Hiroi Sekai
The vast world of Japan


Prepare Yourselves! Chroma's Summary of 2014!

There comes a time during the year when I suddenly realize I need to feverishly plan out for this ludicrously long annual post. It's never easy as I always wholeheartedly keep the tradition of 31 Days of Stargazing and finish up my fall series without falling behind. I've sat down during this planning process and cautiously determined how to approach it from here and onwards.

I am aware a few of the series on the rack have another cour left to run, but just like last year, I'll be giving my midway impressions of them here or I'll never get to them.

With all that said, last year's post may have been a hefty beast, but we're really pushing the boundaries this year. If you prepared to go through last year's summary with a few snacks, take on this year's with a full meal in tow. Use the handy links to easily jump around the huge article!


You know, when I heard a second season was coming for this charming little series revolving around immense imagination and great comedy with a tiny bit of romance tossed in, I was stoked. I obviously spent the next hour trying to find my first aid kit which contained my medical eyepatch and my roll of gauze.

Season two of chunibyo is immediately recognizable with its slapstick-speed comedy and its sweeter than sugar character relationships. What's not familiar is the introduction of a few new characters, all with their own little gimmicks in this crazy imaginative setting. Honestly, there was a large chunk of this season just brimming with filler content because of these new additions. I did have my childlike fun with these goofy extras, but it took the place of what could have been great development for our main two protagonists. It's still a very enjoyable experience, but not quite the level of its predecessor.

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College can be a terrifying place to enter for the first time. How can we accentuate this terror and assure that every single moment we spend in this confined space will have us sweating in nervous fear at every turn? We'll put a crazy, unstable person in our friend group! Yeah, that'll do it.

Golden Time features a rather unique post-secondary setting, showcasing what an older cast of young adult characters do with their lives. It's neat seeing the contrast between what high school and college drama offers to a show, not to mention the much more touchy tempers of the cast. Golden Time doesn't shy away from talks of sexual relations, domestic violence and emotional trauma, and I appreciate that. However, it laid on these elements much too thick for me, making the happy moments feel like an unstable bridge towards the inevitable heavy drama content. It was an interesting watch, but I don't think I'll return, to be honest.

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I find Hamatora to be a harmless creature. The wacky world of superpowers is definitely not a new one, but it certainly was interesting to see these heroes try and run a contract-based agency while a serial killer specifically targeting these "Minimum Holders".

Everything from the vibrancy to the characters' names are off the charts. Nice, Birthday, Ratio, Honey, Art and more silly names collage our heroes' titles, and as for their powers...well those are quite colourful as well. For example, Nice is able to basically see sound waves and travel along them, essentially warping large distances before others can realize. Some of the powers are neat, while others are pretty boring. There's even a couple characters who get little to no development in this area. The series had a pretty serious first episode, and I was really hoping it would maintain that until the end, but it's more of a mix of serious and filler episodes. It even ends on a cliffhanger episode, so we'll have a look at the sequel later in this list. As for this first season, it's harmless, but nothing really overly special in my eyes.

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This was a series I had no original knowledge of, but by picking up a temporary position as "editor and occasional quality checker" with the folks at Anime-Koi, I ended up helping with the subtitles for this series, along with Hitsugi no Chaika and Kyosogiga.

It was a pleasant little surprise for me. Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha initially introduces itself as a potential romance/slice-of-life series, but it quickly evolves to incorporate friendship and spiritual elements as well. There's a strong sense of connections between the characters, and instead of relying on too many dramatic bits for impact, it utilizes cuddly feel-good moments to draw you in. Nothing cheap, just well thought out. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of its short 10 episode run.

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I uh...I honestly can't tell what's real and what's not anymore. Are clothes the weaved amalgamation of mind-controlling evil? Should I burn my entire wardrobe and embrace the fleshy arms of Nudist Colony? Only the binding unity of a spunky girl looking for revenge with a sailor uniform that feasts on blood for energy will give us the true answer.

There's things I like about Kill la Kill. For a series that has an absolutely ridiculous premise, pace and animation style, it does subtly include some good messages and genuine connections between characters. On the other hand, other things are not-so-subtle, as is very prevalent from the very beginning. Kill la Kill is a very frantic show, and if you're not prepared for the mayhem, it may just tear through your gentle attire in a flash. Just be ready for anything with this one.

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Mikakunin de Shinkokei is a great blackjack hand to have. It has its strengths, and it was up to the creators to maintain self-control to prevent going overboard with it. For the most part, it did an okay job of that for me.

When young Kobeni learns that she's been given an arranged husband, he just sort of shows up before she could even really protest. Before long, the two of them have to awkwardly start to actually get to know each other while living under the same roof. That's actually kind of interesting. What really helps this series is that this chosen spouse Hakuya is a very considerate, gentle soul. He may look and talk a slight bit awkwardly, but there's absolutely no doubt about his kind-hearted nature. Any moments involving him with Kobeni are genuinely charming and sweet. Their ties are so engagingly strong that it made other characters around them annoying for me. Kobeni's lolicon sister and Hakuya's loli sister were just as stereotypical together as I could expect, and I felt like the show could have offered me so much more of Kobeni and Hakuya's characterization to really drive the series. Alas, that was not the case. So, while Mikakunin de Shinkokei might have gone too overboard in some places for me, the good parts are really quite pleasant. I think it's worth at least checking out.

