked for automatic invitation getting off to uneven starts before righting themselves with strong second episodes. In the meanwhile, two shows didn't wait for an invitation to sit down at the table and glare menacingly at anyone who'd deny them the stature, they just up and did it and I couldn't be happier. Mawaru Penguindrum still continues on it's magnificent path and with all the focus on newer shows, it should still be pointed out that this show, which I used to replace the dreadful R-15 last season, is fantastic and should be in line for a marathon to anyone who likes a good mind-bender. That being said, the focus goes back on the new stuff now.
Persona 4: The Animation: As many people have already pointed out, the beginning to Whiskey Media's most awaited anime got off to a bit of a rocky start. It wasn't the animation which was fine, and it certainly wasn't the music which falls in line with your opinion of Shoji Meguro's original tracks (which are being reused liberally), but instead was the fact that the pacing was hectic. It seemed like the animators were tasked with two things to accomplish by the end of the first episode, and held at gunpoint to get those things in before the ending credits. First, Nanako must sing the Junes song. Second, someone, and by someone I mean Yu, better summon a Persona and go to town on some shadows. Getting to that point seemed to be the main focus, as all of the other points that are made in the game before that point were glossed over. Fortunately, the battle scene was good which bodes well for the future of the show, and Nanako is cute. (Maybe not Kaga Rin cute, but seriously, who is?)
Like Angel Beats!, there seems to be an initial rush to throw as much content as you as possible while giving you as little context as they can. Seiji Kishi has gone back to the same well from the previous series, which would be disconcerting if not for the fact that he executed it well with Angel Beats! and will need to do so again if he's to keep Persona 4 from alienating potential new fans. The first four episodes seem to be set, however, and the pacing issues which plagued the first episode started to fade as the second episode began. There was more time for conversation and to let the characters stop rushing about and show who they were, and the show was able to slow down and let those characters shine through. It seems that the stopping point for the second episode was Yosuke's awakening, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Chie and Yukiko follow in the next two episodes. It'll be interesting to see if it awakens a character an episode for the first four, and then really slows down the introductions and spends more time on their interactions with each other and the town they live in. Inaba's a fascinating place with some very fascinating characters, and is a terrific location that deserves to be explored.
One of the things that many people, myself included, keyed in on was the intermission screen which showed an actual status screen for Yu, and on closer inspection showed all of his stats at minimum in the first episode. Speculation could be had on whether this was going to be important, and if it could be used as a vehicle to take the cipher and grant him direction and personality. It's a pretty brilliant use of the game's mechanics, as is the use of the calendar, which serves as a nostalgia point, but can also quickly pass on important information. When the "Bravery" stat went up for episode 2, it brought a smile to my face, and we'll see how long it takes to point out the weather icons on the calendar which will point out how close important events are to occurring. I love the use of these screens from the game in this way, and hope that it doesn't lose it's luster by the end of the show since I think it's brilliant.
Bakuman: Season 2: Like Persona 4, the second episode of Bakuman was more in line with what I expected the show to be like, although the central issue was one that I hope they don't draw from too often. While Mashiro is beginning his journey into becoming a manga-ka, Miho has already had a running start to her voice acting career in the first season. The second episode centers around an offer of a picture book which would include some "sketchy" pictures of her in a bathing suit. Mashiro loses focus and Takagi and Miyoshi are forced to scramble to reel him back in while they still have the use of their assistants. Speaking of assistants, I like how the three are slowly being drawn out of their shells and are being worked in to working with Mashiro and Takagi. The conversation between Mashiro and Takahama was an icebreaker which needed to happen, as it looked like he was being lost in the shuffle, but taking a close look at his motivations you see that he may be as driven to succeed as Mashiro, and may have greater aspirations. Like Persona 4's second episode, it's a terrific rebound from the shaky start of the season and any worries I had that it might not be as good as hoped are fading quickly.
