We Are So Blessed

Not another blog post about Bakemonogatari

Not another blog post about Bakemonogatari.

It’s easy to complain. Fun too. But, equally important is being grateful. Obviously, this is easier said then done unless you have something to be grateful about, but I genuinely think that this season we, as anime fans, are spoiled for choice. It’s the calibre of anime which are on offer this season which reminds me why I became a fan to begin with. And those little reminders over the journey are necessary, especially if you’ve been in the game for a number of years. As an anime writer, it’s easy to become lost in the analysis and the details, to put the anime you watch and enjoy at arm’s length, which can make viewing them an unromantic experience. I mean, I still maintain that the onus is on the anime to provide you a reason to engage and to feel emotions while watching it… I’ll probably never move away from that viewpoint. But the idea that anime has the power to move you, to affect you in some way, to influence your thoughts and feelings… that’s a pretty amazing thing. And there have been a particularly large number of anime that have aired this season with that ability. (Minor spoilers for the tagged anime).

Is this season special? That’s open to debate, and we’re not going to have the full answer to that question until at least next year. But, over the last few weeks, the cream has risen (coincidentally, it started rising very soon after I wrote this article), and the scope of the season’s better titles have just opened up enormously. I openly admit that I misjudged the potential of some of these shows at the outset. It’s shortsighted to make the assumption that these titles are going to reach their potential (which is what leads to disappointment in a lot of cases), but for the moment, they’re showing a lot to get excited about.

HHHNNNGGGGGGGG!

HHHNNNGGGGGGGG!

The next question will be, where will this season sit relative to other “special” seasons gone by. hashi from hashihime 橋姫 has already decided to call it the best since Spring 2006. That’s a big call. I respect hashi‘s opinion, even if we don’t always see eye to eye (he’s one of these people who seems to like everything), but I tend to agree that Spring 2006 was a watershed season for anime this decade. hashi listed three anime that aired at that time, Suzumiya Haruhi, Simoun and Nana as masterpieces. I, in all honesty, have only seen one of those series, and while I’m a bit skeptical of their “masterpiece” status (it’s not a word I throw out readily… I think I’ve seen at most five series from this decade that I’d even consider labeling a masterpiece), there’s generally very little controversy that these series are great (well, except for Suzumiya Haruhi, but there’s always some controversy around that show). But it wasn’t so much the fact that the season provided gems that made it special, in my eyes – it was more the fact that there were so many ambitious titles that attempted to break with conventions. Suzumiya Haruhi… it goes without saying. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni was probably the best attempt to marry “moe” and “horror” of its time (and arguably it’s only ever been outdone by its sequel). Ouran Host Club was a pioneer of the self-aware style of meta-humour without quite as much of the otaku pandering as Suzumiya Haruhi. ARIA The Natural was the break-out series for the franchise, showing that it was more than just a relaxing reverie, but an inviting appreciation for the wonderment of life and a story of growing up.

Much like Spring 2006, the stand-out titles in this season are incredibly varied. Bakemonogatari could possibly be Shinbo‘s best series ever. I, among others have spoken about the remarkable dialogue, but there’s also a lot more too it, such as a subtle parody of tropes and a smidgen of meta-humour. It’s a bit like Kannagi with a whacking on Shinbo-isms: on the one hand, we have a veritable crapload of delicious character interactions, but along side it are the regular knowing winks at the audience. Like most Shinbo anime, there’s very little in the way of structure, and this lends the creative staff a lot of freedom to do as they please, which is what gives it its “artistic” feel: where common sense might demand that the plot advance, Shaft happily dwells on seemingly pointless banter which may or may not have significance which may or may not be directly apparent. Nothing is delivered in a straightforward fashion, and we, as an audience are compelled to look into the subtext and context, to engage with the dialogue on a level below the surface. But it just wouldn’t work if they characters weren’t as quirky and interesting as they are.

