Not Bad! Chroma's Winter 2013/2014 Impressions
It is with a deep sigh that I realize that the winter season has just passed me by. I collectively gather all of the series that I sat through week by week and am reminded of the transient moments that elevated me to a state of absolute surprise or even bliss. There were a few questionable and unlikable scenarios alike, but overall I kind of wish it wasn’t ending just yet. But a season’s end should not bring about disappointment, but ambition for what is to come. More on that later though, let’s get started on this impressions post!
Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren
Everyone knows we love our Chunibyo here at Hiroi Sekai. Sweet, dulcet whispers of a sixteen year old high schooler that is still engrossed in the mythical world of magical creatures and powers are our bread and butter, and I of course refer to the one and only…Takanashi Rikka. This absolutely huggable cutie was the centerpiece of the original season, bringing about both a charming sense of great humour and even a more serious and semi-tragic layer to a simple rom-com. We begged and begged for the protagonist to end up with her (which is ridiculously rare nowadays, let me tell you), and how…just how in the hell did we actually get our wish? Yes, Takanashi Rikka is officially dating Togashi Yuta when the starting pistol releases the first episode of Ren. Oh right, spoiler ale- ah, screw it. Seriously, if you fail to see the ridiculous chemistry between these two after their first few minutes of meeting each other, we may have to send you back with some romance series to study as homework.
This new season heavily centered its promotions around a strange new girl with ridiculously pink hair and a little heart on her cheek. That’s right, this wacky girl is Shichimiya (but be sure to remember her magical name, Sophia Ring SP Saturn VII), and yes, she is yet another chunibyo-striken character. Does chunibyo spread as the common cold does or something? Either way, the big scare from early on was that we’d be getting a little devil that completely brings the Rikka/Yuta train to a sudden stop. I can now safely say that while she does have her hand in some of the romance elements of this season, the creators realized the inevitable- Rikka and Yuta are awesome together. Was this season more enjoyable that the first for me? Not even close. There is quite a bit of that little thing known as “filler episodes”, and many familiar characters have been given new traits to prevent them running stale, like a piece of sourdough bread you forgot to handle properly. Some of these new traits hit home, while many others just aren’t that enjoyable, sad to say. It's still a very fun show with some still solid comedy, but it did feel a tad bit lost at times for me.
T’was a shame, dear readers. From the creators of the sublime Toradora came Golden Time, a “college age” set anime where an amnesiac trudges through a rough and tumble period of school, filled to the brim with lost loves, risque ventures, strange clubs and a girlfriend that I personally find terrifying. When we last visited this little series, I was set upon the pedestal of enjoyment and was simply waiting for said platform to rise further up. At this point, I’m sad to say that while my impressions haven’t diminished, they certainly haven’t boosted up since then, much less reaching that pinnacle Toradora peeks down at us from. It pains me to say this, but Golden Time didn't even come close for me. Let’s get something straight. What I just said does not denote that Golden Time is a poorly written series. It’s absolutely refreshing to actually see a series take place in a college setting, utilizing more adult jokes and incorporating characters who experiment with the more risque side of growing up. It’s a much needed step away from stereotypical anime themes that I’ve basically given free room and board to within my head at this point for repeat visits. If I had a nickel for every time I saw a scene involving a high school with a down-to-the-ground and easy to solve romance problem (like beating around the bush for the 11 millionth time), I could legitimately afford all currently released volumes of the Golden Time manga and be well off on my way to adding the Blu-Rays as well.
In that sense, lots of creative and fun scenarios are tackled here, and it was written competently enough that no character really contradicts or severely repels another. That is…except for Kaga Koko. We’re at the end of this two-cour series, and I legitimately still cannot follow her martian thought process. In fact, if aliens ever invaded and the first person they researched was Koko, we’d probably be dead within minutes. This girl runs through the extremely frightening gambit of roles: stalker, manipulator, psycho, and somewhere in there is the role of proper lovebird. There is a string of episodes where Koko and Tada Banri strike it off well, and you almost start to think things can work out between them. But then you remember it’s Koko. If you are forcing yourself to cause harm to someone you love, you involuntarily exert indicators of such, but she does not. This is not how normal human beings act. There is literally an episode where Banri tells her that he’ll be busy with homework for the night, and Koko spends the entire night bombarding his poor cell phone with messages, calling search parties with the police and trudging through the entire city looking for him. I think she is the major difference to Toradora for me. While Aisaka Taiga was brutish and downright dangerous at times, she felt much more believable as a whole. Kaga Koko undoubtedly has her moments to shine and is in no way a bad character, but I’m still struggling to fully understand her. Things she does just throws me constantly, and I get an unnaturally creepy vibe from her.
