The Silver Lining of Noitamina’s Uninspiring Season

When the Noitamina time-slot started back in 2005, its intention was to be a place where unconventional, “unusual” anime could air. Starting with Honey and Clover (these days considered a masterpiece by a not-insignificant number of fans), Noitamina’s ambition to showcase anime that reached beyond the typical demographics targeted by most anime has been a worthy one that, despite some up-and-downs, it generally made a good fist of achieving. While Noitamina’s expansion to a two-series slot has only been recent, when we get two shows that seem to be unremarkable genre pieces, it stands out.

Of Noitamina’s two Fall anime, Guilty Crown is the easier target. Pummeled in some circles (by at least two of our reviewers in fact) as being comparable to terribad, and called “GC: Generic Cliches” in others, Guilty Crown is the black sheep of recent Noitamina titles. While I wouldn’t go to such lengths (I think it’s unfair to, after just three episodes), my own opinion is that it’s stylish mediocrity that’s seriously hampered by two very limp lead characters. Shu is so angsty and fragile that he falls to pieces over being called “baka”, while Inori has little use other than being eye-candy. But, ultimately, the issue at the end of the day is that it just doesn’t feel like a Noitamina anime. It’s similar to Code Geass in a handful of ways, such as its setting and progression to date, but Code Geass was carried a long way by an incredibly charasmatic lead in Lelouch. And while few anime are as divisive as Code Geass, most people at least respect what it was trying to do. But no one of sound mind would argue that Code Geass, as unconventional and ambitious as it was, would have been a good fit for Noitamina.

Un-go doesn’t quite attract the same level of scorn, and while I hated the first episode, the subsequent ones have at least been somewhat intriguing. My opinion of it to date is liquid, and I’m not willing to make a call on it until after I’ve seen more. It’s created a fairly novel post-war-rebuild world, and the most recent two mysteries have been sufficiently interesting that I’ve wanted to see how they play out (even in spite of a couple of obvious revelations). I just have this gnawing concern that 11 episodes isn’t going to be enough for Un-Go to satisfactorily flesh out its universe, and we’re going to be left with a high-concept Noitamina missed opportunity… again.

Oh Kurisu, I'll believe anything you say. BBL to claim my Millennium Prize.

So I don’t think either of Noitamina’s works are terrible, but I do think they fall short of the standards generally set for the time-slot. Or were set about nine months ago. It’s interesting that it hasn’t even been twelve months since I was praising Noitamina for its consistent excellence, but this year, with the exceptions of Wandering Son and Usagi Drop, almost all of the Noitamina series have, in one way or another, fallen short of the hype. While I don’t accept that Fractale deserves to be panned to the extent it has, it’s clear that its ideas were severely undercooked. C, on the other hand, seemed intent on running headlong over a cliff after a slow start, and arguably only fell short because it veered abruptly and crashed into a wall. Ano Hana started extremely well but succumbed to some fairly typical Okada-isms. No. 6, along with arguably being the least memorable of Noitamina’s series this year, could have been reasonable if not for several instances of misplaced emphasis.

The great irony of Noitamina’s disappointing year is that 2011 has been terrific for anime… I don’t think it’s overboard to say it’s been the best since 2007. The year started with Shinbo Akiyuki and Urobuchi Gen teaming up to turn the magical girl genre on its head with Madoka Magica (which I somewhat suspect was an anime Shinbo has wanted to make for years, but has only been allowed to do so now). Steins;Gate followed in Spring, arguably one of the most complete and ambitious visual novel adaptations… ever. And then there’s Mawaru Penguindrum. Oh wow! I’m still internally debating whether it’s an exaggeration to say that Penguindrum has been the best anime of the last ten years. Whether it is or not, the fact that it’s incited this question demonstrates that type of impact it’s having on me.

Fukken masterpiece.

