Winter 2011: First Thoughts

I can’t have too many complaints from what I’ve seen so far from this season. Summer 2010 was an atrocity against anime, while Fall 2010 had a few titles with potential, but no truly great series. This season has been one of the more promising for a while, with the likes of Madoka Magica, Wandering Son and Fractale all showing signs that they could be very memorable anime. It’s early days (although three weeks into the season, not as early as we usually share our First Thoughts), but I’ve seen enough from this season to be optimistic, and nothing to make me irate (other than Onii-chan no Koto).
Introduction by: Sorrow-kun

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

Ascaloth‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: A
Since before the beginning of this series, people have been talking about the involvement of a certain Urobachi Gen, the unusual take on the mahou shoujo genre from Shinbo Akiyuki (whom not many remember was behind the ur-example Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha), the high production values which more than suggested a hint of the occult in this particular setting, and last but not least the bad vibes wafting out from underneath the cutesy Hidamari-esque facade….but daaaamned, they sure wasted no time getting to the Big Wham. If there’s any series in this dirt-poor Winter season that is clearly a keeper, it’s this one.

Sorrow-kun‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: A-
We’re witnessing the deconstruction of the mahout shoujo genre right here. This anime is packed with ideas, concepts and styles that Shinbo has toyed with in the past, and he’s using them to craft an anime that has the potential to be one of his best. Atmospheric and visually absorbing, it’s obvious that Shinbo has had a field day making this show. Aoi Yuuki has been excellent in the lead role, and has been ably supported by Goto Yuuko, Saito Chiwa and Kitamura Eri. And the script has just kicked up a notch, with by far the biggest plot twist of the season to date. Madoka Magica has hardly missed a step so far, and it’s certainly not lacked punch.

Wolverine

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C-
Iron Man is a joke, and now Wolverine is becoming one. There are many unintentionally laughable moments, and the cheesy portrayal of Logan’s “GARR”-ness isn’t helping the show one bit. I can imagine the popular Marvel superhero’s legion of fans raeging and writhing in pain while watching this, but you don’t have to be a fan to know that this show isn’t up to anyone’s expectations. The decent animation is the sole saving grace, but even this is a shallow consolation when it’s not up to Madhouse‘s standards.

Infinite Stratos

Akira‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: D
Infinite Stratos is like Strike Witches, but not nearly exploitative enough to justify watching for kicks. What’s the point of having a harem if we never get to see the girls fight with no pants on? Plot (what plot?) scores no points, either. One could argue that this show is about breaking down gender norms, but it clearly doesn’t take itself seriously enough for such an interpretation to even be considered. At least the robots look pretty and the animation budget’s the size of Somalia’s GDP.

Ascaloth‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: D+
Let’s run down the list of cliches here…. Clueless guy pumping out pheromones? Check. Haremettes in heat competing for dick? Check. School setting? Check. Only guy in town? Check. Violent tsundere? Arrogant ojousama? Shrill-voiced loli? Check, check, check. Really, could there ever be a saving grace in something so utterly devoid of original ideas? As a matter of fact, the mech battle scenes are actually quite decently animated, more than one would expect from a throwaway show of this mediocrity. Otherwise….yeah, guilty pleasure of the season, and not much more.

Fractale

kadian1364‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
This is a curious anime fantasy pastiche. Initially, its whimsical flying machines, magical jewels, and pastoral landscapes are evocative of the classic adventure cartoons of bygone days, such as Nadia or Laputa. Yet it plays out mundane shounen romance scenarios that belie its setting. Along with the MMO avatar-like doppels, these post-modern elements put an otaku-centric spin on the story. Actually, the story still seems to be in set-up mode, which is why I find difficulty gauging which direction it’s going. Fractale is far from amazing, and doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to do, but it is an intriguing anime original that has my attention.

Ascaloth‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
From the studio that gave us Kannagi comes a slightly strange, almost Ghibli-esque story in a world very different from ours, where advanced holographic technology goes hand-in-hand with pastoral scenery, and where everyone is a wandering NEET with few needs, shunning human contact in favour of “doppel” avatars. A weird and wonderful tale involving a young boy experiencing actual human interaction for the first time, and a motley crew of Team Rocket-type antagonists aside, Fractale is likely a sign of director Yamamoto Yutaka‘s current direction in his career; he more than anyone seems likely to inherit the role of the great Miyazaki Hayao in the anime world. It remains to be seen where this series will go from here, but it’s already looking good.

