Back in the day, before I had the money to import anime, or eve to buy them at a discount, I had access to a VCR and a stack of 5 VHS tapes. I learned to program that VCR for the express purpose of recording Toonami, Adult Swim Anime, and the like on days when I couldn’t make it home. And if there was one show that was my number 1 at the time, it was battle/rivalry series s-CRY-ed.
Fueled almost entirely by banter between the leading duo. Kazuma and Ryuho were as memorable a pair of rivals as I can recall having watched to this day, and the script that was field-raised ham on a whole-wheat drama bun produced a memorable, unique-tasting fight series. And plenty of potable quotes, which is why I’m dedicating this entry to cemented legacy club member director Taniguchi Goro.
And to punching things while yelling loudly
Oh, and incoming spoilers for a 12 year-old show, if you’re averse to that kind of thing.
“That was all that I wanted. Yeah. I never needed anything more than that. And I could have had it so easily. I’m so… proper. I’m so damned inflexible.”
I’ve been holding out for a modern anime romance that squawks my turbo bass for more than year. As much as I leak homerism for the modern era in my analysis bits, I do want more romance shows like Kare Kano and Amagami SS, which get past the “awkward and still getting to know each other” phase soon enough to build real chemistry. Mikakunin de Shinkoukei may not be the best at that this season, but that’s hardly its fault (Tsutomu Mizushima just does not sit down and Kenichi Ishikura is a warrior). It’s certainly made a good accounting for itself; Hakuya and Kobeni both have steady enough personalities that they’ve gotten past the shock of engagement and can push each others’ buttons on a semi-regular basis. I really could just get the same thing by continuing to read Sand Chronicles, but I’m too busy devouring the raws of Yuuji Terajima Teaches Roster Management. At any rate, it’s been a nice bonus for a show built on solid comedy that also comes with some rocksauce dance moves:
“Feel the light. It’s radiating. And it’s gonna keep shining, for both of us!”
Sakura Trick represents another departure from the take-your-time approach of modern romances. It’s been very up front about the main couple’s relationship, seeing as there have already been more kiss scenes in the show (11 as of this writing) than there have been uses of the word “Kiss” in the show’s opening (8). Though the main characters are actually dating, it’s not any kind of intense, but rather a light romance fluffed with light comedy, and it makes more or less every 12-minute skit work with one or the other. It’s a very welcome dustoff show on the Thursday slate.
“Stop it, it’s my sister!”
And the best part of that comedy has to have been the interplay of student council president/overprotective sister/prototype stalker Mk. II Mitsuki in the face of the background romance. We’re a healthy two-for-two on yuri older sisters trying to meddle in their younger counterpart’s relationship.
“It’s thick! It’s hard! And it’s comin’ to get ya!”
Sad as it is to say, the best gun-related quote in the show doesn’t fit the best gun-related show in this season (Nobunagun is a whizbanging mid-major I’ll cover later), but it does have a partner in this fracas. And that partner is Nou-Rin, which found ways to comfortably mix an absurd degree of homoerotic humor with Oonuma Shin’s visually tweaky style. Although the argument that it objectifies dudes in the same way shows can objectify women is probably valid (shirtless scenes involving squirt guns full of yogurt would almost certainly qualify if the participants were female), I laugh at its humor a good percentage of the time. It’s junk food anime, but it goes right down the hatch.
“Hey, you kids! You see those two men fighting? One of them was my colleague for years. And the other one’s like my little brother. They’re pretty impressive, aren’t they? But they’re not as good as me.”
The irony of this quote is that the guy saying it is sitting in a beach chair dying while the subjects of the line are busting each other’s chops in full frontal fisticuffs. While Akiyuki Shinbo is nominally engaged in direction this season, I have to say the ex-shaft guys (Oonuma Shin on Nou-Rin and Kenichi Ishikura on Sakura Trick) have both been putting on fine shows, thanks to their willingness to combine visual sleights-of-hand with more traditional aspects of direction. I wish Akiyuki Shinbo could do the same thing; Nisekoi is depressingly similar to Hidamari Sketch, something I say not to demean the show whose region 1 BD is coming to my doorstep in two weeks, but to point out that Nisekoi is the epitome of phoned-in application of Shinbo’s trademark technique. High peaks and deep valleys define almost every career of a director who’s helmed 10+ works.
