Every quarter, I take the anime season as excuse to go watch and quote-mine one of my old favorite shows. This time, the one on the chopping block is the show that is my favorite Hideaki Anno show and the show it took me the longest to watch to the end (I acquired the first 3 DVDs over the course of 2007-2008, then didn’t get my hands on the last 2 until 2011). The show has a really interesting, introspective romance plot backed up by some fantastic backgrounds, and I picked it this time around because this Spring 2014 season features plenty of both being played for great effect.
Helps that it was wicked fun to rewatch
“Wait a minute, what’s with that reaction? I wasn’t expecting this.”
Full disclosure, I said Mekaku City Actors was one of the favorite to break 10k. Given a show with the same statistical profile today, I would probably make the same statement again. Unfortunately, even things with large existing buyer bases still depend on execution and reception going off smoothly, and somewhere along the line somebody whiffed at a gimme pitch and is looking at sub-4k sales as a real possibility. Getting away from the toxic part of the conversation, the show is doing some pretty neat things; setting up for insert songs (a rarity in late-night anime), rolling out a same-day-different-perspective episode pair, and beyond that essentially running isolation Asumi Kana/Kotori Koiwai scripts.* It’s disappointing how the anime’s been doing disk preorder-wise, but thus far it seems to have presided over a fairly respectable 100,000 or so reprinted light novels being sold. Don’t know how that all works out, but, as you can probably tell, I’m not inclined to stick nails in that coffin anyway; I dig the show and it makes Saturdays more fun.
“I really admire you. It’s amazing that people like you even exist.”
Over the years, I’ve seen some truly exceptional series rocking the unpowered-versus-mages dynamic (Ghost Sweeper Mikami, Mx0) and the laughably unbeatable lead dynamic (One Punch Man, Hajime no Ippo’s Takamura). Both are a lot of fun for a lot of different reasons, employing different varieties dual-perspective sequences to showcase the contrast between a protagonist who’s struggling his ass off while bystanders see him as the epitome of cool, or an opponent who believes that he has a chance of survival while the grim reaper already has a mixtape picked out for his trip to the afterlife. The combination of the two has not served Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei well; having a main character who’s both disrespected and a ridiculous prodigy . Too, the action has been largely nonexistent after the sparring match in episode 1 courtesy of how curbstompy the action has been. And that’s not even the worst part…
“You’re smart, have a good personality, and you’re cute too.”
What really killed it for me, though, was that it set up the old-school “assholes with power lording it over the rest of humanity dynamic”… and then proceeded to have a several-minute monologue that basically amounted to an unhammy impersonation of Charles vi Britannia trying to argue that this was somehow a fair situation. I can’t get behind a bland main character siding with a bunch of conspicuous assholes just because he’s rocking a bearded hobo’s version of the Yokoshima Tadao dynamic.
“See here? We decided that we would try explaining sis’ current situation using a happy song and comics. We hope you liked it!”
For such a high-budget production, Captain Earth has a few too many warts. The biggest issue I’ve had with it is the soundtrack, which, while it doesn’t sound terrible in a vacuum, has been used poorly and mangled a lot of the earlier attempts at drama. But it’s not the only thing about the show that feels mailed in. I kinda couldn’t believe my ears when I saw “libido” was still the terminology of choice in this show; it comes off poorly when a writer reuses terms from one of his earlier works in a similar genre. The internal politics aspect (two factions within an organization with goals 100% at loggerheads) is an interesting one, but it hasn’t really stuck on one thread enough to get anywhere yet.
“It’s a man! It’s a man! It’s a man!”
All that said, I’m still locked on to Captain Earth like Methane on Titan. Why? Two reasons, somewhat intertwined. One, the core cast has A-plus chemistry with each other, and just watching them hang around and with each other is a delightful experience. Anime is beautifully complex is that a staff can totally screw the pooch on a lot of key mechanics issues and still come away with a good show, provided they’re telling a story about sufficiently compelling characters. Two, did you see the part where Daichi tried to do the right thing by setting Teppei and Hana free, got shock-collared by the forelock trying to sabotage everything, and get his gun confiscated? Did you see what happened next? Dude walked out of the base, shaking off the pain like he was Gai Freaking Shishio in 1997, and did the right thing anyway (with the help of a giant laser, no less). He might need to work on his yell, but he’s got blood considerably hotter than 37 degrees Celsius running through those veins. Oh, and two episodes later he stared down a twenty-foot mech with no armor, and won that fight. I didn’t get a world-beater from this show, but I’m getting what I wanted at the outset.
