Spring 2010: First Thoughts

I followed seven shows last season, and I think that’s a reasonable number of series to take on, so I’ve set that as the upper cap for this season as well. While it gives me time to catch up on some good shows from older seasons (I still have unwatched The Twelve Kingdoms DVDs), it means I’m missing out on some of the potentially better (or just more widely discussed) current series. B Gata H Kei had a controversial start, but is now starting to get mildly favourable responses, in part thanks to a provocative but fairly ambitious premise. Giant Killing is getting tempered comparisons with Cross Game. And Shadowmage is telling me that Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is demented fun. Well… I won’t be watching any of them during the season. I look forward to seeing what people say when the season’s over, but right now, my line up is settled.

And then, of course, there’s K-On! S2. This time last year, I’d have been all over it. It’s always good to watch the latest freak show, because even if you don’t like it, at least you don’t feel left out of the conversation. But it isn’t 2009 anymore, and K-On! is so last year. The game it plays is fairly clear now, and I’m reasonably certain it’s not going to change. It’s not in its nature to be surprising or unexpected, because that’s not its intention. It’s an anime sedative, made to deliver exactly what moe fans want with contrived efficacy. I’d rather dedicate my time towards finding out which series are possibly good, rather than keeping up with one I’m fairly sure won’t be, just because everyone else is following and talking about it. How many people have even heard of Princess Arete? These are the types of of anime we should be giving the spotlight to, not those everyone already has an opinion about.

Angel Beats
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B+
The innate assumption about the above rant is that people don’t have opinions about ongoing anime. I don’t. Ok, that’s complete baloney, of course I have opinions about what I watch. What I really mean, is that I don’t have opinions about currently airing anime that don’t come with the rider “except, there’s only been x episodes”. Ideally, this is the sort of sentiment that’s so obvious it’s redundant to specify it, but sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few that takes this approach towards ongoing anime. It concerns me that so many people enter ratings on MAL for series that have only just begun. Drop it if you don’t like it, but as far as I’m concerned, the only people who are entitled to give numerical ratings to series are those who have seen the entire thing.

What does this have to do with Angel Beats? Well, this is a funny series, and in all honesty, I’m still a long way from making up my mind what I think about it. The production values are absolutely elite class. This sentiment might deserve a slowpoke.jpg, but P.A. Works have completely surpassed KyoAni (aided by the fact that KyoAni‘s standards aren’t as high as they were during the Yamamoto days). Everything is fluently animated and the combinations of colour and motion are vibrant and full of energy. Like a lot of other Key stories, Angel Beats has an almost awkward mix of comedy, mystery and drama, executed with Key‘s characteristic lack of subtlety, but where Angel Beats differs significantly from its predecessors is the addition of action. In my opinion, the success of Angel Beats hinges on the writing (which has already come under fire), and how rewarding the answers to the mystery are. But so far, I’m completely engaged. It has its flaws, but I’m actually finding the suspenseful moments tense, the quirky moments funny and the downer moments kinda sad. It might be too eclectic for its own good, but provided it can keep its different elements from clashing, it could end up being a very dynamic anime. At the very least, it’s creating a lot of talking points.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
This is a half decent shoujo series. If there’s anything that’s distinct about it, it’s the premise. Maid cafes are central to the entire set up, which wouldn’t be surprising in a moe series, but is a little surprising in a shoujo rom-com. However, when you strip it away for what it is, it’s really about a male character protecting the secret of a female character, which isn’t new to shoujo at all. The other thing that’s possibly distinguishing about this anime is that Misa is a misandrist (I wonder if her name was deliberately chosen, or just a coincidence), but this is turning out to be a set up for the standard tsundere archetype. In fact, the thing that makes the misandry not so unappealing is that both Misa and the show are completely open about it… there’s no attempt to veil it behind any pretenses of Misa just being misunderstood, or misunderstanding men. The man-hating is an essential component of her character, and she wouldn’t work without it. Nonetheless, this ain’t Kare Kano, but I’d be comfortable recommending it to most shoujo fans.

