Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spring and Summer

Once again months have gone by, seasons have passed, and I haven't updated this blog at all - but since it's a slow day at work, it's a good enough time to post some random thoughts on the spring anime season that ended a few weeks back, and the nascent summer season.

I'll start by saying I really liked the spring season - and I'll admit, I didn't watch what was probably the most popular anime of the season, Attack on Titan, simply because blood and gore isn't really my cup of tea.  I watch anime for entertainment, and people getting eaten by odd-looking giants just isn't entertaining for me - but despite that, I didn't have a problem finding plenty to watch.



Hataraku Maou

Hataraku Maou was the series I probably looked forward to the most each week, just because of the cast alone - the banter between Maou and Emi, Ashiya's sense of duty and concern over their finances, Maou's plans for dominating Ente Isla morphing into plans to sell more fries than any other McDonald's - it's just a great cast of characters to watch, and they consistently made me laugh week in and week out.  Comedy's subjective so your mileage may vary, but when the series did shift from comedy to more serious mode, the fact I was attached to the characters made the drama that much more compelling.  And the plot is nothing if not original - the Dark Lord of another world getting stuck in Tokyo and working part-time at McDonald's.  I give the author a lot of credit for originality.

The character development I thought was well-done too, how at the beginning Maou goes from ordering his armies to conquer Ente Isla, without regard for human life, to later on choosing to save people's lives over returning to Ente Isla to conquer it.  Emi's a fascinating character too - having lost her family and everything important to her because of the war Maou started, she has every reason to hate him, but it's hard to reconcile her image of Maou as a monster to the man who works diligently at McDonald's and saves people instead of harming them.  It raises some interesting ethical questions later on, too - Maou started a war that killed thousands, but should he be absolved from all that now that he's seen the value of human life and is by any account a good citizen and a good person now?

It's not perfect - the comedy is good, but there were some fight scenes that were more dramatic that they tried to shoehorn comedy into to lighten the mood, and that seemed a little out of place.  And the "girl with small breasts is jealous of girl with big ones" has been done in anime a million times and I've got to think women watching this just roll their eyes at it.  But it's been a lot of fun to watch regardless - I'd be thrilled if we get a second season.

Gargantia

Gargantia had me seriously hooked from the first episode - I'm kind of a sucker for scifi, the action sequences were a little CG-heavy but still good, and the whole soldier trying to adapt to a peaceful society thing reminded me of Sagara Sousuke in Full Metal Panic.  Ledo and Amy were good lead characters, with Ledo's adjustment to Gargantia handled amazingly well - no instant fluency in the local language, he has to rely on incomplete translations at first, then full translations, then he's slowly able to learn the language and goes from halting, broken Japanese to fluent.  A scene later on where he's emotional and lapses into his native language I thought was well done too - that's exactly the kind of thing that would happen in real life (my wife worked for a manager who was originally from Russia, and she'd occasionally lapse into Russian even with people who didn't speak it).

When things switched from slice of life to serious it was a little less fun to watch - some developments were a little too convenient (the infodump episode about the Hideauze's true nature) but the plot twists were interesting, and the ending was pretty epic, Chamber goes down as one of the greatest anime bros of all time.  If I have a complaint, it'd be Ledo x Amy didn't get enough screen time together after he left Gargantia, but then again, the way the plot developed kind of warranted that.  I'm looking forward to the OVAs that will be coming out with the BD releases though, and I'm glad the Urobutcher didn't slaughter everyone this time.



Aiura

I loved Aiura - but the greatest crime of the anime world in 2013 so far is it was only three freaking minutes long!  Great character designs, a funny cast, good animation - and it's only three minutes a week.  It's like winning the lottery, but then you find out you get paid out over 3,000 years...in pennies.  Still, this was a lot of fun to watch, I've re-watched the whole thing once already, not that this takes very long.  Wishing for a second season, in particular at least a 12-minute episode one.

The Rest of Spring

Oreimo's second season was honestly a bit of a let-down for me - I liked the first season, but this season it seemed like they reset Kirino's personality once again to the way it was season one, episode one, and that got on my nerves a little.  Lovely Angle Ayase-tan was fun to watch though, but I think the rewatch value's pretty low.