Ultimately, it’s like getting into a cage with a semi-trained leopard; it knows enough that humans aren’t food and behaves, but when nature strikes and hunger hits, instincts will cause it to turn on you. To be fully honest with myself and to those of you who are reading this, I can only recommend that you check it out for yourself. It’s a flurry of hits and misses, and since there definitely are more of the former, it’s something you could really end up enjoying.
Hamatora: The Animation
Talk about a mixed bag of opinions. Heavily reminding me of the good days where I sat through Durarara, Hamatora had an awesome first episode that got my blood pumping for more. Unfortunately, the series then slowed itself right down and ultimately lost a lot of the charm it could have built up. The characters are mostly well designed and fun, and the concept of Minimum Powers that allow normal humans to distort the standard laws of the world to their will could have made for some downright epic episodes. It’s too bad that we don’t see an episode where Birthday has to urgently reach a dysfunctioning power plant as a psychotic murderer picks off people in public, completely shrouded in darkness. We don’t get Honey using her power to look 10 minutes into the future to compose a brilliant plan and overthrow a hopeless hostage situation. We don’t even get a scene where…y’know, we learn what the heck some of these characters’ powers actually do.
Interestingly, on the flip side of that coin lies the main antagonist of the series, Moral. In the first half of the series, this individual was the hammiest and broken-minded villain I had laid eyes on in a long time, but that has changed in the second half. While his (excuse the pun) morals remain severely questionable, the corny nature takes a backseat as he starts bathing himself in the blood and freewill of his victims. We get a short, but reasonable explanation of how protagonist Nice and antagonist Moral met, and it creates the correct tension between the two when they playfully toss sarcastic banter between each other. With that solid connection established, that brings us to the bad part, the supporting cast and their overall involvement with Moral’s plans. In short, they don’t really have any real motivators to go against this guy. Since we are not really given much of any backstory for characters like Hajime, Koneko and Ratio, their involvement seems to just be because they’re a part of Hamatora itself, and Moral is a low-grade P.O.S. individual. This diminishes the effect from “deeply rooted personal wrongdoings” to the less developed “stop the bad guy” scenario, and it really did leave me wanting more from the series.
But seriously, there are some downright awesome moments in this series, and I mean that in more ways than one. There’s a charming artist who evaluates all situations and people down to a representative colour, a scene where Nice and Murasaki work out their little problems by beating each other with bitter melons, and an episode where a hot spring gets invaded by a bodybuilder who releases hypnotizing pink fumes from his abs while working out on the floor. Yeah, there’s a lot to have fun with here. Check it out, but don’t be expecting something revolutionary. If you like the premise once you are done, definitely check out series like Durarara and Baccano. Hopefully we’ll get a lot more progression in whatever continuation was promised at the end of the final episode, and it should be noted that the final episode really kicks it into gear to prepare for that. I just hope we don’t get another scenario of excitement followed by immediate slowdown, like this season did.
Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.
Who knew my first assignment with Anime-Koi would be such an unexpected hit? Shrine-based series always had a tender charm to them, but always took me longer to properly get into and enjoy. Surprisingly, it was only around the second episode that I was already hooked and fully prepared to help subtitle the episodes and basically get a first glance of the new content before the public did. From the get-go, this series ties in that step away from the high school setting I mentioned earlier, and it’s established that young Inari has a few love-related problems she wants desperately to deal with. Will this established escape setting help her with that? When she was but a tiny child, Inari loved to play at the local shrine, and a strong invisible bond formed between her and the shrine deity Uka. This is a great setup into Inari’s first proper meeting with Uka-sama, and the two are instantaneously great friends. For offering her kind heart to help a wounded little fox on her way to school, Uka decides to grant Inari one wish, which is spent on wanting to become the girl that appears to currently be the main interest of Tanbabashi, Inari’s little crush. In this little mishap of words, Inari is granted the ability to change her form into anyone she chooses, just as long as they are human.
