Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I'm Watching -- October 2013

White Album 2
We're at least three episodes into most shows this fall season. Here are some comments about shows I'm watching (and not watching) right now. I'm not ranking them in order of "quality," but according to how much I am enjoying them.

My preferences differ enough from other people's that I'm not sure this will be much of a viewing guide, but I hope you enjoy reading.

My most anticipated show hasn't even started yet: pupa. This will be a horror tale directed by outstanding director/writer Mochizuki Tomomi and starring big-voiced 15-year-old Kido Ibuki. I check its niconico page every day. The PV there has already revealed an entirely new voice from Kido-san.

Favorite shows:

White Album 2 -- This is my top show of the season so far. It's a romance based on an ero-game, but has the emotional nuance of good shoujo. One of the two girls involved in a developing romantic triangle is played with delicacy and strength by 37-year-old Nabatame Hitomi, using her deepest voice. The "lazy and violent" Touma Kazusa is a multi-talented musician, but she can't help comparing herself to her mother, an internationally known concert pianist. She comes up short in the comparison, so she thinks she is a nobody, and she has ended up just not caring about much at all. The other girl, Ogiso Setsuna (Yonezawa Madoka), is the school idol, beautiful and sweet, and a good singer as well.

Our hero Haruki wants them to perform with the Light Music Club at school, and his personal determination and fairness convince them to join. The relationships among them develop from there. The story is told lightly and allusively, without needless hand-holding.

Golden Time
Golden Time -- Coming up fast is another romance (you see what I like), from a novel written by the author of Toradora. The show started with a premise that seemed almost comic to me: a beautiful girl (Horie Yui) has been fixated since childhood on a particular guy, refusing to comprehend repeated rejections over the years. Now she has followed him to the same university, against his wishes. Our hero, who has become the guy's friend, gradually helps her realize that she has been foolish to force herself on him -- and falls in love with her himself.

The hero, we learn, lost his memory in an accident a couple of years before. So at the same time as the girl is losing her long-held self-image as the other guy's future wife, our hero is trying to find the past he has lost. I know many people simply turn off when amnesia is mentioned. For me, it is a fascinating trope that in this case helps us think about the nature of personality. The hero says he wants to find his past self -- but he also doesn't want to lose the self he has become since his accident.

Diabolik Lovers -- I may be the only person who admits to enjoying this unique show so much.  It's not a high-class anime. It's a strange and vicious kind of reverse harem, in which our heroine is imprisoned in a house with six bishounen vampire brothers, who each get their turn pushing her down, sinking their fangs into her to suck her blood, and perhaps doing even more to her off-camera. The extreme events and emotional impact are what count here, not the quality of the narrative.

Only after Fifty Shades of Grey could a show like this appear. It releases the viewer's inner masochist. Suegara Rie does a good, if minimal, job in her seiyuu debut, surrounded by six top male voices. It appears (of course) that there is something special about our heroine, and in the upcoming episode 7, the worm may turn. Episodes are only 15 minutes long.

Monogatari Second Season -- Two more favorites are shows continuing from previous seasons. First is Shinbou Akiyuki's magnum opus. I can understand it if some people object to the clearly lolicon content in the show. But Shinbou, for me, is the master of visual and dramatic rhythms. His best shows are like symphonies of music, script, colour, angles, cuts. The recent recap episodes, summarizing the story of the Bake/Neko/Kizu-monogatari shows, have been masterful works of art in themselves. And funny as ever.

Kingdom 2 -- And finally there is the amazing shounen historical drama Kingdom. Some of the animation is awful. The script is often shouted or declaimed rather than spoken. But this is a vivid and thrilling show, describing some of the complex strategies and shifting battles that eventually brought the First Emperor of China to power in the third century BC. It does so by following a hot-blooded and ignorant young peasant slave who rises by his own fighting spirit to become a general.

