Winter 2010: First Thoughts

I had the full intention of signing up for Crunchyroll membership this season, but baulked when I realized they only had two shows I was interested in. However, those two shows are arguably the best of the season so far, and with the US dollar where it is, there’s probably no better time for me to sign up than now. The last season was horrendous, so I guess the question is, will this season be better. With my momentary policy (borne out of practicality) of trying my damndest to avoid crap, I’m not really sure I’m qualified to answer that question, but I have been mildly pleased by what I have picked up. We don’t have any out-and-out gems this season, but this isn’t usually the time of year for outstanding anime. What we do have, at least on my “following” list, is a number of quaint, enjoyable anime that have shown glimpses that are worth getting excited about.

Sora no Woto
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
So until I sign up for Crunchyroll membership, I’m one episode behind on this show. And, so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen. The storytelling is fairly obvious, but they’ve set up this rather interesting world filled with a mash of cultures and the clear “hints” tell us that we’re watching the future. For the most part it has a tranquil and subdued atmosphere, and despite the military setting, the characters aren’t exactly in any immediate danger (which has its own interesting run-off effects… such as Kureha recognizing that they’re not taken very seriously by the upper command), but there have been glimpses of something brewing under the surface of it all. The girls are ultra-moe, which as fangzhao from Mikotoism points out, is the elephant in the room, but character designs only make a superficial impact on good storytelling, so I’ve certainly no intention of judging this anime just because it looks like a certain KyoAni disappointment from last year. (You know which one I’m talking about. Yeah, that’s right, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2.)

Durarara!
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Coming from both the director and original author of Baccano!, Brains Base have already made it eminently clear that non-linearity is the order of the day. So it’s no surprise that the first episode was almost incomprehensible. If this anime is anything like Baccano!, I’m guessing that the plot will slowly unravel from the different points of view that the series will bounce between with each episode. But it’s already very interesting, particularly after Rio’s story which had, of all things, a bout of existential philosophy, something I wasn’t really expecting from this show. The music is cool too, with this kind of off-kilter jazz style. This is easily the most interesting series of the season so far.

Baka to Test to Shokanju
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C+
I don’t get it. Firstly I think it’s important to recognize the director, Oonuma Shin, who made his bones with the acclaimed ef series. He’s kinda developed this reputation as a student of Shinbo, and the influences of today’s most prominent anime surrealist on his works are obvious. I’ve always thought that the strength of Shinbo‘s works come from his uncanny ability to combine elements from disparate genres that, by rights, should not gel, all within his surrealist ambiance. Possibly Oonuma is trying to do something similar here, but I’m struggling to get past the premise, and those moments where I can push through it, I find myself grappling with a mundane love triangle. But the crux of this anime, those bizarre exam summon battles, are never far away, so whenever I try to engage with the romantic aspects of this anime, it’s not long before I’m thrown back into the middle of holographic sprites role-playing with arbitrary stats. Ok, it’s bizarre, but the biggest thing I have trouble with is the logic that the battles are supposed to somehow encourage the characters to do better on their tests…

Dance in the Vampire Bund
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
Speaking of Shinbo… I’m not sure what to make of this so far, but there are a couple of things that give me reason for optimism. Firstly, for the massive amount of anime that he’s directing these days, Shinbo rarely makes bad series. His marks are all over this, and there’s this constant endeavour to try to present a conventional story in an unconventional manner, starting with the very witty reflection of television in the first episode. There are lots of close-ups of eyes, and extravagant erotic poses, and the scene transitions continually subvert expectations. And while Shinbo‘s style is always interesting, the story itself is at last starting to hit its straps. While the first two episodes culminated in some rather banal action sequences (let’s face it, action isn’t Shaft‘s forte), we’re starting to get more than hints about Akira and Mina’s past and Mina’s motivation for creating a vampire haven.