“Hey, you might try striking a pose like that more often. It’s a real turn on.”
Wake Up Girls had its hands in the bad things happening to good people trough for too long. I don’t care how good the rest of the show is, I’m not going to sit through a bunch of supposedly intelligent characters getting themselves roped into some borderline soaphouse gigs by an obvious scumbag. I’d much rather put my effort into finishing up story mode on Im@s Perfect Sun.*
“There’s no way you can beat my big hard magnum with that puny turnip little fist of yours!”
And besides, nobody’s winning the Go Nagai award for “Script Most Likely to Pass as Written by a Horny High School Freshman” in a season containing Seitokai Yakuindomo Citation Needed. Probably because the show itself has, aside from the more heavily cinematic first episode, been an exercise in keeping up the rhythm the OVA kept polished. It’s an early favorite to be the most consistent-with-previous-versions sequel of the year in terms of presentation quality.**
“Men are such strange creatures, after all.”
Tonari no Seki-kun may be only a couple minutes long, but it’s been too heavy on narration and has tried to build up too-elaborate joke routines that just have trouble getting into a rhythm in that span of time. Definitely deserves some credit, but it doesn’t have my attention.
“Once you freak out and start thinking that nothing can be done, then that’s exactly what happens.”
Buddy Complex has been a disappointment. Not an explosive turd the way Valvrave was, but just kind of really uninspired; I didn’t like or hate anything about it after 3 episodes. Which meant it was time to drop and get back to grinding GaoGaiGar.
“Before you go any further, you should know this lady is with me.”
Super Sonico is an interesting case. By rights, it employs many of the same problematic devices that Wake Up Girls did. The difference is that the issues involving stereotyped asshats typically don’t last more than 5 minutes of showtime, and it’s got a very “straight fastball with no spin” approach to the rest of the show that’s part laid-back realism and part characters who are simplified in a likeable way. A show about a cute main character living a mildly varied life can support its own weight a lot more easily than one might think; all it really takes is a little bit of effort from the guys behind the camera. If Ohayocon hadn’t wrecked my seasonal schedule in general, this is the first one I would still be following.
“I don’t even know why I care anyway. Just go on and kill yourself in there.”
You can break the quality of an anime down into its component parts to some degree, but at the heart of what makes every great anime great is a strong cast. When you’ve got a cast that’s truly compelling, your story can cover just about anything; characters like Koyomi Araragi or Itou Kaiji could make a show about buying orange juice from a convenience store captivating. Nobunaga the Fool, in spite of the ambitions held by its story, lacks such a rich cast, and that makes taking its ambition seriously a hard thing to do. As mentioned in the Buddy Complex bit, if I’m on episode 3 of a show with epic politics and I don’t care if anyone in the universe lives or dies, it does not portend well for the rest of the show.
“You remind me of someone I know. This guy’s exactly like you. You see, he’s an annoying son of a bitch who always thinks he’s cool, just like you do.”
Noraragami*** has decent action and a likeable enough cast, headlined by one of the better modern voice actors. To me, though, it feels less organic and more like a work with so much polish that it just won’t catch fire later. You get what you get with this one, which is an above-average supernatural series. Which is fine, it just never caught fire with me.
“No one’s ever given me any kind of chance against you guys. But one thing’s for sure, you’re the one going down!”
All that said, if you told anyone a month ago that Noragami would be handily trouncing Space Dandy in every quantifiable measure of success that wasn’t “# of TV slots on Cartoon Network”, I would have given you a weird look, brained you on the head with an encyclopedia, and cooly withdrawn from the scene. But there are a lot of notable metrics right now that suggest if both series were selling their R1 releases today, the former would be considerably outdistancing the latter. Score one for the sneaky-explosive female half of the western fanbase.
“Look at this scene, Urizane. What do you see? You don’t see any justice, or principle, or necessity. All you see is destruction! These are the actions of a mad dog.”