From here on, things become less clear to me. But I am watching and enjoying these shows:

Kyoukai no Kanata
Kyoukai no Kanata --  I really want to love this show, but it has been muddy and confused. The animation is Kyoto Animation in full flight, and I like the weird demon girl (played by Taneda Risa) who is the last of her family, a family whose ability to wield their blood as a weapon has made them despised outcasts. However, fights don't do much for me, and in any case, aficionados of fighting say the fights here are not well choreographed. The fact that our half-human, half-demon hero likes the girl because she looks good in glasses seems silly to me, and undercuts the force of the rest of the plot. But the frumpy, insecure, standoffish, irrational, violent and yet moe and somewhat pretty heroine still fascinates me. Fortunately, an engaging episode five suggests that the show may be starting to become more lovable.

Nagi no Asu kara -- PA Works may have come up with its most artistically successful romance since true tears. This is a West Side Story fantasy involving kids who live (and breathe) underwater and kids who live on land. There is enough going on here that we have been able to argue at great length on AnimeSuki over whether the prejudiced guy from underwater is a chauvinist creep (I think he has been, up to now) or the weepy girl he likes and bosses around is a silly nonentity (I think she has strength that gives new life to the character-type she embodies). The physics-defying underwater world is one of the stars of the show.

Kyousougiga 2013 -- It took a second watch-through of the first three episodes for me to get this show. The complex plot involves a sorcerer priest whose drawings come to life. He creates himself a family and then has to flee with them from our Kyoto to a looking-glass Kyoto he creates. He and his wife have to return to the real Kyoto, leaving their three children in charge of the mirror world. His created "eldest son" yearns to return to the real Kyoto, at least for a visit. The flat animation is lovely, and the rhythms of the show are aesthetically satisfying. Kugimiya Rie is brilliant as the main character Koto, a violent little shounen heroine whom I really don't like much, but who commands the screen.

Non Non Biyori -- This is yet another sentimental slice-of-life comedy featuring a group of young girls, but it's one that I find particularly entertaining. The countryside scenery is lovely. The gentle humour works. And the director knows how to use silences to let scenes, events, emotions sink in. Koiwai Kotori (Iwai in Crime Edge) uses an exaggerated kiddy voice, one that put me off at first, but makes it work beautifully. From Silver Link, top anime writer Yoshida Reiko, and the director of Kokoro Connect.

Gingitsune -- The voices of Kanemoto Hisako (Squid Girl) and the great Miki Shinichirou weave a moving little world involving a shrine girl who can see spirits and the fox spirit who is the messenger of her shrine. It is almost a love story. At least, it is a story of love between friends. People compare it to Natsume Yuujinchou. It doesn't have the clear form and high ambition that show did, but I am enjoying it more.

Tokyo Ravens -- I'm not really a fan of onmyouji anime, anime centred on traditional Japanese exorcist/sorcerers. And I am no fan at all of anime centred on fighting. Nevertheless, this show has captured me.  Hanazawa Kana has rediscovered her original super-moe voice to play a sorceress, but mutates it easily into a voice of command, with which she commands the hero, her bold but rather dense cousin. If only she did not sometimes sink from commanding strength to being a scared maiden in distress. Outstanding OP sung by Kurosaki Maon. Good ED by Nanjou Yoshino, singing on her own, not as half of fripSide.

Machine-Doll wa Kizutsukanai -- This is a magic+fighting anime starring a pretty moe fighting android and her young master, who is seeking revenge for the murder of his family. Harada Hitomi (Nori in Hidamari Sketch shows) is moe and funny as the "doll." Shimono Hiro is smart and strong as her master. Takamoto Megumi (Ushio in Sasameki Koto) gives us a classic tsundere, beginning and ending sharply tsuntsun, but deredere to the point of speechlessness in between. Nakata Jouji as a wise dragon, the tsundere's familiar, is another attraction here. The show uses a lot of 3DCG, even for the figures. It works well for me, but not for some other people.

Outbreak Company -- A young hikikomori otaku is sent to a parallel fantasy world by the Japanese government, to spread the gospel of anime, manga, and games. Pure silliness, and pure fun. Mimori Suzuko (Sherlock in Milky Holmes) is terrific as the otaku's elfen maid. And she does a wonderful job singing the OP. There are also a proud loli queen, a buxom dog-girl, a gallant knight with a weakness for boys.... You get the picture. Adapted from a novel by the author of Scrapped Princess and Polyphonica.