Railgun S I should have loved, but after a couple episodes I have to admit I lost interest, mainly since I knew how the Sisters Arc would turn out already since I'd seen it before in Index.

Date a Live I lost interest halfway through the first episode, likewise with Hyakka Ryouran's new season, and Photo Kano.

Muromi-san was pretty funny, and I looked forward to my insane mermaid fix every week - compared to the Gold Standard of mermaid-oriented comedy, Seto no Hanayome, no Muromi-san couldn't compete, but it was still a lot of fun to watch.

Summer



The summer season's just started, but sadly, I can't say I'm as excited about it as I was about the spring season.  There are lots of series that are good, and enjoyable, but none that I'm counting the days to the next episode like I was in the spring.  Maybe that'll change as the season runs on though, who knows.

Blood Lad so far has been maybe the funniest for me - it has that "someone on crack thought this up" insanity to it that makes it more entertaining, also the cutest skeleton ever to appear in anime, I think.  But how it holds up over a full season I don't know - the manga's ongoing so I doubt poor Fuyumi will get any resolution either.

Kitakubu / The Going Home Club is funny, but the lazy animation and the whole thing being set in one room reminds me in a bad way of Seitokai Ichizon.  It seems like a long string of tsukkomis put together, which is funny, but I guess let's say also kind of a one-trick pony.

Love Lab I'm not sure I'll keep watching - it's OK, but it's not making me laugh out loud either, the second episode, for me anyway, fell kind of flat after the first.

Tamayura I loved the first season of, despite the fact the pacing can only be described as glacial, and I like what I've seen so far this season too - in two episodes, Fuu decides to form a photography club and it gets approved by the school and...that's it.  If nothing else, it's really easy to write an episode summary for this one.  But I still like the cast and even if nothing in particular happens, it's a good "healing" anime to relax with at the end of a long day.  This might be what I look forward to the most each week this season.

C3-bu has an insanely long real name, but it's been fun to watch so far - girls playing airsoft might not sound like much of a plot, but I can relate to Yura and there's potential for some good character development here too as she comes out of her shell a little.  I think the military theme gives this a Girls und Panzer vibe, although I don't know if C3-bu's cast can be as fun to watch as Panzer's was.

Silver Spoon I have high hopes for - the first episode was interesting, I'd always wondered what an ag school would be like and this gives what seems like a pretty realistic depiction.  I can't say I'm totally hooked, but I'm hoping it'll get more interesting as I get to know the cast better.

Kiniro Mosaic is...cute.  But I don't think that's quite going to be enough to keep me watching it, so far at least I don't think I like the characters as much as Tamayura's.

Watamote I probably should watch, but from what I've read it just sounds painful, like watching a car wreck - I might pick this up later on though.

That brings me to the end of a long-overdue post - although summer seems overall not quite as good as spring was to me, I'm still impressed as always by the variety of stories anime puts out there, and it makes me glad to be an anime fan.  Real life (my daughter's a big sister now since my son joined us in April) makes it unlikely I'll update this blog regularly, but to anyone reading this hope you're having a great summer!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sakurasou and When Dreams Don't Come True



Watching Sakurasou's finale caused a few thoughts to go in and out of the transom of my mind (Do people even know what transoms are anymore?  Not that it matters, Google knows all anyway):

- Is Mashiro somewhere on the autism spectrum?  Or are all artists a little crazy and not completely well-rounded because if they were normal, well, they wouldn't be artists?

- Is it better to keep plugging away at a dream, or to realize the odds are so against you that you should quit?

On the first question, I think you can look at it either way, really - Mashiro not being able to dress herself would certainly be seen as a cause for alarm from a pediatrician even at ten years younger, but at the same time it's not like she's physically incapable of doing it, it's just not in her top thousand priorities.  I still think she's an interesting character, although the whole "pet" metaphor you could argue says a lot about what's wrong with Japan's treatment of women in general.