Over the course of the short 10 episode series, many of the standard tropes of the romance genre shockingly melt away. Sumizome-san is first viewed as a potential rival for Inari’s love, but it turns out that Sumizome is actually a super sweet and likable person. The two girls become good friends, and over time, Sumizome gets a few little interesting quirks added to her palette, so to say. Staying on the topic of characters, the development for our mains is actually quit strong. With only 10 episodes to play with, they did a magnificent job establishing and cementing everyone into the story itself. There’s even some mischievous elements tossed in to spice up the variation in the presentation. This is not a perfect series, but for its criminally short airing time, it got the job done well. I would much rather indulge in a succulent portion of cheesecake instead of gnawing senselessly into the whole cake where the topping has been spread so thin to care. Short but absolutely sugary sweet, this show has strong characters, a workable plot and a beautiful soundtrack to complement it all. It’s definitely worth checking out, in my opinion.
Kill la Kill
This one is quite good fun. Matoi’s originally blood-fueled quest to slowly rip off the limbs of the person who killed her father has come to an end, but a bigger truth and a greater cause has arisen. Have you ever questioned if you were in control of your clothes, or if it was the other way around? Yeah, me neither. Kill la Kill says otherwise. It’s a plot that revolves around clothing, embracing nudity and the ideals of how the threads composing said clothing could overpower simple cranial functions. Just take that with you the next time you go to Old Navy and convince yourself that you purchased those cardigans because you wanted to.
This series is absolutely nuts. Based heavily on the styles and presentation of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill runs the same race and honestly falls a bit short. I’d say it comes respectively close, but Gurren Lagann and its ambitions struck me much harder when I look back to it. As mentioned, this series kicks ass and thoroughly enjoyable as well. Fight scenes are blood-boiling showdowns, with explosive wars starting up for so many different reasons. Speaking of explosives, Tamura Yukari really pulls off the terrifying antagonist known as Harime Nui, and this is the sharp contrast I get after watching her perform in something like Ano Natsu de Matteru. She’s absolutely psychotic and she loves it, and I can’t hate her character for that. Take a sword in the back? No big deal, just walk it off and you’ll be good. Satsuki gets some interesting development as well, and there’s even a couple scenes where her mother caresses her slim and nude figu-wait…what?
The connections between characters is strong, and there’s a good reason this is a massive hit. Okay, it probably has a lot to do with blood, violence and breasts (and tushy, as the camera loves to pan to), but there’s a lot at work here that we take for granted. Check it out, it’s really good fun.
Mikakunin de Shinkokei
Another simple show that grew quickly on me like Inari did. Young Kobeni is your everyday high schooler (look, there it is again!)…who is given a fiancee to live with her. Enter Hakuya (along with his younger sister Mashiro), and let me say it right now, Hakuya is a total badass. This guy has ultimate devotion to Kobeni, and this never deters once throughout the entire series. This dedication and undying love is what sets this aside from many other romance series- okay, it’s not exactly a full romance series, but you know what I mean. Aside from Kobeni and Hakuya, characterization is unfortunately hit and miss with this one. Mashiro started off quite irritating to me, but she has improved since then. Niko is a reporter for the school paper constantly snooping for a good scoop (do teenagers really get into this that much?), and her constantly intrusions on potentially good developments is nothing short of irritating. Oh, and we can’t forget about Kobeni’s mentally unstable older sister Benio and her little worshippers. This crazy woman is well on the path to becoming the next Kaga Koko, and since Koko didn’t have a student body praising her from below, Benio might even turn out to be worse. Don’t ask me how, but it just might happen.