Strike the Blood -- Hosoya Yoshimasa (Nezumi in No.6) is a young man who finds that he has somehow been transformed into the most powerful vampire in the world. Taneda Risa (Saki in From the New World) is a young "sword shaman" sent to contain him, but who comes to be his ally and perhaps even his girlfriend.  The show seems aimed at a younger audience, but I still find the characters involving. Taneda Risa is a voice to watch for.

Ace of Diamond -- I only just started watching this, and it reminds me of Kingdom. The hot-blooded but rather stupid hero blasts his way forward by force of will -- and with the help of others. Episodes rush ahead without dragging at all. Nice work by Ousaka Ryouta as the hero, and Sakurai Takahiro brings his silky-smooth power to the catcher who helps him reach the top. Up to now, the only sports anime I've really loved was Giant Killing. We'll see how this one goes.

Now we get to shows that I am on the cusp of dropping:  

Galilei Donna
Galilei Donna -- I enjoyed the first episode, but things seem to have stagnated from there. In a steampunk version of Italy, three sisters who are descendants of Galileo are chased by unknown forces seeking a treasure they are unaware they possess. The presence of Kuwashima Houko and Koyama Rikiya as their parents was a big plus, but we haven't seen much of them since episode one. However, Kamiya Hiroshi did a star turn as a pirate who is one of the girls' pursuers, and seems likely to return.

Super Seishun Brothers -- This is a little four-minute bonbon featuring the ironic interactions of two pairs of siblings: elder sisters who are best friends, and younger brothers who are best friends, too. Consistently mildly amusing, and pleasantly restrained.

Koroshiya-san -- Three-minute comedy about an over-thinking neat-freak professional murderer who lives with his parents. Puts a smile on my face every time. Perhaps I won't drop this one.

Ore no Nounai Sentakushi ga, Gakuen Lovecome o Zenryoku de Jama Shiteiru -- God keeps putting embarrassing choices in the mind of our hero, one of which he always has to choose. They involve things like asking girls to either show him their panties -- or to take them off and give them to him to wear. "Choose one!" Especially with its rough animation, there is no way this can be entertaining. But it is. Toyonaga Toshiyuki (Ayumu in Zettai Shounen) as the hero may be one reason.

Here are three shows that have wide acclaim, but that I just don't enjoy:

Kill La Kill
Kill La Kill -- This highly anticipated show has a brilliant surface, but seems about a millimeter deep. Constant well-choregraphed battles excite fans of fighting, of which I am not one. Too noisy, with no actual human beings in sight.

Samurai Flamenco -- A young man is determined to be a superhero. He dresses in the spandex outfit and goes around unsuccessfully trying to stop people jaywalking and littering. Nice idea, I guess, but the homoerotic undercurrent is about the only thing of interest for me here. Maybe it's my antipathy to tokusatsu that turns me off. Good performance by young seiyuu Masuda Toshiki as the lead.

Coppelion -- Ugly look and boring stories. Schoolgirls (in uniform) bred to be radiation-resistant go into a post-nuclear Tokyo to rescue survivors. Good seiyuus (Hanazawa Kana, Tomatsu Haruka) do a poor job. Your mileage may vary.

Little Busters! Refrain -- I found the first series so unbearably slow that I haven't even sampled this one. Full and careful development is one thing. Long periods of stiff voice-acting during which nothing of any interest happens is another. The eventual sentimental payoff is not worth the aggravation, for me. This show annoys me so much because I once had high hopes for it. Again, you may find you disagree.

Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio - Ars Nova
This is a big season for shounen adventure anime of various kinds. It's a genre I don't usually enjoy, so I haven't watched all of them. Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio - Ars Nova (which I'm told is seinen) has an interesting premise and some flashy animation, to say nothing of pretty moe AIs running warships. The first couple of episodes set things up for a continuing series of tense battles. Nothing against this show, but no thanks.
Having read praise of Yozakura Quartet, I wondered why I never got into it the first time around. Watching two episodes of the new series showed me why: it gave a by-the-numbers impression that just didn't reach me. I wasn't sure the characters had any real feelings. BlazBlue was similar, with more fighting. Log Horizon just felt clumsy and uninteresting. My own juvenile fantasies run to other areas, I guess.

