Fall 2011 Mid-season Impressions

With Christmas just around the corner and a whole new season in the wing, it’s time to look at how the fall’s harvests are doing. Though the quantity of anime does not seem to be as massive as the quantities of previous years, the quality (at least on the visual side of things) has never been higher. Among the usual suspects of adaptations and the sprinkle of anime orignals, there is a complete reboot, a fleshed out prequel and many sequels. If you haven’t been tasting this season’s offerings, you are missing out some quality shows.
Introduction by: Shadowmage

TypicalIdiotFan on Ben-To after 6 episodes
Now here’s an anime that has just continued to up the ante on the insane. Ben-To has taken the general ridiculousness that already is shounen battle anime and thrown in an even more ridiculous setting and plot to create what might be the most impressive self-aware parody I’ve ever seen. I knew what I was watching was special, but the real trick was to see if it could keep it up. By the mid point, there’s no slowing down on the ridiculous, which is great. A show that starts out this completely fucked up needs to stay as fucked up as possible. The best part is that, in the context and the narrative of the show, everything is taken to the most extreme levels of seriousness. It’s like watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The utter absurdity of everything doesn’t faze the characters at all. Social order? Gender sensitivity? Not important!

Thankfully, even the characters work really well. Notable is Oshiroi, a fujoshi with germophobia. Why that combo? I don’t fucking know but Jesus Christ it’s funny. Also, the nicknames she dishes out lightning quick for everybody just get me every time.

Shadowmage on Fate/Zero after 7 episodes
A part of me wonders if an offshoot of a shounen fantasy action anime truly needs extensive strategizing, world building and philosophizing. It’s like taking the premise of Dragonball Z and trying to deliver it with the finesse and intricacy of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Though the mixture of the two clashing elements may be unusual, Fate/Zero somehow manages to make the dynamic work by presenting a clever plot, meticulous directing and some very human characters.

Swords and sorcery take a back seat to the dialogue heavy strategizing reminiscent of a cat-and-mouse crime thriller; however, unlike most action anime, there is an underlying logic to all the actions. Fight scenes are not just displays of fireworks where guts and bravado wins the day; they are calculated chess matches where best laid plans are the most likely to succeed. All this complexity may ultimately lead the show to become a muddled mess, but I trust the creator of the original source material Urobuchi Gen, writer of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, to pull off a miracle.

AC on Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai after 7 episodes
This show is hilarious! I didn’t think it had it in it, but it’s fun to watch this show week after week. In fact, if I may compare this show with another of similar nature, Haganai is doing what Ore no Imouto chose not to: being real. Unlike the latter which was contrived and purely gratifying, Haganai stays real and just whips out the funnies and, for most parts, it’s side-splitting to see the kinds of activities the members of the Neighbors Club engage in.

The humor is mostly otaku-centric (i.e. moe elements, fanservice and even character archetypes) so the average viewer may not fully appreciate the comedy at hand even if it is well-executed. Right now, I want to see the show tackle issues that are beyond the comedy, i.e. the drama. I want to see where the relationship between Kodaka and Yozora will go from here, and where this story eventually leads to. But until then, I’ll just sit back and enjoy watching my favorite character Sena being driven to the corner by Yozora every time.

Shinmaru on Chihayafuru after 6 episodes
I’m still debating with myself whether this is the best show of the fall season — it’s certainly not subtle at all, and the story is predictable. But whatever its flaws may be, Chihayafuru is one of the series I look forward to watching most each week. The infectious energy of its lead, Chihaya, always leaves me smiling. The shoujo trappings may be overwhelming and even sappy at times, but I can’t help but want to lose myself in it. Chihayafuru is also displaying a tendency toward some decent physical humor, which is always welcome in my book. The show seems to be getting better at making karuta more interesting, as well. I legitimately enjoyed getting a peek into the background of the poems that form the basis of the game.

We all know where the show is going: Chihaya and Taichi will continue building their ranks until their karuta club can officially be recognized by the school, and eventually Arata will come around and start slapping cards like a pro again. It’s a standard story, but the style and characters are so much fun that I can’t see myself not caring until the end.

