Anime Retrospective: Autumn 2014

Insert clever comment here.

I feel like these are getting less interesting with each new one I write. But if not for them I would never post on my blog again, apparently, so they must be done.

Still Airing

Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Do I really need to say anything about this? At long last, F/SN is finally being done justice. There are some niggling issues with both the anime and the original work, but from the very first episode, UBW still leapfrogged effortlessly into the upper echelon of anime series that aired this year (in terms of objective quality.) It’s an example the whole medium should follow and I don’t feel like dissecting its flaws.

That said I have to admit I’m just plain tired of Fate by now and I kind of struggle to watch UBW. It’s just worn out its welcome. The average work of pop fiction is not made to have a shelf life of over a decade. But if you’ve never experienced Fate in the way it was meant to be, this anime is the ultimate way to do it.

That’s all I’ll write. When I’m blogging anime, I’d rather rant about the disappointing stuff, or praise the unexpectedly decent stuff. UBW is neither of those (the operative word in the second clause being ‘unexpected.’)

Log Horizon 2

DEEN.

I wrote that as a placeholder when drafting this blog post, and honestly, I think that sums up the bulk of any commentary I could make about LH2.

Though I can’t be sure whether DEEN is solely to blame for the sour taste LH has been leaving in my mouth lately. The sluggish, repetitive plot arc about Akatsuki wanting to become stronger that has occupied the bulk of the episodes thus far suggests that either Mamare suddenly realized “oh shit, maybe my main heroine should be a character and not a moeblob” or that Satelight deliberately turned her into a moeblob during S1. However, DEEN consistently using the laziest animation I’ve seen in a while (outside of divinely ordained catastrophes such as OreTwin and the SoraOto movie) has pretty much tanked the raid arc. Or should I say wiped it?

In other words, DEEN DEEN DEEN derp eyes Lenessia DEEN. So I might as well stop repeating myself now.

Shirobako

There are some shows that are worth watching because they’re the best thing currently airing, some shows worth watching because they’re genuinely great, and some worth watching because they have significance that elevates them above being mere entertainment. Shirobako is a little of all three.

Its slice-of-life approach to chronicling the anime industry and its touches of magical realism probably won’t be for everybody. And Shirobako definitely has its weak moments; quite a bit of its character drama falls flat, either because it’s hard to empathize with the characters’ struggles unless you’ve got a creative soul yourself, or just because you don’t quite know the characters well enough to really care about them. But it’s a charming and thoughtful show that everyone should try to watch for, if nothing else, the purpose of educating themselves. Anime doesn’t fall apart because it lacks “budget.” Shows aren’t always poorly written because the writers are incompetent. Shirobako lets you peek behind the curtain and take a glimpse at what the process is really like.

If I had to pick a personal favorite anime this season it’d be Shirobako, though it’d be a few places below the top if I ranked them from most to least entertaining. I feel like it’s taught me how to appreciate the medium better, and that is something few anime can accomplish.

Finished

Amagi Brilliant Park

Better than the last couple KyoAni things I’ve tried to watch, I guess.

Amagi’s premise seems really stupid at first, but it grows on you, and a number of the characters (maybe even the majority of them) have lasting charm. That alone makes it outstrip Chuu2Koi handily. The show also outstrips Hyouka handily by being just plain fun to watch when it’s focusing on what it does best; wacky comedy with a minimum of plot. Of course, it falls into the trap of focusing on its plot much of the time, and unlike the setting, that never stops feeling contrived and idiotic.

On top of that, a lot of the characters and setting elements feel underused. Key among them is Kanie’s magic power of mind-reading, which he gets to make use of a grand total of twice after the episode where it’s introduced. Speaking of Kanie, he’s also made to act like a generic tsukkomi most of the time instead of the cocky, self-absorbed genius we were promised, and who effectively steals the show during those few moments he gets to make an appearance. Amagi Brilliant Park, on the whole, feels like it’s playing things far too safe and taking no risks that could possibly cause someone to dislike the show* or any of its characters. This hypothesis is supported by all the pointless changes from the novels that were made, such as Latifa no longer being blind.

But hey, it’s tolerable, maybe even worth catching up with after the fact if you’re bored enough. That’s a big step up for KyoAni in my book.

* This sentence was written before episode 13 aired and contained a fairly detailed sequence depicting a horse giving birth.

Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu.

Raw, unchecked stupid in anime form. And that’s a great thing.

It feels to me like Twintail managed to rekindle the spirit of the old, crazy comedies exemplified by Excel Saga that have greatly diminished in recent years. Yet it wraps it up in a much stronger package than the average show in that vein ever had, with likeable characters, hilarious villains and a more or less coherent (if not compelling) plot. If you have any appreciation of comedy at all, Twintail is a must-watch.

The catch is that several of the episodes are animated (not just partly outsourced, but entirely animated) in Korea and resemble the second coming of Yashigani. Even when the animation’s not downright horrible, the occasions upon which the show actually looks good can be counted on one’s fingers. So you’ll need to have a tolerance for that sort of thing.

