Summer 2009: First Thoughts

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It’s still early days, but I genuinely think that there’s much more of interest on offer this season than there was last season. Maybe it’s little more than a matter of perception, but what this season has which last season failed to offer are sequels from proven franchises. It’s not a brilliant thing, since sequels are often innately unambitious, but I can look at titles like Spice and Wolf II and Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and say “ah, yes, I want to watch these”, because their predecessors were so good. Also, there aren’t too many series I’m following so far which are just out-and-out crap: even the worst series I’m watching have at least something I can enjoy or look forward to, whether it be classy music or mindless, over-the-top action. There is one exception to all of this, which is fast turning into one of the most epic disappointments I’ve ever seen in anime. I probably don’t even need to say what it is, it’s been so thoroughly discussed that you probably already know what I’m talking about.

Aoi Hana
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: A-
This, I’d have to say, is the early winner. Kasai Ken’ichi, as a director, has one of the best track records in anime, and his series are typically at their strongest when they’re character driven and slow-paced. His series tend to be about character analysis and interactions, and these are usually explored in a way that’s subdued and introspective. I’m fascinated by this series so far. Once you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept that everyone is a lesbian by default, the show becomes incredibly absorbing by way of its tender and personal approach. It wants you to get to know these characters, and has no problems with pausing to let their emotions and thoughts sink in until you understand and eventually sympathize with them. It’s a fairly emotional show so far, but these are subdued emotions that carry meaning.

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Umineko no Naku Koro ni
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
It would surprise me that anyone who’s seen Higurashi wouldn’t immediately be onto this. I remember an old episode of Everybody Love Raymond where Ray’s son writes a story called “The Angry Family”. I’m sure he was writing about the Ushiromiyas. Holy crap, someone give these people some valium. It’s too early to make a call about this right now, and it almost goes without saying that there’s some sort of elaborate mystery behind the events we’re seeing at the moment (which is what people familiar with Higurashi are probably expecting). I’m just annoyed that they

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killed off Rosa.

She was like the best character so far. She can go from calm to rage in a matter of milliseconds.

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B+
Consistency is one of the most important criteria for comedies, IMO. It’s impossible to make a call on a series like this after just one episode, but Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has been delivering consistently for more than two seasons now. It’s pretty much marked itself as the premium satire anime (not that it has much competition in all honesty), and the first episode of the new series indicates that nothing has changed. Again it’s going for the absurd, surreal angle but it’s ability to be surprisingly relevant and brazenly scathing (one of my criticisms of the Goku SZS OVA series was that it went a touch soft compared with the TV series) seemingly hasn’t dropped off in the new season. Oh Shinbo, what madness are you going to come up with next?

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Bakemonogatari
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
This would be the answer. I’m not sure what to make of this so far, except for the fact that I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s got that typically Shinbo feel about it, in that everything’s abrupt, and everything’s supposed to keep you on your toes. Even the way the show goes from light horror to heavy drama back to light drama and the rare moment of sweetness is done in a way that’s bordering on random, yet somehow works. It’s all fairly surreal, but the characters are strangely likable in their matter-of-fact-ness. I have no idea where this is going, which I also see as a positive, but there are elements in this that kinda remind me of one of Shinbo‘s earlier works in Tsukuyomi (ignoring the massive difference in moe levels). I have a sneaking suspicion that this might turn out to be a bit like that, which isn’t a bad thing.

Spice and Wolf II
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B+
If you’ve seen the first series, you’ll have a reasonable idea what to expect, but Spice and Wolf II seems to be following the path of some of the better anime sequels by building on what we learned about the characters in the first series, and developing them and their relationships to an even deeper level. It’s only been one episode, but already the hints are there that some of the dilemmas and thematics briefly touched on in the first series are going to be much more thoroughly dealt with in this new season. Even the first couple of minutes, which displayed a superbly directed dream sequence, immediately brought up the point that Horo and Lawrence’s natural incompatibility due to their differing senses of mortality and the passage of time is going to be at the crux of this new season. How they reconcile that with what has clearly turned into a very deep bond is going to be very interesting, but there’s a lot of subtle complexity to their relationship just because of who they each are.