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Doing everything that P.A. Works does best, Nagi no Asukara tells the lovely tale of conflict, forbidden love and finding acceptance in a new world on top of your own world.

I found this to be a gorgeous tale weaving through the delicate fabrics of being kids in an adult world, races uniting for the common interest of life sustenance, and a good look into what things you lose as you grow older. The visuals are breathtaking, the soundtrack is haunting, and the characters all have a proper raison d'être, which gets fleshed out with the proper care it deserves. I dare not even mention Hanazawa Kana plays a lovable character in this, as the cast is so strong that there are actually many others who I find to be stronger characters than hers. Still, she pulls off an adorable role.

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My friends, I am not a fan of this one. When you spend 20 weeks looking for a little thing known as closure, it does introduce a little bit of disdain into the formula.

Nisekoi is your pretty stereotypical harem series, built around a main protagonist who falls into the lucky world of swooning girls, yet somehow can't seem to get with any of them. Even worse off, he's got a locket from a childhood past that his fated girl is holding the key to. Unfortunately, almost every girl's got a key of her own...somehow. This series loves to detour me and every beck and call, with anything like the traditional baseball-through-the-wall-while-almost-kissing gags and key-breaking-in-the-lock-while-turning-it kicks to the balls. If it's a few episodes worth of this, I personally would have played it off like an average harem trope, but when I sit through 20 episodes of it with little to no development, it just feels like flinging crap at a wall and seeing if it sticks for me. It seems to be quite popular though, so the formula may work for others. As for me, I think I will happily step away from Nisekoi.

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I think I'm genuinely going to feel sick, and it's not because this series throws grotesque scenery in your face.

I'm just not sure what to make of Pupa. It apparently has a story of a virus called "Pupa" that has turned a sister into a massive mutation while granting the brother regenerative attributes. I suppose the point was that in a decaying, poisoned world, a pair of siblings try to overcome all terrible odds together. However, when I gazed upon the 12 episode short, it failed to make any sort of connection on any level with me. Things move way too quickly, villains are introduced but barely mentioned, and the order of presentation is insanely bizarre. You'll get a few episodes of the effects of the virus, but the series only finds it appropriate to show a protagonist backstory on the very last episode. Couldn't get behind it, and from looking at scores around the internet, it looks like nobody could either.

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We return to the world that left me an emotional wreck, but this time we're re-experiencing the events through a different set of eyes. How was it for a movie?

It should be noted that this growing trend of "recap movies" is not sitting nicely with me. A movie extension is a wonderful opportunity to expand upon a set-in-stone storyline and world, but if I wanted a recap, I would just rewatch the series. With that said, this movie is at the least, not a clip show scene-for-scene. There are additional scenes to pad out the revisits, and you see a bit more of what wasn't originally there. I think what made this mostly-recap tolerable for me was the fact that the original series was just so damned good. Do I think the film's a necessity for people to see? No, not really. I think the original series did an outstanding job of establishing its characters, setting an emotional premise and built it up to a heart-shattering climax. It was all I really needed.

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When the tiles are laid down, it's anybody's game in a tournament filled with game-breaking powers transcending human capacity. Still holding one of the most pure and simple abilities ever, can our beautiful protagonist Saki make her triumphant return?

Western Mahjong involves one person matching tiles from a tower to remove them from the playing field. Japanese Richi Mahjong is much more intense, involving multiple opponents and the capacity to take down your opponents as you build your own solid wall. It is, in perfect essence, an all-out war. Saki was a series that captured the intrigue of the game, showcasing a massive cast of characters that held their own special powers to influence the game itself. After a side story with a new cast of characters, the newcomers head to a huge tournament where we once again see our original favourite characters. As a competition arc, there's a lot less exposition and a much bigger focus on fast-paced Mahjong. Personally, I'm a fan.

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How daring! At its base, it's a simple little show about a girl's school filled with close friends, happiness and quirky adventures. Dig a bit deeper though, and things get more passionate. A LOT more passionate.

So yes, I'm going to stop winking rapidly and damaging my vision. This is an unapologetically yuri series, getting right in and personal with constant kissing scenes with our main two heroines. That doesn't mean the side characters don't get in on the action either, but the show does a pretty decent job of maintaining focus on our main two girls. Get past the series' main draw, and it's your decent, average comedy/slice-of-life. It's just purely enjoyable, but I didn't find it to be super special. It is quite cute though.

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I hadn't even heard of this series before it was mentioned in a Skype call. Apparently the manga series for this was quite popular, so I must admit that I got curious.

Everything about this series is super simple. The designs are simple. The characters are simple. Most of all, the premise itself is simple. Seki is a bored student in class, and with the help of his wacky little gizmos and toys and some everyday equipment, he's going to completely avoid the teacher's gaze as he builds Rube Goldberg machines, start robot family sitcoms and play mini-mini golf with junk from his desk. Top star seiyu Hanazawa Kana stars the girl who is unwillingly dragged into Seki's world, and her "dialogue" consists almost entirely of "internal-monologue-screaming" out of her concern of Seki getting caught. It's kind of funny the first couple episodes, but it grew tired for me real quick. When you lose me with Hanazawa Kana in the show, you've really, really lost me. The show was just too repetitive and overall boring in my eyes, and it really didn't need so many episodes, I think.

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The fresh scent of coffee, the soft touch of a rabbit's fur and the culturally-fresh streets that resemble a French square are what spring back to my memories when I think of Gochumon wa Usagi desu ka?.