The second question's more interesting, and I think the anime's ending seems to be sending the message that you should keep trying - Nanami worked her butt off for two years and failed to become a voice actress, but she's going to try again.  Sorata's game idea may have crashed and burned, but going the indie game route, which gives him a better chance of success, and the message there is also he's going to keep chasing his dream.

That's fine, but it'd be a different story if they were out of high school, out of college, and still trying - what if at 35 Nanami is still desperately applying to voice acting schools, no boyfriend, no family, just a single-minded obsession with following a dream that may never happen?  At the end of her life, would a Nanami who spent it all pursuing a career she never got to do look back and regret not throwing in the towel earlier?

It's OK for young people to have dreams, because they have the time to pursue them - we tell our children "you can be whatever you want when you grow up" and "if you work hard, anything is possible" but as adults, we know this is not really true.  If your child wants to be an astronaut, say, that's nice, but the odds are one-in-a-million against them - all the hard work in the world won't guarantee success.  Anime often has a "you can do anything if you try" message, but Sakurasou explores the other side of that a little, that not everyone can realize all their dreams.  Making a hit computer game and being a voice actor are just not the kind of thing anyone can do if they just work hard, since you have hundreds of thousands of people trying to do something only a fraction of those people will be successful at.

The anime's message of not giving up on dreams is still a good one, since you don't want to give up too early, or not even try to follow your dream, and then regret it later.  And if a 15 year old, say, wants to be a manga-ka, despite the huge odds against them, it's not going to ruin their life to work hard at drawing and send manuscripts off to publishers - even in failure, chasing your dream can still be a lot of fun, when you look back on it later.  The trick is just chasing a dream long enough, but not too long - if that aspiring manga-ka skips college to draw and draw but never makes it, finds themselves 30 and living off the Bank of Mommy and Daddy while his or her friends have jobs, families, etc., there's going to be regret on that side of things too.

In some ways, Sakurasou took the easy way out - it doesn't show us that "know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em" decision point that many of us face in young adulthood, where we have to choose between chasing a dream and moving on to reality.  And I think as we get older, we realize more and more that "what do you want to be when you grow up?" isn't as important as who you are when you grow up, your family, your friends, how good a parent you are, what your hobbies and interests are - all those things make up who you are more than what you do from 8 to 5 for a paycheck twice a month.

It'd be interesting to see the cast of Sakurasou make that transition - maybe Sorata makes a few indie games but doesn't become a star of the gaming world and goes on to find a job teaching programming and game design, which is fun enough and he gets to go home to Mashiro and their kids every night so he's satisfied.  Maybe Nanami doesn't get into voice acting even after a third year of effort, but she meets a nice guy who isn't as emo as Sorata and they start an okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka.  Life takes us places we'd never have thought it would when we're teenagers, after all.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which...well, there really isn't one.  I guess you could say I'm a little disappointed Sakurasou didn't take the dreams vs reality theme a little further, and maybe in a future season it will.  But honestly, I think it should have ended with episode 23, tack on a better Mashiro x Sorata epilogue, and call it done - anything from here, especially if they keep up the love triangle even longer, it's just going to feel like the story's drawn out for too long.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Little Witch Academia

Enjoy it while you can, Disney is already calling their lawyers...

I don't normally watch short one-shot movies, but I did watch Little Witch Academia today, and although you might have low expectations like I did because it's a training project for young animators (sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency), it was actually amazingly good.  The animation quality was pretty impressive, better than a lot of anime series - the style is probably easiest to describe as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (character designs and action scenes) meets Negima (world setting).  

 Can things get even worse when you're falling at terminal velocity from a high tower?  Yes, they can.

Although they only had 24 minutes to work with, this tells a solid  story, with a small, but entertaining cast of characters.  The basic premise is a girl studying at a magic academy, who was inspired to study magic by a show her idol put on when she was little.  It turns out her idol's not held in the highest regard by other wizards, seen as more an entertainer or fraud than a real magician, but our heroine is still her biggest fan, and when she ends up on a dungeon crawl of sorts with her friends and her rival, she finds something that used to belong to her childhood idol, that gives her a shot at proving herself.

