Hiroi Sekai
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Another Perspective! Echoes' 2013 Year


Greetings, and a happy belated new year to one and all! With the year 2013 done and over with, it is time for the annual (I did it once before, that makes it a tradition!) retrospective look at this year in anime. However, Chroma, the one and only, already wrote his. And it was an article of biblical proportions, threatening to engulf the very internet on which you are reading this through its sheer enormity. (If you somehow missed it and are reading this, check that one out here.)

 
 

I thought long and hard about how to make an article that would still be relevant in the light of this, one that wouldn’t rehash too much of what he covered. Then I gave up and just wrote this article instead. In all seriousness though, while the two of us are often as alike as two peas in a pod, I did watch a lot of shows this year which he did not (and vice verca), meaning that between the two of us, we might actually cover a pretty wide range. With all that being said, welcome to my end-year wrap-up. Let us dilly-dally no further, cut to the chase and get this show on the road! (Plenty of more outdated expressions to come, folks!)

I think most people will agree, 2013 had a lot of offer. The shows that came out covered a wide spectrum of genres, styles and appealed to a great many different niches. Sure, this year (like any other) had its pitfalls and disappointments (and I’ll get to those as well), but for the moment, let us take a look at some of the year’s biggest successes. The stuff that really moved units, the stuff that huge groups of anime fans and soon-to-be anime fans connected with across the globe. As with all of the categories I’ve decided to divide the year into and cover, in this one we will look at a handful of different shows that really exemplify this idea. Series segments will be spoiler-free unless otherwise specified. (No major plot details or twists will be revealed, small/very early developments might be mentioned in passing.)


The Break-out Hits


Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan

 
 

There is no point delaying the inevitable. There is simply no discussing popular shows of the year without mentioning this juggernaut of a show. Without question the break-out hit of the year. The manga is dominating the market, there’s live-action movies planned and the Blu-rays are moving off the shelves like greased lightning. Its impact can be felt far and wide. But why? Oh, who am I kidding, if you’re reading this, you know why. The show has a wonderfully unique setting, an impactful story full of twists and turns, innovative action scenes and even more innovative equipment. It has characters you love to watch, characters you connect with, characters you don’t want to see die but inevitably do anyway. The suspense and excitement just about every episode is overflowing with is palpable, and the visual style of the show actually makes the dreaded grey-black-brown color palette work. Imagine that, it can be done! I’m a fan of this one, and I might just be grabbing another chance to elaborate on it very soon. If you for whatever reason have not watched this show, there’s no time like the present. Perhaps not for the faint of heart. But for just about everyone else.


Kill la Kill

 
 

Imaishi Hiroyuki, the man behind such diverse works as Tengen Toppa Gurren LagannPanty & Stocking and Dead Leaves, is back in the director’s chair for studio Trigger’s first full television series. It’s about what you would expect. Which means that it’s pretty out there in terms of, well, everything. Fans of Gurren Lagann will recognize a lot of visual cues as well as a pervasive devotion to energetic and balls-to-the-wall insane action sequences. I will admit up front, I was initially a Kill la Kill skeptic. However, as I kept watching, I grew to enjoy the show more and more. Whether it was gradually improving as it went along, or whether the style was something I had to grow accustomed to before accepting, I do not know, but the exact same thing happened to me with both Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking. I started off not really digging either, but I stuck with them because they still had something that refused to let go of me, and ultimately I ended up getting something in return out of both.

Kill la Kill has an appeal that you won’t really see in many other modern works, not outside of the director’s own catalog, anyway. The fact that it connects so strongly with a wide audience is surprising to me, but I think it’s a wonderful sign. With the success of shows like these, love them or hate them, it opens the floodgates for more shows that will experiment and eschew playing it safe. That’s never a bad thing, and while this is not my favorite type of show, it’s still cool to see things like this get made. Studio Trigger, I expect you to funnel all of this money you’re making to Inferno Cop season two. Make it happen!


Free!

 
 

Speaking of loving or hating things, here’s Free!. Whatever your opinion is of it, it undeniably had a strong impact this year. Which means that, again, love it or hate it, there will be more of Free and its ilk in everyone’s future. Many a devoted fan was outraged, fuming with indignant rage over the fact that Kyoto Animation would make a show so blatantly targeted at the fujoshi crowd, a show so far removed from what we have come to expect from the masters of moe themselves. Turns out, fans of pretty boys have deep, deep pockets, because Free sold like hotcakes. So, is this show the spawn of Satan itself, or is it a good show unfairly marred by overzealous reactionaries? Well, here’s my opinion.