Chihayafuru: I mentioned in my previous blog how much I liked the initial episode of Chihayafuru, and how much I was looking forward to seeing where it was going. The show has not disappointed at all, and while it's not pressing new ground in the second episode for originality, it succeeds in solid execution. I like how the show didn't start with the three characters in the time frame this episode takes place in, because it would be easy to start developing a raging hatred for Taichi, and how much of a bastard he is at this point in time. To see that he may have matured out of the phase he's in during this episode might temper animosity more than the scene with his mother at the end of the Karuta match. The match itself also did well to develop the characters strengths and show some of their strong points. Wataya shows that even blind he's more than a match for most karuta players by his powers of sheer memorization. Taichi shows the ability to observe and exploit Wataya's weakness (which he created) by seeing how Wataya is winning and thwarting the plan by moving the cards around. Chihaya meanwhile makes up for her lack of knowledge of the poems by using the physical techniques she's adopted from Wataya to beat Taichi to the punch and stay even with him. It's a great way to show different strengths for each character and avenues where they can teach or thwart each other. It'll be interesting to see how long they stay at this point in time, as they have plenty of episodes to work with, but if they stick in this time frame too long, it may do damage to Taichi's character unless he learns from the error of his ways and develops into the character they show in the first episode starting now.
Mirai Nikki: I thought that I might miss Steins;Gate for a while, but Mirai Nikki looks to be up for the task of taking the sci-fi mindbender role and running with it. I love a show with a good premise, and Mirai Nikki has it. The show centers around Yukiteru Amano, who may just be a hikikomori in training. Maybe the saving grace for him is that he's interested in observing his surroundings while wanting to interact with those surroundings as little as possible. He dutifully marks observations in his cell phone and is happy with his imaginary friends, like Deus. Deus decides to switch things up, and begins writing Amano's diary for him, in advance. By the end of the episode, you find that a game is afoot, with 12 players, and the one left standing being given the prize of taking Deus's role as the God of Space and Time. Maybe I'm just happy with another anime which manipulates time in a completely different way, but it seems to take Steins;Gate seat before it ever got cold and lay claim to it. Without having read Future Diary, there's so many places this game can go, and most of them sound fascinating.
Un-Go: I liked the first episode of Un-Go, although, like Persona 4, it seems to have some pacing problems. One of the things that I love about anime, is that it has the tendency to be serial and not episodic. Kamisama no-Memochou, another show about detectives, got around potential pacing problems during the beginning of it's run last season by having an hour long first episode. It used that extra time to introduce the characters and concepts as well as give you a sample of it's mystery solving mechanics, and unfortunately Un-Go has no such fortune. It seemed to spend a lot of time introducing characters, had something happen, and got to the point of solving the mystery. The problem is that the fun you have watching a mystery is trying to figure it out before the detective does, but Un-Go uses so much information unseen to the viewer, that you can't "play along" with it. The characters are strange enough to warrant further inspection, and maybe there's enough recurring characters to allow such a thing. But if the show falls into a rhythm like the first episode, where it introduces a heap of characters that you'll only see this episode and no further, it might be too vexing to continue.
Verdict on Un-Go after episode 1: It's a hold for now, leaning towards keep, if slightly.
Mashiro-iro Symphony: So it's not terrible, which is a relief, but it did something that anime series shouldn't do, which is make me want to watch a different series from the studio. After watching two episodes of Mashiro-iro Symphony, the thought crossing my mind wasn't anticipation for episode 3, but rather a desire to go back and watch Samurai Champloo, which is exactly what I did. I might keep watching and use it as an inoffensive series to play around with doing some Wiki work on Anime Vice with, and maybe the relationships with the characters take hold over time and turns me around into really liking the show, but right now it's nowhere near as good as other Manglobe series, and if I saw it there's no way I could peg this coming from the same studio which made Deadman Wonderland. The World God Only Knows, or Samurai Champloo.
Verdict on Mashiro-iro Symphony after episode 2: I might keep watching it, but for purposes of using it to learn how to use the wiki edit functions better since it looks like no one else has done much more than put a first episode title down.
Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!: Ok, the good news, Momoyo isn't Yamato's sister. The bad news, if the fight scenes weren't interesting, this show wouldn't have any redeeming value left. I haven't found a character to gravitate to and root for, as all of them seem to be as shallow as the deep end of an emptied swimming pool. Oh, you could have something here, I'm just not seeing it and you're running out of time to show me something I'm willing to stick around for. I'm not sure what it's going for at this point with it's "mission" structure, and use of lethal/non-lethal weaponry outside of it's usual battleground. Again, this show has a real chance of driving me into watching the second season of Baka to Test instead of this.