There's a special feeling I get watching this show. At its base, I recognize that it's just like most other slice-of-life series with cutesy characters drinking their tea (or in this case, coffee) and passing their days. I feel like Hayami Saori's character was the tipping point that gave Gochumon wa Usagi desu ka? a bit of additional value. She has an emotional backstory and gets a great buildup to why this story of hers is revealed to us at all. I would watch the show just for her, but the pure joy the other characters pass amongst each other make them all so memorable to me. The atmosphere's great too!

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White Chaika, Red Chaika, Yellow Chaika, Blue Chaika. It's not a nursery rhyme or a children's game, but it is one of the most engaging series I've seen this year.

Saboteur Toru has been separated from the bloodlust of war, but when he one day stumbles across a white-haired girl backpacking a giant coffin, he is about to see combat once more with a new quest. What I really liked from the get-go was how visceral the fight scenes were. Unlike Sword Art Online, there were minimal cutaways and generic sound effects. Hitsugi no Chaika tossed in some unique settings, opponents and camerawork to keep every fight fresh. Aside from that, the main characters were really good fun, and a lot of the side characters were too! When you grow quite attached to a character that's supposedly an antagonist, it's an interesting catch. If magic, fantasy and action are your genres, this one is one I strongly recommend.

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Cats and dogs are portrayed as not seeing eye-to-eye, but you know what? I've actually never witnessed a real dog and cat fighting with each other. Stuff like Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san only spreads the confusion further.

A short episodic series, it showcases the lives of a high school filled with girls with strangely animalistic tendencies, like a ponytail that wags like a dog's tail and an affiliation with the scent of catnip. The gimmick was interesting, but meager at best for me. The entire series fully depends on these gimmicks for its comedy, character relationships and progression. While that may be a requirement to fill out an entire series within about 30 minutes runtime, it was just too plain for my liking. However, it's ultimately very short and quite harmless.

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Cute, cute, cute. That's what I have to say about Isshukan Friends. But that's not all there is to this series, and you might just find some pretty real, relatable topics covered here.

Fujimiya Kaori has a lonely disorder that afflicts her once a week, erasing her memory of her friends and the good times they may have had. As such, she became sheltered and just refused to make friends in general. This is where I really like the characters; they are willing to push through the boundaries that Fujimiya placed herself in their genuine care for her. She even starts interacting with one of the cutest natural airheads ever, Saki. The series jumps between serious drama and playful friendships, but it never really pushes too far in either direction. I found it to be a rather comfortable, enjoyable medium. Go on, give it a watch and meet some great friends.

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Season 1 of Love Live! School Idol Project blew up like a wild firestorm, and I never really understood why. It definitely had its charms from its varied cast, cute visuals and fun songs, but its overall story felt very, very pedestrian to me.

Season 2 was a little bit of what the show needed. More focus on character development and an improvement of the show's worst quality (in my opinion), its awkward 3D performance scenes. The season felt like it played around more with comedy as well, which I enjoyed more than its drama-heavier predecessor. When comparing this to the 2011 iDOLM@STER series, I just felt like THE iDOLM@STER did a better job of utilizing its time to introduce the characters and lay them into a pretty effective story of progression and reward. It should be noted that Love Live sells way more than any other series out there, so fans must really like the fun characters, varied playlist and rather goofy comedy, and you know what? I sort of did too. The overall package may have been mediocre to me, but I still enjoyed receiving a gift nonetheless.

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You know, I got to this little 8 episode special a bit late, and when it was over, I regretted putting it off for that long. Building upon the emotional attachments of Little Busters! Refrain, this extra features three arcs to further develop the stories of Tokido Saya (the newcomer), Sasasegawa Sasami and Futaki Kanata, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.

This was a great move in my eyes for a special. Little Busters! had a 2 solid season run to build up its playful world, friendly characters and quite dramatic encounters. While the main cast receives this T.L.C., side characters acted merely as such. EX moves the focus onto these "forgotten" individuals and compresses their backstories to about 2-4 episodes. Somehow, I felt these condensed versions still had amazing impact, perhaps even more so than the show's very first season. I think it's one you should go in with full marathon preparation, as it definitely drew me in from start to finish. I think it's a better experience all in one go than segmented.

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Proof positive that gaming hard day in and day out will someday land you in an alternate world filled with colour, positions of power and voluptuous women at every turn, No Game No Life is the anime version of the gamer's bible.

Sora and Shiro are those sheltered geniuses that are cleverly concealed within the bodies of hikikomori (shut-ins). They spend their days as the unbeatable online gamer pair, "kuhaku" (Blanc). One day, an email challenge pulls them into an alternate world where games are law and gamers can become leaders. Very quickly, the duo show off their prowess and are appointed the king and queen of the Imanity race, considered to be the weakest of the land. Sora and Shiro must build up the hopeless Imanity by challenging the supposedly invincible races above them. This series is swings and roundabouts for me, showcasing some pretty damn cheesy moments to downright unforgettable ones. Sora and Shiro make a great pair, and while the show tosses in a little too much blatant fanservice for my liking, the underlying composition of it all is solid enough for me to forgive it and enjoy the overall package. If you like stories of the underdog rising up to the challenge, I think you'll probably enjoy No Game, No Life. Or at least, the majority of it.