Yumekui Merry

Kylaran‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B
With a setting illustrated by fanciful colors and painterly strokes, the art is perfect for its premise: nightmare creatures possess humans, infringing upon reality. Combined with its powerful musical score, this series possesses an artistic flourish rivaling that of this season’s top shows. However, this doesn’t save it from its directing problems. Three episodes in, each episode feels disconnected from the others; narrative remains horribly inconsistent. Lead girl’s voice actress isn’t always believable, and development of the plot seems almost too slow overall. For a series with so much artistic talent, its potential is wasted by terrible directing.

Sorrow-kun‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B
This has certainly exceeded my expectations. I usually extend my patience for J.C. Staff, because when they’re not making Index, Shana or Zero no Tsukaima sequels, they’re generally doing good things. A story of dreamworlds and demons and teenage protagonists might seem shounen-esque, but the director’s previous works include the critically acclaimed Casshern Sins, and his directorial experience shows here. The music and animation are noteworthy and the dreamworlds are remarkably rendered and coloured. There’s more subtlety than the premise would suggest. The ED song with music by IOSYS is one of my favourites of the season, and the accompanying sequence features what might be the most lovingly rendered bellybutton in all of anime.

Rio: Rainbow Gate!

Kylaran‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C
Based on a series of pachinko games (similar to Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angels), it’s unsurprising that the different cosplay that Rio puts on every episode is all that keeps this show interesting. Every single thing about this anime is ridiculous: the owner of the resort, Rio’s unbelievable and unexplained powers over luck, Anya’s overdone clumsiness, Rio’s breast physics. Perhaps what makes this show tolerable is the fact that it doesn’t attempt to be what it isn’t; from the get go it understands that its purpose is brainless entertainment, and doesn’t fail to extort it. Pop open a beer, sit back, and enjoy some fan service in the more uncommon casino setting.

Gosick

Shadowmage‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: C+
For a mystery anime, there really is no mystery. Aside from the goth loli chick being cute, there is really nothing to this series. I think Gosick embodies of the cruel fate of Studio Bones. No matter how cool, classy or interesting it tries to be, it is destined to fall into mediocrity.

Akira‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B
I’m convinced GOSICK isn’t really about the mysteries. They’re fairly predictable, and not too engaging. Episode 3 hints to a larger conspiracy, but it remains to be seen if it goes anywhere. Despite all of GOSICK‘s flaws, however, the show is salvaged by the force of Victorica’s (the main heroine) character. The show is about her, and she’s portrayed in loving detail – sometimes at the expense of plot or other characters. If the show strikes a better balance between Victorica and everything else in the show, it has potential to be quite an entertaining watch.

Wandering Son

Sorrow-kun‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Honestly, I’ve come to hate traps in anime. It was mildly funny back when Minami-ke did it, but in the more than three years since then random comedies have run the trope so far into the ground that when it’s not mundane (Working!), it’s insulting (Baka Test). While it’s still early days, I’m hopeful that Wandering Son can do for cross-dressing in anime what Koi Kaze did for incest: a serious, mature, even-handed analysis of a tough issue. The reality is that adolescence is pretty much the worst time in life to be sexually ambiguous. Wandering Son recognizes this and while it has, to this stage, been a little overwhelming in its character introductions, I’m optimistic it’ll be a dramatic anime that rewards loyalty.

kadian1364‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Cross-dressing characters is such a common comedic trope that this serious take about middle schoolers struggling with gender identity, with mature writing and emotional gravity, is like a blast of fresh air. The faded pastel artwork lends the show an air of innocence, but makes the characters look similar to each other. Add in how the story dumps us in medias res into a complex web of relationships, and the general androgyny of the kids, and I was left confused as engaged in the story. This isn’t an anime for everyone (then again, what is?), but I’m confident Wandering Son will establish itself as one of the strongest dramatic entries this season.

