Spring 2014 Mid-season Impressions

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Spring 2014 has been a highly anticipated season with the return of two big names in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Mushishi. While these two series have generally delivered, a few other series have caught our staff members’ eyes. This seems to be the season of sports anime, with Ping Pong, Haikyuu!! and even Baby Steps all stepping up to the plate.
Introduction by Kaikyaku

AC on Captain Earth after 5 episodes

One would easily spot a mecha series by BONES when they see one: the fluid and crisp animation, high production values, a shounen protagonist and fancy mecha transformations are just some of the production studio’s trademarks. Captain Earth is yet another addition to the list, one that aesthetically resembles something among the likes of Star Driver and Eureka Seven.

While Star Driver has sheer flamboyance unmatched by any other mecha series, and Eureka Seven has a grand presentation, right now I’m not sure what kind of identity Captain Earth is carving for itself. As for the story, it’s progressing very slowly, with bits and pieces of the characters being revealed one at a time. There is nothing amazing or outstandingly unique about Captain Earth -okay, maybe the mecha transformation is out of this world (quite literally) -and I hope that this is a 2-cour series. There is still no telling which direction the story is taking, but at least it proves once again that the visuals are pretty sweet to watch.

TIF on Mekakucity Actors after 5 episodes

I’m at a bit of a loss on Mekakucity Actors.  I’m not sure I like it, but I’m not sure I hate it either.  There are plenty of things I am whelmed about, and there are plenty of things that make my nonexistent vagina moist.  Even after five episodes, I don’t know if I have a firm grasp on what it is the story wants to say.  It doesn’t help that the rather off-kilter narrative style makes things kind of confusing at first.  For the first arc, we start off slow and reach a major event by the end of the first episode, then spend the next two catching up to that event, but from a completely different perspective.  It is jarring, but there is a certain amount of appeal to a narrative style of this nature.  Sort of in that “oh, that’s how it all works” kind of way.  Otherwise, you have Shinbo doing his Shinbo thing, taking a heavy dialogue character driven story and injecting his usual flair for the dramatic visually.  Early on, I thought Shinbo’s style was harming the feel of the show, but by the midway point I can’t say that anymore.  It adds a necessary surrealness to an already unusual story.

Shadowmage on Ping Pong after 4 episodes

I suppose the best description of this series is the phrase “it’s a show about high schoolders playing competitive ping pong.” However, with director Yuasa Masaaki at the helm, it’s unquestionably not that simple.  Coming off his recent Kick-Heart campaign on Kickstarter, Yuasa gives a dose of his visual madness in this rather quirky personal drama about some off beat personalities playing ping pong.  Unlike the normal cast of anime high schoolers, the characters in Ping Pong are significantly more down to Earth which ends up making their problems more relatable.  The nature of the show almost makes me think this could have been a live action piece if it weren’t for Yuasa‘s exceptionally creative visuals coloring both the personalities of the characters and the overall atmosphere of the series.  The series is actually quite introspective, with a lot of internal drama guiding interest for the plot.  Ping Pong is a unique slice of brilliance I recommend for anyone who wants to see how creative yet human the anime medium can get.

[HorribleSubs] Haikyuu!! - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.58_[2014.04.24_21.03.41]

Reckoner on Haikyuu after 6 episodes

Many may write Haikyuu off as just another fujoshi pandering sports anime, but they would be losing out on an otherwise endearing and entertaining show. Haikyuu does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to sports anime; it contains common elements of friendship and camaraderie, as well as growing up. However, what the anime does do is execute these concepts remarkably well with volleyball, which is a rare sport in the anime world to focus on. The characters, particularly its main duo of Hinata and Kageyama, are both fun and lively. Moreover, they seem to round each other’s deficiencies, both within the sport and emotionally as well, which makes them interesting to watch.

My only concern in this series is if it chooses to go far too out into unrealistic territory. It seems that the main showcase of the show will be Hinata spiking Kageyama’s perfect sets with his eyes closed, which anyone who stops to think about it would realize is absolutely ludicrous. Such gimmicks can only lead to devaluing the portrayal of the sport and the strategy used during the games. Hopefully this does not become too much of an issue going forward. So far it has not been a proble, and coupled with the excellent production values of Production I.G., Haikyuu has been quite a pleasure to watch.

Shinmaru on Chaika -The Coffin Princess- after 5 episodes

This is the type of series that normally doesn’t excite me all that much; plain fantasy usually bores me, unfortunately. Something about Chaika is striking a chord with me, however. It’s not exceptional, but the show is focusing mainly on what I enjoy about it and mitigating most of what might turn me off. There’s far less long-winded, expository world-building than I expected: just enough to set up the characters, their goals, and the state of the world. When something new shows up, the story does not grind to a halt while everyone spends half the episode putting it into context. No need to elaborate on what’s easy to grasp.