Hidamari Sketch × ☆☆☆
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B
It still amazes me that Shinbo can regularly work on two concurrent series in a given season. We know all about his artistic flair, but maybe there’s something to be said for his work ethic as well. Anyway, if you’ve seen the other two Hidamari Sketch series, then you know exactly what to expect from this one, and it would surprise me if anyone who’s lasted this long wouldn’t instantly be on this. Well, not completely, in fact, since I actually did have some trepidation about this upcoming outing. Comedies rarely maintain their form for three seasons, some jumping the shark while others just going stale from doing the same thing over and over. Fortunately the first three episodes have put those fears to rest, and that ineffable Hidamari charm is still there, strong as ever. We have two new characters as well, both of whom are adorably cute, and while Hidamari Sketch is never explicit in its character development, I’ve already been impressed about how much new information we’ve learned about the likes of Sae and Yuno, who have been there since the beginning. Despite Shinbo‘s style being far from subtle, it’s hard to find other series that are as genuinely “slice-of-life” as Hidamari Sketch (…although the next series definitely counts).

Nodame Cantabile ~Finale~
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B
I liked Paris-hen, despite it being no where near as good as the first season. I have immense respect for Kasai Ken’ichi and loved what he did with the first season, but he seemingly avoids sequels like Adelaide tap water. Kon Chiaki‘s effort was missing something… I could never quite put my finger on it, but it lacked charm and the pacing felt monotone, and a little too fast (ie, anything but “cantabile”). It’s far too early to judge this, but with Kon back behind the wheel, this exudes a similar feel, first, as if there’s something missing, and second, it just doesn’t seem quite right that so much was stuffed into one episode. There were a few mentions of Shinichi’s father, so it looks like the paternal relationship is going to be a big focus of this last season. Should be interesting, but it’s a little strange that this is the first mention of his old man… that I can remember, anyway.

Ookamikakushi
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B
After Umineko, I’m starting to question the readiness of Ryukishi07‘s works to be adapted into anime. Higurashi, the anime, was good, but was it a fluke? Umineko was supposedly impossible to stuff up, and while I wouldn’t say it was the failure that visual novel fans want to suggest, for various reasons it didn’t exactly make for a great anime. Oookamikakushi feels a lot like Higurashi, but the immediate advantage it has is that it’s animated a hell of a lot better. This anime has a different studio (AIC) and different director (Takamoto Nobuhiro) to the Naku Koro ni series, so it’ll be interesting to see how they approach adapting Ryukishi07‘s writing. As for the story, well, Ryukishi07‘s stories typically make disorientating starts. There have been the staple murders, disappearances and conspiracies in the background, but so far the creepiest thing that has happened to main character Hiroshi is that his sexuality has been threatened by the cute girl next door’s older brother. However, given the mystery so far, I am certainly looking forward to seeing where this is going.

12 Responses to “Winter 2010: First Thoughts”

  1. I think Higurashi was a “fluke” because Chiaki Kon took her time for that series. Over the past years, she has directed way too many series, which makes the direction in all of them rushed and unrefined. She should instead just take her time and come up with one series every year or so, instead of trying to do too much. I also think this applies with Shinbo, btw.

  2. I think I’ll play it safe and wait for your final pronouncement on Ookamikakushi. At least, until I can find some free time to actively pursue series once more since free time is something that’s lacking in abundance as of late. Don’t want Ookamikakushi to turn into another Chaos Head.

    As for Sora no Woto, DRRR, Nodame, and HidaSketch, I’ve been quite pleased with how those shows have been progressing and gave me a good reason to break out of my anime hiatus from last Fall.

  3. Sora no Woto is starting to grow on me. While the characters are undoubtedly moe, I don’t find them to be intrusively so.

    I was sold on Durarara before the show even started. Definitely going to keep up with it. I love the character designs, the jazz music is fantastic, and the storytelling is, well, it’s Brains Base. They don’t seem capable of making something truly horrendous.

    As for Ookami Kakushi, I should watch more of it before I make a judgment. From the first episode, however, I can see that it looks interesting, but was a bit heavy-handed and corny. Hopefully it’ll turn out to be just fine.