Free is just sort of there. It’s nothing to get upset over, guys. Free isn’t going to lead the revolutionaries over the wall and topple the tower of moe and ecchi. (As we shall soon see, this year had plenty of both.) It’s a wonderfully animated slice of empty calories. For me, the show did not do much. It had its occasional effective scenes strewn in together with a big helping of cliches. You’ll probably get much more out of this show than I did if you are a fan of men taking off their clothes and showing off their luscious swimmer’s build bodies. That doesn’t really do it for me. Although Rin is admittedly kind of hot. Those pointy teeth and that soft, gentle heart concealed underneath a tough, muscular exterior...this review is over!


Monogatari: Second Season

 
 

More Monogatari. I think that says it all, doesn’t it? At the time of writing this, I have sadly not had the time to finish this one up yet. I’m about halfway through, so I’ll make this brief. The thundering success of the Monogatari franchise marches on with a new, 26 episode installment. While I absolutely loved Nisemonogatari, there is no doubt in my mind that Bakemonogatari is superior in just about every respect, and Monogatari: Second Season seems to following in the firstborn’s footsteps. This season does a fantastic job at balancing a huge cast of characters, keeping the art direction interesting, the animation vibrant and mesmerizing, and making sure that each story is concise, compelling and unique.

I don’t have a bad word to say about Monogatari: Second Season, but hey, who knows, it could all collapse in the second half. Wouldn’t I look silly then! I have strong faith no such thing will come to pass, though, and the quality of this series shows just why this franchise has become an enduring staple in the anime industry. Oh, and hey, Nisemonogatari, take a gander over at the scene with Hanekawa and Senjogahara in the shower. That is how you make a sensual, sexy scene.

There are plenty of other successful shows which came out this year, the biggest omission from my list being the 3rd Madoka Magica movie, which I have sadly still not seen. There’s also the extremely well-selling Uta no Prince-sama, but one show filled to the brim with bishounen characters is all my mind can take right now, so Free had to take precedence.


Disappointments

Like any year, not everything turned out to be quite what we wanted it to be. I shan’t dwell on the negatives for too long, but I will quickly (I actually wrote quite a lot, I am scum and a liar) run through the shows that disappointed me the most this year. Not the worst shows, mind you, merely the ones I was the most let down by. Which usually means they had something going for them in the first place. Prepare to disagree with me, as I delve into the shows that could, and should, have been so much more.


Kyokai no Kanata

 
 

“Burn, baby, burn.” I said I would try not to rehash any points previously made when I wrote this post. But that’s not going to keep me from stomping all over Kyokai no Kanata. Don’t worry, it’s going to hurt me more than it hurts them. Imagine you’re at a friend’s house. He has promised to make you dinner tonight. You’re excited. You sit down, and he begins to assemble the ingredients on the kitchen table. A juicy steak of beef, fresh potatoes, aromatic spices, asparagus, garlic and béarnaise sauce, all sitting right there in front of you. You’re ready for one hell of a meal. Then your friend gets up, gathers all the food and tosses it in a blender. He then pours you a glass, complete with raw beef and large cloves of garlic and says “enjoy.” That’s what watching Kyokai no Kanata feels like. You see every precious ingredient wasted, and you’re sad. Not just because you’re drinking a beef-potatoes-béarnaise smoothie, but because you know it could have been a great meal, if only someone hadn’t taken the easy way out.

The animation is beautifully crafted, and it really shines, in action scenes and during mundane dialogue alike. The opening theme is hauntingly beautiful, and I still listen to it. Mirai is pretty damn cute, and her catchphrase doesn’t bother me one bit. Well, that’s all the positives I can think of. Time to skewer this show! The biggest sin this show commits lies in its cast of characters. It is like they weren’t even trying. Mirai is the one ray of hope the show offers us, but even she is merely a “good” character. She is nowhere near enough to compensate for the rest of the lackluster, one-note, sometimes outright annoying characters which inhabit this world. Akihito and Hiroomi are incredibly unlikable, defined in large part by their singular obsession with their kink of choice. (Glasses for Akihito, little sisters for Hiromi. Yup yup.) Putting aside how boring it is to have a character whose defining characteristic is “I like glasses, hur hur”, the show runs the (let’s bring out the scare quotes here) “humor” completely into the ground. Not an episode goes by without superabundant mention of how much he likes glasses. It was not funny the first time. It’s not going to be funny the 50th time either. Unfortunately, the plot and mythos of the show does little to remedy this.