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There’s nothing realistic about Bakemonogatari‘s Senjougahara, but the fact that she’s a completely fictional construct, unlike anything you or I will probably encounter (outside of a mental institute) is what makes her entertaining. There’s probably a few more elements of realism in Aoi Hana, at least in the way that the characters behave. It’s a yuri melodrama (I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a yuri anime that wasn’t melodramatic… probably why I enjoy them so), directed by the vastly underrated Kasai Ken’ichi (Honey and Clover, Kimikiss). And, like a lot of his other works, it’s marked with a subdued artistic palette with lots of soft backgrounds. And character development and analysis up the wazoo. I’m still a little unsure where this is going, which I see as a good thing. In the most recent episode, the relationship between Sugimoto and Fumi broke down largely because of lingering feelings from their respective past relationships, and I suspect this might be a recurring theme. It’s refreshing for a romance anime to explore that territory, since relationships in anime are too often idealized, and come with no strings or baggage attached.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0‘s strength is its commitment to an ambitious premise. It spells out its endeavour for believability in a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, and its been admirable in its application. It’s a very human story, focusing less on the disaster porn and more on how it impacts its characters. The most powerful moments are the ones where the characters have time to stop and reflect, to take in the scope of the tragedy and its horrible and indiscriminate consequences on otherwise unassuming people. The characters are flawed, particularly Mirai, but this is what makes them interesting. The disaster comes at a time when Mirai is very much susceptible to its impact, stuck in that awkward transition between childhood and adulthood. Mari is also vulnerable, much more emotionally than physically, facing the dilemma of having to choose between her self-imposed obligation towards Mirai and Yuuki, and her uncertainty about the well-being of her own family. Episode 5 was spectacular, one of the best single episodes of the year. Episode 6 wasn’t quite as good, but this series has shown that its best is impressive and deeply moving.

Oh gg.

Oh gg.

Fans of Spice and Wolf are probably all over the sequel, which, so far, is just as good (arguably better). It’s a lot heavier than its predecessor, but a lot more personal, and the bond that ties Horo and Lawrence is deeper and, as we’ve just seen at the end of the most recent arc, stronger. Economics drives the plot, but it’s the relationship and the interactions between the two leads which make this anime so appealing. That, and the music. People don’t seem to talk about Spice and Wolf‘s music for reasons that defy me (maybe it’s not so impressive when listened to stand-alone), but the tense strings and Mediaval-ish woodwind sounds do a great job of setting the atmosphere. I kinda figured this arc would end the way it did, which means that things are starting to become just a tad predictable, but if they take the opportunity in this sequel to develop the characters to an even deeper level (which is what good sequels do, IMO), then this won’t be just a worthy addition to the franchise, it’ll probably be in the top ten anime of the year.

All these anime have the potential to be “great”, and what they’re showing recently suggest that they more than likely will be. Umineko no Naku Koro ni is also showing very good signs, while Cross Game and Kemono no Souja Erin, ongoing from previous seasons, continue to be excellent. Counter to what I thought just three months ago, it’s a very good time to be an anime fan. The offerings this season have raised the merit of 2009 as a whole, but how this season will be remembered in the long term remains to be seen. Needless to say, given how much I’m enjoying anime at this very moment, I look forward to finding out.

Good anime usually have good theme songs, so here are the themes which have stood out for me this season:


There’s something about anime songs with the word “staple” in the title that I find awesome. (*Cough* “My Love is a Stapler” *cough*)


Why have just one song from Bakemonogatari, when I could have two?


Now for something completely different… very sinister.

That was something of a love-in, so to balance it out, expect my next post on anime to have complaints. Notice how I didn’t write anything on Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? That was deliberate.

16 Responses to “We Are So Blessed”

  1. Great breakdown of the season thus far. While I’m not about to call it “the best”, it does certainly boast an excellent selection.

    That was an interesting point you made about 2006 having quite a few shows that tried to break the mold in one way or another. I almost wish you would have spent more time just on that sub-topic, because now that I think about there were quite a few genre-challenging or otherwise somewhat unique anime that appeared in 2006.

  2. I admit it. I’m sometimes over-eager to like shows. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m here for enjoyment, lol. It always bums me out when I don’t find myself liking shows others do: ARIA and Ouran, for example. My statement about this being the best season since 2006 was certainly premature, but so far it looks good to me. Of course, endings are the hardest part.

    I won’t disagree with your choice of music, either. The Spice and Wolf OP, in particular, keeps grabbing me each time the show starts, with its expert singing, haunting melody, and mediaeval feel. The <1 second of Horo leaping in the dance always fascinates me, too. And I love the Bakemonogatari OP. Who knew Chiwa (with the help of the engineers?) could sing so convincingly?

  3. I can appreciate this view of the season, as much as my preferences strongly disagree with it.

    For one, I have nothing against Otaku Pandering. This is not a fault, but a strength in Haruhi. Second, Ouran Host Club has less otaku pandering but rather has tremendous Fujoshi Pandering. I’ve seen enough episodes, and read the manga (my wife has them) to confirm this. This is not a fault, but rather a strength.

    My preferences truly resist labeling seasons as greatest because there aren’t any robot shows in these seasons and this simply won’t do.