Effing Nobunagun is doing a bang-up job of making bangs. It doesn’t really have epic-scale ambition, and a lot of the tricks it uses are basic level ones. But I only need a little bit of flavor to mesh with a solid, ridiculous cast blasting the caps off deadly aliens. In reality, there has been some decent story building and a bit of capable mixing up (the pseudo-horror Monster Meat episode was well-done), but it’s ultimately there to set up the colorful-characters-blasting aliens vibe that the show has a buzzing rhythm on.
“If you think you’ve got a future with an attack like that, you’re wrong!”
After a great first episode, Sekai Seifuku has pretty consistently plodded along at an unsatisfying pace. I was expecting it to be a bit more dynamic with its comedy than it was, and while the animation and the concepts are certainly there for it to dream big, I shouldn’t have to sell myself on the potential of a 12-episode series 5 episodes in. I put this one on deep freeze fairly recently, and that’s probably where it’s staying.
“It was so real. That dream was absolutely incredible. But that’s all that it was. Nothing but a stupid dream.”
The tragedy of certain types of shows is that they’re really good at being episodic to the extent that, on the flipside, they’re extremely difficult to marathon; there’s a big difference between laughing at a similar style of humor 20 minutes for once a week and laughing at it for an hour straight-up. I do sincerely regret dropping Hozuki no Reitetsu due to con-induced schedule purge more than anything except Super Sonico, but I can barely marathon Gintama. This one’s dead to me through no fault of its own. And its a shame, too; the scene where Hozuki was kicking Satan’s ass mentally as he showed him through hell was high class. I can almost guarantee I would still be current on this if it were still airing on a Tuesday.
“Why should we stop now? We’ve never taken it this far!”
Speaking of which, Hamatora! In reality, the debate over Kishi Seiji’s career is a lot like the debate about Peyton Manning in cold weather. Minds have been made up to the extent that everything gets interpreted through the lens of that bias, whether that’s the “comedy director turned swiss-army-knife” or the “Uwe Boll of anime”. As a 3-star mamber of the man’s fan club, I’m admittedly not qualified to offer unbiased commentary. That said, the hot springs episode came on full-force and was pretty sweet as a result. If the voice-acting was any less cheesy when the guy was doing abdominal-showcase situps for 45 consecutive seconds, it might have been cause for a ragequit. But, the cast solidly embraced how silly the idea was and made it work. The series isn’t really a fantastic mystery or battle series, but it’s great at being silly and it knows that it is.
“Focus my vision. Remove the unnecessary things from my sight.”
The one thing I value in anime above all else is the quality that demands watching. Golden Time, for the past several weeks, has had that. It was most notable in the scene where Banri and Koko were fighting in her room and touching all kinds of each others’ nerves, but it’s been everywhere in the production the past couple of weeks. This has turned from a show I was hesitant to watch because of Chiaki Kon 5 months ago into a show that I’m going to slap her critics in the face with.
“Yep, that’s right, just another native alter. I don’t even have a last name. I don’t have a nice social position like you do either. But you listen to this – I’ve still got something that you’ll never have. And I’ll share it with you. This is it; the only one there is!”
I made this point about Yamamoto Yutaka, at the beginning of the season, but it applies to Chiaki Kon as well; anime fans who bother to pay attention to resumes at all pay too much attention to individual success and failures, whether commercial or artistic. In reality, a lot of factors can make a director (or writer) look bad that are largely outside of their control. It’s cliche, but a lot of what determines long-term success really comes down to hard work rather than innate talent that someone has always had that manifests on all their productions. I would tend think the production groups driving the anime industry understand that a lot of factors go into success and failure of a given work, at least a lot better than the erstwhile peanut gallery often does. Armchair critic anime fans aren’t worse than bandwagon Lake show fans who insist that Kobe is the greatest of all time while not knowing who Kareem is, but they’re not noticeably better.
–Dude was on teams that won 5 NBA finals, but he was the best player on 2 of those teams.
“Well here’s a little newsflash; I’m not backing down just ‘cause you think you’re tough!”
Unlike many sports stories, Ace of the Diamond isn’t built on much of a backstory. Most of the dynamics between characters are things that have been developing chiefly since they’ve been introduced in the show proper. The anime has finally gotten to the two crown jewel dynamics that sit on the head of a manga rivalled only by Giant Killing in its handling of the roster management aspect**** of real sports: the pitcher-pitcher buddy cop rivalry between duckballer Sawamura and fireballer Furuya, and the perspective of the coach who has to weigh their merits and set the pitching rotation based on his evaluation. And the former makes the latter deliciously complicated.