There is a distinct lack of reason to even care what is going on. The spiritual world they present in the show is simply dull, and the show’s reach far exceeds its grasp. This is not a terrible show. I have seen much, much worse shows this year alone. It is merely mediocre. An ambitious failure with some huge blemishes. But that hurts so much more when you know what the people making it are capable of, and when you readily notice the latent potential the series had. The idol episode is funny though. I don’t care what anyone says. That should have been the whole show.


Blazblue: Alter Memory

 
 

Oh, silly Echoes. Why did you have hopes for a fighting game adaptation? What are you, stupid? Well…. Street Fighter II: the Animated Movie was pretty good! Oh, that was 20 years ago, you say? …shut up. Now I know (and appreciate) why they never made any Guilty Gear anime adaptations. This is what happens, man. You get this. You get a truncated, terribly paced, poorly explained and horridly animated mess. What’s the first thing people want from a fighting game? They want some fighting, damn it. They don’t want shoe-string budget animation and characters that go off-model as soon as the camera zooms out even an inch.

To the show’s credit, the story and pacing both really improve in its second half. It doesn’t suddenly turn golden, but it goes from rotten to occasionally enjoyable. The designs themselves are a mixed bag, with some characters looking quite good (Nu and Tsubaki, my favorites, are both rendered pretty well), but this also varies greatly from scene to scene. Oh, and the sound design is not good either. They shoehorn in music from the game and use is completely inappropriately. It’s almost like they let a robot handle it, whose only instructions were “[Insert character name] is on screen. MUST. PLAY. [INSERT CHARACTER NAME]’S. THEME SONG.” This is sadly a perfect example of why adaptation from game to anime/movie/whatever can be so difficult. This one falls flat on its face.


Coppelion

 
 

Coppelion is the only entry on this list I did not watch to completion. Which is not because it was the worst, it was because it was the most dull and lifeless. Coppelion has an interesting premise. Radiation-immune girls wandering through the remains of a Tokyo ravished by an atomic disaster trying to extract survivors. That got my interest. Unfortunately, the stories lack any sort of punch. They are incredibly dry, and never had me emotionally invested in the outcome. The trio of female leads are similarly stricken; none of them are terrible, but none of them stand out.

On the technical side, the backgrounds look great, but the bland character designs and the incredibly boring color palette further contribute to the lifeless feel of the show. The opening and ending, both performed by Angela, are highlights and contrast strongly with everything else. They are fantastic, full of energy and passion. Not much to say about this one. It’s sadly dull all around. There might be some meat further down the line if you can dredge through it all, but I can’t recommend it.


Ore no Imoto S2

 
 

Alright. To make it clear where I’m coming from, I’m going to lay all my cards on the table. Fan of the original Oreimo. Huge fan of Kuroneko. Not a Kirino-hater. Can handle incest if the show is well written. Oreimo is a fun show. It’s visually appealing, well animated, has a good sense of humor, and a cast of characters that are generally entertaining to watch. Oreimo 2 has all of these things as well, and it starts off pretty strong. However, somewhere along the line, the water begins to grow murky and things stop being so fun. The writing takes a bizarre shift and things start feeling contrived and predictable. As soon as Kuroneko and Kyosuke hooked up, I knew exactly where everything was heading. Sadly, it was not to be for the Kuroneko fanclub. But that’s not the issue at hand here. I don’t need the lead to end up with the girl I like. The girl I like is still fun to watch regardless of whether or not she ends up together with the lead. The problem was in the forced and predictable execution of the whole thing. This escalates further in the specials, which essentially boil down to Kyosuke going around to everyone and telling them “I love my sister. I’m going to date her!” Yet, the only people whose opinion on the matter I would actually like to see dealt with like this, the parents, are never informed. Now that is a scene I’d like to see.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here and discuss the ending. Yes, Kyosuke ends up faux-marrying his sister. But even as blunt and in your face as that is, it still feels like an incomplete and lackluster ending. After all that, they decide to be together for a little while, share a short kiss, then “go back to being normal siblings again.” I’d have wanted them to at least stick to their guns and give us a proper, conclusive relationship at the end. Even if that relationship isn’t the one I wished for. This just feels half-assed. All that being said, I actually really enjoyed both the second half of the second season and the specials. I gave up on a good ending somewhere along the line and starting gleefully watching the train-crash I knew was coming unfold. That’s a backhanded compliment to be sure, but it was genuinely entertaining; if not for the right reasons.