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Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: A-
I love the idea already. It’s supposed to be a realistic account of what might happen if Tokyo is destroyed by a massive earthquake. An early disclaimer suggests that believability was the intention, but the first episode, which introduced the important characters, was realistic for a completely different reason, featuring a very believable portrayal of a loveless family where everyone takes everyone else for granted. One of the fears (apparently) is that this would fall into the trap of many disaster movies, and would skimp on the character development, but the very intense focus on the characters and their tense family life in the introduction suggests that, between all the destruction and tsunamis and sickness and whatever other consequences of a massive earthquake they can think up, there’s still going to be a decent amount of character development.

Canaan
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C+
I have different expectations for Type Moon adaptations since seeing the impressive (and still ongoing) Kara no Kyoukai. Right now, I’m finding it difficult to believe that Nasu has anything to do with Canaan. Where’s the dark, morose atmosphere, piled on thickly to a foreground of stylized violence and uncompromising psychological horror tied to an exploration of the philosophy of death and an analysis of morality in extreme situations? Maybe my expectations for this series are all wrong, but this, in comparison to what I’m used to from Type Moon works, is child’s play. It’s chicks with guns and explosions and crap and a bunch of loosely bound events that we’re supposed to accept is a plot. I mean, sure, it’s pretty as hell, and probably the best animated work this season. But, take away the incredible choreography and polished aesthetics, and it’s generic popcorn action. It doesn’t even have the same sense of style as a “fun” action series like Baccano!. Maybe things will become a bit more interesting when a plot kicks in, but right now the elaborately concealed mystery has only prompted me to ask two questions: who are these people, and why do I care?

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Umi Monogatari
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
Is it an exaggeration to say that the only reason I’m watching this show is for Muramatsu Ken‘s soundtrack? Yes it is, but it is a damn fine soundtrack. The plot itself is pretty silly, starting out as a slow-paced “fish out of water” story and then turning into a by-the-numbers mahou shoujo, but given the involvement of Sato Junichi, I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s something more to this than first meets the eye. Sato‘s most recent works were the amazing ARIA series, and, closer to the mahou shoujo genre, he’s also worked on the highly regarded Princess Tutu as well as Pretear, which wasn’t bad for what it was. I think it’s worthwhile sticking around long enough to find out where this is going… and if I don’t end up liking it, at least I can enjoy the soundtrack. Anyway, the characters are rather fun at least… but I’m not sure how I’ll go if I’m required to take them seriously.

Sora no Manimani
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B-
It’s a high school romance, so it’s probably one of the more generic series I’m following this season, but I actually enjoyed the first ep for what it was. It actually reminds me a little of Nodame Cantabile, but with much less in the way of complexity. The reason I say this is because he’s a male tsundere, and she’s eccentric and “madly” in love. Nonetheless, Mihoshi is a fun character to watch (and Saku is no pushover either), which is what might put this above the average title in this genre. But I’ve never been adverse to this sort of anime… watching one or so high school rom-coms each season adds to a balanced anime diet. (I do take issue with its misleading preview, though.)

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 2
Episodes seen: 5
Initial impression: C-
Speaking of eccentric female leads… oh, what a disappointment this has turned into. I’m going to resist saying too much about this, since it’s been talked about to death, and my initial impression probably says everything about my opinion of the most recent gimmick. All I’ll say is that, from a studio as reputed as Kyoto Animation, that I’ve respected for so many years, better is expected.

8 Responses to “Summer 2009: First Thoughts”

  1. Haruhi has been one big disappointment for me too. I don’t see creativity, just lazy attempt to make more easy money.

    Other than that, I’ve only tried out one episode of Umi Monogatari and Canaan so far, as I was really getting into My-Hime by the time first episodes started rolling in. Both are bit ‘meh’ for me at this stage, but no matter since this season looks great with interesting titles like Aoi Hana, Bakemonogatari, Tokyo Magnitude (and the two sequels). Umi Monogatari I have bad feelings about for some unexplicable reasons. Anyway, I’ll probably be catching up old titles again, although I’ll be avoiding My-Otome. Something about lack of over the top theatrics you mentioned in the review worries me, which was the best part about My-Hime (how a script with so many holes manage to be so engaging is a miracle).

  2. Though I was cautiously optimistic about its quality going in, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 really jumped out and grabbed me as The Show To Watch. I have a hard time playing down my own hype and my expectations are sky high.

    Spice and Wolf II makes a strong first impression, but so did the first series before it indulged in LOLeconomics. I hope it continues to develop the themes episode 0 and 1 set, but I’m keeping my guard up for this one.