“This isn’t a little kid’s fight, you know.”
Selector Infected Wixoss has been way, way too heavy on the melodrama. I get that it wants to be a serious emotional roller coaster, but it’s got two critical issues that kept it from getting over the hump in the three episodes I watched. Issue number one is that it’s characters are very much one-note cliches. The model with the aggressive asshole tendencies was by far the worst, but the entire cast feels like their main reference material is the shallowly imitating of other writers’ characters, rather than trying to create relatable human beings. Two, and related to one, is that it’s telegraphing all its stuff. Drama’s not particularly impactful when you know what and how a turning point in the plot is about to go down just from experience with similar types of shows.
“This is all kinda heavy.”
“I’ve never seen her talk this much.”
Hitsugi no Chaika had a fairly weak first episode, but it went gangbusters in the second and never really looked back. After the spectacularly physical melee combat sequence featuring the main character and the muscle of the pursuit squad, I was hooked. The dragon arc wasn’t as interesting, but it did a good job of adding a character and showing off a bit more of the world. I hope it sells well enough to get a season 2 – feels like the kind of setting they could really make use of. Too, I can’t get enough of Chaika’s cute klutz-speaking-a-foreign-language gimmick. It’s very, very cute.
“I was just thinking… Maybe your mother and I should have another two or three children.”
But you can’t win the title of cutest-of-season when you’re competing against cute little balls of joy like these:
Puchimas’ 6-days-a-week second season has been everything I’ve wanted, and way more. The possibility raised in recent weeks that it will be 75 episodes, rather than 64, is something I doubt, if only because nothing that cool ever actually happens.
“Quit saying things that piss me off, old man!”
I’ve complained enough about the incredibly poor cast swap decisions Stardust Crusaders has made. The meat of the matter is, the show is great. Old Joseph is actually being handled really well, and the staff have managed to squeeze the overacting that made season one so engaging into pretty much every scene. Now that Jean-Pierre Punkhead Polnareff is in the cast, there’s really nothing, not even the relative weakness of its source material, stopping it from being the third-best show of the season.
“If we have to start over, why not do it together?”
Isshukan Friends has been doing a fine job carrying itself over these past couple of weeks. Going in, it had a premise that could go anywhere from touching drama to unapologetic tearjerker and PVs which showcased late-90s-tier background art. Four episodes in, the drama has been both engaging and fairly interspersed with more down-to-earth bits that make the fact that the two main characters have been forming and reforming friendship over and over without growing apart. And the shows’ non-surreal background art has been fantastic and utilized as effectively as it has been in anything since 2006.
So yeah, mission accomplished. Good job so far.
“That was pretty embarrassing, y’know. But it was fun in its own way.”
Daimidaler didn’t entirely lack entertainment value, and that opener is a definite keeper. But it did quickly lose the charm, and the second episode spent the entire time building up to a boob joke that really wasn’t particularly funny. You can do pervy humor and make it work, but this was not a winner for me. I quit on it pretty quickly.
“We don’t have the money, so…”
“Really? But you live in that huge mansion.”
“It’s just the house that’s big.”
Knights of Sidonia has been progressively more interesting with each passing week. I like how it’s taking on the robots-versus-monsters schtick. Each encounter with a monster isn’t a national crisis, but an existential one, and that really spills over both into the amount of time and detail spent on the first one, and into the lengths to which the managers of the colony go towards preventing the worst-case scenario. From the beginning, they were super-cautious about launching out probes and monitoring for Gauna, and by the time we got to episode 4, they were willing to enact emergency maneuvers that killed thousands and mobilize every active pilot and machine into a wall of defense. It’s all very heavy, thick, hard sci-fi, with a solid dose of snazzy battle sequences. I’m glad it’s on pace to sell well.
“You know, I’m really glad I met you.”
“So am I.”
Speaking of species battling extinction, Netero and Meruem fought this quarter in Hunter x Hunter. It has to be mentioned first and foremost, because out of all the episodes this season not from my top two shows, that was definitely the best. It was an unreal sequence of events that I’ve seen wall-to-wall a number of times already. Beyond the spectacular animation and the resolution of Netero’s “I want to actually use my godmode powers in a serious fight” character arc, I was impressed by just how graceful the staff managed to make Netero’s prayer-combat appear (something that didn’t come across nearly as well in the manga). It looked like he was doing yoga exercises the whole fight, and, like so many other things in the HxH universe, it lent a great sense of reality to the whole affair.