Verdict on Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai! after episode 2: It's a hold, but quickly losing it's grip. If it has a trump card, it better use it, and quick.
C Cube: You know, I was coming close to shrugging my shoulders and walking away from this one about halfway through the second episode. I didn't like the characters, I was finding it boring, and I didn't see any reason to continue. Then it breaks into an insane fight scene, one good enough that it earned the watch of a third episode. Maybe it was the intention of C Cube to lull me into a false sense of the duldrums before bringing out the chaos and raining blood and violence down upon it's unsuspecting viewer. And I just may hate Fear-in-Cube enough to root for the bad girl, as her "cute" antics are making me wish for a Madoka Magica episode 3 repeat. Ok, maybe I don't hate her that badly, but then again, maybe I do. I guess I'll have to keep watching to find out, so victory goes to Fear this time, but you better do your best Lucy impersonation in episode 3 to make me care.
Verdict on C Cube after episode 2: I'm going to keep watching, because I really liked the fight at the end of the second episode, but unless there's some major character shifts, this one's on very thin ice and about to fall into the drop pile if it doesn't deliver some character development I care about, or Elfen Lied levels of violence.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai: Funny that this and C Cube both end up down here, as both are shows that I had hesitation going into the season to watch. But unlike C Cube, I liked the first episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai quite a bit. There's potential that hasn't been ruined so far, and the dynamics between the three characters seems like it could go in interesting places. There's sure to be more characters which gives this show the opportunity to either build a strong cast, or fall in on it's own weight. It's an interesting spin having the "popular" girl join the club to find friends because at least she's smart enough to realize that a friend and sycophant are completely different things, but not unwilling to use those sycophants to make her life easier. Sena's just manipulative enough that she might cause more tension because she's accustomed to getting what she wants more than her developing rivalry with Yozora. Kodaka also has a good reason to be lumped in with them, and I appreciate that they'd give a decent explanation for why he'd be in need of this "Neighbor's Club". He's going to be the lynchpin if this show holds together, and it'll be through his eyes that most viewers will watch the show.
Verdict on Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai after episode 1: Not bad, but still has lots of room to either turn great or, more likely, into a giant mess. It has some time to reveal it's ultimate direction at this point.
Next week, I'll hopefully have had time to watch Fate/Zero and Guilty Crown, and more time can be taken for the shows above to shake themselves out.
So with the beginning of the Fall season, shows are clamoring for attention, and firing their opening salvos into the anime world in hopes of making their first impression count. While I haven't watched everything that was on "The Contenders" list, I've watched a bit of it and closed off ties to other shows. (Speaking of "The Contenders", I'd like to again give thanks to whoever nominated the blog as part of the Community Spotlight. It's appreciated and absolutely serves as motivation to continue writing.)
Last week I got around to finishing off Blood-C, which left me thankful that the show ended it's groundhog day loop in the first four episodes, but not as thankful as I was that the show as over. Granted, the Saya at the end of Blood-C was far more reminiscent to the Saya I would expect from the Blood series, and the gore factor went into the stratosphere eventually, but there was just something to the show that I couldn't grasp on to. Maybe it was the slow start and that it didn't have enough time to get me over the initial disconnect, which might be as logical an explanation as I can think of right now, but Blood-C feels like something that I can say I watched, and won't blame anyone else for not joining me in seeing. It'd be hard to recommend to fans of the original Blood: The Last Vampire because the Saya is so different, and hard to recommend to new fans because the Saya is so disjointed. I'm not left excited for the prospect of the Blood-C movie next June, and I'm not sure if enough people will be to make the venture profitable, but maybe with some distance my feelings on that will change.
The one show out of the contenders that was put in the "Super Six" that I haven't watched yet, and I'll probably watch after I finish writing this, is Persona 4: The Animation. There's more than enough people writing about the show that my thoughts will be another added to a rapidly expanding heap of postulates on the transition from game to anime, but I'm still more excited for this series than any other in the fall season, even after watching the first episodes of a few of the new shows.