I suck at plot summaries so I'll stop there, but I'd highly recommend checking it out - there's nothing new to watch until the spring season starts anyway, so there's really nothing to lose but 24 minutes of your time.  You won't regret it.


Burning up - Akko's an RPG fan, apparently...

 The action scenes in particular seemed really well animated to me - of course, I draw at about a four-year old level, but still...

 Best Side Character.  Seriously, do not f**k with her and her potions.


Love Live Ends


Love Live is over - and I'm left with the thought Kotori's the one who really should have gotten smacked upside the head instead of Honoka.  The evidence against her?  Kotori dragged her feet telling Honoka she was studying abroad.  When Umi called her on it (and God knows how much longer it would have taken her to tell Honoka if Umi hadn't forced the issue), Kotori then tried to blame not telling her on Honoka - got to like the "blame the victim" strategy.  Then it turns out that all along Kotori didn't really want to go at all, but didn't have the balls to say no herself until Honoka asked her to at the 11th hour and 59th minute.  Umi and Honoka should have ganged up to slap her maido ass silly.

I realized I left out Love Live in my last post, but it wasn't a bad series to watch - I can't believe any poll would rank it best anime of the season, but I have to admit it was fun to watch.  Umi was entertaining getting dragged into things at the beginning, Maki is so tsundere she's hilarious, Nico's split personality was always entertaining, and Honoka herself reminded me a lot of Haruka from Idolmaster (generally positive and the glue for the group, but not immune to getting depressed when things go south).

It figures I'd like this since generally I'm a sucker for idol series, partly for the music - although honestly I liked the J-pop in AKB0048 far more than Love Live (which figures, I guess, when you consider AKB0048's music came from the real AKB48 which breaks sales records on a regular basis).  Love Live was incredibly predictable, the drama was a little forced (see Kotori - and why did Eri take so long to join them again?), but in the end it was entertaining enough.  It wouldn't surprise me to see a second season, which would be cool - this was definitely watchable, and maybe even re-watchable (but probably not for a while).

Looking Back at Winter


I swear every time I blink, an entire season of anime passes - between work, building Lego towers and coloring with crayons (having a four-year old is an awesome way to get to play like a little kid again), and then the fact watching anime takes priority over writing about it, this blog is once again turning into a desert.  Was that a run-on sentence?  You'd think after almost 40 years I'd be a master at the English language, but having a four-year old correct your pronunciation (granted, for dinosaur names, but still) makes one lose one's confidence a little...

Anyway, without further ado, a few random thoughts on this past season:

Tamako Market

This was my favorite of the season - I know, I know, this says a lot about my taste in anime, since I didn't say Shin Sekai Yori or anything else from the list of more serious anime.  But to be honest, as I've said before, I don't watch anime to reflect on the darkness inherent in humanity, I watch it for entertainment, and Tamako Market delivered there in spades (whatever that means).  It had the kind of ending I normally hate - no resolution on Tamako x Mochizo specifically - but somehow it seemed to fit the series well and didn't bug me.  I wish they'd done more with the cast - Shiori had a whole episode to get introduced and then it felt like they didn't do much with her, and I could have lived without either Anko episode.  The whole talking chicken thing made me very wary going into this, but Dera was hysterical, and enough reason by himself to make me look forward to it each week.  I was half-expecting a Wal-Mart to open two blocks away and kill the Bunny Mountain Shopping Arcade completely, but in the end, it didn't go anywhere very serious, and that's fine.

Mondaiji-sama ga Etc. Etc.

This was the dark horse for me this season, that came out of nowhere and got me completely hooked - the animation quality was average, but the cast was a lot of fun to watch, and the setting was really cool too.  Between Kuro Usagi's tsukkomi, Izayoi's attitude, Shiroyasha's logic for Kuro Usagi's wardrobe choices, the ED credits where Yo and Asuka blow Kuro Usagi off and her reaction - I pretty much loved this series from start to finish.  It's just a shame it was only ten episodes - I'm not sure it's likely, but I'd love to see a second season.