  4. @0rion
    2006 was a long time ago, but I have fond memories just being around anime communities online at the time. It was a time when /a/ wasn’t completely infested with trolls, and there was so much buzz around Haruhi in particularly, but also Ouran (as some put it, the superior Haruhi) and Higurashi. It was the year that also had the brilliant Honey and Clover II (yes, one of the titles I’d almost contemplate calling a “masterpiece”) and the last few episodes of Mushishi (a title that I have no qualms calling a masterpiece). This is what we wrote about it at the time, but given the relative “drought” since, we probably undervalued it.

    @hashi
    The thing that strikes me about the Spice and Wolf II OP sequence is how much life it has in it. That’s one of the things that makes Horo such an attractive character. When she’s up, she’s so full of life. The OP does a pretty good job of capturing that. And yeah, the endings are going to be tough, especially for Aoi Hana and TM8.0. Given the low episode count for both, they have to work in very tight spaces. Bakemonogatari has a much easier time thanks to its unconventional episode count. It’s another aspect to it which gives it a lot of freedom. Unlike most series, it’s not rigidly tied to any multiple of 13.

    @ghostlightning
    Oh you. Idolm@ster Xenoglossia isn’t on your MAL, so just watch that and pretend it’s currently airing. Then it’ll be ok.

    As far as otaku pandering is concerned, I think there has to be a certain deftness to how its handled. I thought it was really well done in Haruhi and Kannagi, but I hated how it was done in K-On! and Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. It’s kinda hard to explain the difference in these cases, so I’ll just use the word “crass” and move on. Ouran does pander to fujoshi, but like Haruhi and Kannagi, it’s done fairly tongue-in-cheek. I think that’s what makes it entertaining. I can appreciate the irony. But it also has a lethal sense of comic timing, which is what makes it work as a comedy.

  5. I thought it was really well done in Haruhi and Kannagi, but I hated how it was done in K-On! and Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. It’s kinda hard to explain the difference in these cases, so I’ll just use the word “crass” and move on.

    I think you’ve nailed exactly why I hate Family Guy so much. Humor is much better done when they’re not all in-your-face about it.

    But yeah, summer season has been very enjoyable and it makes up for Spring’s relatively lackluster entries. Here’s hoping that many of the series that we’re looking at will avoid crashing and burning as can happen at times.

  6. To echo what I said on Scamp’s blog, I think what makes this season stick out is the variety and quantity of watchable shows. You could not watch 2 or 3 of the shows you just mentioned and still thoroughly enjoy the season. I’m not following Aoi Hana, Bakemonogatari, or Umineko, but consider my anime plate quite full nonetheless. Plus there’s a ton of “watchable” series carrying over from the Spring season, like FMA Bro, Hayate, Saki, Cross Game, etc. I rather like being spoiled for choice this way. 2008 was like a famine between the usually fruitful harvests of 06, 07, and now 09.

  7. […] It’s a yuri melodrama (I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a yuri anime that wasn’t melodramatic… probably why I enjoy them so), directed by the vastly underrated Kasai Ken’ichi (Honey and Clover, Kimikiss). And, like a lot of his other …Next Page […]

  8. I believe that much of the negativity comes from the fact that there seem to be no real defining anime of the year. As long time fans, we’ve grown used to having at least one anime a year that everyone has seen and constantly talks about. Right now, Haruhi and FMA:Brotherhood are major duds and stuff like Bakemonogatari and Umineko have relatively fringe audiences. There’s nothing that’s really excited the majority of the fanbase into universally saying “this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

  9. Personally, I have been staying quiet this anime season since I have not been interested in any of the material much. Although, I might consider marathoning Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 after catching the comments about it on the forums. Not to mention, it does have the most interesting premise and concept out of everything else this current season.

    Although, I already have my sights set on the next season which seems to look not too shabby to me after looking at the current preview of the possible lineup for it, thus far. I do agree with your comment on Kemono no Souja Erin being an excellent show, since it seems to have a more authentic charm to it and the cast seems lovable enough. My only concern with the show is how it will wrap up its plot points, etc since the show is past the halfway point already. Still, the experience for it has been enjoyable enough, so I have faith in this one to finish properly .

  10. Truth be told, when the list for Summer 2009 came out, I remember saying that it was a boring season (since there was no mecha) and that I would only watch Umineko. And as of present, I’m watching (and enjoying) four titles (namely Bakemonogatari, ZanSZS, TM8.0 and Umineko). I am full now after eating those words.

    If anything, I’m watching the most titles for this season, compared to previous seasons (as I only watch one or two titles faithfully).

    As far as Spring 2006 is concerned, it was Higurashi that took me in (although I watched that a month after it ended).

