A Hard Act to Follow - Echoes' Fall 2013 Impressions
We're a decent way through the season, and it's about time for some impressions. As the title of the article implies, this season has some big shoes to fill. This summer season featured great titles such as Watamote, Genshiken Nidaime, Uchoten Kazoku, as well as the conclusions of both Shingeki no Kyojin and To Aru Majutsu no Railgun's second season. Beating that seems like a tall, and somewhat unfair, burden to levy this poor season with. Let's see what it has to offer on its own terms. We'll go with alphabetical order for this one, but before that, let's take a gander at the handful of sequels.
Infinite Stratos 2
In the not-too-distant future, superweapons called Infinte Stratos reign supreme. In the prestigious Stratos Academy, women (the only gender capable of piloting these suits) are trained. Here to upset the balance is Orimura Ichika, the lone exception to the rule. The great male hope. From that description, you'd almost think that this is a serious, sci-fi mecha show. Ha-hah...no. Consisting mostly of harem antics that even Love Hina would look at and remark: "Sort of repetitive, guys", this part comedy, part action show has a litany of issues. Ichika is perhaps the most dense harem lead I have ever seen. Believe you me, that is saying a lot. The light-hearted side of the show is poorly balanced with the plot, which sometimes rears its ugly head, and the harem comedy is by the book; legitimately seeming like parody at times. With all that being said, this show is not all bad. I know, I know, those were some harsh words just now, but there's some genuine enjoyment to be found in this show if you're willing to look for it. I'm hardly original in pointing this out, but Charlotte Dunois (portrayed magnificently by Hanazawa Kana in what is perhaps the single best example of a character who deserves so much better than the show she's trapped in) is simply a joy to behold. Her kind smile, adorable-yet-competent demeanor and splendid character design make her a memorable and charming character. The action can be alright, but because the plot is dull, it's hard to care. The majority of it consists of training battles anyway. I will admit that I have enjoyed this sequel a bit so far, more-so than the first season. The interactions between some of the girls have improved (Ichika's however, are as bad as ever), and the new character, Tatenashi, is an absolute bombshell. When the plot pops back up, I'm sure my eyes will glaze over, but for now, it’s surprisingly alright.
Kakumeiki Valvrave 2
I'm not going to attempt to present a synopsis of this one. Now, I'm just a lowly city boy, not a mecha connoisseur or expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this show is pretty damn fun to watch. Maybe the plot doesn't always make sense (declare our school its own sovereign nation? sure!) and the show might hand out plot twists and out-of-nowhere scenes like it's candy on Halloween. (One scene in particular involving Rukino Saki. Sheeeesh.) However, there's one thing I can say about this series, and it's a biggie. It is never boring. Something insane is always waiting right around the corner, ready to jump out and launch a surprise attack on unsuspecting viewers. The show doesn't care what you think. It does what it wants. And I respect that.
Other positives include cool action scenes and amazing character designs. There's a lot of variation as well as detail in the designs, and a nice array of different colors used for robots and hair alike. The characters, while not amazingly complex, are usually fleshed out enough to at least evoke interest. Me, I'm all about Rukino Saki. She has a winning personality.
Magi: The Kingdom of Magic
Magi: The Kingdom of Magic takes place in a world inspired by the well-known story-collection "One Thousand and One Nights." You'll recognize many of the characters' names, such as Sinbad, Aladdin, Alibaba and Jaffar, as well as a nice, Arabian visual style present in much of the show, granting it a distinct identity. The second season picks up right where the first left off, and continues the adventures of Aladdin and his companions. While this is unabashedly a shonen show, it can be surprisingly emotionally poignant on when it wants to. It's not a simplistic tale, and it touches on topics such as social inequality, governance and even slavery in ways that don't insult your intelligence. One arc consists of turning a monarchy into a republic. That's pretty awesome. In addition to the well handled themes, the show has a myriad of fun and compelling characters, gorgeous animation and very pretty artistry in general. The outfits deserve a special mention, as they are often meticulously detailed and lavishly extravagant. Lastly, there's a veritable treasure of great seiyuu in this show, including Hanazawa Kana, Horie Yui, Daisuke Ono, Kaji Yuki and Tomatsu Haruka. Just to name a few.
I can't really say enough good things about this one. It's great fun, and a great example of just how good a shonen adventure series can be in the right hands.
It's back for another round. And we didn't even have to wait this time. How about that? Other than a new, parodic fanservice opening, this is the same old Tekyu you know and love. Nearly bald girls complaining that their hair is too long, then getting a reverse haircut is standard procedure here. The breakneck pace makes sure no joke ever outstays its welcome. In fact, I watch every episode twice as soon as I get my hands on them, and usually a couple of times more later on. It's downright necessary to process all of the little jokes they pack in there. Good, good stuff.
That takes care of the sequels, let's dive into the new series the season has to offer. The continuations did a good job getting the ball rolling in a positive direction. Can we keep it up?
Blazblue: Alter Memory
I don't play many modern games. Blazblue was an exception. I rather liked Blazblue. Now I find myself in the unenviable position of the annoying besserwisser who has to tell everyone "The games are soooo much beeeetter, maaaaan. You anime-watchers don't even know!"
Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to tell you that this series was highly unenjoyable. The plot is rushed, giving no consideration to viewers who might be unfamiliar with the source material, and giving us no time to get to know and care for the characters before we're neck-deep into the story. The series greatest misstep, its most cardinal sin, however, might just be the dull and shoddily animated fight sequences. I want to know who decided it was a good idea to animate a fighting game with the budget of exactly one pittance. Some genres can get away with very little animation budget. Fighting game adaptation is not one of them. The music is not used to its greatest potential either, and sometimes feels included just as a nod to the game, rather than something actually befitting the scene. What the series still has going for it is a strong cast of characters. My favorite character, Tsubaki Yayoi, thankfully made an early appearance. It's not much, but I'll take any victory I can get.