So, let’s assume for the moment that the question of what’s appropriate for Noitamina is a relevant one, and start by looking at the anime I just mentioned. I’ve always wondered what a Shinbo anime would look like if it were tailored for Noitamina, but given their respective motivations for being convention-defying are fairly diametric, it’s hard to see a 72 day marriage like this ever happening, so we can rule a line through Madoka Magica. Steins;Gate is a Nitro+ visual novel conversion, and while stranger things have happened, it sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to anything that was on Noitamina pre-Kuragehime. Penguindrum, however, would fit, if only for the same reasons The Tatami Galaxy fits Noitamina. What about some other shows airing this season? Urobuchi’s Fate/Zero? Type Moon… nope. Chihayafuru, a josei anime about an obscure hobby. Yeah, in fact, this is so Noitamina it’s almost a miracle it’s not on it.

But, maybe that’s the thing. The last few years have been littered with examples of titles that wouldn’t have raised eyebrows if they aired on Noitamina, starting from Noise series like Aoi Hana and Ristorante Paradiso and going to other titles that weren’t syndicated with any particular time-slot like Baccano! or Mouryou no Hako. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a handful of stories like these wouldn’t have made the jump to the animated medium if Noitamina hadn’t come along to show that there existed an audience for unconventional anime outside the usual.

The recent drop in quality in Noitamina is seen by some as an attempt to stem the gradual decline in ratings which, as far as I can tell, started soon after the time-slot expanded. This explains Guilty Crown and will probably culminate next year when it airs the otaku-centric Black Rock Shooter (the drop of quality, I mean, not the ratings decline). So while Noitamina might not be going through a strong phase right now, anime as a whole is. And maybe we have Noitamina to thank for maintaining the quality bar and tiding us over while anime went through its two-or-so year bumpy patch.

18 Responses to “The Silver Lining of Noitamina’s Uninspiring Season”

  1. I am still disappointed at how Fractale turned out, even now. I just remember those first two episodes and think about how good it could have been. As for C and No.6, it was clear that they were going to be fall below their potential from an early stage, and I don’t care about them so much, but it’s still a pity.

    I haven’t been watching airing anime that long (started from 2010 summer season with B Gata H Kei and Ichiban Ushiro No Daimoau) so I have only witnessed the weak phase in Noitamina’s ‘life’ (though I’ve seen The Tatami Galaxy and others, just not whilst it was airing) but I have pretty much always been able to see potential in what’s been shown, it’s just this year they never acted upon it, sadly.

    Now I think on it, the reason that Noitamina is so disappointing is because it always does have shows with potential, only to squander it. Shows like that are always so much more frustrating to watch.

    In other news, it’s been a year (and a day) since I started using the Nihon Review forums. Time passes fast doesn’t it? Hope over the next year Noitamina starts to show me the sort of stuff I saw in Tatami Galaxy.

  2. Much consternation over nothing I think.

    noitamina’s initial success was based on well-executed pandering. When it tried to be original (and it has slowly “stretched its wings” so to speak), it never really fared well. I think it’s more poignant to say that they’re probably pandering to the wrong crowd with Guilty Crown. But even so, I think it’s good to note that this is also considered with some risk and is rather experimental of them.

    What this post have stated is more about solidifying a branded programming segment, and I could really care less about programming segments I don’t even get unless I lived in some parts of Japan.

  3. I tend to think the commercial failures of some of their more ambitious titles has meant that they don’t get the quality they would before. I think it’s fair to say that their reputation is the most valuable thing they have right now.

  4. I think we can be a bit more specific than just that Noitamina aired “unconventional” anime: it ran TV series for a more mature and eclectic audience than late night otaku anime. Look at what it’s aired up until 2011. Each title features a set of main characters that are in college, adults, or otherwise outside of a school setting. This consistency of portraying the trials and troubles of grown-up characters is the brand Noitamina had built for 5 years. I can accept a disappointing outing or two like [C] that at least had thoughtful intentions. But that they would betray the brand they had built to give us conventional stories about angsty teenagers in high school with special powers is what tees off faithful fans of Noitamina (like myself) most. Those stories are a dime a dozen; I want Noitamina to showcase something different.

  5. The fact that [C] inspired me to write one of my most prized blog posts on anime (which is, unfortunately, not written in English), says a lot about what I think of the potential it had. Fractale as well. I cannot stop to stress enough times how much potential they’ve blown by not investing more in these series (they should’ve all got bigger budgets, and [C] needed 2 cours), instead they poured all their money into otaku bait (AnoHana and Guilty Crown), it’s simply disappointing. Also .