Arakawa Under the Bridge
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B+
What a quirky show this is. Shinbo‘s been a busy director, delivering at least one new series in every season for who can remember how long now… and often working on two or three shows at once. Bakemonogatari took the anime world by storm last year, but other than that (and the under-loved Hidamari Sketch series), what has he done recently that has really been memorable? There’s still a long way to go, but the completely absurd Arakawa Under the Bridge might be one of the better shows he’s made for a while. I’m still grappling with understanding why, but the sense of humour just works for some reason. It’s bizarre and absurdist, but not really rapid-fire, so the pacing and (more importantly) breathing-time between each joke is good. None of it is ROFL funny, but I’m quietly chuckling to myself through most of the episodes. Like most comedies that start well, this one has to pass the test of time. What might work in its favour are the little hints that it’s quite a bit deeper than it’s letting on. They’ve raised some interesting questions about Nino’s past, and Kou’s (I mean, Recruit’s) monologue to open episode 3 had a tinge of existential philosophy… an attempt to search for meaning in life after the death of God (a topic which I, personally, find fascinating).

Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
If Baka-Raptor‘s vision actually allowed him to read this, he’d be annoyed by what I’m about to say regarding this show. It is what it is. There’s really not much else to say… it’s a standard slice-of-life moe comedy with a quirky collection of characters who all have their small set of gags. There’s a crapload of similar shows in anime, and this one doesn’t look like it’s going to deliver anything particularly new. I like the OP… the sequence seems to be channeling Azumanga Daioh. If I get a couple of chuckles out of this an episode, then I’ll be satisfied. It’s, at least, not as blatantly manipulative as K-On!. And the characters’ actions are generally consistent with their personalities as well… another one of K-On!‘s more noticable shortcomings.

Senkou no Night Raid
Episodes seen: 1
Initial impression: B
Here’s a series which is seriously difficult to gauge after one episode. The latest offering in the Anime no Chikara timeslot, Senkou no Night Raid is set in a turbulent (and possibly controversial) time in Chinese history. The action scenes are well done and, while one has to afford it quite a bit of suspension of disbelief, there’s a good amount of tension throughout the entire thing. It reminds me of other anime… the psychic powers and team set up remind me of Darker Than Black, while Yukina, with moles under each of her eyes, looks and acts a lot like Chika from The Daughter of Twenty Faces. Neither of those were bad anime, they just weren’t as good as they could have been. That’s my concern for this series. I doubt it’ll be bad, but can it reach it’s potential? A good script will be the first thing it needs to get there.

Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Gritty, visceral and brutal, this certainly isn’t an easy anime to watch. It has its flaws… the OP song is angsty and the entire show is fairly melodramatic. It treads a fine line between heavy-hitting and just missing completely. But it’s ambitious, and if it could just sand down some of the rough edges (being a Madhouse anime, I’m surprised it even has any), it could be a great drama. It’s not pulling any punches, which should work in its favour. It’s trying to portray hell on earth, which isn’t an easy thing to do, but I’d say that, by telling the story almost exclusively from the boys’ point of view, they’ve managed to capture a good bit of how frustrating and tormenting it would be in that situation, where they need to scratch around in the dirt to find anything to be hopeful about. If there’s a theme that’s cropping up in the early stages, it’s that, in times of hardship, it’s the most vulnerable members of society who suffer the most.

House of Five Leaves
Episodes seen: 1
Initial Impression: B
Another history piece. Are historical settings trending up in anime at the moment? It’s a good thing, if they are. It’s amazing to think that Noitamina has been around for five years now. With all this talk of Anime no Chikara and the now defunct Noise, it’s so impressive that Noitamina has been a constant (and influential) presence in anime for half a decade. Noitamina gave the josei genre credibility, and an audience, among anime watchers, something I wrote about in my Ristorante Paradiso review. The author of the manga that House of Five Leaves is based on coincidentally also wrote Ristorante Paradiso‘s source, so it’s an unsurprising fit for Noitamina. The slow-paced first episode didn’t give us much to work on, but there seems to be enough intrigue and drama for this to be a good anime. The characters are enigmatic and their senses of morality are coloured with several different shades of gray. Potentially, this could be one of the more meaty anime this season, and I look forward to getting the chance to sink my teeth into it. If only Funimation would give me that chance… (I want to support legal streaming, but geez, region blocking doesn’t exactly help the cause.)

11 Responses to “Spring 2010: First Thoughts”

  1. The only real fault with Rainbow is the fact that there is only one quality fansubber for it. After all, waiting on the last two episodes was not a lot of fun. Other then that, I believe this to be an actual grade A anime that is going to show us why it deserves it until the end. House of Five Leaves is a solid anime that I like quite a bit and find it’s more quiet and subtle demeanor to be refreshing.