The one show that seemed to get off to a surprisingly shaky start was the other series that I had a reserved spot for in the "Super Six", the first episode of the second season of Bakuman. I'm a bit shocked at Hattori being removed as Ashirogi Muto's editor, as the dynamic between the three was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the first season. Putting Mashiro and Takagi in a further discomforting position in attending the Jack party helped smooth the initial discomfort at that development though, as it's always a good sign when you're feeling the same level of discomfort as the protagonists. There's a lot of pressure on the two, and the early shakeup in the second season helps add new characters which should keep breathing new life into the show and carry it forward. It was a bit of a rocky start before the show seemed to settle back down and, by the conclusion of the first episode, put you back in that frame of mind that let you enjoy the first season so much.
I haven't watched the entire first episode of Fate/Zero, and only dug into a few minutes into it, but what I've seen so far is promising. That opening sequence could have killed any interest I had, but by keeping the focus on Emiya it gave me a character to grab on to who looks like they're going to drive the opening of the Fate series towards what it's become. Emiya's perspective may be the best one for a Type-Moon neophyte, like myself, to take while entering the universe they created, and as long as the show continues from that perspective, I'm going to give it a fair shake. The reveal early on of Illyasviel brought back memories actually of playing Mass Effect 2 when the Normandy was revealed. I'm sure if I had played the first Mass Effect, that seeing the new and improved Normandy was supposed to give me the same sense of joy and familiarity that Illyasviel as a baby was supposed to, but both fell a bit flat for me due to a lack of familiarity. I'm assuming that Illyasviel is a big deal and that she is important, and maybe in the end I can look back and recognize that, but at this point the focus on Emiya is a deft move that kept me from getting too far disconnected with what was happening. If it continues to work this way, Fate/Zero might make a Fate fan out of me yet.
I might be coming from C3 (CubexCursedxCurious) from the right place, in aligning the prism to see this through the eyes of someone who enjoyed Kore we Zombie Desu Ka?, but there's a startling difference between the two shows that makes itself obvious right away. At least Yuu was quiet and expressed herself through her writing and emoting, which was far more endearing than Fear's constant foul diatribes. I see the dynamic they're trying to create here, but unless they execute with incredible skill, that dynamic's not going to be one which holds me for any period of time, and C3's opening salvo doesn't inspire much hope for that. I'm going to hold on to C3, but it's moving down the list towards drop territory, especially if other shows step up and demand my attention.
A show that does have my attention right now, however, is Chihayafuru, which opened up quite nicely. I actually like Chihaya as a character, since while she absolutely could use a few gates between what she's thinking and what she's saying, you're never wondering where she's coming from. She's not doing the things she does because she's stupid, but because she possesses a dangerous level of honesty and no shut off valve to stop from saying things better left unmentioned or doing things best left undone. Honest, pretty, and kind are three attributes I like in my heroines and the developing triangle between her, Arata, and Taichi is something I'm highly interested in, with the kurota background being a fine way to force these characters to interact and rival each other.
I did get a chance to get in two shows that weren't on "The Contenders" list from last week, and both left me intrigued enough to continue watching, albeit with short leashes. Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai! has the shortest of the two, since it looks like it could, worst case scenario, turn into "Baka no Test no Pantsu!" as it has the class battling mechanic of Baka no Test with plucky underdogs using cunning and guile to defeat overachievers in the first battle, but with widespread fanservice which borders on getting out of control. If Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai! doesn't perform at a high level it will end up driving me to the second season of Baka no Test instead of continuing on with it. I'm going to give this show enough time to explain if the constant use of Onee-sama to Momoyo is a term of endearment, or are Yamato and Momoyo are actually siblings. If they are, I'm finding the nearest exit. If it's going to turn into a fan service fest, I'm going to also turn it off and go towards Baka no Test, which is the true specter holding court over this show's chances of making it into my viewing rotation.
Another show not on the early list was Phi Brain - Kami no Puzzle, and I survived the first episode which bodes well for this style of anime. Usually I'll know early on if I don't like the way that a shonen anime like Phi Brain is developing and if I don't like it I'll bail early. Fortunately, the premise and characters were interesting enough for me to get through the first episode, and put it on the hold list to watch more of. It's going to take a few episodes to develop, so if I'm going to hold it, it needs to stay that way either until episode four, unless it does something ridiculous and horrible. I've read that Phi Brain is an original work that was written by Sunrise, so it has the chance to become something really unique and special, or something offensive and stupid. So far, it avoided being offensive or stupid, so I'm up for making the commitment to checking the show out and seeing where it's going to go.