“You know, you talk too much.”
Hunter x Hunter has by no means been bad lately. But it has been taking its time. It gets harder to adapt a manga straight-up copying storyboards, and though the the series hasn’t been nearly as visually rote as say, Monster,***** it has fallen into a trap by not cutting out some exposition. It’s harder to pass that off in an anime, when the viewer can’t just skip to the next page if they’re bored. Not to demean the visual plusses of the anime; the scene where Meruem has no face was impeccably handled and I still expect myself to enjoy this arc a bit.
“The rules the outlaws live by are forgotten in the confusion. Those who insist on maintaining their integrity are like flowers, waiting to be trampled into the earth.”
Samurai Flamenco has been all over the place. While most of the time since I stopped weekly coverage has been spent on the overly indulgent From Beyond arc, the immediate followup, with Masayoshi on the run and a more somber tone, was anything but. The show is by no means consistent, but it does have the stuff. My inability to predict the finale is on par with my inability to count it out.
“Ryuho. If you can find a little spare time, you should go back to her. Go back to Ms. Mimori.”
…All the more so because of Mari’s return to prominence, coupled with Moe’s long-overdue confrontation with her, highlighted the finesse of a show that’s always had the capability to go down low. Those two are a wild card that’ll probably end up as a plus on the show’s stat sheet when all is said and done.
“Hey, hold on there. You’re interrupting our date.”
“We’re on a date?”
“Just play along with me, will ya?”
Chuu2koi Ren has contained very little in the way of romance in recent weeks. Which is good, because watching it go serious and dramatic is like watching Michael Jordan play baseball; you still respect him because of what he’s done, but you really wish they would just get back to doing what they’re good at. The comedy in the past weeks has been a solid good, on par with half 1 of season 1, with the show really utilizing the energy factor between characters and the resulting elaborate delusions to make things run. I’ve still got my guard up for a second-half choke job, but I’d obviously be fine if things stayed just the way they are.
“It’s so unfortunate. Your emotional investment will yield no return.”
“I know that already. And it doesn’t make any difference to me.”
The Pilot’s Love Song is doing a great job of hitting that exact spot on the efficiency curve of balance between “incredibly likable side-cast” and “incredibly likely to die side-cast”. I love what it’s been doing, building up the local flying-island setting and the broader world while at the same time using that buildup to dilute a series of tragic backstories. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the tragedy won’t be restricted to flashbacks when all is said and done – stormclouds are building up in every sense of the word. But I don’t think this show will end up like shows of the “guaranteed tears” variety; I’m still emotionally checked into the aspirations these kids hold that the squad getting decimated would hurt in an effective way. For now, the show gets high marks primarily for its the refreshingly natural fantasy-life aspects.
Mitty would have been more likely to survive the show if the episode had ended with a gun to his head
“So all I have to do is take this apart?”
“Any way you can.”
“Good. I think I know how. DYNAMITE PUNCH!”
I love how straight-down-the-middle Kuroko’s Basketball has been since the Winter Cup started. Opening up the tournament against Touou was like the second beer scene in Kaiji’s second season, a declaration of war on the part of the writer that they were shifting the car into D1 and snapping off the gear stick. The final half of episode 18, the part where the last seconds of the game were ticking down, I wasn’t thinking “man, they’re gonna win this because they have to”, I was thinking “oh boy, here comes the Robert Horry Doubleclutch Sundae” like a little kid who watching the ending to Star Wars. Big difference. Like sports, KnB isn’t really about the outcome. It’s about the showmanship. Or, to paraphrase Michael Sunnyside, life is entertainment – enjoy the show.
“Hey, guys. Just saved time, and it only cost us a car!”
RGZ did a good job of keeping up with the property damage-based humor in its second episode, and approached Enma-kun-ending levels of brilliance in the final minutes. Considering we only get one more episode of this one, it’s the one that I’m most hopeful for a sequel of – there’s just so much more it can play with. The odds of me importing are basically off the board in Vegas.