    Senkou no Night Raid is probably the one show that has a chance of falling into obscurity due to fansubbing issues in dealing with two languages. (Mandarin is not exactly an easy language to deal with in itself). Still, should it recieve enough love then we might see whether or not it pans out. Although, if this Anime no Chikara thing has such a good reputation to bet on this, then I will take it.

    In anycase, the chancesa of 3-4 actual winners in one season is definitely a far better outlook then the past few seasons or so. To me, that is a miracle since I don’t remember the last time that happened.

  2. You just love one-upping me on article ideas.

    Three episode in, Senkou no Night Raid is turning into a classic. The pacing is a bit slow for me, but if that picks up, it can become a classic in my book.

    I feel the same way you do about Angel Beats. It’s so incredibly fun to watch that I don’t really find myself questioning little tiny flaws here and there, and I personally think that the writing is getting consistently better.

    I don’t think Senkou is in subbing hell because of Chinese. At the point where there are Japanese subtitles every time Chinese is spoken, this should be a non-issue.

    I’m also pretty happy that there’s so many good shows this season. Really looking forward to it.

    By the way, my musical picks:
    1. Angel Beats OP
    2. Senkou no Night Raid OP
    3. Durarara!! OP 2
    4. Arakawa ED
    5. WORKING!! OP

  3. It concerns me that so many people enter ratings on MAL for series that have only just begun. Drop it if you don’t like it, but as far as I’m concerned, the only people who are entitled to give numerical ratings to series are those who have seen the entire thing.

    I disagree with this. Why are you giving the show a numerical rating? The main reason is for people looking at your ratings see how much you [dis]liked the show. For that reason, I don’t see why someone shouldn’t give a first episode a rating. It tells a much clearer picture if you have a show dropped after one episode with a rating of 2 than just dropped and no score. That score of 2 doesn’t count towards its MAL rating either so I don’t see why it matters what you rate anime you’ve rated after so few episodes. Obviously it’s not a rating for the anime in full, it’s a rating for what you’ve seen and anyone who also sees that you’ve dropped it and can only rate on what you’ve seen.

    Bleh, I just don’t like it when people leap on you for rating something when you’ve seen so little. ‘How can you know how good it is when you haven’t seen it all yet rawr rawr rawr’. I don’t, I’m just rating on what I’ve seen.

  4. I don’t have problem with people giving ratings to dropped/held shows too, I mean, you’re kind of rating the show based on your impression (B+, etc.) why can’t they give 5/10 for 2 episodes they’ve seen?

    If you didn’t already have your plate full this season I would recommend Yuasa’s Tatami Galaxy, which is available illegally for us non-Americans via torrenting over 500MB mkv quality video file.

    And which anime did you get the very first screenshot of this post!?!? (the one on upper right out of the four?)

  5. I’m sure Working is a perfectly fine show. That’s why you avoid the “it is what it is” line. It’s been tainted by all the crap out there.

  6. @Flash Sword Irene
    The quantity might be lacking this season, but the quality is hopefully there. Fansubbing hell might be an issue for some of these shows, particularly Rainbow and Night Raid. There’s no issue for House of Five Leaves, but I have to work around Funi’s region blocking to watch the episodes, which annoys the crap out of me.

    Yeah, most seasons recently have only offered one or two titles to get excited about. This season has (arguably) five… maybe more. I’d also rank the Arakawa OP pretty high. It’s not as good as the ED (but that’s because Suneohair are awesome-tier), but it’s catchy as hell, and not in the “as seen on TV” type that some anime fans regard as “catchy“.

    I’m a firm believer that an opinion on anime doesn’t hold as much weight until you’ve watched the entire series. The fact of the matter is that a rating based on an incomplete viewing is uninformed. (And also possibly misleading, but that’s another issue). “Dropped” is dropped, it doesn’t really need that much explanation, and a numerical rating is counter-productive. Numerical ratings are something that constantly need updating and refining as the show progresses (at least, assuming you’re giving the show a decent shake). This whole process is simplified significantly if you just give your rating at the end of the series.

    I guess, ultimately, I’m trying to come up with a rating process which is as fair as possible to the anime being watched, and I just can’t reconcile this with a rating based on an incomplete viewing.

    The choice of “initial impression” is deliberate, because it’s sufficiently vague to (hopefully) imply that it doesn’t really mean much. I also try to temper these impressions as well… the low ratings are usually slightly raised and the high ratings are slightly lowered. Neither do these grades strongly correlate with any particular number.

