Spring 2009: First Thoughts

spring2009

This is a lot later than I’d usually make a “First Thoughts” of the season article. I usually try to post them about half-way through the second week, such that I’ve seen up to ep 2 of about half the titles I’m following, and ep 1 of the other half. But even the NHRV Editor’s Choice article came out a week after I originally intended. Let’s just say I’ve been busy (real life, among other things).

Every season the same group of cynics make the comment that this is a crappy season and there’s no good new anime, and it’s easy enough to dismiss their opinion because they say the same thing every season. So I don’t make the same comments lightly, but this really is a crap season. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another season that has had such a dearth of interesting titles since Winter 2006. Now usually when people make such comments, my thoughts are that they just haven’t found the good stuff, since it’s usually a little more obscure and buried under the mountains of garbage, so if this is the case for me this season, I’d appreciate people to point me away from the crap and in the right direction. Nonetheless, based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think ghostlightning‘s Everythingfromthenewseasonisshiteritis disease is a mental delusion that strikes a few separate individuals, at least this time. This time, I think it’s actually reality, and that everything really is crap this season. Almost, anyway. There are a few titles here and there that have shown promise.

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Eden of the East
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: A
The first three episodes of this series have featured wall-to-wall win. I haven’t been this excited about a new anime since Kure-nai. The characters are fascinating and behave (reasonably) believably, the mystery is incredibly well paced and is completely intriguing and the hints suggest something which could be both elaborate and insightful. I’m a fan of Kamiyama Kenji‘s work, but I will admit that they all have one or another Achilles’ heel. Seirei no Moribito ended up being more straightforward than it originally hinted, while GITS:SAC has never had what I’d consider engaging characters. If Kamiyama ever figures out how to combine the heart of Seirei no Moribito with the intelligence of GITS:SAC, he’d have a winner of epic proportions. I doubt this anime is it, but on what I’ve seen, it’s the closest he’s come yet.

Cross Game
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: A-
This is actually my first experience with an Adachi-based work, and I already see why he’s held in such high regard as a manga-ka. It’s a fairly straight-forward slice-of-life/romance series with baseball as some sort of plot device (although it could easily become a very important component of the story). The thing that impresses me is that the characters’ moods are so well captured and expressed. There’s an emptiness to how they reflect on the tragedy that occurred in episode 1, which adds a lot of colour to the characters’ collective pasts and their relationships in the present. I think it’s fairly obvious where this is all going, particularly on the romance side of things (Aoba is so tsundere), but because we already know about arguably the defining event of their backstories, it’s so easy to sympathize with them, which is still the most important thing in romance stories, IMO.

Ristorante Paradiso
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
It’s an anime about old men with glasses who are moe. But it’s not gay, so it’s OK for me to enjoy this. It wouldn’t raise any eyebrows if someone told me this was a Noitamina anime since it is a down-to-earth drama about mature people in realistic situations, with a heavy emphasis on relationships. The characters are really engaging, and just ooze charm and the setting, Rome, is gloriously portrayed (I’m semi-convinced that it’s extremely difficult to make Rome look bad in any medium of film). And Orikasa Fumiko is just great as the female lead, Nicolleta. I’m also loving the soundtrack, which has a strong Choro Club influence (you know, the band that worked on ARIA). In fact, zzeroparticle would tell you that a few of the musicians are actually from Choro Club.

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K-On!
Episodes seen: 4
Initial impression: C+
The anime that everyone is talking about. I could say stuff like “this isn’t my sort of anime”, but that’s a weak way to dismiss one’s own opinion so as not to step on anyone’s toes, and I don’t like to do that because I like to think that my opinion is reasoned. But the problem is that this usually is my sort of anime. Slice-of-life moe is one of my favourite genres, but this anime is taking the “moe” and ramming it down our throats as hard and as fast as it possibly can, and the consequence is inevitable: I’m gagging. Mio is completely contrived beyond words, as can be seen by the fact that she’s gone from kuudere to tsundere to tsunDERE, which makes me think that KyoAni don’t know what type of moe they’re pandering to with her character and are just responding to the fans. The other characters are actually OK (I know a lot of this show’s critics rail against Yui’s “cute not smart” character archetype, but I’m not all that adverse to it), but the episode structures typically follow a standard playbook and the whole thing just feels phoned in. (Yes, there, I said it.)