There's still more out to watch, including a lot of the shows that I pegged as initial contenders to start with, but as of right now, C3 is in the process of disqualifying itself from being listed as a member of the "Super Six", while Fate/Zero and Phi Brain's opening salvos are strong enough, that if Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere doesn't come out strong, those shows will be asking if it could please step aside and make from for them to enter.
Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to visit from friends in Inaba... Kuma!
So a few things before we get started with this season's contenders to the final three seats to the "Super Six" throne.
First, I just finished off Kamisama Dolls a few minutes ago, and if it's not the most schizophrenic show I've ever seen, I'm going to have to have my memory jogged to what is. It just couldn't maintain an art style, pace, or theme for 13 episodes. It feels like the show had about eight different writers trying to write eight different shows, and they played Rock Paper Scissors to decide who got control of the show next. It's kind of a jumbled mess, actually, it's completely a jumbled mess.
Also just finished Mayo Chiki! which comes off the Super Six board with the end of the season. What a strange way to end the show, with something that seemed a bit like a filler episode that was misplaced and should have been in the middle of the season. Weak ending if there's not a second season, which I'm thinking is more likely than I would have expected. Otherwise, it's just a strange note to end the show on, not focusing on the main trio of the show and doing what seemed like an "alternate route" that didn't really lead anywhere. At least it wasn't the end of Kore wa Zombie desu ka? which with a thirteenth episode name like "Please Grope Me!" seemed imminent.
Of course a lot of news on Persona 4: The Animation with licensing for the US and streaming options announced. This is going to be a disaster. All the excitement drained away as soon as Sentai was announced as the license holder, which means no returning voice cast, probably a messed up rewrite of the script, and in the end there may be very little resemblance to the game. Sentai's track record has not been good, and it seems like every lethal mistake that can be made is about to happen here. I understand that most people think it's few who are complaining loudly, but Persona 4's a special case. If it were just a 2008 game getting an anime, it'd be one thing, but you're looking at releasing this series around the time that Persona 4: The Golden and Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena are being released. Persona 4: the Golden also requires the purchase of a, minimum $250, handheld console in the Playstation Vita which means if you screw this up, the biggest Persona 4 fans are going to be cash strapped enough to give you a pass on your DVD/Blu-Ray release. I hope they make something back off the streaming options, because the likelihood of buying this when it comes out is dwindling quickly.
On to the issue at hand.
Last I left off there were five of the "Super Six" series which have now ended (Mayo! Chiki, Usagi Drop, Tiger & Bunny, Steins;Gate, and Hanasaku Iroha), one which continues from last season (Mawaru Penguindrum), and two which are locked into replacement spots (Persona 4: The Animation and the second season of Bakuman). Here's where things get tricky, trying to figure out what, if anything, fills the other three slots that are emptied out. Here's a list of the things I find most promising before the season starts. Of course this is fluid and can change with the blink of an eye, or the release of a brilliant first episode.
C3: Cubed x Cursed x Curious
The lowdown: So we have a "naked rice thief" who is actually a cursed tool called "Fear in Cube". The finder of this thief in his home is, conveniently enough immune to such cursed tools, and even more conveniently is a high school student who lives alone, which means moving in is the only natural thing to do. Random self sufficient high school student #493 now defends Fear from those who want to study, destroy, or worship her.
Thoughts: So the best case scenario is that this is going to be some strange hybrid between Kore wa Zombie desu ka? and Puelle Magi Madoka Magica, the latter show I just couldn't drag myself into, but the previous I enjoyed thoroughly. The thing that made Zombie work for me though was the absurdity that kept piling on until the whole thing was so ridiculous that taking it seriously was a fools errand. He's a zombie, controlled by a necromancer, who steals a magical girl's powers and is supposed to get married to a vampire ninja because he accidentally kissed her? I have a hard time seeing C3 not taking itself far too seriously to reach those levels of insanity, but maybe it keeps enough of that nature and marries it with a darker show like Madoka to create something interesting. Or maybe this just turns into uncomfortable fanservice that I can ditch after an episode or two.