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To me, a treasure hunt is like an endearing mystery. A long quest, filled with opportunities of intellect binding together to create a path to an incredible unveiling. When these elements were tossed into Ryugajo Nanana no Maizokin's blender, I got something very, very unsatisfying.

The story starts when protagonist Jugo moves into a new dorm room, only to find the spirit of a murdered treasure hunter squatting in his in new abode. Quickly offering the girl to find her killer and retrieve her mystical treasures, Jugo meets up with other hunters within the campus to try and overcome the complex mechanical rooms housing the treasures. The meat of the series comes from the opposing forces also interested in the relics, but I found the characters themselves to not actually be that fascinated with the treasures. These are artifacts that hold world-changing potentials, and characters toss them about as if they were toys in a box. The same could be said for the trust bonds between our heroes as well, I found. In my eyes, the series lacked emphasis on its most necessary places: the treasures, their powers, and the actual reason why Nanana was a character at all.

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When your treasured work devalued harshly by a critic and your clenched fist had firmly landed in the codger's face, perhaps it's time to escape from the mad city and learn the importance of simplicity in the old countryside. This is the wonderful setting that Barakamon is set in.

Having lived in a tiny countryside city of 5000 residents for a large portion of my teenage life, I relate quickly to humble, welcoming series like this. Barakamon plays upon the stark contrast from the bustling city to moving into a traditional log house with nobody in it. Well...perhaps not "nobody". Without spoiling anything, protagonist Seishu Handa is subjected to the simplistic, but still revealing country lifestyle, and his new neighbours will be the ones to act as his humble teachers. This one is just a naturally "feel-good" series, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

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I must say, I was certainly lying in wait after Hamatora's first season left us with unexplored characters and a blatant in-your-face cliffhanger. Sadly, Re:Hamatora was even less interesting for me than its origin content.

Something about the presentation in this season really sits poorly with me. While season one sat upon this cushy bed of a somewhat vibrant landscape, this continuation is sharply contrasted upon a thorny darkness. Characters that were once energetic and fun are now immediately the poster children for depression. Motives are traded for that instant edgy feel, and amidst all of this gloom, they somehow added in numerous distracting transitions between shots that really kills the vibe. It left this dreary, segmented feeling in me that I still can't stomach well when thinking about this season. I'm just not a fan, honestly.

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A series that I took very well to, the 2011 iDOLM@STER showed off the colourful, fun and sometimes depressingly dark side of working in the idol world. I really enjoyed its varied and interesting cast, along with how far it was willing to take some topics, even to traumatic and emotionally scarring levels.

The last thing this series needed was a movie featuring everyone except for our main lovable cast. For some reason unknown to me, they opted to place the focus of this movie on a group of newcomers training alongside our protagonists. These new girls are constantly on the brink of giving up, resulting in a lot of what felt like "forced drama" scenes from my viewpoint. For a movie, I couldn't really feel any movie level budget either. Minus a few nice looking closeups, the quality felt on par with the 2011 series, and in some cases (with the aid of some awkward rotoscoping), it almost looked worse to me. To me, the series works absolutely fine without this addition, and I personally don't think this is something fans of the show need to extend upon. If you are curious though, don't let me stop you from checking it out.

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My, what a pretty little show this was. Delving into the barely tapped world of traditional yosakoi dance, Hanayamata takes 5 girls towards their big performance to the world.

What I immediately like about this series is that it opts to not aim its characters unrealistically high. They don't jump into learning yosakoi dance, then a few weeks later, set a goal to become number one in the field. Now, I'm not saying aiming high or setting goals is a bad thing! However, it's refreshing to see that our protagonists all fall into this newly formed yosakoi club as a chance to try something different. None of them are particularly proficient at the art, and the series blends their fun and tough times together into progressing them further towards the big performance they want to put on for their little city. The designs are lovely, the characters are likeable, and the opening is so damned catchy, it should come with a warning sign. It's one of those "feel good" shows that you may end up coming back to here and there. I sure know I will.

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Ao Haru Ride is quite simplistic as a whole, but it has its heart in the right places. I personally find it to be a shorter, more condensed version of Kimi ni Todoke, which I ultimately enjoyed quite a bit more.

But you know, Ao Haru Ride was still enjoyable. Within its front covers, protagonists Futaba and Ko are reunited in high school, both having ditched something from their earlier years together, like their name or their personality. While an interesting concept to reunite under, their connections between each other really felt like your average shojo romance with not many unpredictable circumstances. This is why I was drawn more towards Makita Yuri, the cute girl who accepts her despised status due to her own moral values. She made for a great complement to Futaba and Ko, and the series utilized her to question whether those two were the best match for each other. Not a bad watch for me.

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I am...not okay. This series seemed to receive a moderately decent score bordering almost 7/10 on MyAnimeList, but this was something I had a very hard time watching.

"Locodol" (as I'll call it), is supposedly an idol series, and there are definitely small signs of that strewn about. Nanako is one day approached by her uncle to become a "locodol", or local idol for their town of Nagarekawa as promotional icons. The tone went immediately south as Nanako's uncle takes the concept in with a little too much unrestrained gusto. But nothing could prepare you for the nightmare that is the town mascot, Uogokoro-kun and his horrendous theme song. No idol could ever look popular, dignified and appealing next to this Quagsire-like blob. I think the part I personally found most insulting was that they use this terrible theme song for the entire season, then closes the final episodes with an actually likeable song. Why?