Natsu no Arashi
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
Shinbo madness. After School Rumble, I’m still not sure whether or not Kobayashi Jin is a hack. He managed to write these amazing characters and incredibly profound and moving moments, but they were interspersed within a plot that was rubbish: rubbish pacing, frequent rubbish resets and a rubbish ending. So, as a project, Natsu no Arashi is ideal: pair up an author whose previous work was ruined by compromise with a director who doesn’t know what the word means. I like what I’ve seen so far, both Shinbo and Kobayashi do “controlled insanity” quite well, but the question mark is, how much legs does the comedic set up have. And what happens after the jokes get stale? Will we see serious romance, or will this be madcap comedy all the way?

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
Someone needs to take their finger off the fast-forward button, since this has been rushed. I guess it’s reasonably clear that this adaptation is for people experienced with the franchise, since there’s been virtually no down time to let the ideas that drive the story actually sink in. Like a lot of people, I still can’t see the justification for this remake’s existence. Manga fans maintain that this series will follow the original manga closer, but even if we accept the contention that the manga has a better story, it means nothing if the execution of that story is subpar. The thing that really makes me pessimistic about this show, off the back of what I’ve already seen, is that the intention apparently is to squeeze ninety (reasonably lengthy) chapters into fifty-two episodes, and that could well mean a series that is in perma-rush mode. A rushed story isn’t the worst thing ever for those of us already familiar with the original anime, but when the anime starts to diverge from the manga, it could be disastrous. And that’s not even without sparing a thought for people who have picked this up new.

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Hayate no Gotoku! 2nd Season
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C+
Remember when Hayate no Gotoku was funny? This is another series which is apparently following the manga closer this time, but geez, does that really mean they need to sap all the decent comedy out of it. The first season was at its best when it was dabbling in meta-humour. Now that the fourth-wall stuff and anime references and have been stripped away, we’re left with character gags that were tiring anyway and over-the-top situations involving ghosts, robots and fighting nuns that just come off as dumb. And then there are the highly sappy (and tacky) moments between Hayate and Nagi, which, for some reason, feel more hammy than they were in the first season. If this is what we have to look forward to, then J.C. Staff‘s shocking recent record with sequels looks set to continue.

Pandora Hearts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C
I was impressed by the two minute sequence in the first episode where Oz first met Alice, but since then it’s been fairly mundane and the mystery hasn’t really been that engaging. Not much to really say about this anime. I guess it just isn’t really that absorbing, and it’s really only the mystery that’s keeping it from being completely boring.

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Phantom ~Requiem of the Phantom~
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C+
Oh man, Bee Train. It’s hard not to laugh sometimes. Their works are always just so overly romantic in a kitschy kind of way, so obsessed with mixing beauty and violence, but hamming up both to a level that forgoes any sense of grounding or good taste. They almost always have this weird sense of emotional detachment which I can only describe as “emotionless angst” in that, the ambiance is just so thick with angst, but the characters are completely hopeless at expressing emotion. It’d be an interesting dichotomy if it were executed with any sense of subtlety. I’m not sure at this stage that this anime will be quite as bad as previous Bee Train works (Madlax in particular was just awful), but it never gives you an opportunity to forget this is a Bee Train work, since all the trademarks are there (including characters whose shooting skills will abandon them at the plot’s convenience), and the characters are pretty difficult to sympathize with at this stage (there seems to be a lot of inconsistency regarding just how much humanity Zwei has retained since his memory wipe). Dunno. Might be OK in the end, but I’m not holding my breath.

Hanasakeru Seishounen
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
It’s a reverse harem and no where near as charming as Ristorante Paradiso. One must have a certain tolerance for the types of tropes this series throws up to watch this, and there are a lot of aspects to the plot that are utterly eye-rolling (such as Kajika believing that the soul of her dead leapord was inside Eugene, who’s as obnoxious as hell, and Li Ren mobilizing the entire NYPD with little more than a quick phone call). But the characters, while not the most sympathetic or even sensible of the season, are strong and capable people and a plot twist at the end of the third ep in particular is rather intriguing. I can sort of see this going up and down, so hopefully there’s more “up” than “down”.

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Shangri-La
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: C
There are a couple of reasons why I haven’t watch more episodes of this, one of which is that the first ep really didn’t impress or intrigue me, so it’s pretty much the lowest priority series I’m following. I realize that it’s hard to judge a series like this by the first ep alone, but I found the story completely baffling, and had no idea what was going on half the time. The characters are a real motley crew, which is all well and good, but if they don’t pay them proper respect, the weirdness of the characters could easily devolve into an annoying gimmick. Carbon trading is a gutsy and topical subject to tackle, so I’ll give them a big thumbs up for that, but I’m just not sure they’re going about handling it the right way and my fear is that it’ll end up being little more than a plot device to establish the premise. At the very least, the setting isn’t completely unreasonable and it does make a pertinent point: if we don’t act on climate change in the present, then big government burgeoning on totalitarianism is one of many consequences we can look forward to in the future.

