As usual, our worst fears have not been realized. Some people expected a second-rate season this fall, but there are lots of entertaining new anime in various genres.
I enjoyed many of the first episodes I've seen, but the two that rocked my soul were Kannagi and ef - a tale of melodies.
In ef - a tale of melodies, Oonuma Shin once again weaves his magical visual rhythms into the musical rhythms of a wonderful score by Tenmon and Yanagi Eiichirou. Every frame a masterpiece. This is real art, visual, musical, and dramatic.
Stories begin to develop, featuring deep characters with dark pasts and potentially romantic futures. The addition of Itou Shizuka and Gotou Mai brings some recognizable names to the cast of no-name game seiyuus.
In Kannagi, the story may seem cliched on the surface -- a goddess moves in with an ordinary teenage boy -- but the animation, direction, and voice-acting are world-class, and elevate this show into something special. This is Tomatsu Haruka's breakthrough role. The nimble twists and turns of her voice are virtuosity with artistic meaning. She's hilarious and real.
Kannagi marks the return of director Yamamoto Yutaka, whom Kyoto Animation fired as director of Lucky Star after four episodes. He was an important aesthetic force behind both that show and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, and he demonstrates the same comic genius here. The episode flows like a stream, moving us smoothly through the story, bubbling up humorous and touching moments just when it should.
Those are just the two shows I liked best in a season that looks as if it will give us many good shows.
Hyakko is a daft comedy whose protagonists spend the entire first episode lost in their own school. An unusual group of seiyuus all take unusual approaches to their roles: Orikasa Fumiko, Neya Michiko, Hirano Aya, and Ochiai Yurika. But this show is on a knife-edge. It is so bizarre and delicate that it could either rise to sublimity or collapse into meaninglessness at any time. I'll be watching to see which way it goes.
Kurozuka through one episode is a beautiful and bloody tale of immortal love, originating in medieval Japan and running up to the present day. Paku Romi, in particular, but Miyano Mamoru with her, are absolutely brilliant. This is a less brutish, but no less brutal, spiritual successor to Claymore, directed by the director of Death Note.
Clannad - After Story gives us a large helping of the same melancholy magic moe that delighted fans of the first series, myself included.
Vampire Knight - Guilty picks up where the first series left off, in a dark romance soaked with blood and desire. I loved the manga, liked the first series, and liked episode one as well. I've read the manga past the beginning of this series and I'm eager to see animated what I know is coming.
Skip Beat! is one of my favorite mangas, and the anime seems faithful to the original. I was not thrilled with episode one, but I was not thrilled with chapter one of the manga, either, so I expect to be borne along on the shoujo tide as we go forward. This is a delightful combination of idol-making with romance and revenge, and its protagonist is fascinating and mutifaceted. I only hope Inoue Marina can bring the character alive.
Mouryou no Hako seems like another winner. A mysterious story in which the blood is just little enough for every drop to make an impact. And a touch of yuri never goes amiss. Good voice work from Takahashi Mikako and Tomatsu Haruka, with more Kiuchi Hidenobu (Hei in Darker Than Black, Ren in NANA) to come.
I thought Iguchi Yuka was just da bomb in To Aru Majutsu no Index, playing a moe but mature little magical nun. And the male lead was not a mere cipher.
Kemeko Deluxe and Macademi Wasshoi! are both deeply bizarre comedies with hilarious animation. And both look to me as if they could be one-episode wonders, with the humor not sustaining in the long run. But their first episodes had me exploding with laughter.
Hakushaku to Yousei doesn't seem great, but the lead characters and the story -- Regency romance crossed with shoujo adventure -- somehow captivated me.
Toradora is a well-made harem comedy featuring Kugimiya Rie as an even more tsuntsun tsundere than in any of her previous tsundere roles. In Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka, she is a gentler tsundere -- except for that kick. Too bad she is becoming so type-cast. And too bad Akasaka gave me hints of the director's low bluntness and sensationalism. He directed Amenaideyo and School Days.
I found some other shows enjoyable to watch: Kuroshitsuji, Shikabane Hime Aka, Yozakura Quartet, Today in Class 5-2. I haven't yet seen Jigoku Shoujo 3 , One Outs, or Bihada Ichizoku.
On Thursday, the potentially epic space-opera Tytania begins, as does the new season of Nodame Cantabile. I'm looking forward to both.
I think I'm judging these shows at least partly on actual quality, but it's certain that my own particular tastes come into play, so be warned. I loathe monsters and really have a lot of trouble with many shounen memes.
This season, many people like Tales of the Abyss, which I found boring and childish. Few people seem to like the highly anticipated Kurogane no Linebarrels, which seemed a train-wreck to me, too. Ga-rei Zero had some well-planned action, but the only thing that really pleased me was the surprise ending.
Casshern, however, is extremely stylish, and had some moving and mysterious moments, amidst the meaningless killing and artsy self-importance. I can imagine someone who likes shounen reversing my feelings about ef melodies and this show: one a masterpiece, the other pretentious with redeeming qualities.
In any case, these are only first episodes. A lot can happen, for better and for worse, from here on out.