Da Capo III

I really wanted to love this, but honestly it's probably my biggest disappointment of the season.  It's insanely servicey, which isn't a terrible thing, but is a little jarring given previous Da Capo anime wasn't nearly as in your face with the service.  I thought Junichi's harem was huge, but Kiyotaka's ability to get every girl in school to fall for him without doing anything in particular to make him a teen heartthrob just makes my eyes roll a little too.  The plot also seemed to go nowhere - but given it supposedly just follows the demo and not the "real" gameplay, we'll probably have a second season that actually moves the plot along.

AKB0048 Next Stage

I still hate CG.  But this was a fun ride, with lots of great J-pop, and while the plot got a little out there with AKB0048 being like The Force or something, it was still a worthy successor to the first season.  Nagisa is MUCH better than Acchan though - Acchan still just looks creepy to me.

Robotics Notes

The plot didn't exactly launch like a rocket - it felt like this was planned for four cours and then about 4-5 episodes from the end got shortened to two, so they suddenly shifted from neutral to high gear.  I understand that's the way the visual novel it's based on went too, though, and in some ways it works since you get a leisurely introduction to the cast before the shit hits the fan.  In the end, though, it seemed like a lot of the cast really didn't have much to do - but I can forgive it for that easily, since episode 21 and the whole Kai-Akiho scene there was one of the best confession scenes I've seen in a while.  I'm a sucker for endings where the main couple actually does get together, which segues into...

Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Twenty-four episodes, a full year, and all we get is Mashiro kissing Sorata on the cheek?  I also can't stand Nanami - just confess already and lay off the Kansai-ben, for the love of God.  Sorata whines way too much too.  In real life, if you pick your dream to be something only one in a million people get to do, how naive are you to be shocked when things don't turn out exactly like you planned - but maybe this is age and cynicism talking.  Overall, I did like the series - I just felt a little let down since the first couple episodes gave me a Toradora-like vibe, and it just couldn't live up to that.

Senran Kagura

I liked Asuka's character, but honestly aside from that this didn't have a lot going for it.  The plot was...well, the less said the better.  I guess in hindsight, this is probably a series where if I could send text messages backwards in time I'd send one to myself saying to save the 24 minutes a week for something else.

Vividred Operation

Good character designs, interesting enough story, decent combat scenes - but with the camera zoomed in on their asses a hundred times every episode...it's a little embarrassing to watch.  Let's just say this isn't on my "introduce my daughter to anime" list for the future.  The "punch from low Earth orbit" at the end was cool, I guess, but seemed a little too easy too given a few minutes before that everyone was doomed.

Girls und Panzer

Girls and tanks?  It may sound stupid, but they played it straight and it really worked - the long wait for episodes 11 and 12 was worth it, and this goes down for me as nothing spectacular but still a fun series to watch.

Yama no Susume

I normally avoid three-minute long anime, and this would have been better as just a normal-length OVA, but it was a cute series about two girls climbing mountains and one of them maybe coming out of her shell a little, which I can relate to.  It's a good series to just relax too - like Tamako, don't expect anything deep, but you could argue Yama no Susume has more character development.

Little Busters

I dropped this because of Komari - her character honestly made me want to throw my laptop out the window instead of keeping watching.  But after skipping her arc and picking it back up, Little Busters grew on me, although the writing makes me think Kyoani probably made the right call passing on this.  Haruka's family belongs in jail, Kudo's whole arc just had me scratching my head, but it is a likable cast, and now we seem to be getting into Rin's arc and the main part of the story, so I'm looking forward to more.  Does it look as gorgeous as Kyoani's Kannon or Clannad?  No, but I'm not sure that would make a difference in terms of whether I enjoy it or not anyway.

Overall, it's been another great season for anime - I've been watching anime since '98 (not counting Voltron and Star Blazers as a kid back in the Cretaceous) and it amazes me that each season I can't imagine turning away from it.  Here's hoping the spring season will be good too - there's a lot of potential among the new entrants out there (as usual, Random Curiosity has a complete preview), and getting to see Oreimo's finale and more Railgun alone has me excited for the next couple weeks.