13 Responses to “Spring 2009: First Thoughts”

  1. From the show’s I’ve been watching I’ve put the ff. on hold because I think they stink (for now):

    1. Valkyria Chronicles (if reviewers recommend this by season’s end I’ll pick it up again)
    2. Basaquash (I’m doomed to finish this)

    A show that is exactly what I expect it to be:

    1. K-ON! (fluffy fluff done fluffily and enjoyed while in the mood for fluff)

    Shows that I really enjoy:

    1. Shin Mazinger Z Hen (oh holy wow I build a house from the bricks I shit after watching)
    2. Sengoku Basara (mad, mad fun that may be — just maybe more than the manly fanservice platter it presents itself to be)
    3. Dragon Ball Kai (nostalgia is a powerful drug)
    4. Eden of the East (very interesting and pretty to look at)

    Now that I’ve thought about it while reading this post, last season was worse where I dropped shows with prejudice (White Album, Kurokami, Akikan, Hetalia) and shows that I thought I’d love disappointed me (RideBack) and in the case of Tytania, utterly.

    I think of Pareto’s Principle: 80% of the enjoyment will come from 20% of the available shows. If you think about it, every season is a season for “Everythingfromthenewseasonisshiteritis,” allowing for hyperbole that is.

  2. Whoever told you that the Fullmetal Alchemist manga had a better story than the anime is lying. The manga may have more epic shounen moments, but it has a weaker drama overall.

    Anyways, this is looking like any other season with few things actually worth watching, so I’ll probably start branching out to the lesser known titles once I find more time.

  3. Eden of the East (entertaining and fairly intriguing at the moment) and Cross Game (I’ve already seen Touch so the formula, with some tweaks, isn’t unfamiliar) are probably the best overall titles, but I’m enjoying Shin Mazinger (seems like a rather fun remake), Guin Saga (not very original but still good for classic fantasy), and even Phantom (it helps that the series is based on an original work which predates BeeTrain’s, for a reason, so the mixed execution doesn’t quite bother me) as well.

    I’m not particularly interested in seeing DBZ or FMA again at this time and the shows won’t be going away anytime soon, so those are not currently on my watch list.

    Haven’t had the time to see most of the other shows mentioned but, on the surface, only Valkyria Chronicles and maybe, though it’s a long shot, Ristorante Paradiso, sound like I’d actively want to check them out.

  4. Let’s not forget Queen’s Blade

  5. I decided to look back on Winter 2006 just to sate my curiosity and wow… that was a pretty bad season, with titles like FS/N, Kashimashi, and the critically acclaimed Lingerie Soldier Papillon Rose bravely leading the charge. While this season is nowhere as bad, I think we’ve been stuck with a lot of shows that are just merely average.

    Makes me reflect back on Akira’s post when he mentioned how

    anime have fallen into a few large categories and each anime attempts to vary only just slightly. There hasn’t been a genre-shattering, industry-shaking innovation in quite a while. Each anime attempts to differentiate itself in minute ways. Instead of making an artistic statement, most directors seem more interested in pandering to a very specific niche of a fandom.

    A damning statement it might be, but one that is only too true given the current state of affairs. Let’s hope this is more of a blip than a long-term trend.

  6. @ghostlightning
    Yeah, but I don’t think last season was worse. Sure, there was a lot of crap, but I really got a lot of enjoyment out of series like Marimite 4th and Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, and I’m still enjoying Kemono no Souja Erin. RideBack wasn’t anywhere as good as I thought it could be, but it was still reasonable in the end. I guess it was disappointing because it didn’t fulfill its potential. Tytania was a massive disappointment, but I realized it wasn’t going to be all that great about half way through, so that allowed me to readjust my expectations for it.

    @Shadowmage
    Oh geez. Well I guess I’ll have to readjust my expectations for that series too, since I just took all the ravings from manga fans at face value. I’m still struggling to understand the justification for this remake, but I guess it’s basically a case of squeaky wheel, which, as Akira talked about in the last post, is even more relevant in anime.

