Summer 2014 Mid-season Impressions

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Ah, summer. It’s that strange season where you find a strange dip in the amount of anime airing and sometimes a lackluster offering of entertainment, but yet feel like you’ve consumed an inordinate amount of anime (especially if you’re a student and have summer vacation). Two months into the season now and we’ve wrapped up our thoughts on some of the unique and interesting shows that we’re watching. There’s a good amount of fun and exciting shows to look out for, so if you haven’t started on some of these it’s probably not too late.
Introduction by: Kylaran

Shinmaru on Zankyou no Terror after 9 episodes
I can’t stop wavering on this show. It’s certainly still consistently well-made and thought out on a visual level. And I do think the show touches on interesting, compelling issues that still leap out at me and others despite most likely resonating more with a Japanese audience. When the show looks at how dehumanizing and alienating modern society can be, I can feel that. When the show examines social unrest and how different strata of society react to it, I can feel that as well.

Whatever the show’s justifications are for having teenagers as its protagonists, it makes sense from a thematic point of view. Their youth and idealism (couched within a cynical, practical outer shell) is what drives the plot. The problem for me comes when the show shifts to tense, Hollywood thriller set pieces, especially in the last few episodes. I particularly disliked the whole airport chess game sequence. It felt so phony to me — not in a “This is totally unrealistic!!” way but in a way that it’s going for a cheap level of bombast that to me didn’t fit the show’s prior aims. The ferris wheel scene in the latest episode felt a bit better because it worked more off the emotion and themes Terror has been building. I still feel on edge, though, because I have the sinking feeling the ending will be disappointing. I hope I am proved a fool.

Slashe on Love Stage! after 10 episodes

Has Love Stage already been ten episodes? Despite clamouring for more, I feel that there’s some wisdom in concluding the series early. The director’s fascination with shounen ai has been short lived and it shows, as the series begins to falter due to its genre’s trappings towards the final episodes. The show is funny and captivating throughout, but a prolonged engagement starts to betray a lack of substance in its overall plot.

Make no mistake, Love Stage is still one of the strongest offerings of the genre, being an engaging watch that aims to please. It’s just rather disappointing to see something only merely satisfactory produced from such caliber, due to the source material being simply an exercise in fluff. Engaging and enjoyable fluff mind you, but still fluff nonetheless.

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TIF on Space Dandy (Second Season) after 10 episodes
I seriously was not sure what to expect from Space Dandy’s first season.  I knew the names involved, and was damned excited, but I am not sure I really knew what kind of thing they were going to throw at us.  In a way, ignorance is the best spice.  I don’t watch movie previews for a similar reason; I don’t like spoilers, and even knowing what kind of thing I am watching can feel like one when you’re as cynical as me.  The great thing about Space Dandy, though, is that I could easily explain to you what it is about, and spoiler all kinds of big events, and it still wouldn’t matter.  It simply is, and much like other creative and random wankfests like FLCL, you just have to experience it to understand it.

Thankfully, this wonderful sense of experimental wackiness was kept up in the second season, with numerous minds and directors getting their chance at exploring the Dandy-verse and putting their own personal stamp onto a project that has gone way beyond simply being one man’s vision.  Dandy might not be the greatest anime ever made, but it is one of the most important, as it reminds us just how far a visual medium can go to be entertaining.

Kylaran on Aldnoah.Zero after 11 episodes
Compared to more recent and disappointing shows such as Valvrave or Captain EarthAldnoah;Zero is a breath of fresh air. It does a fantastic job of keeping all characters introduced throughout the series playing key roles in the story, while at the same time remaining focused on the overarching themes of war, friendship, and human desire. In a way, it mimics the balanced storytelling of Eureka Seven and Gundam Seed, while at the same time including an interesting main character in the same vein as Lelouch or Yang Wenli. Although it’s far too fast to determine if Inaho will develop properly as a character, there’s a lot of potential for him.

Aldnoah‘s strengths also lie in its visual and audio presentation. The show queues music at just the right times to emphasize tension on screen and there’s plenty of eye candy as well. It doesn’t skimp on details when depicting the Mars and Earth either, providing viewers with a solid image of how the two civilizations are so different.

