In Fall of 2007, I was very much a beginner at anime. I’d explored the discount stores in my neighborhood and encountered some very interesting, engaging titles, but I wasn’t any kind of plugged in to what stuff was current. One series changed all that, basically on its own.* Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji was the complete package in so many ways; tense, human drama, a rich cast that skirted the line from likeable to detestably inhuman, tight direction, idiomatic yet pithy dialogue, and the best narrator in anime bar none.
Those last 2 attributes also make the show handy for an alternate purpose; rampant quotation abuse! There’s a Kaiji quote for everything, and the Fall 2013 anime season is no exception. In celebration of the show’s free availability on crunchyroll, let’s break it down.
“Stop, stop it! The devil made me do it! I lost my senses! Really!”
Strike the Blood has got a very persistent tendency to put the protagonist in situations where he’s got to defuse the feelings of an angry tsundere like so. More often than not, it’s by accident, but there was at least one time when it was totally his fault. That time is key, though, as it adds some balance to the dynamics between a lead couple that’s increasingly leaning towards the whole “blood-swapping for fun and profit” type of vampire-human relationship. Thus far, the show has been a consistent Friday night appetizer that’s been easy to follow along with.
“One tiny snag and you’re hosed. End of story. I give you maybe a 50% chance of success, and that’s being generous.”
“Fifty!? As in fifty-fifty?”
I’ve already given the accurate title of “poor man’s Honey and Clover” to Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, so where does that leave Golden Time? It’s a romantic comedy-drama at a 70-30 split about a bunch of college students with loud personalities falling in and out of love, and it’s fairly good at making the above click. I think the parallel to be drawn here is between it and White Album before White Album did all the things that I ended up remembering the franchise unfavorably for. So a rich man’s version of a show whose first season I gave a 10. Now if only they could just pull a King Crimson and erase that “disembodied memory/soul” plot point.
…Yeah, that feels pretty accurate. Rock on, JC Staffstrong. And speaking of White Album;
“You all stood by me without ever once questioning anything, not even the plan for tonight’s showdown. You trusted me. It’s a special kind of man that can do that.”
Entrusting your time to an anime of questionable history is a hard thing to do. The original White Album remains one of the hardest burns/disappointments I’ve ever experienced while following anime. So I approached 2 with great caution, as was warranted. And it turned out to be more or less unnecessary; WA2 hasn’t just avoided the combination of cheesy melodrama and despicable behavior that made the first series painful, it’s been legitimately great in its own right. There’s a terrific sense in the show of the all-star loveable cast living out a culture fest episode, putting in 110 percent for all the right reasons and not blowing minor wrinkles out of hand. And it’s got solid music to boot. I’m still sort of on guard for the inevitable blowing up of the love triangle (it’s coming), but I have a lot more faith in the series at this point than I did in the original.
“The sky has fallen, and so have I!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have one of the stronger sports anime of all time continuing this season, but it has to be pointed out that Hajime no Ippo just isn’t what it used to be. While there are still stronger arcs left to be adapted this season, it’s just not feeding its own momentum the way the original run was. It’s bogged down by a number of factors, among them insistence on still using tracks from the markedly inferior New Challenger soundtrack and animation that feels more lazy without the cel-speedline artstyle they were able to make work the first time around. Again, don’t get me wrong, this show is still plenty good, but it’s the third-best sports anime of Fall, and that’s not remotely close.
“The divine wind is at my back! It’s taking those dead balls and breathing life back into them!”
There are a couple of challenges to writing an effective sports series. One of them is keeping things interesting during games that ultimately end up being blowouts (that thing that Ace of the Diamond is exceptionally good at). Another is writing a compelling rematch; it’s one thing to introduce characters with a set of abilities and make them a threat for one game before they ultimately get mastered by the protagonists like a bad encryption. It’s another thing to make those characters a sharp-fanged, credible threat the second time around, either by upgrading the skills that got fundamentally beat the first time or by emphasizing that the way the ball bounces is a huge factor in who wins a close game. That’s why the Seirin-Shutoku matchup dominating recent episodes of Kuroko’s Basketball is as impressive as it is. Shutoku’s been coming at Seirin with their hungry-tiger counter-strategy, featuring Midorima not being a black hole and ballsy dare-tests of endurance, and Seirin’s answered by becoming a fun, electric late-game scoring juggernaut. Even if they did recently commit a cardinal sin of lazy animation by looping the same sequence of two still frames to end an episode, I expect this staff to entertain for weeks to come.
“Remember that thing? The thing we rigged up a couple of years ago? We gave up on it after the testing phase because it was completely obvious when we turned it on.”