    Tatami Galaxy sounds like a very interesting experimental anime from Yuasa. If the reviews turn out to be positive, I’ll check it out. (The 500MB file sizes are a bit of a turn off.) Oh yeah, and the top-right screen is from Arakawa Under the Bridge.

    I can’t remember where, but I saw Scamp once write a comment somewhere saying that he didn’t want to watch ARIA because his impression of the slice-of-life moe genre has been tainted by all the crappy ones he’s seen… (and I guess the thinking is, if he doesn’t like ARIA, he’ll become an anime blogging pariah). When I read that, it just made me so angry at K-On!, and what it’s done to the impressions of one of my personal favourite genres. You were right about this. You were right about everything. ;-;

  7. If there’s a theme that’s cropping up in the early stages, it’s that, in times of hardship, it’s the most vulnerable members of society who suffer the most.

    And I really hope they harp on this more. I’m not particularly interested in life struggles inside a prison, but if they can get outside and really show us the funk that was Japan in the 1950s, I think I’ll enjoy it more. They’ve given us glimpses, but they really haven’t shown a “world gone mad” society that we can’t comprehend. I would love for people who are more liberal minded to watch a show like that and realize that most of their ideologies only work in stable, productive environments, not chaotic hell holes.

    Not trying to get political, but there’s a reason something like that just “can’t be understood” by a modern American worldview.

    As for the shows you’re not watching:

    B Gata H Kei
    is total “turn the brain off” humor. The thing that bugs me is how tame it is. There’s been some naughty bits, but for the most part, it has stuck with being utterly adorable with the main characters groping (literally) through unfamiliar sexual territory. It reminds me of Ebichu, but with teenagers, and no damned hamster* running around. The original source for this show is a 4 panel comic (4koma), which you wouldn’t think lends itself very well into full fledged 25 minute episodes, but it does rather well without adding in unnecessarily fluff. But what’s startling is just how raunchy the source gets in it’s limited 4 panel frames. Looking at the two, I appreciate the frank business of the comic, but I wonder if the anime is doing it better by being more silly.

    Hakouki Shinsengumi Kitan is the flip side of the harem coin as wish fulfillment for girls. Not that we haven’t seen the “reverse harem” before, but whatever. Let the bitches and whores have their sugar every so often. The Shinsengumi have been portrayed lots of times before in various media, which has perverted things to the point where the “lore” is more akin with fanfiction than reality. Perhaps a better comparison would be the Luo Guanzhong’s slant to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Or, worse, KOEI games’ slant to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (esp. Zhang He… really folks? Really?). The Shinsengumi are all handsome bishounen who cannot be defeated in battle, yada yada.

    I think what’s interesting about this one, so far, is that while there’s a girl (Chizuru) who has been thrown into the mix, she hasn’t really done much to cause a romantic stir. Mostly she’s been a source of distraction in the otherwise disciplined and deadly world the warriors live in. Chirzuzu hasn’t been shown to be helpless nor passive (which is interesting considering the period), so she’s not annoying yet. Still, it’s always a matter of time.

    Also, they’re sticking somewhat true to historical events, though we’ve only seen the famous Ikedaya incident and the backlash (fear) against the Shinsengumi by the Kyoto denizens afterward. It is historically debatable that the Shinsengumi did anything “good” for the bakufu, and this anime doesn’t seem to be making any judgments yet. Also, the warriors actually get hurt, especially along historical documentation, which makes me wonder just how true they’re going to stay to things. If they do, then history has a major spoiler in store for at least one of the regular Shinsengumi players.

    Heroman is about as Saturday morning cartoon as I’ve ever seen an anime. It’s not terrible, because BONES is awesome and the situation is progressing nicely (even for a superhero show). I’m not sure Japan knows jack shit about the youth of America, but who gives a damn. It is extremely pedestrian right now, but it does seem methodical. The best part about Heroman is the mixing of two cultural staples: the Japanese giant robot shows of yesteryear (Gigantor, etc) and the American love for superheros. So far it is doing a really good job of keeping things interesting and fresh from both perspectives, and I think it will do more as the show progresses.

    Besides, it has cameo appearances from Stan Lee in it. Your opinions against the show are now rendered moot, faggot. Hey Joey!

    Hetalia World Series is more of the same, really, though they’re at least focusing more on the countries that they didn’t pay attention to earlier. It’s the same brand of humor, though, so if you didn’t like it before you wont now. As for me, if I had one complaint it’s that the show has been overrun by fujoshi. And as we all know, fujoshi ruin everything. Ne ne, papa! Wine choudai!