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This little series definitely failed to impress me, but it did make me immediately go out to my local Value Village, buy an oversized set of drapes, sling them over my shoulders and recite the most difficult lines of Shakespeare's 'King Lear'.

I just think Glasslip is trying way too hard. Names, locations and various other elements of the show are named after famous artists, poets and philosophers from histories past, and really, nothing about this series is really waxing poetic. In actuality, Glasslip explores the life of a glass blower named Toko who can catch brief glimpses of the future that she doesn't really want to see. When a new resident comes into town, subsequently placing him into Toko's friend group, conflicts occur. And hey, you know what? Not really a whole lot else is covered. If you like artistic terminology thrown around like a beach ball at a concert, you might enjoy this. But me? Even as an an appreciative artist, I thought it was really forced. Seems the community is joining hands on similar opinions too, as it didn't do too well.

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You thought the Sword Art Online II premiere would be ludicrously packed at Anime Expo, but the truth of the matter is that Zankyo no Terror was the line to fear this year. The expo attendees put their chips down, and after the roulette spun all the way around, the winner was clear.

Zankyo no Terror rocks the dynamic duo that worked on the masterpiece that is Cowboy Bebop. Both Watanabe and Kanno pull off such an immersive and atmospheric presentation that it's impossible not to get invested in its rather short 11 episode run. When a bomb goes off in the heart of Tokyo, the only clue left by the terrorists is a video of two teenagers donning masks and hinting at their next bomb location. As the bigger organizations are brought in to combat these terrorists calling themselves Sphinx, it becomes a furious game of cat and mouse to keep the bombs from going off. Deep down though, the two teenage terrorists have their own agenda aside from detonating explosives carefully planted within police buildings and other well-locked locations.

What ties the whole thing together is the background music by Yoko Kanno. This talented lady never ceases to amaze me, and the soundtrack pounds at you at every turn, creating a dark, tension-rising setting. Action scenes scream to life and backstories are given pulse-pounding support with her masterful control of sound. Regardless of how short it is, it kept me excited from beginning to end.

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From the uninteresting story to the bland characters and all the way down to the unnaturally murky and depressing visuals, this series was not fun to partake in. I know you're giving me that look like you want me to lay out everything I didn't like with it, so I'll do just that.

Tokyo ESP does an accurate job of describing its premise. Extrasensory perception floods the veins of every major character in the series, and therein lies our first problem. The powers are super boring and play no relevant role in character progression. There's a kid who can essentially look into the future, but is mostly useless in any confrontation. That is, unless he's fighting against the most useless fighter of them all, our main heroine Rinka. Yes, Urushibara Rinka is known to the espers as the fabled White Girl, because her hair turns white while in her combat mode. Her tremendously useful power allows her to pass through inanimate objects, but the second someone confronts her, you may as well call your grandmother from the retirement home to fight for her. It's laughably impossible to root for a "fabled" protagonist when any hired mercenary can take her down with little to no effort. So what happens when you give up on a protagonist? You start desperately looking for the next candidate to relate to. Sadly, it was like calling for help while trapped deep in the Amazon jungle.

We do get backstory on where these powers came from, but it's so goofy that I couldn't help but be frozen in shock when they showed it. I'm not even going to sugarcoat and save you from the spoilers here. The villains were off on an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt, only to be betrayed by one of their own and killed off. That's when they open the chest, and magical glowing fish enter the corpses, giving them life and special powers. Rinka gets her powers through otherworldly osmosis sashimi as well, just to mention. There's another girl who obtains the power to touch an object and somehow learn its history and attributed skills, so what does the series do with her? She touches a pair of nunchakus and spends the rest of the show in a yellow Jet Li suit parodying his signature yell. It's so goofy I can't take anything serious in this grungy-painted atmosphere. I'm thinking I should have watched Tokyo Ghoul instead- I think I would have enjoyed it more.

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Guns, guns and less guns. What should have been great season from start to finish ended on a rather diminished note. Once again, the tragic second half of Sword Art Online has struck. Oh, and how could it be SAO without fanservice and a creepy rapist?

Once again, the season starts off very strong with players connecting to a new game known as Gun Gale Online. Roped in to determine why and how a mysterious killer named Death Gun (really?) has been murdering people in the real world by defeating them in-game, Kirito enters the new virtual world. His immediate encounter is Sinon, the turquoise-haired beauty sniper and one of the most talented players on the server, and they must soon fend off Death Gun together. This first half is strong, showcasing really exciting action, the intriguing new character Sinon and her personal backstory, and it really ramps up once they hit the tournament.

Overall, I think this season fared a little bit better than the last one. While its second half was still not as good as its first in my opinion, "Mother's Rosario" was an arc that didn't feel insanely forced and revolved around a topic that could, and probably has happened in real life. I don't think I'd watch this show in its entirety again, but I actually don't mind that I did see it, unlike a lot of the community who like to make their voice really well known.

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Oh KyoAni, c'mere for a welcome back hug. After the absolutely charming Tamako Market came to a close, I eagerly awaited for this movie expansion, and by god was it beyond worth it. Aside from the beyond excellent Haruhi movie, this one has now become my favourite KyoAni produced movie to date.

