So usually with Anime I stick with what I call my "Super Six". Generally these are the six shows that I'm enjoying the most that's currently playing, and usually have a pretty broad spectrum of different styles and types. With the new Fall season rolling around, I'm left with five of these shows heading to greener pastures, meaning there's lot of room for replacements in the viewing rotation. Usually trying to predict what's going to be a part of the super six two weeks before the season starts is something that's fraught with error, as many of the shows that are currently in the group were late additions that a marathon in the beginning helped gain momentum, and some were close to being dropped into the status of "show I'll watch if I have time and feel like it". The list as it currently stands:
The list of other shows not good enough to make the list:
Blood-C: Damaged heavily by the "Groundhog Day" sequences in the beginning and my mind's unwillingness to take Clamp's version of Saya and marry her to Blood: The Last Vampire's version. I was about to drop out of the repetitious singing, cake eating, violent encounter, end episode cycle when things finally switched up around episode 5 and it started moving out of the rut that it looked for a while it would be caught in for a season. I don't hate Clamp's design, I just have a hard time thinking that this version is the same as the first that I saw, probably because she's NOT the same. Just another re-envisioning that took too long for me to get used to.
Kamisama Dolls: There's just something that's uneven about this show. The pacing's off, the character designs are off, and the fighting is just a bit off. It's an interesting story, but it loses focus too easily and can't seem to make up it's mind on what it exactly wants to become. I'm along for the ride, but it's probably going to be a forgettable one.
Kamisama no Memo-chou: I am not a huge fan of the lead in this series. The ever too serious lolicon thing is not grabbing me and fortunately it hasn't kept it's focus as much on Alice, instead deciding to focus on Narumi. Episode 10 is the clincher for me that this series isn't good enough to join the list, as what should be a major moment in the show falls flat, maybe literally, by not going to reactions to a major moment instead of to end credits. Thanks for giving me a week to realize I don't really care, as even a momentary glance at some reaction to the event would have drawn me in more. There's a series which did that moment better, and I'll have a lot to say about that series below.
No. 6: I don't know what it is about No. 6. I realize it's good. I think the premise is interesting, but it just feels like a chore to watch. Maybe the final three episodes will convince me otherwise, but during the run it was something I'd watch when I got around to it, not something I'd look forward to watching, like other Noitamina pieces before (and during) it's run.
The shows that will ride off in the sunset (long form [Spring Season]):
Hanasaku Iroha: No series fell off more in this list than Hanasaku Iroha, which was probably to be expected from a slice of life series. There was something magical about it when it first started as it deftly avoided the easy traps of it's setting or characters. It could have been a fan-service heavy show set in a convenient hot springs setting for such happenings, but except for a moment in an early episode, it avoided it admirably. It could have been about cute girls eating cake and drinking tea, but instead it was about cute girls serving cake and tea. It mired itself in a harsher reality of what it was like to work at a hot springs inn and pulled no punches at the attention to detail. The animation was beautiful, and the characters were all fleshed out, and the motivations behind their actions seemed real enough. As the show went on, it began to drag but it started at such a lofty place, it's ability to coast to the finish with such high regard was never really in question. It had pacing issues at times, especially late, but it's given itself plenty of time to resolve the major issues that remain, thanks to a 26 episode run. I don't think we need to go back to the Kissuiso any time soon, but given a year or two, it might not be such a bad idea.
Steins;Gate: On the other hand, no series gained in power more than Steins;Gate did. The first ten episodes of this show honestly was a chore, mostly because of how dense and foreign the concepts at hand were, and how it's nearly impossible to put together a coherent time travel narrative. It seemed to be leaving so many threads hanging in the wind for no rhyme or reason and always was on the verge of teetering out of control. And Chaos;Head didn't leave much room for faith that White Fox could pull off something so intricately planned and bombastic as what they were about to do. But then, as if out of nowhere, it dropped the hammer on everyone with a horrific incident which would lead to a insane spiral where all of those threads left hanging in the first half would fall into place. The show then nimbly lept back and forth through the different time lines, trying to undo what it had done. What looked haphazard in motion, became poetry when the motion was reversed, the lack of rhyme and reason became a well orchestrated ploy to ramp up the end of the show that gained momentum until it's climax.
The makers of Kamisama no Memo-Chou made a mistake that Steins;Gate avoided. A tragic act is never the way to finish an episode, (as Kamisama no Memo-Chou did in episode 10), it's the reaction of those who continue through the tragedy which draws viewers closer. It wasn't the act itself that shot Steins;Gate towards, and eventually to, greatness, it was Okabe's reaction to the tragedy. That image is the one that still burns an image months after it happened. The frantic attempts to undo the tragedy which occurred even masked the one last sucker punch left in it's arsenal (Daru's wife's identity) until it was ready to reveal that final secret.