Perhaps the only issue I take with the series is that unbearable feeling that the creators are rushing some scenes in the show due to time constraints. Although a second season may be possible, the current 12 episode format does the show no favors. Especially when you keep in mind the scope of story that Gundam Seed or Eureka Seven achieved in 50 something episodes, it just seems that Aldnoah could be so much more with another two or three cours on air.

Reckoner on Tokyo ESP after 10 episodes
Every episode I just wonder if the charm of Tokyo ESP is going to finally run out, but it has proven remarkably stubborn. There are so many things about it that would qualify as kind of dumb, but it is completely unpretentious in its presentation. A lot of this is owed to its lovable main heroine Rinka, who has just the right amount of spunk and self-doubt to make her fun. Moreover, she does not cut through problems like butter and actually experiences several failures and setbacks. In an era of anime with so many Sue-like leads, it is nice for once to get something a bit more old school. Tokyo ESP is not a show to really wrack around your brain over. While any story about humans with “mutant” powers is going to end being compared to X Men, Tokyo ESP firmly carves out its own identity. Neither completely serious nor light hearted, Tokyo ESP manages to be a very fun ride with its own style.

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Slashe on Gekkan Shojo: Nozaki-kun after 11 episodes

My weekly staple to stave off the Monday blues, Gekkan Shojo is probably the best comedy of the season. The humor hits home consistently, due to its ability to subvert the genre while still being self-aware enough to poke fun at itself. The characters have a sense of naivety and charm that carries the series, with each capable of serving as both the straight man or the foil based on the situation they are placed. The romance threads are simply hilarious, because of how dysfunctional the personalities involved and the relationships are.

If you ever wanted a shojo counterpart to Daily Lives of Highschool Boys, look no further than Gekkan Shojo, as it is guaranteed to entertain viewers of almost all tastes and demographics.

TIF on Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen after 10 episodes
Let us just get this out of the way right now: Mecha anime have been done. I don’t think it really matters anymore what kind of mecha show you come up with, and I don’t think it matters how original or unique you think it is, I guarantee you someone has done it before. Whether it be one of the earliest pioneers like Mazinger Z or Gundam or one of the more recent genre-breakers like Evangelion, someone has pretty much done everything you can do with a mecha anime. What is left is how you make your own attempt at a creatively spent genre work in such a way that makes it SEEM unique, and Argevollen does a pretty good job there.

Walking the balancing beam between a more realistic look at giant robot mecha and the fantastic aspects of the “super” robot type shows is not easy, but they manage to pull it off with quite a bit of satisfaction. While still quite silly when not suspending disbelief, it manages to bring a few small, but unexplored, elements to the table, which is nice. Thankfully, Argevollen really isn’t about the mecha so much as it is about the characters and the situation they’re in, and hopefully it stays that way to the end.

Shinmaru on Barakamon after 9 episodes
It’s a nice series. There’s a sweet, easygoing charm to the story of a young man searching for personal inspiration for art rather than losing himself in empty, commercial ideas. Going to a rural area to get back to one’s roots isn’t exactly a new concept, but Barakamon does it without condescendingly presenting the rural residents as just simple folk leading simple lives. They have their own specific dreams, aspirations and life experiences that existed long before Handa showed up seeking artistic freedom, and that will exist long after he leaves. These people don’t exist simply to offer hacky, homespun advice to some privileged punk.

It helps that Barakamon is often amusing, though it’s not the funniest show this season by any stretch. Most of the point of the comedy is the calligrapher, Handa, learning to let loose and not be so stuffy and self-important. He does this by throwing dodgeballs at children and collecting bugs. While funny, these scenes often have a poignancy because they lead to Handa forming genuine relationships and getting inspiration from experiences that make him truly happy. It’s a nice feeling when getting lost in a hilly area turns into the most beautiful starry sky Handa has ever seen. Those moments are lovely.

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Reckoner on SAO II after 11 episodes
Kawahara Reki has a remarkable talent for ruining his own good ideas. Switching up the typical fantasy MMORPG setting to a cyberpunk with guns is definitely a good change of pace for the story to keep things fresh and interesting. That is until Kirito breaks the game by pretending to be a Jedi Knight by using a freaking light saber. At least to some degree, Kirito’s exploits in SAO and ALO were somewhat sensible and not completely unexplainable even if he is a ridiculously over powered character who overshadowed everyone. However, GGO goes far beyond the threshold of stupidity in this regard and begs the question of why even make it about a game with guns If the main character can defeat everybody with just a sword.