  4. @psgels
    That’s a good point about Kon, and certainly, since Higurashi, it seems she’s had her hands in a lot of different pots. But, we can’t forget, directing is ultimately a job, and one does what they must to keep the cheques rolling in. The difference between Kon being overworked and Shinbo being overworked is that Shinbo still manages to make good anime more often than not (or, at the very least, ones that manage to live up to their potential… it’s not so much that Kon’s recent anime have been bad, it’s just that most haven’t reached their potential).

    @zzeroparticle
    You really didn’t miss much last season. My favourite anime from last season was pretty much Railgun, which I think says everything. (Although I did fall way behind on Aoi Bungaku, and I must catch up).

    @Akira
    Another thing that really interests me about Sora no Woto that I didn’t mention in the article because I ran out of time to do so, is its timeslot. I really like the idea of Anime no Chikara, and if it’s handled correctly, it could be just as successful and (arguably) important to anime as Noitamina. I’ve always wanted to see more anime-originals, and that TV Tokyo and Aniplex have opened a timeslot to encourage that is just swell.

    Even after three episodes, Ookamikakushi is still heavy-handed and corny. Like I said, the biggest conflict the main character has experienced is that his bishounen neighbour is hard gay for him. But I’m intrigued by the little things that are brewing under the surface. And I am interested in it either way, because even if it does fail, there might be something to say for Ryukishi07’s works being adapted into anime.

  5. The first episode of Sora no Woto gave me a bad impression because yes, it really reminded me of K-On (well, the character designs really did). The second episode started to lay the foundation down about the background story and setting but episode 3 is the one that apparently distinguishes itself from K-On. SnW has some serious undertones, silent moments (I notice that BGM isn’t always present in a number of scenes), artistic setting and questions about the characters and the world around them.

    Durarara!! is just great, right from the first episode. It’s like Baccano, yet it knows how to be different from it too.

  6. The only show I’m enthusiastic about this season is Durarara! but I’ll probably also watch Nodame, Sora no Woto and Dance in Vampire Bund if I find the time.

  7. Since the only one of these shows that sparks my interest is Durarara, I guess I’ll devote this season to garbage like Omamori Himari and Seikon no Qwasar.

  8. TIF’s takes (because I know you’re interested, even if you don’t read the damn forums where you can find these anyway):

    Sora no Woto: They have me more interested in how screwed over the backdrop world is and after four episodes, they’re definitely not shying away from the moe, but it really isn’t anything more than a superficial attempt at pandering. There’s more here, but we have to go through the motions first in order to create an emotional attachment. So I’ll stay interested and when the shit hits the fan, it’ll be that much more interesting.

    Durarara!!: Having not watched Baccano! first, this is coming off as a huge breath of fresh air for me. I have started watching Baccano! because of this, so I can definitely see the similarities. There’s an interesting mix of the fantastic and the familiar here, and everywhere there seems to also be a mix of the whimsical and the sinister. I can’t tell if this tale is supposed to be one of dangerous people in a dangerous town, or that danger isn’t as obvious as you think it is.

    Dance in the Vampire Bund: Three episodes in and I’m not sure I get it, nor like it. Vampire stories are generally not my thing to begin with, so it takes some special care to make me stay interested. Shaft has done a vampire story before that kept me glued (Tsukuyomi – Moon Phase), but so far this one seems to be more subtext than anything. I’ll keep watching it.

    Ookami Kakushi: Enjoying so far, even if it’s corny. The Peach-Pit character designs have me fantasizing that Hinamori Amu will show up somehow, but I’m not holding my breath. The brother-next-door was disturbing me from the get go, so it’s perfectly okay he turns out to be a pedophile. Not sure really what to think of this one as it is moving along at a snail’s pace. I’m okay with that, as long as the payoff is good.

    Hanamaru Kindergarten: Y’know, I was hoping we’d get to see more Potemayo. I don’t really know what to say about this one so far. It’s adorable and innocent. Cute, not pedo. The sacchrine will probably give me diabeetus eventually, but so far it’s not boring.