  6. Also (insert Okada rant right here).*

  7. @Fumoffu!!
    The difference between Noitamina this year and in previous years is the ratio of series that have at least come close to reaching their potential. With such an ambitious intention to begin with, it was always going to syndicate a few bets that wouldn’t end up working out. It’s just that this year the number of successes has been unusually low.

    @omo
    “Pandering” certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Noitamina. Also, kadian1364 explains below (much more succinctly than I did) the value of the time-slot. The interesting irony of Noitamina’s premise is that if it ever succeeds at it completely, and reveals an audience of committed anime watchers who are, as kadian1364 puts it, more eclectic and mature than the usual otaku demographics, then that would make Noitamina itself, as a time-slot, redundant. I don’t think that stage has been reached yet, and the falls in Noitamina’s ratings may be interpreted as a negative sign, but there are other signs that suggest that they’ve made progress towards this goal, starting with the fact that they’ve highlighted that a demographic for anime outside the core-otaku audience exists.

    @Emperor J
    While I’m not going to dispute that, I was under the impression that Noitamina rarely had commercial successes (at least if we’re talking about disc sales). I was under the impression that their business model was based around maximizing ratings, and wasn’t so concerned about DVDs and BDs. (If I’m not mistaken, that money goes to the studios anyway).

    @kadian1364
    Yep, not much to add to this. The economic realities have probably contributed to Noitamina’s recent choices, but Guilty Crown just comes off as a misguided project overall. The commercial monsters of Code Geass and Madoka Magica have been and gone (arguably in a time when Noitamina didn’t want or need them). As much as Guilty Crown takes from Code Geass, it’s not copying any of the things that made Code Geass a success. And because of it, it comes off as incredibly mediocre.

    @cyth
    I think C had the minds behind it to make it work. The time issue might be right, but I kinda feel that there was something else it was missing… I just can’t put my finger on it. I rather suspect that Yamamoto wasn’t (and possibly still isn’t) in the right frame of mind to put together a creative work like Fractale, which is why its ideas were so undercooked. Had it been made five years ago, prior to when the anime industry and fandom drove a truck over him (in large part because he held up a sign that said “please drive a truck over me”), I bet Fractale would have been a very different work.

  8. Fractale was trying to be too ambitious and sort of phailed at executing the whole grand ideas but it managed to keep us wondering what’s going to happen next. In Guilty Crown, it just seem like everything has been mapped out. It lacks originality and the protagonists are characters that you want to be dead the most. Guilty Crown is definitely the most disappointing anime out of noitaminA list and the fact that they are going to feature Black Rock Shooter for next season kinda makes my faith for noitaminA waver T__T

  9. I like your thought at the end, that Noitamina’s success might be in the quality of shows we have seen this year in general, rather than the strength of the Noitamina series themselves. It certainly is an interesting thought, though impossible to prove or disprove.

    Another series that would have been interesting to see as a Noitamina show is Hyouge Mono, which just is not getting the attention it deserves. Despite the fact that it wouldn’t fit in the 11 episode format, it does have a more mature perspective, featuring much older characters, without the typical moe-pandering we see in so much anime outside of the Noitamina time-slot (and now IN Noitamina, at least in Guilty Crown).

  10. I don’t think Guilty Crown is as terrible as how other people have claimed it to be IMHO. Perhaps it’s just me and my guilty pleasure with shows that have style, but the only demerit points that the series have exhibited are plot clichés and run-of-the-mill characters. If anything, the show is merely unoriginal but I can’t call a show terrible if I’m honestly quite entertained by it for the last three weeks.

    To me, noitaminA is somewhat declining in the quality of shows it’s churning out mainly because it’s losing focus. noitaminA is a timeslot that’s meant to show titles for the discerning viewers (or, according to some sources, it’s meant to show stuff that are different from those meant for young male demographics), but judging from its recent titles, it’s been going against its original idea.

    Right now, noitaminA itself has somewhat lost my confidence for providing mediocre shows lately (of course, except for some shows like Usagi Drop) so such titles don’t get my attention as much anymore these days.