Onii-chan no Koto

TypicalIdiotFan‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C-
Imoutou fetishes are one of the few I simply cannot comprehend, but it is undeniable that they are popular and growing. This one starts out about as blatantly obvious as possible and maintains an uncomfortable level of inappropriateness nearly full time. What’s strange is I’m somewhat enjoying it. Episode 2 was a marked improvement, though whether this lasts is anybody’s guess. My gut says this is trash and will stay there, but who knows.

kadian1364‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: D-
Anyone remotely familiar with anime title conventions doesn’t need me to tell them this series is all about a sexually aggressive little sister trying to bone her brother. And aggressive she is, creeping into his bed while he sleeps, throwing out all of his non-sister related porn, and even inhaling the scent of his dirty laundry. The introduction of a possible long-lost 2nd little sister only exacerbates the dire situation for most viewers. The character designs are also hideous, with sickly thin necks and arms, but huge heads and hands. It only avoids the worst evaluation by a lack of egregious animation errors, but my statement is clear enough: avoid this at all costs.

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
The fuzzy show is back, and sparkles and bubbles fill up the screen yet again. It’s surprising to see that certain things don’t change even when they should but the good thing is, we may be seeing something different this time. We have a new player is in the picture now and, if he can shake the barrel up, we may see something interesting. In particular, his presence may affect the dynamics of the Sawako-Kazehaya relationship. But, characters like him are normally plot devices so there’s a lurking danger that he may be one too.

Sorrow-kun‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
I’m simultaneous enamoured and frustrated by this show, just as I was during the first season. Sessions watching this series generally devolve into me screaming at the screen “just confess already”. In one sense, it shows how invested I am in Sawako and Kazehaya’s romance. In another, it demonstrates how lethargically that romance has progressed. In the simplest terms, if you watched and liked the first season you should be watching this. Production I.G.’s animation is as good, maybe marginally better than the first season, and the seiyuu cast is in good form. Hopefully the plot device new character will help bring Kimi ni Todoke‘s lead pair closer together. It’s a clichéd way to do it, but, whatever it takes.

Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu!

AC‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C+
If you’ve watched Mitsudomoe, you’d probably understand that this sequel would not be any different after watching two episodes. The Tokusatsu parody in the first episode did make me laugh a few times, and Hitoha is still that funny gloomy kid, but this show only makes me snicker occasionally. The show should have made more effort to actually make me laugh, but it’s too dependent on simple misunderstandings and childish thinking for comedy, something that Mitsudomoe did to death. It looks like this show is just a second serving of the same thing.

Beelzebub

Akira‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Beelzebub is genuinely funny. Sure, the humor’s Schadenfreude-based and crass, but it doesn’t make this show any less enjoyable. Watching a delinquent youth go through ordeal after ordeal like a contestant on a Japanese game show whilst frantically attempting to raise a baby that will eventually end humanity… sweet, sweet irony. Plus, the baby’s adorable, and his miniature junk flopping around just adds to the humor.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

TypicalIdiotFan‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: C+
Episode 1 was completely random silliness and absurdity. Episode 2 was mostly random silliness and absurdity, and the rest some heavy feelings. I’m not really sure what this show wants to do. It is definitely frenetic, and there seems to be an obvious attempt at making everything over-the-top. It’s this other element that is sticking out like a sore thumb. Kind of makes the show, what’s the word, interesting. Interesting and random comedy are a rare breed. Let’s see where it goes.

Shadowmage‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
Protagonists for anime comedies, specificially ones with lots of cute girls, tend to be gluttons for punishment with the physical resilience of a punching bag. In Kore wa Zombie Desuka, the main character takes getting chopped in half not with a “why me” attitude but with a deadpan “not this crap again.” It’s refreshing to see a show finally realizing that wacky responses to being clobbered stopped being funny way back during the Jurassic Age of Love Hina and that characters who can take pain with a sense of humor is the new vogue.

Dragon Crisis

TypicalIdiotFan‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B-
This one is another show brimming with potential, though the execution, so far, has been silly at best. Unlike Freezing, the world the characters live in has not been firmly established. It seems like they just want us to accept certain things and move on without explanation. We still don’t know what a “Lost Precious” is, for chrissakes. It has it’s ups. Kugimiya Rie doing a NON-tsundere loli is nice. Episode 2 dramatically changed the “happy-go-lucky” feel the first episode had. So I’ll wait and see where this goes.

Level E

Shadowmage‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B+
Aliens live among people in disguises. Through their superior technology, they have avoided detection and lived in peace on the outskirts of society. However, all this changes when one careless, idiot prince crash lands his spaceship in Japan setting off a massive hunt in search of him. Startled and confused, this alien wanders into the house of high school student and trolls the living hell out of him. Level E is a highly unusual breed of anime comedy that is both smart and dark, and it has so far been nothing but a winner.