The characters are fine. The saboteurs, Tooru and Akari, are a bit grayer than usual in an interesting way that isn’t pushed too hard. Chaika, on a mission to gather the parts of her deceased despot father, is just on the side of endearing rather than annoying. Their pursuers are neat, too, because based on what the audience knows about the world so far, they could easily be seen as morally correct, and yet the protagonists aren’t obvious villains, either. It’s a simple conflict that uses its world well to add a bit of nuance. The battles are fun, too; there’s a nice mix of physical and magic fighting that makes the skirmishes more chaotic.

Chaika isn’t the best series I’m watching, but it’s playing to its strengths and turning a story I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to into something I’m enjoying a lot.

Slashe on Baby Steps after 5 episodes

Baby Steps has been overshadowed by the two other shows that are competing for our attention this season. Competent and inoffensive, the show promotes tennis and its technical aspects from a beginner’s perspective. While the plot can be described simply as “boy picks up tennis”, the show is kept fresh and interesting thanks to smart writing and engaging twists.

The main protagonist, Eiichirou, is the Rock Lee of sports, progressing through the sport with honest hard work and dedication. However, as with the anime, Ei-chan is but a youth among men – growing potential outshone by the stars around. The series is still in its infancy, presenting a less adversarial approach to competitive sports, and thus lacks the edge and pathos of similar shows. For now, Baby Steps is a pleasant staple of my weekend, as it slowly spreads its wings.

JoJos

Shinmaru on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders after 6 episodes

I feel spoiled watching this, because I know the really GOOD parts of the story are so close that I can taste it, but the anime isn’t quite there yet. The pacing is a bit slow since there’s so much dialogue being fit in, and the group dynamic hasn’t totally gelled, so the parts where everything is explained in laborious detail are dragging a bit. But that is my main complaint, other than “the show isn’t up to the truly ridiculous Stand users yet.” The production is a bit better than the first season, though actual animation remains rare. The art direction continues making up for that in a big way, though: JoJo’s use of color remains excellent and generally outrageous. And now that (most of) the crew is together, I’m hoping there will be more of an emphasis on the silliness and dumb comedy that is such a big part of Stardust Crusaders. The latest episode is a step in the right direction: It’s a battle that isn’t amazing from a tactical standpoint, but it shows off the character and relationships between the characters so well. At heart, Stardust Crusaders is a silly road film where the heroes beat up a bunch of people along the way.

Shadowmage on Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei after 5 episodes

If you’ve ever seen a high school action anime before, you’ve probably seen  Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei.  The show hits on cliches about as hard as you can hit them, but it’s far from unwatchable because it presents a rather solid realization of these tropes.  The series about a pair of siblings, one male the other female, who go to a magical high school deeply fractured by a social class system.  The hatred among the different levels of students run so deep that the students wage literal wars on each other to either change or protect the established system.

The main protagonist, Tatsuya Shiba, has a rather unusual inferiority complex that is mentioned in every single episode involving the fact that he is actually a extremely powerful magician, but the system fails to recognize his kind of genius.  Because Tatsuya is predominantly a silent personality, he never comes across as annoying or abrasive, but the show bangs on about his victimization a bit too hard.  Overall, the show is a reasonably entertaining young adult action series with consistently high production values from Madhouse.  Just don’t expect anything special.

TIF on Akuma no Riddle after 6 episodes

There is just something missing from Akuma no Riddle that I cannot put my finger on.  It has a decent and unique enough premise, wherein assassins, killers, scum, and villainy from various walks of life are thrust together in a single classroom with the intent to turn their lives into a deadly competition.  There is a target to all of this, and there are rules, but there is also a monkey wrench in the works in the form of one assassin who decides she’d rather protect the target from the others than kill her for some ill begotten gain.  Meanwhile, the main focus of the show has been on how much the target pathetically attempts to fulfill a dream of a “normal” high school life.  However, even this has been used mostly as a juxtaposition vis a vis the motivations and the stories of the other assassins, who have each had their own episode to explore their motivations and their wishes.  The stories have all been done before to the point where they’re very typical and almost boring.  The exception, thus far, has been episode 2’s honest-to-God psychopath, whose murderous desires would fit in quite well with Charles Manson.

Slashe on Selector Infected Wixoss after 6 episodes

Selector Infected Wixoss can be described as Madoka meets Yugioh, or Fate/Card Battle. Girls picked as Selectors battle for a magical wish, inevitably trampling over the dreams of others in their quest to realize their own. Surprisingly, the show gives little indication of any of the game’s mechanics and focuses mainly on the characters, differentiating it from being a glorified advertisement. The LRIGs, personified avatars of their Wixoss decks, have personalities that are almost contrary to the players’, generating a lot of internal conflict and self-examination.