That’s quite enough negativity for now, wouldn’t you say? Let’s jump out of the frying pan and into the fire as I move onto the shows I felt deserved more love this year, the underappreciated series of 2013. This will include series which were simply overlooked by the anime viewing public at large, as well as series I feel got an undeserved bad rap.


The Underappreciated


Uchoten Kazoku

 
 

Just like Kyoto Animation broke new ground by stepping outside their usual comfort zone this year, so did P.A. Works. The latter, I feel, were ultimately much more successful in this endeavor. Uchoten Kazoku (The Eccentric Family in its English translation) is a marvelous gem of a show. Luckily, this show is not one which earned itself a bad rap, but rather one that I really feel should be appreciated by a larger audience. Most people who have watched it seem to hold it in high regard. There are a plethora of good reasons for this. Stepping far outside the art style which is typically associated with them, P.A. Works nevertheless maintain their high quality of production. The character designs are wonderfully crafted, the backgrounds and cityscape breathtaking to behold, and the music eclectic and catchy. The soundtrack and opening theme alone makes this worth sitting through.

But wait, there’s more. So much more. The characters, who for the most part are tanuki or tengu, shape-shifters straight out of Japanese folklore, each come with well written and distinct personalities. The familial relationships play out at a nice, solid pace, and as you learn more about the characters and the events which shaped them into the people (for lack of a better term) they are today, you get an increased appreciation for just how well crafted they are. Like the shogi-centric anime Shion no O (another wonderful series), the whole series is wrapped in a murder-mystery of sorts, which adds an element of tension to the already engaging events and dialogues which play out. It must also be said that the show is often very humorous, nicely balancing out the dramatic plot. This one is a strong recommendation. It is a series I plan watch it again, and I hope more people will join in. Give it a spin, you won’t regret it.


Tamayura ~More Aggressive~

 
 

Sweet characters, deliberate pacing and an irresistible sense of life-affirming joy are all things which define Tamayura. Unlike a lot of other slice-of-life series, there is a hint of drama and bittersweetness sprinkled throughout the series which really makes it a unique experience. It has the kind of joy that Sato Junichi alone is able to conjure forth with his magic, and it is the perfect series to sit back with when you just want to be swept away and completely and utterly relax. Show some love for this humble, unassuming series. Sure, sometimes the budget is stretched way too thin, and you might not adore every single character in the series, but I think that Tamayura could easily bring a lot of joy into a lot more people’s lives if only they would give it a chance. This is the second season, and the third installment, in the franchise. If you want to give the series a shot, the place to start is the original four-episode OVA.


Aku no Hana/The Flowers of Evil

 
 

Outside of Free, I don’t think any other series provoked such a vitriolic, thoroughly negative response from an audience as Aku no Hana did. I’m not here to tell anyone they’re wrong to dislike the show, but I am here to try to convince people that there is more to this series that its rotoscoped exterior would lead you to believe. First things first. Let’s talk about the visuals, the most controversial aspect of the series, and what initially repulsed so many viewers. The characters are all rotoscoped, resulting in an incredibly unusual aesthetic. If you can get past that initial threshold of weirdness, I found that they become more appealing as you grow accustomed to it. In some scenes, it looks downright incredible, but the technique is far from perfected. Whenever a character is far away from the “camera”, he or she loses all of their facial features, and there is some inconsistency in the level of detail in general. When it works, it really works, but when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t.

Just like I credit Kill la Kill for being experimental, even when I don’t particularly like every aspect of the outcome, I will give credit to Aku no Hana. Additionally, the backgrounds are absolutely stellar. The lifelike details and beautiful artistry draws you in. It truly and thoroughly evokes the feeling of being in a small, remote town. The story centers on an awkward and eccentric teenager named Kasuga, and follows his generally miserable adolescent life, as he gets entangled with a girl who threatens to ruin his reputation. As the series goes on, you discover that her motives are more nuanced and manipulative than mere bullying. Kasuga too, is not all that he seems. His arc in the anime proves to be the most interesting, and the revelation, which I shan’t divulge here, has a surprising and interesting harsh truth to it. To say that the series has a deliberate pace would be generous. There is literally a scene, which goes on about five minutes, of Kasuga and Nakamura (the girl blackmailing him), walking home from school at night. It demands patience from the viewer, and will either allow you to just sit and revel in the mood, or have you pulling out your hair in frustration.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure how I feel about this series as a whole myself, but it is an experience. It’s something completely different from anything else released on the anime market this year, perhaps any year. It’s a unique, artistic experiment, perhaps to a fault. I think it’s worth sitting through and forming an opinion on. The classroom-trashing scene alone has me convinced of that.