    Just to tweak Ratatouille’s famous quote a little: “Not all noitaminA shows are great, but great shows can come from anywhere.” These days, I’m more open to acknowledge a good show when I see one and that show need not be from noitaminA.

  11. It does seem kind of ironic that the decline of Noitamina came almost at the same time when anime as a whole is having a sort of renaissance.

    While I certainly didn’t enjoy every Noitamina series I will for one miss the uniqueness of the block. Even if I didn’t end up liking the series I always cared what the block would be showing. Now I think that will no longer be the case. Guilty Crown & Black Rock Shooter could have been on any block and that to me is the real loss.

    But in the end I guess I should be grateful that despite Noitamina changing focus anime as a whole has been better than ever in 2011. I certainly hope that trend continues.

  12. @sorrowkun and @kadian1364

    I think the fact that you guys don’t think noitamina is not pandering is being too narrow-minded. At least, when I say pandering I mean it is catering to what is known to work to appease a specific audience sub-grouping. Not because something has fanservice scenes. Nothing to do with this–perhaps the correct term I should be using is “genre-based programming.”

    And every big and successful show on noitaminA thus far have been based on some pretty popular properties targeting girls and women. At least, I can’t think of one off hand that didn’t and had average viewership numbers above 2%. Did Eden of the East make that cut? I vaguely remember it did so towards the end but I don’t remember what the average was.

    All the differences you guys pointed out in terms of age of characters or what not are pretty typical in josei manga, and shows like Honey & Clover and Nodame are the FMAs and Narutos of that target segment. Ever been to a Spitz concert? [I have never, but I’d like to :)]

    The value of the time slot, I think as you guys mentioned, has nothing to do with the time slot at all–it only has to do with the initiative of providing a wider variety of material the anime treatment, original or adaptation. If other TV channels are providing the same content, isn’t that just as well? I mean I don’t want to derail too much, but this is partly also why I think anyone who likes noitamina and hates on anime no chikara are hypocrites!

  13. I do think it’s rather interesting how “Noitamina” has become associated with “quality”. It says a lot about the reputation that the time slot has built, even if that reputation isn’t necessarily the best description of the time slot. I think it’s a mistake to view the success of the noitamina time slot in tandem with the success of anime in general. The two probably should have no correlation, as noitamina animes is catered to a completely different demographic than are most other animes. Personally, I view Guilty Crown and the upcoming BRS as a major move in the wrong direction for noitamina because the fact that these two animes are even being aired under the name is a signal to me that soon there might be nothing differentiating this time slot from any other generic anime time slot.

  14. @cyth

    c had a great deal of potential… but if i were to say where it failed it would be that it bit off more than it could chew. a show that supposedly dealt with making you think about money ended up placing way to much extra plotlines from the protagonists’ romance to the major revolution in the end left everything unfinished. the romance was a cliche of action movies, that was barely examined, the metaphor of the economy was extremely weak and the monster fighting differed way to much with how the actual economy worked, which left me to wonder whether or not there was truly even a metaphor involved. in the end, you could probably explain what was happening… if you had taken an economy class and then realized that the show really taught you nothing new.

    un go is quite the interest, it’s something that has a mysterious backstory while i’m not even sure it’s supposed to be a detective’s mystery. the first mystery fit the categories of a reveal by protagonist in the end, though the latter episodes seem to be slowly leaving that procedure. along with that every mystery ends up with pathos overcoming ethics, like the antithesis of Detective Conan. the mystery style is a bit sloppy but keeps it legit, unlike the messes created by gosick that will leave your brain full of fu

    guilty crown is way too much of an easy target… for some watchers like me, cliche’s are things that we absolutely hate. not because there constantly reused, more like because they just aren’t realistic. animal ears: never a legit reason for them to exist. naked women appearing out of nowhere: only reasonable in hentai.other than that – completely unnecessary. guy breaks closet door, rolls right underneath girl undressing… supposedly LEGIT… yeah.. cliches can eventually end up as the deciding factor between new concept and repost… not exactly the best judge but some people just dont have the time

  15. I’m surprised no one seems to think that NoitaminA might just be going through a slump–it happens to everyone and mostly everything. It’s been a fairly consistent block, so maybe it was due.