I have no doubt, zero whatsoever, that Studio Trigger will end up making a ton of awesome, notable, creative things. Kill La Kill is not one of them. It’s easily Hiroyuki Imaishi’s worst show, lacking either the character dynamics that brought Gurren Lagann together and the variety that took Panty and Stocking beyond simply fun, explosive sex jokes. What’s left is just a really tame version of the last episode of Excel Saga/anything Go Nagai. More power to the people who can have fun with it, but this is probably the least I’ve liked a popular anime since 2006.
“Clean water. Fresh air. And… there it is. Money. Real money, Japanese yen!”
Non Non Biyori sports the best backgrounds this season, and it’s not really in any kind of competition for that title. It’s also built up a quirky cast and built itself around character-fist situations, where them being themselves naturally gives birth to solid comedy. It’s not the star of the season, but Silver Link is getting paid for those beautiful natural background shots, among other things.
“There’s definitely a chance, but the odds are way lower than before the block.”
Coppelion is looking to be the hard favorite for the ‘show of the season that I dropped for non-anime reasons’ award. The himawari streams are always down by the time I get home on Wednesday, and it runs on Viz streaming, so I have to go with ads if I want to watch it officially. The little bit of extra effort required has put me behind on it by two episodes; sometimes, I just watch Kyoukai no Kanata and call it a night.
That said, it’s got a solid mid-major plot and has had some pretty impressive combat sequences. That and the two minutes I saw when sneaking a peek at episode 7 out of order mean it’s still very odds-on for something that takes care of business on the entertainment end.
“I want to use these stars to save that man.”
“Why him? Does he have lots of property?! Does he have great wealth out there despite how he looks?”
“Idiot, of course he doesn’t. He’s flat broke, just like us.”
Maligned as it has been, I like Kyoukai no Kanata for what it is. It’s a battle-oriented series with a charming cast and tight all-around direction, very much the rich man’s Kaze no Stigma I had it pegged for when the season started out. While it won’t be getting a sequel due to the fact that its sales are tanking harder than the Utah Jazz, most anime don’t anyway, and it’s definitely headed for a conclusion that wraps up the most notable threads. KyoAni may look mortal, but remember they have money to burn after what might still be the best sports anime of the year; the entertainment business is not about making everything a hit, but about hitting often enough that you can pay for the ones that don’t. That’s the production ethic that pervades the anime industry in general, and I love how KyoAni’s been exercising their hit-fueled leeway on some less-certain commercial propositions.
“Humans don’t live provisional lives, nor do they die provisional deaths. That’s a fact. But the problem is whether or not they can realize it.”
Kyoukai no Kanata is not selling well. It ain’t. It’s just not resonating with its core demographic, and that means it’ll go down as one of the lower 50% of shows on the market this season. But it’s worth noting that episode 6 was as dynamic an attempt to roll with that as I’ve seen in some time, subbing out a high-flash dance scene for a picture montage without losing much in the way of the scene’s core. Props to Ishidate Taichi for cutting losses via surgical strikes.
“How could such a reversal happen? From deep within this abyss, he pulled off such a comeback…”
I should be less amazed that Samurai Flamenco, the umteenth product of consistent A-lister Takahiro Omori is coming together. But it still somehow managed to catch me by surprise when it managed to take a bunch of annoying, limp-jellyfish plot threads and deliver some impactful sting. Samurai Flamenco right now has the potential to go deep into a number of genres, and it’s effectively mixing its comedic and inspiring components so as not to oversaturate the audience to either one.
“You’ve only noticed it now, you blockhead? Who’s the one not paying attention now?”
That sounds about 500% more condescending than I actually feel, but yeah. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention the Japanese manga scene that Ace of the Diamond is kind of a decently big deal over there. Aside from being the type of title that typically sold over 100,000 copies per volume, it’s one of 3 series (Space Brothers and the immortal 20th Century Boys being the other two) to have come out of the past decade with both a Kodansha and Shogakukan manga award. It’s been largely overlooked on release, too, coming out in a season with two prominent sports sequels and the one featuring the ultimate cheat-to-win sport. But it’ll be around for a while yet, and plenty more fans will be in on the fun by the time the Seidou team is in actual competitive games.
“You’re a snake!”
“I see… In that case, you’re the snake!”
What’s winning the prize for biggest surprise this quarter? An arc with evil Nadeko, and it’s not close. Nadeko Medusa was a fantastically, brutally effective takedown of an intentionally flawed character, complete with reverse Renai Circulation, and a Whitesnake with the voice of one Robert E. O. S. (hilariously nicknamed SNW in most scrolling comments I’ve seen). I count myself in the camp of people who found Nadeko likable more or less for the entire length of the show, so that whole arc was a well orchestrated Dempsy Roll to the brain. And that might not even end up being the crowning achievement for the subject of our next quote;
“I’ll add to the pot! I’ll tilt everything backwards too!”