If one is able to emotionally invest in the characters, this show will reward you with fascination and feels. The main girls are all wonderfully broken characters, struggling with their personal complexes while trying to find a place in the world. There is a sinister air surrounding the entire premise, and I doubt the latest reveal is the only evil curse that Wixoss brings, as greater tragedy has been foreshadowed. As the plot continues to thicken, I simply cannot wait each week as this two-cour series unfolds.

Shadowmage on Brynhilder in the Darkness after 5 episodes

A lot of anime get tons of flack for being too “dark” and “edgy” and I feel that they rarely deserve this designation. Brynhilder in the Darkness is one big exception to this perspective as it pushes the boundaries of edginess to an almost comedic extreme. A brainchild of Okamoto Lynn of Elfen Lied fame, the show is a rather interesting concoction of high school drama, comedy, fan service and brutal gore.

Really, aside from the occasional bouts of death and destruction, the show can be seen as a typical male power fantasy series about a normal high school guy who suddenly gets pulled into a (harem) of witches at war with a super secret organization.  There’s a wide variety of girls from the big breasted one to the stoic one to the happy go lucky one.  Occasionally, these girls get in fights with witches from previously mentioned secret organization, and this is when the show gets nutty.  While most other anime turns the fight sequences into what feels like a series of running jokes, Brynhilder actually has the characters brutally murder one another in a genuinely disturbing ways.  It’s a rather cheap way to create a sense of gravity, but like Elfen Lied, it is undeniably effective.

[HorribleSubs] One Week Friends - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_06.20_[2014.05.14_22.02.32]

AC on Isshuukan Friends after 5 episodes

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl like each other. Girl has a short-term memory, thus affecting any potential budding friendship. Plot-wise, it may sound like 50 First Dates but not exactly. This slice-of-life series has the same vibes as Wandering Son and Kimi to Boku, and the story is saccharine-sweet in typical high-school style.

While the premise is interesting, I can’t say the same for the characters. Lead characters Fujimiya and Hase are socially inept and naive, rendering their interaction a tad too simplistic and even uninteresting. The presence of Kiryuu does help to balance things out with his aloof attitude and skeptical demeanor, but still I feel that there is more than the story could do with the overall chemistry. From the way things are going, it looks set to be a feel-good story… unless something unthinkable of a plot twist lurks towards the end.

Reckoner on Mushishi Zoku Shou after 6 episodes

If there is one thing in my life as an anime fan I did not expect to see, it would be a second season of Mushishi. After nearly a decade, any hope of actually seeing more of this lovely manga by Yuki Urushibara had all but evaporated for me. Even with the announcement of this second season, there was this lingering doubt in my mind that this could not possibly be real. Would this series still be the timeless experience that it was when it first premiered many years ago? I am pleased to answer that with a resounding “HELL YES!”

Much like its first season, Mushishi still retains its extraordinary quality to build emotionally complex, dream-like tales about human beings and their afflictions by the magical creatures known as mushi. On the surface it is fantasy, but these situations often mirror real life situations faced by human beings throughout time to an eerie degree. Mushishi is not a series that immediately blows you away, but it slowly immerses you in a meditative state that envelopes all your senses. It is a reflective, methodical anime that only reveals its profundity when each individual story is taken in as a whole. Its ability to do this time and time again is what makes this an all-time classic anime, and I am glad it has not lost its touch.

3 Responses to “Spring 2014 Mid-season Impressions”

  1. I thought Elfenlied was a lot less crazy than Brynhildr, proceeded in a way that involved less ambivalence about what it was trying to do, and was significantly more effective at letting you know when normalcy had been broken, and that the show was not afraid of killing anyone.
    It was also creepier, what with how vectors are unexplained until they have seen a fair bit of use.

    I keep hearing stuff about how Jojo is set to explode in a ball of awesomeness, but what can it do? Include more mad plot twists? Reincarnate Dio as an elder God? Cyber-Stronheim? A bird with three heads instead of one? Jojo’s tricks have always been cooler than they have been clever, so is JJBA:SC just going to be more “Oh, I did not expect that much silliness, again.”?

  2. @Pebble

    Thanks for reading!

    As for JoJo, as someone who has tried reading it so many times and has never been able to get into it, I’ve been sort of casually following along with the anime and still find it lacking in terms of “awesomeness” as you mentioned. For some reason the action and plot twists just seem to resonate with others more so than myself, and it may be a matter of simply how ridiculous it has to keep on getting in order to top itself.

  3. @Pebble

    For me, the battles just get better and tighter; they have a better flow and more concrete construction, and the protagonists are in actual danger rather than kind of sort of in danger but still able to defeat the bad guys instantly. So it’s not so much escalation as it is actually putting the heroes up against fighters who are worth a shit.

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