Prediction: I don't see C3 being a show that you're not going to make your mind up quickly about, so it's safe to contend, since whether or not it's going to be any good should be apparent quickly.
The lowdown: A loner uses his cell phone to report what he sees in the world to his "friend" Deus ex Machina. One day Deus writes back and invites him in a life or death game with the promise of godhood to the winner.
Thoughts: I don't think I could try to keep up with this and Steins;Gate at the same time, but since Steins;Gate is going away a psychological thriller should fit the bill and the premise of Mirai Nikki sounds interesting. Concepts like this can fall apart quickly, and it'll be interesting to see how the "hidden information" aspect of this quest for godhood plays out, but the idea of forcing people against either other in this manner is interesting to say the least. This could be some kind of bastard love child of Battle Royale and Chaos;Head, which might have been the thing that Chaos;Head needed to actually be good.
Prediction: I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic and remind myself that taut psychological thrillers like Steins;Gate don't happen very often. It's becoming increasingly hard not to throw caution to the wind with Mirai Nikki though, as the potential of this show is incredible. If this comes out strong, it'll probably receive a ton of critical buzz off the bat and lodge itself squarely in the Super Six.
The lowdown: Before the merging of an all-girls school with an all-boys school, Shingo Uyru is part of a group of boys sent to the girl's school early. The problem being that the girls hate members of the opposite sex which means Shingo's going to have a fight on his hands to be accepted, and pave the way for acceptance of the boys who will follow him into his new environment.
Thoughts: Wow, this sounds completely generic and terrible. I see buckets of blood, violence as ways of showing affection, nosebleeds from fanservice, and wait, that's Manglobe? Wow, am I really going to give this show a shot because I love Manglobe's previous work and I have faith that if they're doing this there might be something worthwhile here?
Prediction: Yes, I am going to watch it although the warning flags are flying at full mast going in. I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised, although I sense a disaster.
The lowdown: The sequel to Last Exile follows a sky pirate named Fam as she becomes embroiled in the war between the Kingdom of Turan and the Ades Federation.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed Last Exile, and while many might have a higher opinion of it than I have, I still hold it in high regard. The animation was beautiful,and while I'm not a huge steampunk fan, I can see this show holding my attention as long as it remains as interesting as it's predecessor. This is going to hinge a lot on Fam and how interesting she is. I'm not going to be attracted to the show by pretty airships alone, and it's going to be the story being told that's going to maintain my interest here.
Prediction: I can see watching this show all the way through and enjoying it, but I don't see it rising to the level of a Super Six show unless a lot falls flat around it. I can see it hitting a Kamisama no Memochou level at least, as long as it's half as strong as the series it's following.
The lowdown: As much as Shu tries to hide his power to extract weapons from his friends, an encounter with a member of the resistance group Undertaker will force him to use his powers.
Thoughts: There's a lot to like here, with Production I.G. doing the animation, the director having credits on Death Note, and the screenplay being from the person who wrote Code Geass. The problem is that by the time that Code Geass started it's second season, I was completely sick of how self serious the show had become, and it might have worn my tolerance down to any such similar tricks pulled in this show. There's a lot of potential, but I have the fear that it's going to be preachy and I don't know if I have the patience to put up with that long enough to let it develop.
Prediction: I have a bad feeling I'm going to bail on this show before it evolves into something great. I have a worse feeling I might hold on and it won't develop into something great.
Thoughts: Another show that I might drop in a hurry, depending on what this show is supposed to accomplish for the Fate universe. In my opinion, a prequel is supposed to create an onramp for people who aren't already fans of the show to join in, not fan service for existing fans. It's the creation of a new entry point for those who haven't followed the Fate series up to this point, and should require little to no knowledge of that series except to know that there's more of it out there if they enjoy this. If Fate/Zero is fan service for those already indoctrinated I'm going to be out of here faster than you can Hen Zemi, if it's a new entry point, then I might stick around and see what people who are already fans see in this.
Prediction: It's fan service, and not (just) the kind that shows pantsu. I'll last an episode, maybe two, but that's it.
The lowdown: Ayase Chihaya stops following her dreams for others and begins following her dreams for herself through learning the card game karuta.