Tamako's bright and inviting marketplace is once again opened to us, and with movie budgets it feels even better to trek through these unique stores once more. Not only do the lovable characters make a triumphant return, they are better than ever. I can't express the joy I was feeling seeing these characters pop up on my screen, but to have them actually grow and progress from their anime counterparts was the glacé cherry on the sweet vanilla bean mochi. But hey, these other characters are amazing, but the movie is called Tamako Love Story, right? So how is the bloody romance already? In a word, it's beautiful.

Tamako Love Story is not the love story of one couple. It also doesn't just refer to one type of love. Tamako Market's tagline was "everybody loves somebody", and aside from watching Tamako and Mochizo act all cutesy trying to talk to each other about their feelings, we also get to see Tamako's friends care for her, her father's meetings with Tamako's deceased mother, and the love she receives from her fellow marketeers. It's such a pure movie with a focus on what is good in the world, and sometimes we all just need to see that. I know I'm coming to this movie whenever I feel upset about something.

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'Tis a season with a much greater focus on actual mountain climbing, folks. After such a short previous season, I'm glad this gained enough traction to warrant a continuation with longer episodes and overall runtime. As the original season was over so quickly, this one makes some great strides forward as well.

This season actually delves into the big climb, Mt. Fuji itself. However, in a turn of creativity, it deals with this early, then leaves protagonist Aoi to work out how she feels about what happens on the climb itself. The rest of the season is spent on the characters planning treks to smaller mountains of varying difficulty and even material. For example, there's a great episode when Aoi just takes a hike up a local path to enjoy the hidden view it contains. It still won't eat up a lot of your time, so I hope more people will check this series out. It just feels nice to watch.

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It's just incredible how such an enjoyable series got even better in its sequel for me. The coffin princess Chaika once again treks out with her saboteur friends to recover her deceased father's remains for a burial, and I was thoroughly entertained a second time.

Where this season stands on its own is that this big quest is sidestepped for another. While never forgetting the big picture, the series takes you on a new adventure when Chaika draws new interest in a mysterious island fabled to hold a lost treasure that might help her remember who she really is. Much against the warnings of everyone around her, Chaika embarks into the Bermuda Triangle that lies between her and this floating piece of land. It creates a great sense of tension because you've grown to like these characters and their backstories, and the potential to finally see why so many Chaika variants exist is exciting. My favourite Red Chaika makes her dominant return as well. She's stubborn to no end, but the moment she blushes you know she's not a bad person, and her goals are also very understandable.

If you saw the first season, this one is a must. It's unfortunately criminally short, spanning only 10 episodes and ultimately suffering in the lack of buildup in the final moments, but there's still so much to love with this universe. The fight choreography still remains raw and powerful, and there's just something about the way the Chaikas talk in broken structure that will always stay with me.

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An anime production series from one of the best animation studios of all time. What P.A. Works brings to the table is not necessarily an overly serious look into the harshness and difficulty of producing even one anime episode. Instead, it's a simple look at the industry's quirkiest personalities to keep things from going stale quickly.

Life is loud, fast-paced and overwhelming for our cast. Animators are in constant argument about the superiority of traditional to digital animations, artists are rushing more and more to meet deadlines, and the producers and directors can't seem to keep all of it in check. At the center of this madness lies Miyamori Aoi, the production assistant of Musashino Animation. Her schedule is in constant acceleration, and she's diligently delivering keyframes, picking up finished sketches and trying her best to keep the studio sane and in shape. Miyamori's friends from the opening scene all found work in other positions, like seiyu audition-hopper, 3D tire renderer and frustrated key animator.

Shirobako is a solid series so far. It constantly feeds me uncertainty when I can't seem to remember names even at the halfway point, but I genuinely do enjoy seeing the studio work together to survive. I believe what I need to do is let go of my P.A. Works expectations of extremely tightly-knit friendship stories and allow this new formula in. If you take this into consideration when you start, I think you'll have a much more enjoyable first half then I did. Like all good things, don't take it too seriously.

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KyoAni had another fun one this year for me. Amagi Brilliant Park presents a simple goal with a difficult execution, and along the way I got sucked into everything it had to offer.

This park is a rusting pile of garbage. The streets are empty, signs are shakily nailed on to keep them from falling again, the rides are in a downright dangerous state, and the park's mascots have all lost their enthusiasm. It is in this deep tragedy that yet another pit in their stomach will soon form. The magical residents of this park survive off of 'Animus', the miraculous sustenance formed when they can make people happy. Without it, these park fairies from Maple Land will perish, and now they face the threat of being shut down if they can't reach a visitor count of 500,000 within a matter of months. Enter Kanie Seiya, an academic prodigy with a serious love for how perfect he thinks he is. Dragged into the park's operations, he must make a miracle happen to save Japan's most disappointing park from closing its gates forever. It's the collective atmosphere the series creates that I absolutely love. I don't really have favourite characters or anything, but the goofy stuffed mascots really did grow on me. They all have very humanistic personalities, but you constantly question what they truly are inside. Are they magical humans stuffed into these forms? What is their biological structure, and why do they frequent restaurants if all they need is Animus? I even lost it on a scene where one of the mascots takes off his slipper feet to enter the restaurant booth, only to reveal the same feet underneath.

Do I even need to mention the quality of the animation? KyoAni retains its beautiful sparkling water backgrounds, creepily detailed demon children and Isuzu's gleaming eyes holding back tears. I had a lot of fun with this series, and even with its little problems here and there, I genuinely hope it takes you back to your childhood, a time when everything you saw was filled with magic and happiness (and demon children).