Shadowmage on Mobile Suit Gundam Age after 6 episodes
When Sunrise released its first trailer of Gundam AGE, I (and the rest of the Gundam fans) was dismayed at the more kiddy friendly character designs, worrying that many more things would be stripped down for a younger demographic. Six episodes in and I’m starting to realize that I may have been worried about the wrong thing.

Gundam AGE suffers from far more crippling elements than just childish flourishes. It lacks an engaging set of circumstances and it’s in need of better directing. This is the first Gundam show where the enemies are nameless, faceless and idealess for such a lengthy stretch of time. Yes, the plot will undoubtedly get around to explaining their motives, but the show better be quick about it since it has not had my interest for more than few minutes at a time. Also, the directing has been woefully mediocre. All of the gears turn as they should and there are no glaring flaws, but the presentation has no punch to it; a five year old kid could hit harder.

kadian1364 on Guilty Crown after 6 episodes
Our hapless main character Shu is reluctantly pulled along with Funeral Parlor’s schemes to revolutionize the world, a path that takes us through betrayals, a prison break, and romantic comedy antics with the girl in the wheelchair. For better or for worse, Guilty Crown is set in its ways: the look and sound of the action set pieces are unmatched this season, but its groan-worthy fanservice clichés and intellectually bankrupt premises underlying it all prevent me from enjoying the spectacle.

It comes down to how much I loathe the characters. Shu is a milquetoast mutt put at the center of everything because the story says so, and Inori is a poor Ayanami Rei clone/superhuman action girl/fanservice machine with equally no personality. Gai might have the charisma to save this series, but all of his character progress so far has felt completely unearned. It has the animation chops to easily avoid placing in the rubbish tier, but Guilty Crown sports numerous unlikeable qualities that it must work to overcome in the future if it wants my esteem.

Shinmaru on Hunter x Hunter (2011) after 7 episodes
I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a more kid-friendly version of the story. However, just because the remake is a bit more welcoming to the youngsters doesn’t mean it has lost all of its bite. Hisoka still has a creepy aura about him, even if he is not quite as… perverse as his prior incarnation. (Yet, anyway.) Killua is still as delightfully murderous as ever. There’s a lack of blood, sure, but the underlying darkness of the story is peeking its way through.

Now the remake is at the point in the story where I actually started to dig the first Hunter x Hunter series. It’s where the first series sheds its relatively light tone and dives headfirst into its twisted world. Will the remake do the same, or remain a peppy shounen series? I’m not certain, but even if the latter is what happens, it will be interesting to see the story filtered through that lens.

TypicalIdiotFan on Working’! after 7 episodes
By this point I’m pretty well sold that new director, Atsushi Ootsuki, is handling this project as good as, if not better than, his predecessor. WORKING! started out as a story of a bunch of wacky characters being thrust together to work at a small family restaurant. It has since changed a bit, with the characters’ idiosyncrasies becoming less pronounced in favor of… holy shit… character development and growth. Though it irritated a lot of viewers, we had a lot of it in the first season from Takanashi and Inami and their budding relationship. But those who were irritated were only so because the show felt dominated by those two. The second season is exploring the other characters more, while at the same time continuing the development of the aforementioned duo. In a nutshell, WORKING’!! hasn’t disappointed at all, both because it’s “more of the same” and because it’s not “more of the same”. That’s what a sequel should be.

kadian1364 on Un-Go after 6 episodes
Un-Go has settled into a “mystery crime of the week” format, where the Defeated Detective and co. investigates a crime typically involving sensitive political secrets. They unearth the method and motive with minor aid from a supernatural ability, but are forced to cover it up or otherwise keep quiet. The mysteries themselves are discovered, explored, and solved expediently, which sometimes hurries the pace and leaves something to be desired in terms of characterization. However, the two episode arc steeped in cyberpunk showed best what this anime can do with heady material, and it had me making comparisons to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex a couple of weeks ago.

It’s the observations, made on the fringes of the mysteries, on government and societal forces that’s captured my interest. But alas, it seems content to only skim the surface of these rich veins of discourse, likely constrained by having to present, explain, and solve a mystery within one episode. They really should all be two episode sets. Is this the curse of the short Noitamina timeslot?