    Seikon no Qwasar: Dropped faster than dark matter into a fucking black hole. Yeah, I could have used a qwasar joke, but why? Why? “Why?” is what I have been asking since I watched the first episode. Why, God?

    Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu: I don’t get it. My initial reaction is “they’re trying too hard”, but at what? Are they trying too hard to be funny? To do a rom-com? To do social commentary on the importance of testing? I just don’t get it.

    Omamori Himari: Degraded into a moe-harem way too fucking fast for my tastes. There’s a decent approach here to the idea behind demons and humans warring with each other that seems to smack more of demon oppression than simple “good vs. evil” motif. That they’re wasting more time with the fanservice bologna instead of remaining focused upon the overarching plot idea is irritating. It’s not irritating because they’re doing this, it’s irritating because it’s almost expected and acceptable at this point that you can’t possibly focus on a plot when there’s bullshit to throw around instead. In other words, what we have here is another victim of the modern fanbase and it’s retarded demands. Because moe and fanservice get the bucks, the story gets shat on harder than Cyclops in X-Men 3. Hell, it’s not even good fanservice now that the cat-girl has stopped going for Master’s cock.

    Ladies vs. Butlers: About as run-of-the-mill as run-of-the-mill fanservice / moe shows go. So far there isn’t even one remotely interesting thing to talk about. I’m still watching it because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. Also, it’s somehow less offensive than Qwaser.

    Chu-Bra: Pedo, not cute. Though, honestly, I have to give someone props for having the balls to make a blatant underwear fetish show. Then to make it with middle school girls just becomes the icing on the cake. So why am I not fapping to this with all the vigor of a puppy on a pile of towels? It’s got all the appropriate fap material here… but it’s just so fucking educational. I mean, I find myself actually learning something in every episode. Was women’s underwear always this complex? I throw on a pair of boxers and I’m good to go. Must be a good thing being a guy. I really can’t figure out if this is supposed to be a giant underwear catalogue for young girls or the Japanese Ministry of Comforting and Supportive Undergarment’s public service announcement about fittings. My world has been turned upside down. What should be pedestrian and familiar is weird and confusing and that makes me angry.

    That’s about all I’ve seen. I haven’t seen any of the Hidamari Sketches or the Nodame Contabiles, so why start now?

  9. Sora no Woto is proving to be much more interesting than it seems at first glance, so I’m glad I went into it with an open mind. Durarara!! is the best show of the season so far and getting better with each episode. Baka to Test is more fun than I thought it would be, although I didn’t really enjoy the latest episode.

    Vampire Bund has been pretty meh for me, but in an enjoyably bad kind of way, although I do agree with you that the television stuff in the first episode is actually good. But it’s downhill from that first episode. Ookamikakushi is starting to hit its stride (hopefully), though the episodes are still quite goofy overall.

  10. @AC
    Yeah, I think Sora no Woto has been executed fairly well so far, and the soundtrack is a highlight. It’s reminiscent of a slightly older dramatic movie soundtrack, for some reason.

    @Shadowmage
    Yeah, there’s not a great deal on offer, but I’ve liked what’s been there. It’s crazy how few anime there are this season, and, from what I’ve seen, there could be even fewer next season. Perhaps the bubble has “burst”, but that could be a good thing if it means studios are putting more effort into making fewer series that are better.

    @Kavik Ryx
    Someone’s gotta do the dirty work. Tell us all about it if you can keep your sanity.

    @TIF
    I’m so tempted right now to force you to write the first thoughts article for next season…

    @Shinmaru
    I think Ookamikakushi could be the sleeper hit in all of those. Ryukishi07 is a proven author and he’s shown he can put together incredibly elaborate mysteries that are atmospheric, but still manage to hold water at the end. It’s just up to the director and creative staff to make it work as an anime.

  11. SK: How do you feel about fbombs?

  12. @TIF
    Reserve them for the shittiest anime…

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