The animation is not exactly revolutionary, but it’s kept simplistic enough to remain consistent at most times. The designs are nothing to write home about, but Kobeni is adorable and Hakuya’s rather stereotypical design actually holds some substance to who he actually is, so things like that are much appreciated. I also adore tiny characters wearing clothing that just droops over their hands like little cotton tentacles, and little Mashiro definitely fits that bill. Now we come to the main problem I have with the series- it’s scaled too small. There’s a little plot point about how Hakuya and Kobeni came to meet long ago…and that’s about it. Instantly, the show turns into something that “could have been”, and it just feels like it deserves more than that. On the whole, it’s your typical laid-back teenage love story, with a bit of light comedy thrown in. What makes it seriously worth the watch is Kobeni and (especially) Hakuya, and for me to say that about a male protagonist is rare nowadays. You should actually be able to determine if this interests you or not in the first episode, so definitely give it a shot.
Nagi no Asukara
I can’t even begin to tell you how much pure, unaltered happiness P.A. Works brings to me, and their recent series about the interaction between land and sea-dwellers is nothing short of breathtaking. Everything about this series is so genuinely composed that you’d swear it was all real. Sure, there’s a bit of overexaggerated melodrama here and there, but when viewed in the context of everything that is happening, you could actually somewhat relate with it all. Nagi no Asukara’s character designs are nothing short of gorgeous. Such tender care was given to each character to reflect their unique personalities; everything from their hairstyles to their clothing and even their postures and figures. Young and still youthfully irritated Hikari trudges about with loose pants or shorts, and with a more energetic walk. Chisaki on the other hand, dons more mature clothing and always walks in a more refined manner with her arms folded inwards and her feet kept close to each other. There’s tons of visual cues given here, and the creators aren’t asking you to point them out. Your brain is a powerful tool, and it can recognize details like this without you even having to think about them. This is how we reach those obvious base principles that we now take for granted, and P.A. Works is undoubtedly a master of this psychological and visual art.
Keeping with the visuals, backdrops and atmosphere is another ridiculously strong asset to this series. Breathtaking underwater landscapes that are so flawlessly integrated that they look like regular cities with aquatic creatures literally floating in the sky, along with above water life that shows its rustic age through mossy and rusty landmarks- it just screams atmosphere. Add to that a spine-chilling sound expert team that took great care in making sure simple clips lingered in your memory each time they played out. The crackling of the shiny and reflective ena scales of the sea-dwellers is especially impressionable, strongly engraving a sense of scales being pulled from a fish. Let’s move onto the plot and development then, and this is by far the strongest point. In the midst of a troubling time for the general populous of land and sea-dweller alike, the protagonists also suffer from the complications of their ridiculously intertwined and tangled love…icositetrachoron. Every complex pairing is developed, and the payoffs for both the failed and succeeding relationships are so refreshing to witness. It even threw me for an emotional loop when one of the less interesting protagonists had a moment to himself, and he was the last character I thought I’d receive such a powerful catharsis from, but it’s just another way this series brings out everything I love.
Here it is, Shaft’s next big production, Nisekoi. This is the only series on our list that will run into a pseudo-second cour, with its strange setlist of 20 episodes. With that said, we have to ask…is this a series that needs 20 episodes? To that, I’d personally have to say…no. In a perfect world, I’d remove about eight of these episodes and transfer them between Inari and Mikakunin for more expansion. However, “perfect world” and “reality” are not congruent terms, so here we got with what we have. Nisekoi is okay, don’t get me wrong. The character designs are unique, and the whole thing has that Shaft feel (you know, it’s getting really uncomfortable to say that now) that many of us enjoy so much. Vibrant colours explode off of the screen, accentuating the rather simplistic backgrounds that would have little effect otherwise.
Being a prudent student of graphic design, additions of little quirks draw my attention, and I will undoubtedly appreciate the entirety of the design much more. Couple cases in point, Onodera’s unevenly cut hair and Kirisaki’s vibrantly gradient hair colours. I know it’s cheap, but even adding that little ribbon in the screen above gave a whole new impression that at least changes up a character as a series chugs along slowly. So enough about the character designs, how are the characters themselves? Let’s just say that I find the main characters alright, and get super irritated and bored with the many of the ones on the side. One exception of the blandness is Ruri-chan, who is downright obsessed with getting her friend Onodera hooked up with protagonist Raku. This is what a great friend is, people. Regardless of her reasons for doing so, she’s continuously creating opportunities for Onodera (of which are all devastatingly squandered, damn it), and that alone takes proper dedication. On the far opposite end of the spectrum are Claude, Kirisaki’s annoying and nosy butler/guardian, and Raku’s irritatingly obnoxious friend Shu, both of which I swore only existed to halt progression and annoy me.