    As for the animes in general, even though GC features some things that make my head scratch, I think it’s a bit better than most of the shows this season (or at the very least, its animation and sound is). Un-Go has just been disappointing all way round. Nothing really stood out for me. And I mean…nothing.

  16. I’ve always thought that Noitamina, since its inception, ran shows that were more similar to J-drama, and geared towards audience that are into that. So they may be unconventional for anime, but in the context of Japanese TV programing in toto, they are arguably more accessible to the general audience. Indeed, just look through the list of anime they’ve shown, and see how many have actually been translated into live action shows. We already have Honey and Clover, Paradise Kiss, Hataraki Man, Nodame Cantabile, Moyashimon, Antique Bakery, Kuchu Buranko, and Usagi Drop all have live action counterparts already/soon to be released, and I could easily see Princess Jellyfish, AnoHana, and Wandering Son, maybe even House of the Five Leaves, get J-dramas or live action films soon as well. Many of these shows have roots in josei manga, and they all deal with normal people and very human issues, with fantasy elements either non-existent or very mild (Moyashimon, Ano Hana). These types of shows have the potential to reach wider audiences than otaku-centric shows, say Madoka Magica. That’s a show that’s getting a lot of buzz among the die-hard otaku and getting love from seasoned anime-watchers, but how many people outside of these crowds even know about it? It’s big thing is that it’s subverting the magical girl genre, but who but the otaku could appreciate such a turn?

    Noitamina has been highly successful; I mean, can you name any other time-slot that aired anime in Japan with a catchy title? IMO it has become successful not because of experimentation, but by playing it safe. You can’t get safer titles like Nodame, which was aired right after its popular live action incarnation, or Hakaba Kitaro, when a whole generation of salarymen grew up watching that stuff. The ones which I would consider experiments, like Jyu Oh Sei (anybody actually remembers this one?), Mononoke and Tatami Galaxy in its earlier days, and C, Fractale, No. 6, and the two new series, are rare, and largely could exist because of the other safer shows which could make up for their potentially lower view count. It’s turn towards much more, shall we say, stereotypically anime titles like Guilty Crown, Un-Go, and Black Rock Shooter is not alarming because of a drop in quality per se (I actually haven’t seen either GC or Un-Go yet, so I can’t really judge anyways). It’s that this was not the direction that made Noitamina brand what it was, and turning off its core audience. You mentioned the ratings drop began after the time slot expansion. I’m guessing it’s not the slot that’s showing Wandering Son, Ano Hana, and Usagi Drop that’s the cause (in fact, I’ve read somewhere that Ano Hana drew some of Noitamina’s highest ratings ever, and is selling quite well right now), but rather the blocks that’s cycling C, Fractale, and No. 6. Those are shows that general audience who’s coming more from J-drama than anime background will find hard to get into (nevermind that they are also mediocre titles). Going full assault with otaku titles just seems counter-intuitive to me.

    I’m no industry expert, of course, and most of this is just me extrapolating from Noitamina’s wikipedia page. But I do think we need to think a bit differently when talking about something like a time block on TV. What is the role of Fuji TV, who launched this block? How are they influencing the type of anime that’s getting made that will get shown on their station? Noitamina is a very interesting case, because we always talk about studios and directors and writers and maybe producers, but rarely the TV station. Can we conceive of Noitamina in the same way as Madhouse or GAINAX, and talk about its ups and downs?

  17. You do realize the irony in trying to identify which anime properly “fit” into the noitanima slot, right?

    Also, I didn’t think the purpose of the timeslot was to present “hipster” anime that breaks the mold, but just to provide a timeslot exclusively for a mature audience.

  18. I reckon within 11 episodes, that should be enough for someone to be able to tell a decent story.

    So what went wrong with noitaminA?

    I think the common factor came down to the direction. In C, No.6 and Fractale there were a lot of questions asked and concepts introduced within a 9 episode frame. This left only 3 episodes to answer them and wrap the ideas up.

    In Fractale’s example this uh left us with something about virgins falling in love and holding hand in space with a AI program based on her childhood personality re-activating a computer program.

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