There are some interesting ideas floating around like the previous season about virtual reality such as virtual therapy for people with traumas. However, the clumsy attempt to handle these concepts have been embarrassing to say the least and just shows yet again that Kawahara is neither good enough nor interested enough in trying to explore his own ideas properly. Considering his continued interest in sidelining his female characters like Asuna and Suguha to propel his waifu of the week, I would Sword Art Online is doomed to be nothing more than mediocre.

Slashe on Free! Eternal Summer after 11 episodes

Despite being one that enjoys the taste of beefcake, Eternal Summer is undoubtedly becoming tiresome to keep up. The series raises expectations with foreshadowing of serious drama, only to fall utterly flat in its execution. Drama feels hollow and false, as none of the characters seem grow or change despite their struggles and experiences. The comedy has become more cringe inducing rather than funny, as the plot degenerates to misunderstandings and angst.

Perhaps age has finally caught up to me as Eternal Summer no longer grabs me like its predecessor once did, as I repeatedly drop the series even as it approaches its conclusion. After all, one cannot live on mancakes alone.

TIF on Akame ga Kill after 10 episodes
What a headscratcher of a show this is. If you ever wanted to see the anime equivalent of someone suffering from mania and depression, then you are cordially invited to feast your eyes upon Akame ga Kill. In a less than serious nutshell, it seems as though the original creator wanted a shounen battle manga on one hand, in all of the familiar and cliched ways, and then a gritty, dark, fantasy on the other hand. Normally, I would herald such a bold attempt at crossing genres with much aplomb, but in this case, I am just not sure this fucking works at all.

I think what kills it is that for all of its attempted uniqueness, the show is just utterly ineffective with the twists. Main characters being killed off is something to be happy about, because it demonstrates that the author has the balls to actually make huge changes when necessary. Except here, it feels more like a forced attempt to get the audience to realize that his creation is supposed to be that “gritty, dark, fantasy.” There is little logic to it, and even less effect to the plot. Throw in the attempts at humor and wholesome personal values, and the whole thing feels more like a concussion than an entertaining program.

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Shinmaru on Hanayamata after 10 episodes
This series remains quite charming. It’s remarkable how well Hanayamata balances the human relationship melodrama with the sense of fun and earnestness of the girls going headlong into their yosakoi dance routines. There’s a joyousness to each of the young ladies who joins the yosakoi club doing so to overcome the pressures of their lives and engaging in something fun purely for the sake of doing it. The dancing itself also works wonderfully as shorthand for how well the girls are working together and showing whether there are still problems to be resolved. (There often are!)

I do have one weird complaint. Often it seems as if the pacing is a bit too quick. A couple of the girls have issues that have boiled up over years — very complicated problems that in reality would be incredibly tough to work through for an adult with lots of life experience, much less someone so young. The episode where Machi worked through her issues with her older sister — which involved years of resentment and abandonment issues — seemed particularly egregious. That said, “solving” their problems doesn’t lead to any of the characters changing completely. They simply realize that something is wrong in their lives and do their best to try and correct it, even if they stumble along the way. I can appreciate that.

Reckoner on Tokyo Ghoul after 11 episodes
Having an Oscar nominated director in Shuhei Morita has worked wonders for Tokyo Ghoul. As an extremely fast paced manga adaption, about 6 chapters an episode, it was going to take an expert hand to organize and present a coherent story with anywhere near the same intrigue as the manga. Some of the choices made to change or reorganize the manga’s content have actually improved the story in some cases rather than detract. Moreover, the way he manages to bring out the anguish and emotional turmoil of the characters in this struggle for survival between ghouls and humans on both sides has been extremely well done. It is a fabulously directed work whose seamless flow manages to pull you right into its own world.

About my only major complaint with Tokyo Ghoul is that the broadcast censorship is annoying and distracting. This is a show about freaking ghouls who eat human flesh and they air it on a channel where you get giant black bars or light beams blocking out many things in pivotal dramatic scenes. I know this will be fixed later presumably in the DVD/BD release, but surely they could have done something better for the television release. Nonetheless, Tokyo Ghoul is one of the most entertaining series of the summer season that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.