Steins;Gate is pure brilliance, which rewards those who slog through the dense setup with untold riches as it unravels like a planned demolition of a Las Vegas superstructure. Everything falls in it's proper place, despite it appearing that there didn't seem to be reasons why explosives would be set in such a way until the detonation was happening. Steins;Gate makes a bold leap to the top of my favorite anime of 2011 list and it's going to take something magnificent to knock it off that pedistal.
Tiger & Bunny: Tom's already doing a watch and learn on this series, and makes a lot of valid points throughout his articles chronicling what might be the show that's best positioned for American TV this year. This is old school Hanna Barrera stuff. Kids can love it because it's heroes with cool suits and powers. Adults can love that it speaks to issues the kids aren't ready for and aren't really catching. It touches on wide varieties of issues such as generational disparity and altruism in an age of commercialism while still, at it's heart, being "Lethal Weapon: The Anime". I'm waiting for Kotetsu to say that he's too old for this, well, stuff, but his powers are doing an effective job of saying that for him. It's rolling in so many good things that scratch nostalgic itches while being strong in, and of, itself that it's a wonder to watch.
Tropes aren't tropes for no reason, they become tropes because they're proven to work, they just need to be used effectively, and only one show on the super six uses tropes better than Tiger & Bunny, both to it's advantage and disadvantage and that show's next:
The shows that will ride off in the sunset (short form [Summer Season]):
Mayo Chiki!: This one has to be the hardest to defend. It's just a stupid harem anime, right? It's so filled with tropes that it's literally bursting at, or against, the seams with them, right? Mayo Chiki! is not a stupid harem anime, it's THE stupid harem anime, which after the first episode I could have plotted out from the very beginning, and only failing the order, would have been spot on. Like most harem anime let's take four episodes to set up the story, develop our protagonist (Kinjiro), antagonist (Subaru), and catalyst (Kanade). Mayo Chiki's smart, in that they have the catalyst be a sadist, but in more of a mischievous rather than malicious manner. Love Hina, may get more love due to veneration, but Naru isn't a romantic opponent, she's a tsundere, if not the prototypical tsundere. Ai Yori Aoshi meanwhile has a romantic antagonist. The important difference between Naru and Aoi Sakuraba or Subaru, is that the latter two are quick to accept their feelings towards the protagonist rather than fight them every step of the way. It's the catalyst which dictates whether a harem comedy is slapstick or romantic, and Kanade's lack of malice allows for Mayo Chiki! to go above Love Hina and be romantic with slapstick elements rather than the other way around. With nine episodes left, the middle is where the weakness of the genre as a whole takes a negative turn on this series. We must do the following with six of those episodes: Culture Festival, Beach Episodes, Hot Springs Episode, Episode focusing on each girl (in this case one for Kureha, Masamune, and Nakuru) leaving three episodes to get back to the point (which they do in episode 11), analyse their own feelings (due in episode 12), and resolve the romantic situation (due in episode 13).
Tropes are there for a reason. They're long held standards that when executed well are enjoyable and mark a series for what it is. No show this year has adhered to it's tropes as tightly as Mayo Chiki! which makes it easy to relate to because of the familiarity that it breeds. It's not the greatest show ever, but it succeeds because, and despite, of it's boundaries better than similar shows such as MM!. Mayo Chiki! is a prototype, a blueprint, for romantic harem comedies rather than comedic harems with romance, and has been enjoyable because of that slight, but important difference.
Usagi Drop: No show that I've watched from the Noitamina block has held me as spellbound as Usagi Drop. It's animation is beautiful and surreal, the characters are so wonderfully grounded and enjoyable to watch. Without looking too far into what the future might hold if the series continues, the first season is a painstakingly drawn coming together between Rin Kaga and her nephew Daikichi Kawachi who comes to become the surrogate father of his six year old aunt when his grandfather passes away suddenly. The sacrifices made by Daikichi are well worth the gains from the growing relationship with the adorable Rin, whose maturity at times belies her age. The combination of these two characters and their growth as a unit is one of the most spellbinding things of the current season, and anyone who liked shows like Wandering Son and haven't watched Usagi Drop yet should put aside six hours and marathon as soon as possible.
So what's left? The one remaining series left in the Super Six and Potential Replacements.