AC‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 2
Initial impression: B
This is Men In Black without Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Although not all the gags hit the spot, the show is amusing mainly because of the quirky characters. The show has been entertaining particularly because of the blonde alien’s goofiness and cluelessness of everything around him. The show hasn’t anything bad for the moment, but it’s worrisome that it has the same vibes as Occult Academy, a funny show that crashed and burned towards the end. I really hope that Level E doesn’t follow the same path, especially given its decent start.

Freezing

Kylaran‘s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
Violent with blood. Sexy with nipples. A must see for female mud wrestling lovers. Based on a manga done by two Korean guys, which explains the extreme amounts of violence and sexuality. Of course, this alone would make most people interested, but the show has a pretty big turn-off: awkward storytelling. The biggest problem with it is pacing. Many of the encounters and battles are rushed, lacking in tension, and the dramatic scenes are sappy and unbelievable. To top it all off, the main character is your typical spineless loser with sister complex, who also seems to have ridiculous innate talent to kick ass. Probably the best part of this show is its outstanding voice acting, with NotoMami taking the lead in a role similar to one of my favorite of hers: Rin from Mnemosyne.

TypicalIdiotFan‘s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial impression: B-
I may be the only one enjoying this, but for a blatant T&A fanservice anime it’s not that bad. They actually set up the world nicely, the characters are interesting, and there is an honest to goodness grit about the way these girls live and battle that has massive potential. The problems are obvious. The animation isn’t great, fanservice runs rampant and at stupid times, and it’s a shounen fighting anime, all big minuses. This is probably what Ikkitousen should have been.

21 Responses to “Winter 2011: First Thoughts”

  1. Fractale is likely a sign of director Yamamoto Yutaka‘s current direction in his career; he more than anyone seems likely to inherit the role of the great Miyazaki Hayao in the anime world.

    BAHAHAHAHAHA

    …oh wait, you’re serious

  2. Scamp, you have any better suggestions for inheriting the Miyazaki niche?

    I’d suggest Satoshi Kon except he’s, y’know, dead.

  3. It’s a bit premature to compare Yamakan to Miyazaki because, y’know, he hasn’t made any movies yet. Shinkai is a better fit, regardless of what you think of his storytelling.

  4. Rio is rated higher than Wolverine? Wow.

  5. @kluxorious

    *points at Kylaran’s direction*

    I’d rate it lower, but that’s just me.

  6. There are actually people like…like, seriously enjoying Freezing? Never in my life have I been as stunned as I am right now. If the series keeps going the direction it’s going, my end review for it is going to result in a score of like…2. If it’s lucky.

  7. @gwern

    Mamoru Hosada

    Seriously, there’s plenty of directors that have dipped their toes in Miyazaki-esque territory. Yamakan is just the latest to try doing so. None of his previous works suggest he’s in anyway similar to Miyazaki at all

  8. I thought all the attention was on Hosoda to take up Miyazaki’s title. At least he has two mainstream hits under his belt while Yamakan greatest accomplishment seems only being able to rile up the fanbase.

  9. Honestly, I don’t know that there has to be a “next Miyazaki”. And if there is one, there doesn’t have to be one now, or in 20 years, or in 50. I interpret the phrase “next Miyazaki” two ways. One refers to how Miyazaki is pretty much indisputably the best anime filmmaker of his time, but you don’t always have such a clear choice, so it’s very possible that in the next generation of anime, we have a handful of contenders for best anime filmmaker. Who knows. The second interpretation refers to his style, and in that case, I don’t want a director who just tries to copy Miyazaki. I want to see something new.

    For example, Hosoda and Shinkai are both great, but their style is different from Miyazaki, and their works are very different, yet one can make a strong case for the two of them being the best. So, when we say the “next Miyazaki”, are we simply calling someone good, or are we refering specifically to their style?

  10. There are actually people like…like, seriously enjoying Freezing? Never in my life have I been as stunned as I am right now. If the series keeps going the direction it’s going, my end review for it is going to result in a score of like…2. If it’s lucky.

    lol! Oh my! Opinions!

  11. Still going to sit on the opinion that the grades for Hourou Musuko and Madoka should be flipped, especially considering Madoka only got a boost from the events of the most recent episode. Both are still uncontested cream of the crop, with Level E behind it and Fractale stewing its potential.