Galilei Donna

 
 

Galilei Donna has gotten a pretty bad rap. Somewhere along the way, it lost a lot of people. It’s entirely understandable why, but I’ll try to convey why I love it to death, despite its many flaws. Three sisters travel across the globe in a goldfish-shaped mecha airship, searching for hidden treasure maps left behind by their venerated ancestor, Galileo Galilei and fighting off an evil corporation out to monopolize the energy market and presumably rule the world with an iron fist. That’s a pretty silly premise for a show, but it is also unabashedly awesome. When I hear that, I think Indiana Jones. I think Duck Tales. Add in some of the anime visual flair and character archetypes that we all love and adore, and you got the foundation for a marvelous show. In my opinion, that is exactly what we got.

The show is good, old-fashioned fun. (With bits of wanton cruelty and destruction added in for good measure.) The main problem of the show, and it’s admittedly a big one, is the inconsistent writing. I’m willing to put up with a lot if a show is entertaining. Not everything has to make perfect sense in a grand adventure, but there is a limit. More than once, Galilei Donna asks you to abandon just a bit too much of your reason and asks you to ignore just a few too many unexplained events. This is not the bulk of the show, however. It is merely a speed-bump. The show keeps on rolling. Aside from the lunacy of the premise and the fun adventure aspect, the things I like most about the show are the personalities of, and relationship between, the three sisters. Hozuki, Hazuki and Kazuki (they even have similar names, how could I not think of Duck Tales?) are the best part of the show, and the way their familial love slowly grows and develops through the show is a thing of beauty. When all is said and done, you’re left with a strong sense of satisfaction. It feels like the characters have actually grown and matured.

This adventure may have concluded, but life goes on. I’d absolutely kill for a continuation or a spin-off set in the same universe. Visually, the series is very inconsistent, but it’s got it where it counts. The character designs are beautiful and very memorable, as are the mechs and the pleasant towns they travel to. The animation, however, is not always up to snuff. The characters also go off-model a lot. None of this is a major detractor from enjoying the series, and it might very well look a lot better on BD once those are all out. Lastly, as Chroma made crystal clear in his post, this opening is not to be missed. It’s absolutely beautiful to listen to, and every time I do, I think back to this lovely little show. The beauty of Galilei Donna lies in seeing the bigger picture and not getting hung up on the many smaller imperfections. If you can do that, which I realize is asking a lot, you’ll find a show that rewards you for doing so at every opportunity.


Comedy

This year, like the year before it, and the year before that, was a remarkable year for anime comedies. I had a good long discussion with a certain blog founder about the topic of which year was stronger, 2012 or 2013. We both ended up coming down on the side of 2012 overall.


Watashi ga Motenai no wa Do Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!

 
 

If you were to ask me which year had the best comedies, I’d say this one. Hands down. It’s virtually overflowing with stellar comedies, ranging from moe-focused, to eccentric, to rapid-fire to dark. One of the most well written and funniest shows of the year is the chronically cringe-inducing Watamote. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel bad for laughing, then you’ll cry some more. This show takes no prisoners, and simply refuses to let the viewer feel at ease while watching. It’s uncomfortable, it’s dark, and it’s painfully true to life. But that’s what good comedies are forged from; human suffering.


Genshiken Nidaime

 
 

Another strong contender for the throne this year is Genshiken Nidaime, which somehow manages to surpass both of the previous seasons in quality. It tackles the lifestyle of anime-obsessed eccentrics a little differently than Watamote (it’s nowhere near as depressive or in-your-face about it, for one), but it is just as good at ensuring that the characters in the show are both endearing and hilarious. It also provides some of the most genuinely enjoyable to listen to English dialogue I’ve heard in an anime to date. A really nice effort.


Hataraku Mao-sama

 
 

If you need a break from the soul-crushing looks at people just like you, you can jump on over to Hataraku Mao-sama. This ingenious fantasy-comedy about a demon king forced to work at a burger joint to pay the bills was one of the surprise hits of the year. The comedy is spot on, landing hit after hit. A fish out of water story is of course nothing new, but if Shinryaku! Ika Musume taught me anything, it’s that this premise still has tons of comedic potential. There is actually some pretty neat action sequences and high-fantasy intrigue in the show as well, which blends surprisingly well with the near-constant comedy.