    Aoi Hana and Sora no Manimani are pretty much what I expected, common premises with decent execution that could turn either good or bad. Filler shows of the season for me.

    Umi Monogatari telegraphs complete slice-of-life vibes throughout its OP/ED and first episode, and them BAM! Suddenly they’re magical girls (pretty old ones too) leaping around shooting elemental magic in episode 2. Episode 3 also displays this Jekyll-Hyde dance, one moment it’s about Kanon talking about her dream to go to college in a big city and a classmate wanting to be her friend, and then they’re fighting more monster-of-the-week type baddies. My big beef is that these parts are so divorced from each other, they’re like completely different shows.

    Oh Haruhi, will we remember thee as the same silly prankster whose company we enjoyed some years ago, or have you transformed into a malicious attention whore, driven by the corporate bottom-line of self-promotion by contrived and amoral means? I’m not ready to make the final judgment until it’s all said and done, but more and more it looks like the latter.

  3. @gaguri
    Expectations are the key when approaching Mai-Otome. Just don’t expect it to be like My-HiME and you’ll be fine. It’s still enjoyable, even if it is decidedly mild in comparison to HiME. As far as this season is concerned, Umi Monogatari and Canaan don’t exactly showcase the best of what’s available so far, IMHO. You should wait out for Bakemonogatari in particular. Something tells me it’s right up your alley.

    @kadian1364
    That’s a good point about Umi Monogatari. It really is a jarring mix of two very different types of shows. I wouldn’t say it’s beyond Sato to make it work, but at this stage my issue is that I’m having a lot of trouble taking these characters seriously. That “Jekyll-Hyde dance” you were talking about might be one of the reasons behind that. As for Haruhi, well, it’s not a total write-off, but I don’t hold much optimism that it can be salvaged at this point. I think we just have to get used to the reality that this is a very different KyoAni from the one we knew three years ago, when they were the trend-setters for creativity.

  4. The only thing I’m watching right now is Umineko and that has been intriguing so far, if admittedly hard to fully digest on a weekly basis. On the surface, the characters would barely qualify as such, not a good thing if this were any other series, but they do have some potential and I suppose the entire purpose of this part of the story is to introduce the mystery/conflict at hand, leaving any further developments for later.

  5. “Maybe my expectations for this series are all wrong”.
    I think this is likely the case. Just because it’s from Type Moon doesn;t mean it has to be the same as all of Type Moon’s previous works. Also, episode 3 kicks ass and you should probably watch it before condemning the show completely.

  6. @Omisyth
    I haven’t condemned this series completely, I just haven’t been impressed. Ep 3 certainly is a cut above ep 2, but I wouldn’t say it kicks ass. Maria in particular annoys me. The more I see of her, the less I see worth liking.

  7. Saku is a really contrived blank insert. Note how he’s reluctant at first, then very easily obliges to Mi’s whim. Booooring character construction, and that was just the 1st episode. I’ll take lesbians over that anyday.

    Well, I’ll take lesbians, period.

  8. I’ve been doing most of my updates on the forums, so I wont repeat them all here. It hasn’t taken very long for the cream to rise to the top, though. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Aoi Hana, Umineko no Naku Koroni, and Zan-Zetsubo Sensei have all been delights so far and all for different reasons. TM8.0 is one of the better character dramas I’ve seen in a while, using as much realistic appeal as they can without being preachy. Aoi Hana has the direction and writing to be a magnificent soap opera. Umineko has me actually guessing as to whether there really is a witch named Beatrice or not (no spoilers, please, I’m enjoying not knowing). And Zetsubo-sensei is Zetsubo-sensei.

    I’m still watching Canaan and will continue to do so. I enjoy the action sequences and there’s a certain Darker than BLACK meets Speed Grapher feel to this that I’m enjoying. I don’t know if it will hold up in terms of plot and characters, but at least it’s fun to watch and pretty to look at.

    Lastly, I can’t figure out if Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-chan! is a marvelous piece of “in your face” genius or an overblown “look what we can get away with!” bullshit mess. One thing is for sure, I’m laughing at it. It’s retarded, it’s absurd, it’s raunchy, and it takes itself too damn seriously in places, but I’m laughing God dammit. Maybe that’s all it takes.

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