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Look look, another series thrown around chunibyo, I can feel my fruit flavour insides already bursting with mouth-watering excitement. I'm only being sarcastic, but this series overall was hit and miss for me.

Jurai Ando is boring. His main shtick is to appear in the clubroom shouting something relating to his amazingly useless power. As the lead of a series revolving around mysterious powers the protagonists have gained, he's less than perfect for the part. Kushikawa Hatoko is one example of a better character in my eyes. This silver-haired beauty voiced by Hayami Saori acts as the one character that's out of the loop, ultimately resulting in one of the best outbreaks of frustration I've seen in a while. Himeki Chifuyu is also good fun, proving that elementary students with a bit of quick wit can fit into a high school crowd well. This tiny girl has an adorable character design, and she genuinely reminds me of Renge from Non Non Biyori, and that's fantastic.

So where does this series break apart for me? Its overall premise of obtained powers, a supposed "great war" that no attention is placed upon, and that simple fact that the series is only interesting when good characters are interacting with each other. What saves this series from a trip to the recycle bin is how tightly knit the protagonists are. They all share the same love interest and even sit down and talk to each other about it, but when danger strikes they'll sacrifice themselves to help each other. Ino-Battle wa Nichijo-kei no Naka de is nothing special plot-wise, but it does have its moments.

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Hooray, an emotional roller coaster shrouded in mysteries and pretty colours! Right? Well unfortunately, no. Sora no Method presented me with a story that I think had no point in existing. Any emotional attachments you have by the end are simply because we face the risk of losing the one character who isn't needlessly depressed at all conceivable times.

A mysterious saucer glimmers directly above a small town, and for some reason, such a pretty sight is met with frustration, anger and even regret. As the earlier episodes really emphasized how much these characters disliked the saucer, I was hopeful that we would be taken for a wild ride through the turmoils of this town's past to see just how bad this saucer is. Regrettably, the characters soon accept the saucer and completely neglect their original disdain for the flying disk.

What's the big issue with this series? Everyone is constantly emotional, but the reasonings behind this behaviour is unrealistic and even somewhat goofy. As an unrelated test, let's say as childhood friends, I borrowed your favourite video game and ended up moving away with it without being able to return it. Many years pass and I return. How would you handle this situation? Call me crazy, but I probably would have forgotten about it and moved on by that point. If I was deathly attached to that game, I would calmly approach you and ask about it. But no, these characters would take a situation like that, hold a grudge until the day they die, then unleash their fury upon your return. It's a series that tried way too hard to be a heartbreaking series. Character motivations are hard to get attached to, everyone is always depressed, and the world they're set in is dark and unwelcoming. I didn't really have a good feeling watching it when it was dramatic, and when it was anything else, I think I may have actually fallen asleep once or twice.

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I see a pure soul and I want it painted black. Psycho-Pass returns to thrust Inspector Tsunemori Akane into another war, and this time there's more than the securities and safety of the populous at stake. Can the new battle-hardened Akane repel an opponent who is out to stain her beautifully clear criminal hue? She'll need some help for this one.

That's right, I said "battle-hardened". The Tsunemori Akane that shakily held a Dominator and could barely point it at another person is gone, and in her place is a focused, agile and calculating authority who can easily hold her own against incoming attacks. It's actually quite interesting to see the fear she leaked out in the first season completely vanish from her emotional repertoire, and it might even be a bit jarring. At the very least, Akane remains the good cop that refuses to punish those that do not truly deserve it, but will stay true to her position to judge them accordingly. New enforcers have seeped into Akane's team this time around, but inspectors from the previous season have fallen from grace into the same boat. It made me sad to realize that at the end of this season, the chemistry between these returning characters were pushed aside for the new additions. As a result of the very short number of episodes, I could never really get attached to anyone but Akane herself. As the plot is heavily focused on her, is this truly a good or bad decision? It becomes a game of devil's advocate.

When it comes down to it, is it a good season? It's Psycho-Pass, so you know you'll at least enjoy the setting and familiar characters. As a standalone season I'd actually say it's weak, unfortunately. It's not detrimental to the series overall, but in no way does it push it to the new boundaries I wanted it to reach. I can still recommend that you check it out to continue the story, but I cannot express how much I hope the upcoming movie will put these issues to rest.

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You know, sometimes a series just comes along and completely takes you by surprise. Sometimes, you fall into such a deep state of immersion with an episode that you regain your senses only once it is over. Friends, such an episode existed for me in this series.

Let me preface this half-point review by stating my history of piano playing at a very young age. The perfect performances you see in anime is just not realistic, and even going to live symphonies and other concertos, I consistently hear tiny errors in timing, pitch and other musical nitpicks. When it boils down to it, nobody is perfect. However, the imperfection in music is its true beauty, transcending simple expectation to be replaced with encapsulation. Yes, music truly is a thing of magic, and I assure you that Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso can strongly infuse that truth in you. If we were to talk about the animation, it's quite strange. The character designs and landscapes are absolutely beautiful, but the series opts to turn to quick scribbles for most slapstick moments, creating a somewhat uncomfortable contrast. I only make this piece of criticism because the performance scenes with the characters playing their instruments are drop dead gorgeous. Piano keys bounce to life, energy literally flies off of a violin, and the lights shining down on the beads of sweat really stresses just how much it takes to stand on that stage without collapsing in fear.