    Kissxsis TV is the same shit as the OAV but on TV. This is good, because we could use some more incredibly torrid, relatively uncut, and fapperific as hell sexual activity on TV. This is bad, because when the show is not giving us incredibly torrid, relatively uncut, and fapperific as hell moments of sexual activity it sucks ass. It also seems to just be alternating between one of the two sisters each episode as the focal point of hormonal activity. I don’t really know what the ultimate point of Kissxsis is, but they could have saved us a bunch of time trying to figure it out and released it as a hentai title.

    Mayoi Neko Overrun looked like, on the surface, a blatant attempt at trying Nyan Koi! over again. After three episodes, I’m not so sure that’s the case. I mean, sure, there’s a cat themed intro, and some rather nonimportant felines running about, and one of the heroines has her hair shaped like cat ears, but other than that, I don’t know what cats have to do with anything. Actually, this is more about “stray” cats than anything else, but in a more metaphorical sense of humans instead of felines. It seems like our trio of “strays” have all found a place they can belong on the good graces of an eccentric motherly figure. The first two episodes were kind of bleh, but the third finally started getting to the meat and potatoes of orphans and their feelings and such, so there’s potential here to be a really effective drama. I don’t know if it will devolve into random rom-com shit (the indicators are there), but at least the characters are interesting.

    Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou may be interesting to Shadowmage (and I’m guess it’s one of those interestings as in “train wreck”) but to me it’s one big fucking mess. It seems to be trying to throw modern technology, magic (sorry, “magick!” we’re edgy here), ancient schools of specialized fighting (you know what I mean), and turn it into some farce of a fantasy show set today. At least I think so. Frankly, it just appears to me to be another fanservicy moe harem fuckfest set in a school… with powers! In other words, nothing we haven’t seen before done better and worse. It has about as much writing depth as Zero no Tsukaima with just as much faux intrigue. The problem with things like this is that we have no personal point of reference to go from when it comes to a bunch of fantasy based characters, so the idea of “undead magick!” being used just flies right over my head. Same problems I had reading Harry Potter, actually. I don’t care if the vernacular “mudblood” is a gross word to the wizards, to me it’s just nonsensical. That’s a good way to describe this one, so far. The only redeeming, or potential redeeming, aspect is the main “hero” himself. He seems to have a real “Dark Schneider” from Bastard!! appeal to him, but “before” Dark Schneider became Dark Schneider, if that makes any sense. Basically an evil mega alpha male prick before he becomes an evil mega alpha male prick. It could be fascinating to watch the transformation.

    Until then, the Liladan is good for at least one laugh an episode, in a snarky smarmy and dripping with sarcasm kind of way. Otherwise? Shit.

    I think that’s about every show in the season thus far, between you and I.

    *Here’s where my mind wanders. How does an anime that delves playfully into the subjects of adult life and sex never have that hamster end up being used as a sex object itself? I mean, if you’re going to have kinky moments in a show and a hamster around… I’m just saying…

  8. I honestly think that one hit can make an entire seem far better than it is. Take out Haruhi from its respective season and see how you feel about it then. Hell, take out Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, ARIA, etc. and see what happens.

    The anime industry has really not seen any kind of hit this year in television anime, and I honestly doubt that any of our current titles will become one.

    As a caveat, I suppose Rainbow does come close to greatness, but my problem is that I’m somewhat ambivalent to stories about the harshness of reality. I’m fine with shows that deals with the topic, but not one that wallows in it from the very premise.

    Darn… didn’t know half of those existed.

    Also, I like Akuto Sai, which makes Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou instantly better than most of everything else this season.

  9. Yukina, with moles under each of her eyes, looks and acts a lot like Chika from The Daughter of Twenty Faces.

    I KNOW, RIGHT? I was kind of stoked for a sequel, but then I saw that it was about Chinese X-Men so I was sad. Still haven’t finished Nijuu Mensou though.

  10. I can see what you mean about rating a show without completing it, but at the same time it’s going to cause ratings inflation, which is already a problem at MAL (hey everyone, let’s just rate series we like a 10 and series we don’t like a 1). Especially for long-running series like Bleach or Naruto; the only people that are still on board probably sort of like it. Perhaps the solution is a compromise; your rating counts toward the average in proportion (or maybe by x^2 or some other function, to favor people that watched more episodes more heavily) to the number of episodes watched.

  11. Also, I’d give Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei a look. I think it’s shaping up to be the best series this season, hands down.

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