AC on Mashiro-iro Symphony after 6 episodes
This show is sweet. It’s so saccharine sweet that all of its tropes are pretty much forgivable since the characters are so likable. The last time I watched a show that’s sweet in a non-cynically way was Shukufuku no Campanella, which could be summarized in one way: inoffensive. In fact, the two shows are similar in so many ways: both have pleasant music, share similar settings where one male lead is surrounded by female characters (it’s not a harem, mind you), and their stories are very simplistic.

But like Campanella, the show is dull too: the story has events similar to any other high school-themed series, and it feels like a poor man’s version of Clannad in terms of production values. This doesn’t come as a big surprise, since almost all VN adaptations follow the same pattern. Plus, the cast is run-of-the-mill: Uryuu is the textbook Mr. Nice Guy, Airi is the classic tsundere and everyone else is, well, forgettable. Despite all this, I’m still watching Mashiro-Iro, because it’s that sweet.

Shadowmage on Mirai Nikki after 6 episodes
Why do I watch Mirai Nikki? Simple, it’s because Yuno is hot. To properly put into context how wrong this sentiment is just know that Yuno is one of those mentally disturbed girls you hear about in the news who kills her boyfriend for dumping her then kills herself to follow him. She is more devoted to her object of affection Yuki than the Pope is to God.

So why do I find her attractive in any way, shape or form? Simple, because I’m not Yuki and watching a cute psychopathic girl letting loose on other people is unbelievably fascinating. Sadly, the show does not approach the story from a psychological perspective. It’s just a mad rapid-fire series of a events that grow increasingly absurd. Watch Mirai Nikki if you want a glimpse at the most unusual character of the season; however, don’t come for anything else.

kadian1364 on Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon after 7 episodes
So far there has been a classroom magic free-for-all, an heir to nobility wrestling with transgender identity, a sleazy perv confessing to a dead girl, and old men blowing up a power plant to bring about the apocalypse. Loaded with ambiguous terminology like “Harmonic Divine State” and “Tres España”, and an incongruous cast that continues to inflate by the dozens, I’ve given up trying to make sense of this anime since the second episode. That’s just as well, because Horizon itself gave up trying to be comprehensible at the end of the first.

Much like the words that make up its title, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere seems to be a random clutter of ideas meaninglessly jammed together. What’s worse, the parade of mechas, magic, serious business politicking, and impossibly giant breasts and hairdos seems to have no end in sight. The sole conclusion I have come to after seven episodes is that this anime is one of the most maddeningly obtuse narrative efforts I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. What is the point of this cartoon? Who is this for? Watching Horizon is a painstaking exercise; a vain pursuit for truth and reason in a chaotic universe.

AC on Persona 4 The Animation after 6 episodes
It’s six episodes into the series, and I still haven’t come to like any of the characters. Okay, perhaps Satonaka gets my vote for her tomboyish antics, but the overarching problem still persists: the characters are unrelatable. Narukami’s constantly blank expression and equally devoid personality makes him a terrible lead, Yosuke tries too hard to grab my attention, Kuma’s speech defect gets on my nerves, and everyone else has hardly made an impression on me.

The action sequences are anything but engaging to watch; the aesthetics are fine, but there’s nothing particularly special or even remotely engaging about them. The plot is also becoming too routine: a new character appears, faces his alter-ego, battle ensues (with Narukami getting a “Level Up!”), end of story. “Monotonous” and “dull” are two words I’d use to describe Persona 4, which I think is still overrated because of its popular preceding game. Too bad; if the game was that good, then I expect more from this show but it’s falling way off the mark.

Shinmaru on Squid Girl Season 2 after 6 episodes
It probably says something about how solid Squid Girl’s second season has been that by far the most frustrating thing about it is the airing schedule. It’s the same light, breezy comedy as ever, but its sense of character is still strong, and the scenarios have been varied to the point where they still offer fresh takes on their character of focus. For instance, the latest episode’s second part features Sanae attempting yet again to get close to Ika Musume; however, this time she seems to outsmart herself by throwing herself headlong into the job of Ika Musume’s secret service agent. It’s a silly scenario, but it’s one that works because Sanae commits herself fully to the role.

Ultimately, that’s a big part of Squid Girl’s charm — it commits to its characters and their quirks and finds ways to keep them entertaining. The cast might not have much depth as a whole, but as long as they’re consistently funny, who cares?