The first episode of Walkure Romanze made it look like a total disaster to me, another stiff and unbelievable fantasy. I haven't even given a chance to Gaist Crusher, to the women's wrestling anime Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai!, or to Yuusha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shuushoku o Ketsui Shimashita

I've watched three episodes of Yowamushi Pedal without really getting involved. Of sports anime this season Ace of Diamond works a lot better for me.
Freezing: Vibration is the second series of a boobs-and-fighting half-romance that I enjoyed for a few episodes the first time around. I think it's actually a pretty good show, in its ugly way. But once again, no thanks.

Magi 2 is probably good, as was its first series. But I found myself losing interest in the shounen fantasy, despite the excellent work of seiyuus including Ishihara Kaori and Tomatsu Haruka. For me, there wasn't enough "there" there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

Despite the many shows I apparently don't like, this is a good season for me. No masterpieces, unless White Album or pupa comes through, but lots of enjoyable shows.

For a different selection of this season's shows, check out the post on Lost in America that inspired me to try this kind of review. There's now another season review post up at Behind the Nihon Review. Those two sites are much more "serious" about anime than I think I am, and both like shounen shows far more than I do. But you can just about tell that we are all watching the same things...through different fun-house mirrors.


Highway said...

I've got a lot the same as you. White Album 2 is excellent, with three great main characters and nice emotional development so far. Sometimes it's a little bit too obvious, but most of the time it's very natural.

Golden Time is a lot of fun as well, again exploring human feelings rather than silliness.

I think that Arpeggio of Blue Steel is tremendous naval combat, and the reactions of the Fog girls are great. But if you don't enjoy naval combat, then it's completely understandable to not like the show.

And I can't stand Diabolik Lovers and think it's absolutely horrible and vile, concept-wise.

Other shows I really like are Non Non Biyori (I laugh so hard at it) and Nagi no Asukara where I feel that same sort of True Tears feeling. And NouKome just has a great flow to it, where through great jokes and absolute bomb jokes (seriously, some are just atrocious), it just holds the show together never letting you think too much about it.

I'm watching around 30 shows this season, and enjoying most of them. BlazBlue, however, is pretty bad.

hashi said...

@Highway -- I'll probably dip back into Arpeggio from time to time. Two episodes may not be enough.

As for Diabolik Lovers, I agree that it's "vile." Any objections I might have would be moral, and I don't operate so much in that area in the fantasy world. I'm a big believer in Jung's "shadow," and think that if we don't consciously revel in our own dark side, it can unconsciously take us over. Or at least, that's what I tell myself, lol.

Highway said...

@hashi - Yeah, I actually find the fact that people who I pretty much *know* are good people (like you and my co-bloggers and commenters at Metanorn, don't be an axe murderer please) find it an acceptable message to put out there to be challenging for me. I know it's fiction, but it's definitely morally reprehensible, so it's difficult for me to understand how other people can compartmentalize that. I just have to keep telling myself that it doesn't mean they are bad people.

I know I was hooked on Arpeggio from the start. I like the look, even with the CG, and I like the combat, even if it's more action-filled and not as deliberate as naval combat really is.

Kunagisa said...

Will appreciate it if you continue doing one of this type of review every season.

I found myself more addicted to novels for this past two seasons. While we don't share the same taste in anime, impressions are great way for me to stay partially informed since you tend to be unbiased even for the shows you drop.

I really dislike the rather eccentric tone that most bloggers tend to adopt in their negative reviews. I find your diction just seem more frank and approachable personally.

PS: Not anime related and I don't even know if you're interested in jdrama but Ayase Haruka might be casted as Rinda Riko for Bannou Kanteishi Q's live action movie.

Wong Max said...


Do I recommend this? No, not to my younger sister or my nieces or nephews and certainly not to some girlfriends of mine. But still, junkies of the horror and psychological genres may really enjoy this.

Now pardon me while I throw up my dinner.