    As for Miyazaki’s mantle, strong cases can be made for both Hosoda and Shinkai. Neither have done enough to exhibit influence like Miyazaki does though, and we may never find such a director again. Scamp’s right though; comparing Yamakan to Miyazaki is pretty much a joke.

    @DrIdiot
    It’s more of an extension of the first. We are looking for one of them to be the best, but we’re also putting expectations for him to push beyond the relative term “best” and create works that have as much effect as Miyazaki’s.

  12. @klux

    Admittedly, Rio hasn’t made me speed through it in exasperation yet. Which is a sign that it’s doing something right. Looking through my MAL though, I noticed that I don’t really give many anime below an average rating unless I honestly felt bored at any given time in the series. Maybe I’m just a softy. D:

  13. I don’t know; the way the violence in Freezing is presented makes it feel less like grit and more like gorn to me. The clean amputations, mixed with copious blood, bare flesh, and the sparse (to be charitable) story-telling read, to me at least, as a clear indication that they were pursuing amputee/medical fetishists, not realism.

    /majorly squicked by this series, but your mileage may vary

  14. to me at least, as a clear indication that they were pursuing amputee/medical fetishists, not realism.

    Wow… really?

    I can understand certain arguments for why people don’t like Freezing, but this is definitely a new one. Stupid, too. I’m not even sure how you arrived at this. Unless you’re an amputee / medical fetishist who’s getting turned on by it…

  15. @Scamp, gwern, Myssa Rei and DrIdiot
    Not my comment, so I won’t respond.

    @kluxorious
    Again, not directed specifically towards something I said. But I will say, take these “initial impressions” (they’re not “ratings” and I quite deliberately don’t call them that) with a grain of salt. They’re not definitive. In fact, they’re extremely raw, which is about as good as can be supplied so early in the season. When you’re talking about the difference between a “C” and a “C-“, it’s splitting hairs. Also, have a look at the two reviewers in this case. AC has been closely following the Madhouse-Marvel partnership and has been on record as extremely disappointed by it so far. Kylaran has posted on the forums that he finds more Rio more enjoyable than Infinite Stratos. Both of those viewpoints are reflected pretty clearly here.

    @Arianna Sterling and Julian
    Not watching this anime, so I wouldn’t know.

    @Elineas
    I really like the intention and message behind Wandering Son so far, but the mass of characters that have been thrown on us means its plot isn’t really all that clear right now. That’s fine. It just needs more time. Madoka Magica on the other hand has shown at least the first card of its hand. It too still has a lot of unanswered questions and its plot is still taking shape, but as well as being clear about what it wants to do, we also have a fair idea about what direction it wants to go down. But it’s all speculative to this point. I’m pretty sure that these two series will be the best two of the season, as they have been to date. But we won’t be certain which one will be No. 1 and which No. 2 for another ten weeks.

  16. I’m waiting eagerly for Akiyuki Shinbo’s take on a Ghibli-esque fantasy. Using SHAFT’s budget.

  17. Madoka: high Production values, creepy vibes and the deconstruction of mahou shoujo tropes on the one hand, shallow characterisation and style-over-substance-ness on the other. And yes, I did watch epi 3. DROPPED.

    Out of the others, I’m keeping on and enjoying Kimi ni Todoke s.2, Wandering Son and Level E (which I also hope along with you guys, won’t go the same way as Occult Academy kinda did) for the daawww, awesomeness and LOLness, respectively.

  18. Try rewriting the impressions on Level E after watching Episode 3.

  19. I don’t know if one Ghibli derivative makes Yamakan the next Ghibli.

    That said, enjoying the fact he is trying new things and hoping the best for him.

  20. @Hana
    I’m sorry, are we watching the same show?
    “style-over-substance-ness”? Seriously? Have you realized that Kyubei might be SATAN? That wouldn’t be enough substance for you???

    “shallow characterization”? Uhhhh, do you mean to say “stereotypical characterization”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure characters become deep over time. One would question if a show had shallow characters if the characters didn’t develop over the span of the series. You can’t expect a plot-oriented show to add multiple layers to multiple characters in the first three episodes.

    I have to say I’m incredibly biased, as I thought that the first 3 episodes were most well executed first-3-episodes I’ve ever seen.

    Go go madoka magica!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  21. Still reeling from the shock of TIF rating Dragon Crisis higher than KoreZombie.

    And lol at the Miyazaki controversy.

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