Thoughts: The artwork is speaking to me, and the idea of females being involved in competitive card games is one I have particular interest in. Years ago, I used to run my share of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic: the Gathering, and Pokemon tournaments, and trying to figure out the mentality of females who were in the room was one of the most perplexing problems as an organizer I faced. The opportunity to see this perspective with some time removing me from running those events could bring back some memories or show some insights that I was too close to the situation then to understand.
Prediction: There's a lot of love for the manga that this is based off of, and like Mirai Nikki, it's hard to temper my interest in this show. There's potentially a seat at the table for Chihayafuru if it follows through on it's premise. Then again, it could be Yu-Gi-Oh! with a female protagonist.
The lowdown: When a normal high school student runs into a beautiful but unpleasant girl talking to her imaginary friend, they decide to form a club to find others who lack the skills to make friends of their own.
Thoughts: There's lots of way to do high school comedy, but it's all based on the characters and how they interact. There's interesting ways you can do a premise like this right, but there's so many ways that it can go horribly wrong as well. A peek in at this situation should, like C3, make it readily apparent whether this is going to go in a good or bad direction quickly.
Prediction: I think either this or C3 is going to go well, but I have a hard time believing both are going to succeed. I think that this actually might be the stronger of the two and could be a surprise this season if the comedy is good and the characters well realized.
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere
The lowdown: People who return to Earth from the skies reproduce the events in a book called "Testament" in order to return to the skies again. The book ends in the year 1648, which happens to be the year that the anime takes place.
Thoughts: It's interesting to see what this show is going to try to be. Is it a diatribe on fate? Does it focus on the actions of people who are face to face with an end of world prophecy? What happens when the book runs out of pages, but time marches on? It's too early to tell where Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is going to go, but there's a lot of fascinating directions it could move in. I might give this show a bit more rope than others just because I think it's going to take a while to reveal itself.
Prediction: I'm cautiously optimistic that this show can go in interesting places and could be incredibly entertaining. I'm also aware that I might get roped in waiting for something which never happens.
After taking an initial look without seeing a single episode from the fall season, here's the new Super Six going into week zero. This can, should, and probably will change as shows begin to air.
First, a thanks for being listed in the community spotlight for the first part of this, which can be found here. During that blog, if you can't be bothered to click the link or just need a refresher, I went over the four series that I've been watching which weren't good enough to make my "Super Six" current series, and the five series which are either over, or coming to an end in the next week. I talk about the remaining Super Six series in this blog, and also the two series which will start this season which have guaranteed seats at the table come October.
The Tenured (the one show which continues into the fall on the list):
To think that I started off the summer season watching R-15 but not Penguindrum is laughable (which some of my predictions I'm sure will be a few weeks in for the final three spots at the table). There's good reason for that though, since I think that in terms of importance, that R-15 is actually the more important of the two shows. Whenever new boundaries are set by governmental or industry agents, whatever is being confined by those boundaries will try to poke out and "see how much they can get away with". On Giant Bomb I wrote a blog once about the Hays Code, and the sexual experimentation in American film once it was abandoned (this in reference to CNN a year after the initial debate was had deciding to "Necro" the Rapelay story). Japan has a near reversal of this situation, where new laws have limited sexually explicit materials, and it's up to shows like R-15 to push at those boundaries and find out exactly where they are. So as far as long term importance is concerned, the nod goes to R-15, but just because you're important, doesn't mean you're any good, which is where Mawaru Penguindrum trumps nearly every show this season.
And there's no reason for me to like Mawaru Penguindrum, and a lot of reasons why I shouldn't like it. I came into anime watching things like Danguard Ace, Starvengers, and Star Blazers thanks to having access to the "Force Five" series of anime programming when I was a kid. (Yes, I just completely dated myself, what of it?) Those were my gateway drugs to anime, not Sailor Moon. And I tried to watch Revolutionary Girl Utena, I really did, but I couldn't help but be completely bored by it. So my track record with projects that Kunihiko Ikuhara is famous for, is one of complete indifference. And it seamed like Ikuhara was THE selling point for Mawaru Penguindrum, people couldn't mention the show without either Utena or Sailor Moon being mentioned in the same breath, which did enough to drive me away. Fortunately for me, R-15 ended up being complete garbage, and I gave Penguindrum a chance, where it quickly became my favorite show from this season.