As mentioned, the main characters are all pretty decent, but I found that their lack in taking romantic initiative is inevitably grating. Let’s get to that grating problem then. This is one of those romantic comedies that spends too much time on its couples lingering in that “too embarrassed to confess” state. I love me some blushing Onodera and Kirisaki, but it feels so cheap that it’s still the same at this halfway point. They’ve introduced a little side concept to the plot that just concerns me even more, and it gives off an impression that not too much will change from this current formula. If that turns out to be the case, this series can’t evolve in the ways I’d like, and that would be a shame. It truly has been a "false love" towards me.
Man, there always seems to be a show that spoils things for me each season, and Pupa does one hell of a job for this one. It’s completely detached from what you can call a cohesive plot; comprehension is but a mystery to its name. On top of that, the characters are uninteresting, the episodes are filled with moments that lead nowhere, and the muddy visuals give me a queasy feeling (and not in the sense that the series wants). On the whole, Pupa is about a sister named Yume who has basically metamorphosed (in the weak tie-in to the cue in the show itself) into a flesh-craving monster. To satiate her undying hunger, she feeds off of her brother, who has the ability to indefinitely regenerate his lost flesh within moments. In between all of that exciting and riveting development, we see glimpses of the humans that view them as monsters and oppose them, along with the researchers who just want to capture the pair and study them.
It sounds like the basics for a plot are there, but imagine if these elements were thrown at you with no continuity and in ridiculously short episodes. Yeah, it makes for a really jumbled mess, and it’s just not a good time. As mentioned, the visuals always feel like the set of a badly lit Saw movie, with blood splattered everywhere and hallways completely devoid of key lights. Speaking of the blood, even that is dealt with so distastefully that it looks and feels fake. Following that note, I can actually remember very little about the series itself, only being able to recall certain scenes just because they were so distasteful and vulgar. I just can't find myself recommending this personally to anyone.
I recall early impressions of this series left me missing a certain titular protagonist. Luckily, a sweet remedy arrived for me, appropriately named Saki. This girl had one of the strongest powers in the game of Mahjong right from the very first season, and her return takes her character in a whole new direction. The Saki that was too afraid to attempt scoring anything than a perfect even score back then now has a fire lit in her burning crimson eyes. She takes no crap from her fierce competitors, and her ability to pull a winning tile every time from the dead wall has even been improved on. It looks like Saki has been improving herself during the last season of absence, and it’s wonderful to finally see the payoff.
I won’t talk too long about this one. If you’ve seen the original season of Saki and any of the other following seasons, you’ve mostly seen this one. The strength of this specific arc is the focused presentation, mixing a bit of characterization through backstory with intense and intriguing Mahjong faceoffs. Not only does the original cast make a full return in this one, but we see a slew of new characters that the series can work with. The strange charm of Saki is that the characters aren’t meant to be interdimensional, but simple. This way, we are given just enough development for each before witnessing their unique power in the games. Collective progression versus singular, to put it simply. I can’t even recommend it as anyone who has been following Saki will watch her kick ass here, and newcomers need to see the original season to experience the character of Saki at her best. I’d recommend picking it up if you’re looking for a fun “competitive sport” anime.
Talk about an interesting foot forward this show takes. Sakura Trick is probably the most openly lesbian-friendly series I’ve watched, and I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t actively go searching for them, or so few actually exist. Either way, this series is absolutely adorable, and it’s actually surprisingly charming and funny as well. Yu and Haruka are the main pair in this school filled with similar relationships, and they are by far the sweetest (not to devalue the others, of course). I melt at any scene involving the pouty Yu-chan, who loves to indulge in physical contact regardless of her somewhat childish behaviour. Each episode is basically spent on your everyday activities at school, but peppered with opportunities for Yu and Haruka to grow closer to each other. The chemistry between these two are great, with Haruka trying to be the more mature adult of the pair, but always going wobbly over seeing Yu-chan. In turn, Yu is always on the prowl for her favourite foods and throwing tiny fits when she has no access to them. The two meet perfectly in the middle, always tossing aside their quirks for a moment to share some intimacy; it’s hard to not love the passion between them.