Now seems like a pretty good time to point out how great the Monogatari series has been recently. There was the whole previous paragraph. For another thing, they’re in the middle of a whole arc devoted to Shinobu, who already had a hilarious Bill and Ted arc with Araragi earlier on under the guise of a Hachikuji arc which featured 8 minutes of said character. We’re 4 weeks away from this series surpassing Natsume Yuujinchou in all tangible measures of longevity, and it feels like it could well last another season without getting tired. (Two, though? I’d start to have my doubts.)
“I’ve had enough. I’ve had more than enough. I’ve had enough! Enough! I want to throw up!”
“I said I’d throw it away! I’ve had enough!”
Space Brothers took about 1 episode into its era of episodes with 15 minutes of content to get appallingly racist, and it never really recovered. I had it on the fast track for my anime of the decade at one point, and it’s still really memorable. But wow, did that go far south right quick. Someday I will finish the series in some form, probably in a marathon, either via the anime or the manga. But that day is years away.
All that said, it’s nowhere near as bad as…
“I hate it!”
“He hates it!”
“I hate it!”
“He hates it!”
“I hate it!”
“He hates it!”
Or, in its full glory:
Galilei Donna is so terrible it can’t even correctly explain earthshine. It’s like something written by Dan Brown before he had time to inject fun and electric prose into it, with a frightfully one-dimensional cast to boot. Moving on.
“This is enjoyable… No, it seems like I can get a lot of enjoyment out of this man.”
A lot of people would read the plot description for a show like Outbreak Company, which is essentially about an otaku spreading his culture of choice in a fantasy world, and immediately dismiss it out of hand. When I read plot descriptions like that, I recall the latter half of my 90-10 rule; despite how bad things might look from the outside, there’s always at least a 10% chance that a compelling cast and good handling can make things work. OBC is a pretty good example of a show getting the breaks to go its way and fielding a likable cast that carries the plot with their charm. Of particular note is the protagonist, Kanou Shinichi, who, while still possessing some annoyingly stereotypical otaku traits, makes up for it by being a genuinely nice guy and a decent human being who understands the points of manga that give it broader cultural appeal. If anything, the show still has potential it could be living up to, since it’s focused mainly to date on the moe-heavy aspects of anime culture; the soccer episode showed an ability to be really, really good when working outside that genre box.
“The Slave has nothing. An oppressed figure with nothing to lose. But because he has nothing and can do nothing, the Slave can kill the Emperor.”
Or the King, as would be the case for Hunter x Hunter. Kaiji is a show that derives very fundamental appeal in putting together great savvy underdog versus dominant cheater matchups, and Hunter x Hunter is nailing its adaptation of one of the best “savvy characters outclassed in physical ability” arcs in manga. It’s definitely spiced up a Tuesday that before it only carried a charming 3-minute distraction and blobs of horribly-managed CG.
“No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count! No Count!”
In honor of that time I crowned Tokyo Ravens as a show worth 4 more episodes. The series didn’t so much outright crash and burn as the weak points of the show immediately became impossible to ignore; it convoluted simple, compelling backstories and ran a clinic on how not to handle the third dimension.
“It’s a sickness that blinds them from reality.”
Because who needs realism when you can have more Teekyu?
“I really only have six or seven shots. But those six or seven balls aren’t just going down there to die. They’ll still be alive… Out to take the king’s head!”
Arpeggio of Blue Steel, barring a major PR crisis where the staff hazes Ryo Horikawa’s best friend live on air, is going to make some serious bank. And it will be the first all-3DCG anime to do so. It’s a milestone 3D show for the industry, and you can bet it’ll result in some minor paradigm shifts going forward.
It’s still divisive, and that’s fair. The level of 3D shown in that show isn’t perfect, but it’s warmed up to audiences as time has gone by; preorders for the show started jumping into the top 100 on amazon pretty consistently after a few weeks, something I would presume could be explained as people who were on the fence due to the art deciding it was good enough for them. There’s still plenty of market for hand-drawn anime going forward, but an anime that sells 90% as well as Kill La Kill for maybe 70% of the production price is not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. It’s very likely going to be a show we look back on a couple years from now and note the measurable impact of.
And this is thanks in no small part to Kishi Seiji’s savvy/guarded/limited use of the 3DCG in depicting complex human motion, the one thing it’s still got jack on. All of which leads me to this:
“Kaiji, don’t follow my path. You’re someone who can succeed, Kaiji! Win… Win, Kaiji!”