The reason for Penguindrum's greatness is difficult to describe, because it's doing so many things correctly. First, the visual style seems to be reaching back to something that seems reminiscent of old Dr. Suess cartoons, but does so without looking dated. It's pulling off a visual flair that the people who made Prince no Uta-sama 1000% tried far too hard to reach, and for some reason failed to. It's a stunning looking anime, with gorgeous visuals that evoke old and new animation and just as eye candy it's incredible.
There's a level of control to Mawaru Penguindrum's storytelling which is astounding. It seems to know exactly where the line is drawn, and knows how to put a toe over it when it feels like it. It's a strange show that keeps you off balance, but it seems like every time I get comfortable with the level of bizarre things that the show has as part of it's general premise, it does something truly disturbing. A kiss that lasts a beat too long to be platonic, a look that lasts a beat too long to just coincidence, an edge of malice that appears long enough to let you know it's there but not long enough to confirm, it flashes things that your subconscious picks up on but you can't be sure. It paces itself in a way that would make a show like Kamisama Dolls less of a mess and more of a masterpiece. It knows how to keep you off balance, and the show never wavers from being intent to leave you that way.
Ridiculous premises seem less so, because the entire world of Penguindrum is ridiculous. A nice place I look forward to visiting for the next season, and holds the head position at the table of the Super Six. And note, I'm not telling you what this show is about, because it doesn't matter what Mawaru Penguindrum is about, you're better off not knowing, and better off not thinking too much about it until it's all said in done in December, where people will probably tear this show apart at it's seams for weeks when it's over to try and find the deeper meaning behind the cute penguins.
Those who already have invitations to the table:
So here's a thing, I'm a sucker for anime which is about the process of creation. Whether it be silly, such as Comic Party, or a love letter to the act of creation, such as Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, there's something about creating something about the creation of something that I can get attached to. And it doesn't even matter that the promise which kicks off Bakuman is absurd, because it rarely focuses on anything other than the process of creating Manga. I wondered at times watching the first season how much what I was seeing was dramatized, because it seemed like it was being drawn from personal experiences. The love story between Mashiro and Miho doesn't matter, because it's the love story between "Ashirogi Muto" and manga that trumps everything in this show. At times you could complain that the pace in Bakuman is languid, but watching the characters struggle and work towards a goal is a hallmark of this "creationism" type of anime. More Bakuman can only be a good thing in my eyes, as now that they've had their hands on a brass ring, it's time to see if the aspiring artists can hold on to it.
This is a Whiskey Media site, right? So, a lot of us might have some familiarity with the game this is based off of? On Giant Bomb some of us might have already spent seven months watching a Persona 4 series before? There might be some difficulty adjusting to calling the main character any other than Charlie Tunoku, but there'll be no difficulty in going back to Inaba to relive the adventures with Char... Yu, Chie, Yosuke, Yukiko, and the rest of the crew.
The scary thing about P4A is that when playing the game you are controlling the story. You can focus on whatever characters you can social link with at whatever pace you choose, and an anime takes that control out of your hands. But as long as we don't spend half of every episode with Ai Ebihara I think I'll be ok with that, just please don't recon this to a love story between Yu and Ai. As a matter of fact, that might be one of the more problematic parts of Persona 4. Do you not pursue a romantic relationship, default to the holder of the Lovers arcana (Rise), or... listen folks, it probably WON'T be Chie, so don't get your hopes up. But as long as our favorite tomboy can eat some steak and kick some tanks, we should all be happy in the end.
The greatest strength of Persona 4 over Persona 3 are two of the things which should work well for the anime adaptation. First, Inaba is an amazing locale, and has a wonderful life of it's own. It's every bit a character in the story as any detective you might find inside it's city limits. The cast also seems to be better realized than Persona 3's cast, since they're high school students who don't act like adults. It helps that the weight of the world isn't heaped on their shoulders, they're just kids, and like a Japanese version of Scooby Doo, there's a mystery to solve which is all the reason they need to form. And it's all the reason I need to watch a cast of characters which is among my favorite in the history of video games. I'll just have to remind myself not to watch it at midnight.