TypicalIdiotFan on Kimi to Boku after 7 episodes
My opinion of this show hasn’t changed much from the first impression article. It’s still basically K-On! for girls with the worst pacing in the universe. The boredom I feel for this show is actually reflected in how Yuta, Yuki, Shun, and Kaname go about their daily lives. Thankfully, the addition of a couple of characters provided a little bit of spark to this otherwise dull as shit show. The young freshman girl, Masaki, may be an annoying character in most respects, but compared to the original foursome, she might as well be Senjogahara. This wasn’t enough; the show still seemed dull as fuck, so enter Chizuru, who is the only person in the entire group willing to do something.

Now, here’s the funny part! The creators know the original four are so damned uninteresting that they have to create a love story revolving around.. dun dun dun… the two new characters. That’s right. The other four are either too apathetic or gay to want to get it on with a member of the opposing sex, so the only two characters with anything resembling a life have to do it. Yes. The show adds, then focuses on the adds. So my question for this show is quite simple: why are the other four even around?

AC on Bakuman 2 after 7 episodes
Truth be told, nothing much has changed since the end of the first season. Everything remains pretty much the same: Mashiro and Takagi continue to listen to their hearts more than their heads, the commentary on manga writing and the related industry remains to be decent, and the Mashiro-Azuki relationship still gets my approval for permanent removal from the storyline. That’s pretty much the biggest problem too: it remains to be the biggest thorn in the side for its naive and overly-idealistic romance. That, and how Azuki continues to be the most boring and shallow female character in Bakuman.

Just now, the story has taken on a major plot twist, which is drawing my attention only for the wrong reasons. It’s not terrible per se: it’s still pretty interesting to see the decisions each character makes. The problem is, every character’s motive seems to be emotionally driven and there aren’t enough mentally driven ones to balance things out. Then again, this isn’t new since Bakuman‘s storyline has always been more emotional than cerebral. I just hope that the show doesn’t shove this down my throat and end up being a chore to watch.

TypicalIdiotFan on C3 after 7 episodes
I sincerely have no idea what the original creative minds behind C3 were trying to do here. On it’s surface, C3 looks like it was trying to be a harem anime. We have all the pieces available: eunuch high school everyguy and a bevy of various archetypical girls vying for his attention for no reason. The problem is that this is what the characters are striving for as the definition of a “normal” life. To clarify, their lives are actually hellish because they involve brutal battles to the death. Understandable that they’d want to get away from such a grueling existence, but the alternative is settling down into that? It’s so “slap the forehead” stupid that I can’t even finish this sentence with a good analogy.

Worse, at least two of the characters are inanimate objects given animated life. Wrap your head around that for a second. A katana and a medieval torture device are trying to be human. How they even have sentience isn’t explained, so the logical leap to want to become a couple of teenage bimbos is lost to the imagination. Hey, if I was a box, the first thing I’d want to do after attaining consciousness is become a blue haired loli and live in Japan. She’s got it figured out, yo.

kadian1364 on Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam after 5 episodes
Over the course of its early episodes, this Last Exile has made deliberate steps to link its narrative to the first series from eight years ago. Between daring ship captures, nation conquests, world-building, and pleasantly competent CG, Fam has dropped a few tasty clues with some familiar terms and faces. The attempted capture of the Sylvius was a creative highlight. At the same time, it has noticeably departed from the original series’ grittier tone and themes. Gone are the class stratification dynamics and the perils of the Silvana and the Grand Stream that characterized the first Last Exile. Instead, our cheery flygirls set out to make many friends and everyone acts very nice to them.

Beyond the conflict in the opening duo of episodes, recent events seem too easy. They found a legendary phantom ship merely by looking at a blurry picture. They absconded with a whole intact warship from an enemy military base with nary a shot being fired. Is war so simple that no one has to get hurt? There’s an appropriate place for girls being insufferably nice to each other, but I don’t think a grand steampunk action adventure is it. While I’ve generally liked how the new Gonzo has handled their last upstanding franchise, I hope it gets grittier soon.