In my opinion, though, it just adds to the experience.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis

Here’s the big surprise of the season; the cellphone card game adaptation that nobody expected to be good. And in the end, perhaps it wasn’t all that good. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Oddly enough, Bahamut has something in common with Amagi Brilliant Park, of all things. It dances of the edge of greatness during those moments when it’s not focused on the plot, but the plot itself is mystifying, uninteresting nonsense. That’s where the similarity ends, though; Amagi redeems itself with its knack for absurd humor, while Bahamut is powered by its strong central cast and their great rapport. It’s likely the plot falls flat as badly as it does because out of all the main characters, only Amira is really consequential to it for the bulk of the show, and the focus tends to be upon uninteresting side characters instead.

Nevertheless, Bahamut isn’t a bad watch if you want a decently entertaining anime with heart (but no brain.) Consider saving it for a rainy day.

Sword Art Online II

So after Phantom Bullet finally ended with a rapid succession of beautifully interwoven asspulls and melodrama, SAO2 gave us Calibur, a mini-arc about Kirito acquiring the ultimate weapon in Alfheim Online. It begrudgingly rationed some screen time out to the relatively likeable side characters like Lisbeth and Silica (and Sinon, who is pretty decent when she’s not being made to fawn over Kirito,) and through no fault of its own was the best part of SAO2 in my utterly objective opinion.

After that we had Mother’s Rosario, another plot arc that a significant portion of the masses claim is the best part of SAO. And it almost was; Yuuki is, on a surface level, probably the best character SAO has ever had (in large part because she has almost no interaction with Kirito.) Even the way she’s involved in the plot isn’t fundamentally terrible. It’s just… goddamn, Kawahara, couldn’t you have picked a “terminal illness” that isn’t no longer a real threat to anyone’s life in the developed world, and is likely to become even less of a threat to lives in the coming decades? With a one-in-a-million means of transmission that happened to not just Yuuki, but her entire family? “The virus mutated” is not an excuse. You could have just given her cancer, or even not specifically mentioned what she was ill with, and then it’d have been possible to take this shit somewhat seriously.

Add to that a heavy dose of moronic and tepid family drama starring Asuna, and it’s clear that Mother’s Rosario is most definitely not the best part of SAO, as many people claim. If Alicization gets animated too, I look forward to finding out how that’s also not the best part of SAO. Though really, trying to identify the best part of SAO is like trying to identify the best part of the 120 Days of Sodom.

Update: I have been informed Japan actually had a significant problem with HIV-tainted blood in the 1980s. I suppose that makes Kawahara’s choice of AIDS as an illness slightly more logical. Too bad Yuuki was born in 2011 and not the 1980s.

Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru

Takahiro, the creative genius behind such masterpieces as Akame ga Kill and Majikoi, and Kishi Seiji, a director that in bygone days directed some great comedies but is now anime’s top specialist in atrocious game adaptations, combined their satanic powers to create this season’s obligatory dark magical girl show. Our IRC club marathoned much of it over the course of the week before Christmas, fully expecting it to be hilariously awful.

Unfortunately, it was just mediocre. The show had a number of cool recurring motifs, though it was also transparently aping Madoka at a few points (if not as many as I expected.) The tree world and enemies were uninspired and the fights were a visual mess, but Yuyuyu as a whole was solidly animated except for the bad CG. The writing handled the characters clumsily and wasted a lot of time on slice-of-life nonsense that would have been better used depicting the setting or the characters’ internal conflicts, but it had a few interesting ideas, and its antipathy towards exposition was refreshing at first before it just made the whole story feel like it lacked depth. The ending demolished the tragic mood the show had been cultivating so ruthlessly that it was jarring, but it was still in line with Yuyuyu’s fundamental themes and could have been a lot worse than it was (see Akuma no Riddle from a few seasons ago, which did something similar with far less success.)

It also has a good soundtrack by the unit MONACA, probably best known for composing the OST to the games NieR and Drakengard 3. Sadly, the soundtrack is used quite poorly within the anime itself, so it’s better just listened to in isolation.

If you’re bored and like these kinds of shows I guess it’s just barely worth watching, but it’s neither particularly good, nor bad enough to be amusing. Man, I say stuff like that way too often. But that’s because there’s a lot of mediocre things in the wonderful world of anime.

Dropped

Akame ga Kill

I stopped watching this pretty soon after my previous season retrospective. I’m not sure if there was a particular reason or there were just so many more promising shows starting in autumn that I didn’t feel like carrying on with a mediocre one. Regardless, the show ended up cutting out a lot of stuff that was in the manga and having an anime-original ending, so I have no regrets.

Grisaia no Kajitsu

Reportedly a decent adaptation again after it got past the terrible side character routes no one cares about (and which caused me to drop it,) but I figured I might as well just play the game.

Hitsugi no Chaika

Not so much “dropped” as “I never bothered to watch S2.”

However, I’ve now confirmed with someone who has read the novels in Japanese that the writing in both S1 and S2 of the anime is on the level of a bad fanfic, so consider Sakaki Ichirou absolved of his Chaika-related crimes. He tried to worldbuild and have compelling characters and antagonists, the production committee just didn’t think any of that shit was necessary to adapt in the anime. Nice job.

Late to the Party

Sakasama no Patema

Cute movie. I give it 4 out of 5 totoros.

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