“It may look like Tsubasa just likes you a lot, but when she clamps on to you like that, it’s all over. She’ll be stuck to you forever. To be honest, it’s a real pain.”
One of the things I really like about Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara is how quickly it’s been moving along, adding new characters to the cast in minutes rather than episodes. It keeps things moving at that rapid pace and is in keeping with the high-energy feel the series tries to maintain with lots of quick shots with the entire cast squeezed in. The cliche-exploitation premise has been likewise enjoyably applied.
“I’m gonna show Miyazawa the gorgeous body I keep hidden underneath my shirt. Under the midsummer sun, this blinding, sparkling, smooth-as-porcelain gorgeous body of mine will drive her her crazy.”
Kamigami no Asobi’s performance thus far is best described by three words: nice, enjoyable, and likeable. It’s been playing with expectations in little ways that rockin’ beach episode where the characters got changed into their gear and never actually got to swim, but for the most part it’s just a really straightforward show about a group of mostly decent guys and a nice girl getting to know each other better, without much overacting or unnecessary baggage. I’m totally down with that type of show, so sign me up for the rest of the season.
“I love Sundays. Staying home and being lazy is just the best.”
Same deal for Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka. It’s a cute, funny, no-baggage show about a bunch of nice girls working at a coffee shop with a rabbit that takes after Dera Mochiyucky. There’s not a single cast member I dislike, and aside from the unnecessary changing room bits, there aren’t a whole lot of general minuses about the show.
“Who’s to say you’d end up having daughters? You might end up with three sons instead.”
“Hmph! Well, in that case I’d start a baseball team.”
Ace of the Diamond has been still entertaining these past couple of weeks, but it has gone down a gear in terms of the extent to which it employs the lazy animation typical of morning TV anime. It’s still got one of the most fascinating roster-management/player-development schticks this side of Masaya Tsunamoto. Sticking with it in a busy Saturday slate, though it’s no longer the first thing I watch when I make it home at night.
“Go on and live your smelly hot youth. But we’re gonna play.”
Ping Pong has been tearing it up in recent weeks with a whole bunch of interesting dynamics. The dialogue is fascinating and packed scenes carrying that To Heart/Eccentric Family feel where people have a deep, meaningful conversation by exchanging one-liners consisting of two-syllable words. Not only that, it’s a gif machine second this season only to the immortal Puchimas, and it’s been pulling that off with a weird mix of manga-style screen splitting and slow-motion CG rubber-on-plastic action. Fantastic stuff, and it would be my current favorite for anime of the year so far if not for…
“What are you still doing here?”
“I said, what are you still doing here?”
“Because. I wanted to be near you.”
Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii is my favorite show of in a season for two reason; the best couple and a romance that goes way above and beyond the norm. Nike and Livius have their own brands of strong personality that makes their ruling a kingdom together a very believable prospect. Too, it makes them super-fun to watch bicker (as they often do). Mix in some fantasy world-building and the facts that the two are already married, physically intimate**, and sharing a bed, and there’s really nothing to not be super-excited about.
I’m all-in on this one; already ordered the entire 7 volumes of manga***, and I plan to buy the disks as well.
“What if the second semester’s the same?”
“I’m not even gonna think about it.”
Right now, it feels like either of those could end up being my favorite of the season, and I’d welcome 8 more episodes of both even if nothing else was airing this season. But the field’s pretty good, and still includes at least two (Captain Earth and Isshukan Friends) that could break out and go crazy if they go on a feasible if improbable three-episode run of amazing. Should be a fun May-June.
*Sidenote: I had no idea the latter had any kind of vocal range. I heard the Kigu from Joshiraku voice (very distinctive) several times and assumed she can’t do anything but variations on that one. Then, I found out that she’s also Renge from Non Non Biyori. Turns out, voice actresses good enough to make it to anime main character roles do tend to have a second gear.
**I mean, I really am tired of romance series where it takes 12 episodes for characters to hold hands and/or kiss for the first time. I’ve lost count of how many times those two have done both.
***Fyi, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii 7th volume sold about 50,000 copies in its first 10 days after all previous volumes but 6 failed to chart. Volume 6 sold about 30,000 volumes in 7 days. Given that a lot of manga bumps aren’t always visible in volumes released in the month the anime airs, that’s probably a successful advertisement. Vigorous handshakes all around.