Tekyu

 
 

Those are some of the comedies you can appraise and understand. Let’s talk about a few of the ones that are just sheer madness. Tekyu, for instance. Yeah, let’s go with that one. We are lucky, because this year we got not one, but two seasons of Tekyu to sink our teeth into. This is a show that defies explanation, and also defies common sense. It’s a show where the rapid-fire pace is so integral to the humor that if you took it away, the show would probably completely collapse. I’d tell you a joke to entice you to watch it or something, but there is really no point. Take the red pill and watch a few episodes. You’ll never be the same.


gdgd Fairies

 
 

If you can believe it, and I realize it’s asking a lot, there is actually a show that is even more absurd than Tekyu. It’s called gdgd Fairies. Spelled just like that, no capitalization necessary or allowed. We’re really digging deep now. A fully computer animated show about fairies living in a forest, drinking tea and whatnot. The show is typically divided into three parts.

- The fairies discuss something (usually something very stupid) and get derailed talking about some weird tangent, sometimes a bizarre plot ensues.

- The fairies enter a magical space to have fun with their magical powers. This usually translates to doing something outlandishly bizarre, like the old man olympics, where you try to knock down as many old men as possible. You could also enter a house and discover that it’s a dungeon from Super Mario Brothers.

- The magical dubbing lake. The fairies approach a tiny reflecting lake, which shows them a short scene of absurd animation. Completely without context and sound, they have to dub over what they imagine the characters in the scene are saying. This appears to be mostly ad-lib by the voice actresses, and includes lines such as “I’m a failure as a voice actress.” Want to see a fat woman with pink hair riding around on a tricycle, in the air? Want to see a man in a super sentai outfit punch a bear? All this, and so much more. All here, in the magical dubbing lake.

Every episode ends with a parodical next episode preview, which never, ever has anything at all to do with the actual next episode. The terrible, stock CG animation of the show just adds to the hilarity. This is a funny, funny show. Just don’t expect to leave with your sanity intact.


Moé

There’s undoubtedly going to be some cross-pollination between this category and comedy. Some of the shows could easily fit into the latter, but I’m going to try to focus on the shows that place a greater emphasis on cuteness and charm, with humor as more of a tool to accomplish this than a goal in its own right.


Tamako Market

 
 

Despite a weak year overall, there was one show Kyoto Animation produced this year which really hit the mark. While it may come across as a little goofy upon first glance, this show quickly endears itself to the viewer through its charming cast of characters, vibrant visuals and unbelievably positive message. The visual style sticks fairly close to the established K-On formula, but offers a much broader cast of characters in terms of age, gender and even ethnicity. This one should please fans of all things cute, and lucky us, it looks like there’s a movie in the making as well.


Kiniro Mosaic

 
 

If there was one show that could match or outdo Tamako Market‘s relentless cuteness, it would probably have to be Kiniro Mosaic. Wasting no time, the first episode lets you know what you are in for. Adorable scene after adorable scene of cute girls, sprinkled with hints of yuri, comedy and copious amounts of Engrish. The good kind. While I did not always find the show funny, I always found it cute, and it will put a smile on your face regardless. It is impossible to bring this show up without mentioning Kujo Karen, magnificently portrayed by Toyama Nao, who literally steals every scene she is in. She demands to be paid attention to, and I am happy to oblige.


Non Non Biyori

 
 

Another addition I was questioning where to discuss is the recent Non Non Biyori, which frankly belongs in the comedy section more-so than it does here. But I had more than enough comedies on my list as it was, and this is adorable, so into the moé section it goes! This show is easily one of the best written comedies of the year. The characters are full of surprises and are bursting with personality. The small-town setting adds a particular charm to it all for me, and because it’s a mixed class of different aged students, disturbingly reminds me of Higurashi. The only creepy thing in this one is Hotaru’s obsession with Komari, though. Much like Karen in Kiniro Mosaic, the precocious Renge steals virtually every scene she is in. Her completely bizarre sense of humor (even more-so considering she’s supposed to be a first grader) never fails to amuse, and her facial expressions alone are often enough to get me going.


