Anime Retrospective: Summer 2014

Brevity is the soul of wit.

In truth, I’ve been dealing with health issues and haven’t felt capable of writing much, and very little that aired this season felt like it really deserves a multi-paragraph rant anyway.

This post is slightly premature again, but the only thing that has yet to finish is Mahouka and my opinion on it is not going to change.

Still Airing

Akame ga Kill

Decently entertaining if you turn your brain off. It spends too much time dwelling upon its paper-thin setting and characters who are little more than jokes for the most part, but it’s pretty fun to watch when there’s action happening and after it cleared away some dreary early episodes I haven’t found myself tempted to drop it. It is somewhat overhyped and overrated, but not to the degree of the other bad or mediocre things that aired this season, so I don’t feel like ranting any further about it.

Aldnoah;Zero

I think I’ll just echo an observation made by a friend. There are only three characters that would require Aldnoah;Zero’s story to be meaningfully altered if they were removed entirely: Inaho, Asseylum, and Saazbaum. And Inaho could be replaced by anyone with an equivalent level of foolhardiness and dumb luck. Their role in the plot isn’t the be-all and end-all of a character, but don’t make me laugh by arguing any of the characters in A;Z are worthwhile on their own merits.

Might as well watch the second cour to see how far off the tracks this trainwreck goes, but I think I’m going to need the help of my bad anime buddies from IRC.

Sword Art Online II

Disclaimer: I never watched the first season of SAO. I tried to read the first novel as Japanese practice, but gave up about halfway through.

Y’know, even though he inflicted the horror that SAO is upon the world, I can’t bring myself to resent Kawahara Reki for it. By all accounts the guy’s incredibly humble in person, and the path his work has taken ever since the first two SAO arcs demonstrates a clear desire to respond to criticism and improve as a writer. Phantom Bullet is basically an attempt to give Kirito a character flaw, as well as to write a heroine that isn’t defined primarily by her romantic and/or sexual attraction to Kirito. It doesn’t quite succeed at either, but it’s the thought that counts.

Don’t get me wrong, SAO is still garbage. But I don’t think it’s all Kawahara’s fault. For unfathomable reasons I recently poked my head into an old Reddit post from a year ago where passionate SAO fans were discussing the future of the anime series, and saw this enlightening statement: “Despite its short time frame, I think Phantom Bullet would do best with at least six episodes.” Well, guess what, Phantom Bullet was thirteen episodes. And it’s padded to hell and back, with multiple instances of Kirito and Sinon realizing something, this realization being recapped in the following episode, and then Asuna and friends coming independently to the same realization. Even if the original work were good, any merit it had wouldn’t survive an adaptation like that.

Supposedly the upcoming plot arc is the best part of SAO. Yeah, well, some people said the same thing about Phantom Bullet. And I’m sure the anime will find a way to sabotage whatever’s coming next as well.

Finished

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

A solid comedy that’s amusing even if you have only a passing knowledge of shoujo manga. If you only watch one show this season, Nozaki would be a good choice, though it’s not about to earn a place in my all-time top ten.

The comedy is more often based upon character interactions than slapstick (though it has ample amounts of both,) and though the characters deliberately subvert the cliches they could have easily embraced, they lack much in the way of depth and tend to each repeat a key gag that wears out its welcome by the end of the series. Despite that, the show is well executed enough that I found myself wishing it would treat the various romances with a bit more seriousness and actually develop them past the point of unspoken crushes. No such luck; Nozaki-kun is a comedy up until the very last minute. And who knows, maybe that’s for the better.

Hanayamata

I don’t understand manga demographics anymore. Hanayamata is seinen, despite its shoujo-esque art style and its heavy focus on insipid emotional drama. Meanwhile Sabagebu is shoujo. I guess they just mean nothing nowadays.

Well, it doesn’t defy any seinen trends that Hanayamata falls squarely into the “cute girls doing cute things” category. My sources indicate that the manga has few merits except for its art and is the very opposite of well-written. This shows through in the anime, which appears to be torn between adapting everything and improving upon its source material. There are a number of situations like Hana dramatically collapsing in a faint and worrying all her friends sick, followed by a two day timeskip after which it’s revealed (two minutes of anime airtime after the collapse) she had a cold and just needed some rest. I haven’t looked at the manga myself, but I’m betting this and the many similar situations the anime all but glosses over aren’t dealt with so abruptly… or if they are, that’s a failure in its own way.

Hanayamata’s real failings happen when it dwells upon its emotional drama. Every girl has some of her very own, all of it lasts an entire episode, and none of it serves any purpose or has a compelling reason for happening. Most of my acquaintances dropped the show during the home stretch of it and I don’t blame them.