But even better than the animation are the character interactions. As many of you probably have deduced already, there is a love polygon of sorts formed over the web of characters. The miracle in this series is that it has broken my tendency to root for the childhood friend character without making that character unlikable. There's such a beautiful chemistry between the two main characters that I want nothing more than to see them spend time together. Being musically attracted to another is one of the purest things I can imagine on this planet, and to see that expressed at such simple levels leaves me speechless. I think this is something to check out for anyone who appreciates music or even just a nice little romance story.

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Kenji Studio has made good on their Kickstarter promises and Santa Company has been made available in time for Christmas. If you haven't heard of the process, the studio simultaneously ran a Japanese and English Kickstarter to fund this 30 minute original anime movie, which was met with resounding success. So now, we must see if the final result was worth the funding?

Well, let's preface everything by stating something simple. This is Kickstarter funded, so it's not going to look astounding. It's probably going to have a simpler story that is easier on the animation team. That said, they managed to pull in some big names to voice these characters, including Kugimiya Rie, Tomatsu Haruka, Fujimura Ayumi and even Yuki Kaji. They even managed to bring Chocho along to perform the ending song. So let's finally put aside the fact that it's a budgeted series and move on to the actual film itself. How is it?

Santa Company is responsible for bringing the gifts to the children on the night of Christmas Eve. They process the incoming letters, send the requests to the production lines, then the reindeer fly out to make the deliveries. At the base of this operation lie the tonttu, who are essentially the operations elves. Trainee tonttu Noel discovers that a last minute letter to Santa will not be met with a present, so she makes it her personal goal to venture out in a sleigh with her friends and get the present to its proper owner. The harsh winters they must face may just get to them first, however. Strangely, the synopsis you can read about the series on MyAnimeList and some other sites expand a bit more on the backstory than the actual production does. Apparently Noel initially hates Christmas, with a busybody divorced father who leaves Noel isolated every Christmas so he can work. There just doesn't seem to be anything resembling that in the movie, and Noel and her father are overall pretty well off with each other. Due to time constraints, there just aren't enough emotionally deep scenes, and it feels like rather childish movie filled with your typical Christmas lessons.

That said, it brought me back to a time when I would watch Christmas cartoons like the Looney Tunes Christmas specials, Wakko's Wish and the Little Match Girl. It's an innocent theme with simple messages for children, and as long as you're not a festive grouch, the cute holiday charm lives heartily in this feature. Give it a check; the more Christmas movies to fill up your holidays with, the better, right?

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A series that enriched my soul along with providing me a genuinely fun show this year was my favourite, Barakamon. I may be leaning a bit here towards the fact that I grew up in the city as a child, moved to a small town for high school, then moved back into the city later on, much like how Seishu Handa does. Along the way, you pick up the mannerisms of your local townsfolk/cityfolk, and ultimately it changes who are through experiences. I really like that about Barakamon. It takes a proud protagonist, moves him to the countryside, and with the help of a town filled with people who more treasure the simplicities of life, it makes him proud and humble. That's what's important for humanity, and I enjoyed watching every moment of the transformation.

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Least Favourite Series: Pupa


I hope you'll allow me a little bit of leeway on my usual anti-bias attempts, as Pupa is just something I cannot recommend to anyone. It has a musty look, depressingly empty characters and I can't remember a single thing I liked about it. Its creepy undertones basically jumped between "trying too hard" and "where did that come from" moments, opting to leave any sort of character development until the very last moments of the final episode. I can't stop you if you're interested, but I'm digging hard to find something to recommend and I can't.

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Awarded to the opening that pulls you into its world, throws up a beautiful veil of colourful expression and keeps you under its warmth from start to finish. Very reminiscent of Sakamichi no Apollon's opening that crescendos from a quiet child to a powerful beast, this opening does everything right. 'Goose house' also got their first big anime break here, so hopefully they continue on to do some more great themes.

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Least Favourite Opening: The World's End - Horie Yui


Awarded to the chaotic opening that completely tossed away the emotional buildup from the series and left in a disastrous rut. It sounds like a pile of noisemakers smashing together constantly, and it's even animated in an equally chaotic fashion. Strangely, this opening came as the series began to slow down its pace a bit and focus more on the tension between the characters, but with the opening rushing so frantically through, it just takes me out of it.

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Awarded to the beautiful ending that encapsulates all of the emotions and character attachments from the series. The atmosphere is perfectly portrayed, surrounding and bathing the cast in its warming light. This year, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is the ultimate winner for theme songs, giving me a breathtaking experience at the beginning, middle and end of almost every single episode. My only wish is that I can stand on a bridge in the beautiful sunset and have bubbles of light floating around me as this song plays. I'd fall into an emotional encasing that I would not want to escape from.

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Least Favourite Ending: Dare Yori Suki Nano ni - Kusuma San Shimai


Awarded to the ending sequence that I had no idea why it was selected. After a gruesome episode filled with blood, guts, detailed metamorphosis, death and other horrendous materials, it blatantly just cuts to this ending of protagonist Yume floating about in a void as flashes of blood are superimposed on her skin. There's a message here that ties into the series, but the song is so unfitting I can't stomach it, and after the show itself left such a bad impression on me, I certainly didn't need an unpleasant ending experience either.

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Thus concludes the overly elongated post for 2014. I fear what 2015's annual post will be like, but until then, I'll be looking forward to another year filled with new discoveries, articles and connections. Let's all work together for another great year of Japanese culture!