“Two minutes, fifty-five seconds; my fastest time ever. Once again, I’ve shortened the world.”
Pupipo is actually three-minutes thirty, but whatever. It’s both adorable and surprisingly ambitious for a 3-minute comedy, making watching it each week an absolute no-brainer. Coupled with RGZ above, it’s the most fun I’ve had with short anime since Teekyu and Poyopoyo overlapped two Falls ago.
“Undertalented, and overoptimistic. You’re not gonna beat me.”
I dislike watching anime where everything is a delicate dance around nothing. Characters that set things in motion are preferable cast members even if they’re not particularly likeable otherwise. Coupled with the fact that she simply does not go down, the above trait makes Kagari Ayaka into an extremely fun character. Witchcraft Works is a very flavorful comedy that makes optimal use of her uniqueness, and it’s going to be mine in hardcopy come March Madness.
Oh, and I think it’s time to add Tsutomu Mizushima to the “Never Count Me Out” all-stars, though some people were savvy enough to hype the show going in. I’m not saying he lives by the win forever pyramid, I’m just not ruling it out.
“I’m not really interested in your opinions. I just want to get my money’s worth.”
I wanted to get this out of the way first, because I don’t want to end what I say about this show on a negative note. The new “saving anime” narrative may actually be even dumber than the Yamakan’s Fractale PR. But that doesn’t mean the shows people figurehead on it have to be anything other than rock solid. I try to tune out the people who can’t mention Space Dandy positively without insulting the rest of anime in the same sentence. Helps me enjoy it.
“Dammit, do whatever you want then!”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. That’s what I’ve been doing. And I’m gonna keep on doing whatever I want!”
There are many ways people categorize anime, but here’s mine. In the broadest sense, anime can be split into 4 subcategories. First, you have the model F-1 series with the heavy budgets and/or the obviously ambitious plot. Of those, there are series that make use of that ambition and potential and those that just coast down the highway. Second, you have the junkyard parts series that have to get creative with their duct tape to keep running. And of those, you have the ones that just go right back to the junk heap where they came from, and those that, rust and all, have a top gear that does 200 clicks and can get the blood pumping. Great examples of this latter type include Ben-To and Hyakko, shows with a lot more passion than ambition. The reason I approach A-list anime with caution is because fewer of them really have that engrossing top gear that adds to the fun factor, something I value more than most.
The thing about Space Dandy is that it’s been hyped as an F-1 series when it really falls into that junk category; it just plays like an anime that takes its time to get into gear, with the moving parts taking heavy friction with each piston press. But it has that other gear. When it gets going, like with the visblicious ramen in episode 2 or the no-dialogue search montage in episode 5, it’s breaking speed limits. I don’t expect it to have its foot on the gas 24/7, but that just puts it deeper in my strike zone; shows getting red hot are a lot more fun than shows keeping up a lukewarm boil. Space Dandy was billed as an A-lister, but it’s built like a mid-major, and that’s why it’s my pick of the season going into the second half.
“Come on now, go ahead and give me your best shot. Maybe then it’ll be a real battle. Now get off your ass and fight me!!”
Because what it halftime, if not the perfect time to get excited for whatever the second half will whip out of its holster? Whether you’re still watching any of these shows or not, have fun with the next couple of months however you please. Oh, and thanks for reading!
*Kikuchi Makoto rocks WUG’s entire cast. It’s just a fact.
**Which, of course, means it’s ranked a good 350 spots higher on myanimelist despite being 900 spots less popular.
***Sorry, I stuttered.
****Recently plowed through the raws up to volume 28. Suffice to say I’m incredibly impressed that Yuuji Terajima cranked out all the long-term implications of the Inashiro Tech match without the writing assistance that Yusuke Murata or Tsujitomo had *or* the crazy-long hiatuses Shinobu Kaitani takes. I hope he draws another series at some point so I can add him to my “not just lightning in a bottle” pantheon of authors.
*****Not really an insult to the series itself. The series it was rote-copied from won the JMAF Excellence Prize, Tezuka Cultural Prize, and Shogakukan Manga Award prior to any animation being done. It’s an A anime, but the degree of effort put into that adaptation is a B at best.