It will never not be fashionable to hate on Kishi Seiji. He’s made a bunch of video game adaptations (the most chronically unpleasable adaptation fanbases), and his savvy but vanilla camerawork doesn’t leap out of the screen and whack you with his nametag the way an anime by, say, Akiyuki Shinbo or Masaki Yuasa does. Just know this; he’s going to go down as the only director of the Blu-Ray era who managed to produce two shows that sold over 30,000 copies per volume with two totally different production teams (Persona 4 with AIC+ and Angel Beats with PA Works). In the case of Angel Beats, the show is, pound-for-pound, the biggest Key anime, averaging about 10,000 more disks per 2-episode volume than Clannad per 3-episode volume, and the biggest PA Works show by a factor of 3. He’s taken plenty of shots at legitimate comedic greatness (Astro Fighter Sunred, JinTai), and rocked a solid dramatic script in Kamisama Dolls. And he did all the latter three with a screenwriter otherwise best known for Seikon no Qwaser. Like his style or not, that’s a resume that belongs in the discussion for one of the best directors of this era. Not on the business end of a smear campaign. 5 years from now when all the dust settles, he will be getting the credit he’s earned.
“I’m the one who’s separating what I can and cannot do!”
Sometimes, you wait years for something and it ends up being a letdown. It’s kind of a function of the things you wait years for being the things you really, really anticipate, but if it only meets some two-thirds of your expectations, you feel satisfied, but not full. There’s a lot to be said about the kind of infinite potential anime has with its stories, which come along often enough and contain enough variables to turn trash to treasure enough times a year to make any given season worth following on a weekly basis.
There’s another thing to be said for the gap between potential and actualization, something that happens all the time when a given second season or spiritual successor made by many of the same people doesn’t live up to half the power its predecessor had, something that’s especially true when the staff try to work outside the comfort zone that made the first outing good. It’s hard for something that’s good at some things but not at others to change its skill set entirely and still be worth its weight in steel ingots, let alone gold bouillon.
Those are general rules I’ve observed over the years watching a lot of anime. It’s perfectly typical for a show with no apparent ups to go on a killing spree and suddenly just be excellent for its entire run, and it’s just as likely to see a show with all the right pieces spend 12 episodes trying to fit a star-shaped peg in a rock-shaped hole. True-blue blue chippers, the anime that actually start out with impossibly high ceilings and even approach that theoretical limit, are rarer than an honest salesman. That’s the other half of the 90-10 rule; even a show with an A-list pedigree only comes through, at most, 90% of the time. Too much can go wrong too fast for those odds to be any higher.
That’s one of the reasons why, two years ago, I was ready to close the book on project with a really awesome trailer (above) and a promising young director Kyousogiga, after it cranked out a nonsensical, poorly-flowing ONA in 2011. But it turns out that project had more than one projectile ready to launch. 2012 saw a fantastic second series ONA of the show, a fantastic example of short-form storytelling that we’ve covered previously on the site. Suffice to say I was more than satisfied by the level of performance it put up then, and would have been fine closing the books on it there. But then the TV series got announced. At this point, I was skeptical of whether or not the TV series would end up being a worthwhile expansion; I’ve seen lots of short projects not have enough material to legitimately expand into 7 or 8 times as much screentime.
Well, the TV series has aired, and it’s been flat-out fantastic. The amazing thing is that it actually incorporates the 2012 ONAs on a shot-for-shot basis, but puts them in the larger context of the story and world while delving deeper into the psyche of the characters. Having seen said ONAs, there are plenty of mad skill feats I could point out being done in the process of integration, but it’s been particularly impressive to see how the “throwing things away” episode actually fed right into Yase’s rather deeply-seeded abandonment issues.
I can’t overstate how impressive of a tightrope-walk Kyousogiga’s presentation has been. Maybe it’d be more straightforward to point out all the ways Kyousogiga could have failed. It could have had the Nagi no Asukara problem, mixing in an interesting world with a horribly unlikable cast. It could have had the Hyouka problem, sacrificing storytelling and gravitas in favor of the spectacle of full-motion animation. It could have had the Kill La Kill or Violence Jack problem, where the dial gets set to one speed and never gets touched afterwards. It could have had the Koukaku no Regios problem, straight-up taking a fantastically flexible setting and trash-compacting the majestic, ignoring it entirely. It just didn’t do any of these things. All of the above shows are ones that people like. A lot of people, in some cases. That doesn’t mean they don’t have flaws. One of the beautiful things about entertainment is the ability of works to cover up problems in one area just by being really effing good in another one. You can point out flaws in Kyousogiga if you’re into that kind of thing, but none of those factor in to a first-time or even second-time viewing. It watches damn near perfectly in any number of circumstances. And that’s it’s biggest plus, the reason why it’s unequivocally the best show of the season.
“The dealer rolls twice.”
…At least so far. Bring on that second half, boys.
*Like, maybe about 10% of the credit does belong to Moyashimon. It’s still one of the best college anime out there, and has the best upperclassman duo this side of Aokimura.