10 Responses to “Fall 2011 Mid-season Impressions”

  1. Fate zero for me turned out even better than expected, mostly because i was solely looking forward to the tragedy, but playing it out like a chess game seems to also bring out the most of their character which i hope will lead to showing how they will change in their ideology.

    Un-go is an interesting show. First i felt like it was going to be like detective conan, but now it seems more like gosick where the overarching plot is brought out by the mysteries and serves more of an importance. also without the horrifically ridiculous logic of gosick. bits of mistakes pop out once every while, but aren’t really noticeable. can’t exactly say it’s going into cyberpunk either.

    chihayafuru is energetic indeed, really well directed as well. music is awesome, brings out a tense yet “strategic” feeling. i dont really know how to say it. at the begining of most episodes it might be a bit predictable, yet i guess it’s the journey to the end that seems so amazing.

    last exile universe is amazingly done, and i have to agree that it sometimes doesn’t seem like the most legit thing. but sometimes you got to tell someone to grab a ship and ADVENTURE!!! yep if the storyline is good enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, minor problems with reality might not seem that noticeable.

    penguindrum deserves a 3 quarter’s season impression… just sayin…

  2. Fate/Zero isn’t “an offshoot of a shounen fantasy action anime”, it’s the anime adaptation of a novel spinoff of one of the greatest visual novels of all time that was butchered and made into a shounen fantasy action anime when it was adapted. Fate/Zero is pretty true to the spirit of the original visual novel, it was the godawful original anime adaptation that was the deviation.

  3. Things I’ve learned about my fellow NHRVers from reading this article:
    – AC is the gray guy in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGTPjD4TKkA
    – Shadowmage is secretly attracted to psychopaths
    – Totally taking his line out of context, TIF wishes to be a blue haired loli and live in Japan (wtf, man?)
    – kadian1364 is Scamp’s newest ally in his ongoing war against anime girls being insufferably nice to each other
    – Shinmaru is, in all likelihood, a Three Stooges fan.

    Good job, guys. 😉

  4. @suntzuanime

    I would argue that if you were to take away the sex scenes from the VN, you would still end up something that can be described as shounen action fantasy. Fate/Stay Night is ultimately about a high school kid who unwittingly ends up fighting in a war of might and magic by summoning a heroic spirit. There are some great ideas interwoven into the plot and some darker elements that gave the VN its edge, but I think the target demographic is pretty clear.

    Now to be fair, I probably should have said “shounen action fantasy VN” instead of “shounen action fantasy anime” as the the latter probably evoked thoughts of the DEEN adaptation before the original.

  5. The Three Stooges are very sophisticated, thank you very much! (Although Buster Keaton is the reigning emperor of physical comedy.)

  6. I completely agree with Shinmaru. Working imo is the best show of the season. It doesn’t try to be pretentious and does what it does best, which is entertained us to the fullest.

  7. @Sorrow-kun:

    Hey c’mon, what’s that supposed to mean? :U I like some of the shows this season, but when I see something bad about it, I’ll acknowledge it.

  8. @AC
    It’s OK, I was referring to the comment about where you said Meat was your favourite Haganai girl. Threads where people discuss their favourite Haganai girl tend to get very… heated. Well, that’s an understatement. “Chaotic” is much more accurate.

  9. Niku is the shit. Anyone that thinks otherwise is hilariously (and I repeat: HILARIOUSLY) wrong.

    I loved TIF’s sentiments on WORKING’!! The brilliance of the show comes from the fact that new characters are introduced at just the right time— never too early, never too late. Development happens so slowly that viewers are sort of “caught off guard” by it— brilliant.

    Finally, Haganai’s honesty is refreshing— “Could you not? That’s disgusting” is the appropriate response by a real, normal person to anyone talking about 2D girls that they’re attracted to. Seriously.

  10. @Sorrow-kun and @Akira

    Fun as it may be, like I mention above, it certainly isn’t the show for those who aren’t into otaku stuff much; it caters mostly to people like us. I just love how the show chooses not to be pretentious at all and stay true to itself. Shows need to be more honest with themselves; it’s just better for everyone.

    My only issue with Haganai is the nun: everyone in the club has a common issue of not being able to make many friends, so what’s the nun all about (even if she is the club advisor)? More importantly, is she even needed?

Leave a Reply

Gravatar enabled.