Looking at the comedy, it’s nothing amazing, but still effective. There are more moments that will give you satisfactory chuckles from charm instead of the laugh out loud moments, and for a series like this, I feel it works better. There are some of those little preventive characters that step in between the relationships (much like Nisekoi), which unfortunately take a bit away from the show. In no way is it as jarring to me as Nisekoi though, let’s get that straight. To lump it all together, the presentation itself is great. There a wide variance in the colour palette that brings out the creativity and charm of each character, and although some of the characters feel less prominent than others, there’s nothing in the episodes that really puts them in a recycle bin. Well, Yu’s older sister Mitsuki keeping her from Haruka for a bit came close, but still. I hope you enjoy cute elements in your anime, because Sakura Trick just swims in it.
Tonari no Seki-kun
Tonari no Seki-kun was set for many more episodes at the beginning of the season, but it has ultimately boiled down to 13. Good thing too, because I felt that there would just be too much in its original run. This is another short episode series that focuses on the wacky antics of Seki-kun, as well as his classroom neighbour Yokoi, who has to attempt studying instead of glancing over to her left side. As I stated in my initial impressions post, this is a role I feel should have gone to another seiyuu. Goshdarnit Hanazawa Kana, you know I absolutely love you, but Yokoi isn’t supposed to scream her inner thoughts. I can't enjoy this performance, even if it's not your choice. At times, she even actually exclaims out loud, completely altering the purpose of the scene and bringing it down to the stereotypical concept of “trying to avoid the teacher’s gaze” gag. It just doesn’t work here, and it seriously takes away from Seki-kun’s ridiculous contraptions. These are where the inklings of interest occur in the series, with Seki doing anything from building massive Goldberg machines that are set to launch large fireworks, to playing micro-mini golf using crevices in his desk. While visually amusing to say the least, each of these concepts aren’t exactly given enough breathing time to really excite us, and after two minutes it’s basically over. Having said that, I can’t even see this series really working as a full time development, as the gags aren’t intricate and in-depth enough to play out for 20 minutes. A curse of the series, I suppose, but if they could work each episode out to about 8 or 9 minutes, I feel it would work a lot better.
Aside from that, I mentioned the cheap visuals that take even more away from the experience. Simple lines and gradients create everything, and I swear this series was illustrated entirely through Adobe Flash’s simplistic interface. Budget and time constraints undoubtedly play a huge role in this, but that doesn’t change the fact that the series suffers for it. If they were constrained in these aspects, I feel like they could have taken a different artistic approach using a more creative minimalist design. It just takes a good team and a set of sitdowns to work around problems like this, and the whole thing feels like it didn’t really get that much needed nurturing. Tonari no Seki-kun isn’t a bad series. As previously mentioned, the little quirks for Seki do have the basic concept of amusement engraved into them, and since the episodes are so short, you can’t really complain about it dragging on. I also very much like how Yokoi is the only character that is intended to evolve, with her absolute disdain for Seki’s actions during class slowly turning into intrigue. During moments like this, Hanazawa Kana’s voice acting pulls through and you appreciate the gentle nature of the character. It’s just too bad there’s all of the stuff in between that takes away from it. I don't think I would watch it again, but as popular as the manga is, it might be worth a first glance.
And with that, our list comes to an end! As just a little extra tidbit, here’s what I have planned so far for this next season:
– Hitsugi no Chaika (subbing for Anime-Koi)
– Isshukan Friends
– Love Live! School Idol Project 2nd Season
– Ryugajo Nanana no Maizokin – Gochumon wa Usagi Desu ka?
But rest assured, this is currently incomplete. Either way, I’ll be getting into more series through recommendations, but hopefully I can use this season to do catch up on series I missed from previous seasons. There’s just a lot of sequels, mecha, sport and card game series this season, and those aren’t really to my primary interests. Stay tuned to see what else I pick up; I guarantee I’ll be writing about them at the least!