  11. I actually feel kinda bad about dropping out of anime for the past few years. The last time I was this active was 2005, while Honey and Clover started airing (unfortunately I neglected it until just the past two days, when I marathon’ed through both seasons). I was on-and-off with anime and dropped it completely come 2006. The only “modern” series I followed was Beck. I regret not witnessing the supposedly splendid 2006, missed the Haruhi craze, and missed the “drought.” My perspective is rooted in an early-2000s fandom, colored by “classics” at the turn of the millennia: Now and Then Here and There, KareKano, FLCL, and Cowboy Bebop. I was also enamored with the late bloomers, Gungrave, Last Exile, Fullmetal Alchemist, and the likes. It was an incredibly high standard to surpass. Out of time, jaded, and bored within one episode, I gave anime a long break. Looking back, I should have stuck it through, then I would have been able to appreciate this summer a lot more and understand where most of you are coming from.

    I came back after doing some growing up and a few years in college. I caught up with a lot of great series that I missed, especially Mushishi and Honey and Clover, shows that were airing when I was still somewhat involved (masterpieces, yes, Sorrow, yes). But this time I also wanted to stay on top of the game, keeping up with Aoi Hana, Tokyo Magnitude, Bakemonogatari, Canaan, and FMA: Brotherhood (the first three I enjoy tremendously). For the first time, watching mediocrity wasn’t too bad of a thing, especially week-by-week and simultaneously with other superb shows. You could learn a lot. It’s pathetic to read on some boards that anime is not worth a damn anymore. Maybe these folks live far away from civilization, are actually partly illiterate, or haven’t heard of BitTorrent.

    Unfortunately, I’ll never get the Haruhi craze. Maybe it’s because I watched it in chronological order. But even then, I think it has something to do with the year. This season I found a handful of shows I really like. I hope that continues.

  12. I am fully convinced at this point that Senjougahara Hitagi is an angel summoned by the gods to heal my 2D-depraved soul. Her insanity defies words and she’s clearly one of the most interesting characters to come out of a series in recent memory. I’m going to make a premature judgment call here and say that Bakemonogatari is indeed Shinbo’s best show ever.

    About Aoi Hana: I’m actually not quite sure where it’s going either. We’re halfway into the series and I still don’t know what Akira’s sexual orientation is. I feel like she’s still more straight than gay, so I’m wondering how Kasai is going to pull the loose threads together. That being said, I do feel that Aoi Hana is a lot more realistic than, say, Marimite, simply because I have to ask the question of “Is this character actually gay?” instead of assuming right off the bat that men simply don’t exist within the series. I do like the art, the atmopshere is very nice and it’s generally a very relaxed show.

    I haven’t been following anything else, but I’d say that Summer 09 is a lot stronger than anything else we’ve seen in a while. That being said, I want to see what Yamakan can whip up for Angel Beats (which I’m calling his personal middle finger to Kyoani for firing him >_>) before I call Bakemongatari the best show of the year.

  13. […] had ended. So while I cannot declare it to be one of the better heartfelt OP/EDs out there like Sorrow-kun did over at Behind the Nihon Review, it’s a track that makes for a pleasant listen on its own, […]

  14. Even the non-offensive stuff this season is remotely interesting. Kanamemo is just fine. Sora no Manimani is the very definition of “lighter fare”. Princess Lover was doing just fine until the recent episodes, where it veered way the fuck off into lala land. Umi Monogatari definitely needed a better plot, but it’s rounding itself out okay, I suppose.

    As for the offensive stuff this season… well if you don’t like Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-chan! then you’re probably suffering from a lack of aluminum bats upside the head.

    So far, the only “crap” this season is Needless, and hoo boy is it shit. The rest of the stuff is mediocre at worst and excellent at best, and that’s a pretty damn good season.

  15. My personal pick for best season ever is actually Spring 2007. Seirei no Moribito, Terra e, Dennou Coil, Gurren Lagann, LoveCom, Claymore, Oh Edo Rocket!, Emma 2nd Season, and Saiunkoku Monogatari 2nd Season were all very good, I thought. And then the more innocuous shows like Lucky Star, Nanoha StrikerS, Romeo x Juliet, and El Cazador were pretty entertaining too. And I’m sure some would stick up for Darker than Black and Bokura no and Ookiku Furitabatte and Hayate no Gotoku, although I personally didn’t finish them.

    This season rocks too, though.

  16. […] it was a problem since commentators like Sorrow-kun and hashi have declared summer to be one of the better seasons in recent memory (if not the best since Spring 2006). So not only was the content particularly […]

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