The main merit the series does have is probably its snappy sense of humor. It also dragged itself up out of the gutter at the very end and managed to have a pretty decent conclusion. Regardless, Hanayamata isn’t worth watching unless you love watching middle school girls lost in pointless emotional turmoil.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei

I guess Mahouka’s improved since my last season retrospective, in much the same fashion as a turd that has dried out and ceased to smell quite so bad has improved. After five more episodes of mind-numbing boredom following the conclusion of the Nine Schools Competition arc, shit finally started happening consistently at the very end. Too bad that shit amounted to little more than Tatsuya ascending to ever higher levels of Gary-Stu-dom.

A plague of magical locusts swoops in, guns ineffective against their overwhelming numbers, and threatens to down a helicopter; Tatsuya destroys them all with no visible effort. A suicide driver tries to blow up a building with his truck; from a room some distance inside the building, Tatsuya senses the truck coming and causes it to disintegrate seconds before impact, both through several walls. Two of his friends are mortally wounded by shrapnel; Tatsuya—he’s not overpowered, honest—actually has to concentrate for a few moments to reattach their severed limbs. Can he just cut the bullshit and invoke the Rapture to condemn all Chinamen, evil by their very nature, to eternal punishment while the glorious Japanese master race ascends to paradise? That’s clearly the message Mahouka wants to convey.

Anyway, it’s almost over. Good fucking riddance. If they make another season of this garbage, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it… but I’ll have to. Fuck you, IRC. Pre-emptively.

Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya Zwei!

I almost forgot I’d watched this since it ended weeks ago. It was fun to watch but not really that memorable, I guess. The main points of interest are that it’s the most racy thing I’ve seen in a while that wasn’t a trashy LN guaranteed to be borderline porn from the start, and also has the best battle animation I’ve seen in a while (though not as good as S1’s.)

Like the first season, watching Ilya Zwei is a great way to spend a few hours if you’re into awesome battles, lolis, Nasu, or yuri.

Sabagebu!

As I mentioned above, this is adapted from a manga that somehow runs in fucking Nakayoshi magazine. It’s not really about airsoft, but neither would I have expected shoujo manga fans to be into nonstop slapstick comedy that frequently descends into sexual or toilet humor.

Anyway, Sabagebu is pretty good for what it is. The humor didn’t always click with me, but nor did it ever entirely fall flat (except for one part that a lot of people suspect was paid propaganda from the Japan Hunter Association.) If you enjoy comedies in this vein, it’s well worth watching, though it’s unlikely to blow you away. Pun intended.

Sora no Otoshimono Final: Eternal My Master

Minaduki Suu may have plotted out all of his manga while more stoned than Anna Karenina would have been had she and her lover eloped to Arabia instead of Italy, and he may have a bothersome penchant for interrupting Sora no Otoshimono’s most dramatic moments with slapstick comedy, but there’s still an artistry and passion put into his manga that makes what anime has done to it nothing short of a crime. The first season was mostly inoffensive, but the second saw fit to murder Chaos (and every other character) while completely writing out Hiyori so her character could be murdered in the feature film instead (the half of it that wasn’t recycled footage.) I’m using ‘murder’ figuratively, but I almost wish it had been literal.

So does this new movie redeem anime’s past crimes against SoraOto? First, let me touch upon how the manga ended. Minaduki evidently had to conclude it on short notice, so he pulled out all the stops for a 100 page finale that had plenty of cool moments, wrapped up the series’ most glaring loose ends, and returned it to its fundamental themes in a reasonably satisfying ending given the circumstances. What does the movie do? It adapts parts of this final chapter and those chapters immediately prior to it into approximately 10 minutes of footage which the word ‘rushed’ is inadequate to describe, while the other remaining 40 minutes of runtime are devoted to a mixture of nonsensical comedy and incoherent drama that hinges upon Ikaros acting totally out of character, none of it with any precedent in the original work.

With the switch to a new animation studio that has done very little except Date A Live II and was evidently provided with no budget to speak of, the animation is awful throughout, which the film endeavours to make you aware of by showing frequent flashbacks from the TV series and previous movie (both of which were far better animated.) About the only thing remotely worthwhile in the entire thing is the couple of minutes in which Hayami’s Ikaros gets to scream her head off. Checking the credits also reveals that the script was written by a guy who worked as animation producer on the previous SoraOto series and movie and has never written a script for anime before. It’s basically bad fanfiction that somehow managed to get animated and shown in theaters.

Dropped

Tokyo Ghoul

I don’t have words to waste on this show. Suffice to say that it’s not for me. Considering it’s censored to the point you can’t even tell what’s going on at times, and apparently treats its manga source material with nearly as much reverence as the SoraOto anime did, I’m not sure that it’s for anyone else either.

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