3 Responses to “Summer 2014 Mid-season Impressions”

  1. I’m not seeing the charm Tokyo ESP any more. The budget has clearly run up dry after an impressive looking (but pointless) first outing, resulting in some of the cheapest action scenes I’ve seen all year (episode 9 was especially bad). The whole training bit felt rather pointless too since none of what Rinka learned mattered when it was needed most.

    With 2 episodes left, how the heck are Rinka and pals supposed to overcome a dude who can alter reality and his super powered goons? The show is just setting itself up for a deus-ex machiny finish.

    As for ZnT, the 9th episode was the 1st decent one since 5 popped up, hoping the momentum picks up with the last 2.

    With Space Dandy, I’m interested in seeing what the animation staff has in store for the finale. There’s still that one basic question within the premise regarding why the Gogol Emperor is interested in Dandy. I can’t imagine what kind of note an utterly unpredictable series like Space Dandy will walk out on.

  2. As a mecha fan it’s nice to see a kind word thrown Argevollen’s way here since I think it gets a lot of things right that the genre has gotten very wrong of late despite being significantly handicapped budget wise and being completely overshadowed this season by Aldnoah.Zero it’s super team of staff and up in your grill approach to handling the genre. While Aldnoah.Zero has the upper hand on Argevollen audio/visual wise I think to date Argevollen has absolutely crushed it character, plot and intrigue wise and overall handled it’s premise and world building significantly better since it seems less hand tied by having to refer to the myriad of commercial interests and promoting certain staff members IMO bloated profiles and portfolios. It just strikes me as more focused on making an actual good and functional mecha style war drama as opposed to just a popular one and it has the benefit of not having to be split up into two parts so it can just keep it’s momentum and storytelling going.

    As an LOGH fan I don’t get the comparison between Yang Wen-Li and Inaho Kaizuka whatsoever. The only thing they remotely have in common is their tendency towards unconventional tactics in a universe where everyone in the army he fights for seems to have completely forgotten how to actually win a battle decisively (though the FPA is nowhere near as flat out incompetent as the Earth Army in Aldnoah overall having it’s share of past and current heroes from different walks of life that unite under the banner of the 13th fleet and Yang’s leadership), but he actually has a proper rival who is capable of matching him in Reinhard Von Lohengramm and his character is also extremely human, reflective, and multi-faceted something that Inaho is not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact he barely registers as a person to me at all and just seems to have no ambition or personality beyond fighting in whatever battle the show pits him in during a given week.

    That said I agree that with more time Aldnoah.Zero could probably amount to something really interesting. Really not sure why some studios think that having a 24 episode split cour supposedly grand scale mecha series would ever be a good idea, yet they keep doing it.

    On a whole just to comment on the season it feels like the only show that’s going to finish as strongly as it started out is Space Dandy.

    P.S: When it comes to grand scale mecha sci-fi anime nothing has really impressed me more than Knights of Sidonia. If the rumors are true and it and Aldnoah’s second cour is airing in Winter that will mean we’ll be getting two Gundams, Aldnoah.Zero, Knights of Sidonia and that Cross Ange show all airing at the same time going into next year which will mecha it the most mecha heavy stretch of anime by far since Fall 2008 at a time when we’re already in a fairly mecha heavy stretch. Can’t complain nor wait really as it’s by far and away my favorite genre to watch.

  3. @KS

    Thanks for reading!

    What I meant with the comparison to Lelouch and Yang Wenli was that Inaho plays that sort of “unconventional strategist” role similar to the former in Aldnoah.Zero. While this also means he could be compared to the two, there’s also a feeling that if the show isn’t properly developed he may just end up being a forgettable protagonist.

    I think one of the strengths of Aldnoah.Zero in today’s world of 1 or 2 cours anime is that it adopts some shounen-esque weekly enemy/episode elements while combining it to balance with a larger conspiracy that takes place in the back. This clashes some times, but I think of it as a strength.

    If Winter of this year is as stacked as you say it is, we’ll be pretty busy here at NHRV!

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