    @A.H.
    Shin Mazinger. Giant robots and lots of over-the-top GAR. Not really my thing.

    @Baka-Raptor
    Mindless fanservice. Again, not my thing. Nothing wrong with fanservice, but it’s a challenge to make fanservice anime that aren’t obnoxious. If I had more time to spare this season, I’d consider it, but one more mindless anime on top of all the other mindless anime I’m following this season would pretty much be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    @zzeroparticle
    The problem with Winter 2006 titles like F/SN and Kashimashi is that they actually showed promise when they started, but their failure to deliver was spectacular. I heard that Yomigaeru Sora – Rescue Wings wasn’t too bad in the end, but I never bothered to follow through with it. And, assuming that this season also fails to deliver more than three decent titles, I’m currently prepared to write it off as an aberration. If we get lots of consecutive seasons like this, then we need to start asking questions.

  7. Heh. Somehow, it is not hard to believe that the comment on people lamenting on “Crap Seasons” was taking a shot at myself. Although, I usually have a reason for my disdain whether or not people like it. Even then, it is amazing that you have enough tolerance to go through all of those shows bearing the pain of mediocrity or worse.

    Not counting last seasons sequels and Casshern Sins bridging from last year, last season was still rather sad since Rideback and KMS Erin (ongoing) were the only real winners. Genji would have been excellent had the fansubbing love been given since the show is quite good. (Neglect of Mouryou no Hako saddens me to death.)

    This season I am following FMA: Brotherhood, Higashi no Eden, and Souten Kouro since there is nothing else within my interests. Unfortunately, Eden still seems to be a show that can very well implode at any given time while Souten Kouro had a rough outing in its second episode. Ditto on FMA: Brotherhood since the execution has been lacking. Still, one can only hope that next season will not actually be worse since this should be as low as it can get.

  8. @Flash Sword Irene
    No, don’t worry, that wasn’t directed at you. I’m more talking about cynics on other sites, ie, people who criticize every season but don’t bother going off-mainstream to find good shows. And yeah, Mouryou no Hako is one of many shows that need more fansubber love.

  9. Hopefully, it’s the aberration you describe and that we can blame it on something like the worldwide economic situation, which might have led to companies going after shows that will sell rather than take on riskier bets.

    Anyways, thanks for pointing out Cross Game to me. First episode was most excellent and I wish I could reciprocate, but most of the titles I’ve seen so far haven’t been all that great. I’m tempted to throw down Guin Saga, except I need to see the second episode before making any sort of recommendation.

  10. Well Sorrow if you are looking for more series to try out I guess I can direct you to a harmlessly cute (and educational? lol) show that is called Marie and Gali. I know you are a scientist and this show is supposed to be a ‘science show’. You’re going to see things like right-hand-rule for electric current, the fact that everything falls at the same rate, Marie Curie, Da Vinci, Galileo, etc etc…

    Of course, they’re all primary-easy high school stuff but still, I like it for the style aspect.

  11. I do worry that my initial exhilaration at finding a show like Eden of The East will peter out into disappointment like with Tytania should it not live up to my expectations for it, but for now it’s riding strong. As long as they don’t introduce a Lira like character…..well even still I think I’d prefer to just keep my fingers crossed.

    As always we seem to be brain twinning on all the titles where our viewership has crossed over, including FMA with my feeling that they are blazing through the early parts of the story. I’m also starting to feel a lack of purpose in the remake. I’m guessing the stories from the first series that are missing up to this point must have been anime originals or something. Being one of those people that doesn’t believe that because something is following the source material that it automatically makes it better, I may be forced at some point to step back and compare the two to see if this effort was all worth it.

    And then of course there’s, K-On which is just overdoing it on things that non-moe fans would find unimportant and even some things they would. It’s definitely trying to hard to please a certain demographic and comes across as desperately seeking approval that the demographic would have probably already given it anyway. As for Mio, I don’t think she’ll reach the level of most moe traits assigned to a character that the heroine of Yamazaki and Sato’s eroge from Welcome To The N.H.K did, but it’s entirely possibly at the rate they are going that she’ll finish a close second.

    By the way, to answer your query that I never got back to you on, no I don’t think that all slice of life shows are like K-On, because I know first hand that they aren’t.

  12. […] to which I replied, “Hell yeah I will!”.  Or perhaps it was just that while reading Behind The Nihon Review one of Sorrow-Kun’s quips while talking about this show struck a chord with me: Sorrow-Kun: I could say stuff like “this isn’t my sort of anime”, but […]

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