Love Live! School Idol Project

 
 

While those are some pretty amazing shows, I feel I would not be doing my job properly unless I fawn at least a little bit over some idols and at least one shrine maiden. I have to do my part to live up to the stereotypes of what it means to be an anime-devotee. I won’t have to work very hard, though, because “Love Live!", despite its silly name, is actually a damn good show. Eschewing fanservice for the most part, and focusing squarely on the appeal of the personalities of the characters as well as strong comedic writing, Love Live! is an earnest effort from studio Sunrise. The animation goes above and beyond what you would normally expect, and the character designs are absolutely gorgeous. It all feels very genuine, and despite its premise doesn’t feel like it’s pandering to any particular group. I’m not particularly fan of the 3D/2D fusion they employ during the choreographed dancing scenes, but that’s a small price to pay for a show filled to the brim with guilt-free fun, eye-candy and good humor. Oh, I have to pick a favorite girl? Tie between Maki, Honoka and Umi for personality, and an honorable mention for Eri for being drop-dead beautiful.


Gingitsune

 
 

The last show (containing the promised shrine maidens) is Gingitsune, a relaxing slice-of-life piece about Makoto, a young girl living at a shrine, and blessed with the ability to perceive spirits. The thing I most appreciate about Gingitsune is how charming and gimmick-free it feels. They don’t really have a strong hook to draw you in, nor do they try to tempt you with the promise of fanservice, wacky comedy or copious amounts of heart-stopping cuteness. It’s a balanced show. Makoto is positively adorable, yes, but the spirit inhabiting the shrine for instance, is a huge, lumbering wolf-thing. (I know it’s supposed to be a fox. I don’t buy it.) The show offers you a little bit of cute slice-of-life, a little bit of school life, a little bit of shrine life, a little bit of drama, and even a little bit of supernatural problem-solving. It also shifts focus away from Makoto in favor of several other characters over the span of the series. While it doesn’t succeed in every single thing it attempts, the overall package is amdirable, and leaves you with a lingering sense of warmth and positivity without being too saccharine.


Guilty Pleasures

You know the ones I mean. Actually, this year turned out to be a little polarized when it came to shows containing ample fanservice. They were either so terrible I just couldn’t bear sitting through them (Freezing VibrationHigh School DxD NewHyperdimension Neptunia) or they actually turned out to be surprisingly awesome. I don’t mean “awesome” for an ecchi show, I mean genuinely good. Let’s look at some of them and see if I’m delusional or not.


Vividred Operation

 
 

Vividred Operation got the year off to a good start. Despite being from the director of Strike Witches, what we got was actually quite a surprise, and a departure in style for him. I lie of course, what we got was exactly what you would expect. No pants, fighting faceless, non-biological beings who threaten earth’s existence and appear out of the ocean, and girls with diverse personalities who battle them in awesome outfits. However, it all comes together and forms a very enjoyable show. Rewatching it, I have noticed that it is very well directed, and outside of an unhealthy obsession with the girls’ butts, this is a solid story with fun characters and a good sense of humor. The color palette, character design and their elaborate post-transformation outfits are all incredible, as is much of the animation. This one is simply a riot. Weaknesses include the lead girl Akane being the least interesting character and the sometimes poorly timed fanservice.


Walkure Romanze

 
 

I really, really liked Walkure Romanze this year. And I am going to have a lot more trouble justifying this one than I did Vividred Operation. But at least it’s probably going to be the first show you’ve ever seen about jousting, right? That’s not just a silly excuse to set the series in a small, European town at a specialized jousting school either. The series actually does conclude with a three-episode jousting tournament arc, and much of the series is spent practicing or building up to said tournament. A lot of the series is also spent goofing around with innuendos and showing off the girls’ other assets. But would you believe me if I said that it’s actually really funny and entertaining? This show is very self-aware, and works hard to do two things consistently:

- Be very, very stupid and revel in it.

- Avoid pitfalls of the harem genre to actually make funny jokes and enjoyable characters.

For instance, the male lead (Takahiro) is neither a hapless pervert nor an average, boring high-schooler. He is a talented former knight, who values honor and hard work. He’s actually pretty cool, and moreover doesn’t take up that much screentime. The show follows different characters at different times. The male “lead” is so in name only. Despite being a harem at heart, much of the drama and many of the relationships between the characters have nothing to do with the Takahiro, he’s for all intents and purposes just another member of the cast. The heart of the show is the girls, and they are quite spectacular. The designs are fantastic, assuring that all of the girls are incredibly visually appealing, and their personalities are equally vibrant and captivating. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a harem show this much since Shuffle. Make sure not to miss the adorable chibi-segments at the end of each episode. It’s also the only show where you will see a girl jousting in samurai armor, and the only show that I know of with a live horse-birth. (I’d love to be corrected on either one!) Maybe I’m crazy for loving this one as much as I do, but I can’t help it; it’s sexy, it’s cute, and it innovates enough to thoroughly separate itself from the herd in my eyes.


Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT (Spoilers)

 
 

The second season of “Haganai” does pretty much everything the first season does, but better. Which is great, because the first season, while great fun, had plenty of flaws. The strength of the show remains the same, watching the eccentric and/or bitter and/or enthusiastic members of the Neighbor’s Club/Rinjinbu go about their awkward, hateful business, trying not to kill each other in the process. I’ll be the first to admit, not every character in this series is a winner. Someone please put a sock in Maria‘s mouth. But the ones that really count are all interesting to watch, especially the focal trio of Sena, Yozora and Kodaka. In this season, there’s quite a bit more development for many of the members, and it is a welcome change. This series gets a special seal of approval for completely pulling a fast one on me. [SPOILER] At one point, when several of the girls attempt to confess their love to Kodaka, he doesn’t hear what any of them are saying and brushes it off. Typical lame harem writing, right? Turns out he actually did hear every single line of it, and that they were actually going somewhere with it in the story. That really impressed me. I totally have a crush on Kashiwazaki Sena too. Those gorgeous looks, the perfect figure, combined with Ito Kanae’s voice. She is irresistible.


Hyakka Ryoran Samurai Bride

 
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God, this show looks so good. The ink-blot style, the thick black lines, the superb character designs, the riveting action sequences. It’s all amazing-looking. Out of everything on the list, this is easily the series with the largest abundance of fanservice. Putting even its first season to shame, Samurai Bride forgoes subtlety and goes straight for the jugular. Huge breasts on display, panty shots and butts, revealing outfits, suggestive transformations, they really lay it on thick. There’s even a maid-cafe in this one, so yes, pander pander pander. However, the events that play out are entertaining to watch. There is a plot, and though there are usually plenty of episodes that play no part in furthering it, they eventually get there. It’s not just an excuse to show off the gorgeous girls, although it is certainly that as well. The comedy is a mixed bag, including both the typical sexual jokes you’ll be accustomed to if you’ve watched any series of this ilk before, as well as some incredibly funny antics, many of which involve everyone’s favorite idiot, Kanetsugu Naoe. This one is the most blatant of the bunch, the guiltiest of the pleasures, you might say. But it is also a non-stop barrage of some of the sexiest girls anime has ever produced, and thoroughly entertaining. I can’t blame it, and I can’t stop loving it. Incidentally, I can’t stop paying for figures from it either.


That’s it for the 2013 wrap-up! Before signing off, let us take a quick look at what’s coming up in 2014. I’ll cut straight to the chase. I’m super excited about 2014. And I’m never excited about anything before it actually comes out. I don’t generally get hyped until I have seen the product. The amount of incredible sequels coming up this year is simply staggering. Here’s what I’m excited about. Just take a look. It’s insane.

- Saki: Zenkoku-hen
- Chunibyo Demo Koi ga Shitai: Ren
- Sword Art Online II (Yes, I still love Sword Art Online. It’s true.)
- Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders - Mushishi II

Another season of Saki? Pretty good! Another season of Sword Art Online? I’m optimistic, I hope it’s as fun as the first. Another season of Chunibyo? I’m in heaven. Another season of Jojo’s? Stardust Crusaders!? ZA WARUDO. We’re not worthy. More Mushishi? Now I know this is some elaborate prank to announce sequels to every show I’ve loved for the last decade. Essentially, Chunibyo, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Mushishi are three of my absolutely favorite shows from the last ten years. All getting sequels in the span of one year, accompanied by Sword Art Online II, Saki, and presumably a ton of shows I have not even heard of yet? I’m not going to mince words here, I think that 2014 will be the best year we have seen since the boom in 2006-2007. I will actually call it an amazing year with these five sequels alone (assuming none of them muck it up, which I don’t think will happen, but if it does this guy right here will be buying a lot of razor blades, let me tell you.) With that, I bid adieu to the year of 2013, and roll out the red carpet to welcome our new lord and savior: 2014. If you read any part of this, thank you very much. I hope you found this year as enjoyable as I did.

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