In a world ravaged by the horrors of an atomic meltdown, Tokyo is now virtually uninhabitable. Three young girls lead a mission to search for survivors in the radiation-filled city, unfettered by any of protective gear everyone else seems to be wearing.
Coppelion is an interesting little show. I'm reminded of the heart-breaking Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, as well as other vaguely post-apocalyptic series such as Innocent Venus. While the subjects can be quite grim in this (the show is composed of one episode vignettes), it's not really a brooding show. Despair is balanced with hope, danger with comedy, and even when things go wrong, there has been a silver lining.
This is a show that is hard to give an accurate judgment of after four episodes. I haven't been all that drawn into any of the stories so far, and the same can be said for the trio of female leads. They've yet to become interesting characters to me. But they're improving. This might need more time to establish its setting and develop its characters before the pathos can shine through. It seems like it might be something worth waiting for, but even if it's not, it's a decent watch as it is. Just don't expect it to sweep you off your feet.
Three sisters, descended from Galileo Galilei are thrown into a world of chaos when competing factions, searching for a treasure supposedly left behind by Galileo, start hunting them down to rack their brains for clues.
Astounding premise. Astounding anime. The series wastes no time getting us acquainted with the characters, nor does it wait to get thick into the plot. There's a whole lot of stuff happening, yet the pace isn't overwhelming, and you're never confused as to what's going on. The characters have already been fleshed out quite admirably, and the troubled relationship between the three sisters, as well as their decidedly mixed feelings about their distinguished lineage is beginning to take center stage. What's interesting about the sisters is that their characters aren't necessarily what you'd imagine them to be at first glance. Hozuki, the youngest, might be mistaken for a token cute girl, or worse yet, the crybaby of the group. Far from it, she's actually the most capable character by far, constructing her own mechanized air ship, as well as showing considerable emotional maturity when confronted with difficult situations. Kazuki, the middle sister, is introduced as a strong fighter and a silent bad-ass, but is in fact quite emotionally troubled, quick to blame others and is shown lacking much resolve.
Little things like this, combined with fantastic visuals, a good pace as well as a story that promises to be anything but dull makes this one of my favorite shows of the season.
In a small temple lives a young shrine maiden and her father. The girl, gifted with the ability to perceive and communicate with a fox spirit, a herald of a local god, tries to put her gift to good use in the community.
This series is just incredibly sweet. It has no gimmick, no plot, and no fanservice. There's nothing to draw you in, save for the actual atmosphere and characters. I think that the ability to be genuinely sweet and heartwarming is something that's often undervalued. It might look plain, but it's not that simple to accomplish. You easily slip into melodrama, mushy sentimentalism, or both. Gingitsune accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and that is to make you feel good about what's going on on screen. Whether it's the shrine maiden's relationship with the fox spirit (who is actually a huge, muscular creature; a really neat and unusual design) or her earnest attempts to be a good Samaritan, the show is always convincingly wholesome without being dull.
Massive compliments need to be given to Kanemoto Hisako (Ika Musume from Shinryaku! Ika Musume, Kanata from Sora no Woto), whose performance as Makoto really makes this show. Perfect casting, and a perfectly good show to spend your time on.
Kill la Kill
In a school where only the strongest survive and climb to the top, where your standing in the academy's hierarchy decides much more than simply your popularity or your grades, a ferocious girl named Ryuko has just one thing on her mind. Vengeance for her slain father. To achieve that, she must first uncover the mysteries surrounding his death, and most importantly, discover the identity of the murderer and make sure justice is served. Aiding her is a bizarre piece of equipment; a uniform she must don to unleash its immense power. Standing in her way... anyone and everyone.
Kill la Kill has a whole lot of style on its side. Even if you don't know it going in, it likely won't take you long to realize that it's being brought to you by the same director who gave you shows such as Gurren Lagann. The animation is kinetic and over the top, the concepts utterly bonkers, and the characters exaggerated stereotypes. Not that any of this is a bad thing. This is of course entirely intentional. Whether you dig it or not will be highly subjective, as it's very reliant on you getting behind the style. The style is where it's at for this one, and it's omnipresent, never letting up for as much as a second.
Here's where I lose my nerd cred. I don't actually like the style that much. That's not to say I dislike it across the board. Ryuko looks great, and the energy you feel from some of the fights really puts you in the right mood. I could go down the list of what I don't like stylistically about the show, but it's really not worth dwelling on. It's as simple as me not finding a lot of it visually appealing. No more, no less. I will keep watching this one as well; even Gurren Lagann took quite a while to grow on me.
I wish this show all the success in the world. Experimental and mold breaking shows, regardless of whether each and every one appeals to me personally, is something I want to see do well, just so that there's a chance we get more unusual stuff in the future.
Kyokai no Kanata
Kyoto Animation casts "mediocre anime production"! Echoes is paralyzed by fear. Kyoto Animation is perhaps my favorite studio. When they put something out, I expect to like it. And I tried to like Kyokai no Kanata. I tried, and I tried. Almost every aspect of the show is disappointing. The setting is decidedly uninteresting. The characters range from boring to annoying. The super-powers are poorly contextualized, resulting in battles you're not invested in.
The worst, and I mean the worst part of this show are the terrible duo of male leads. Akihito, whose defining trait is "I like girls with glasses", and Hiromi, whose defining trait is "I like little sister characters." The way Akihito addresses and compliments Mirai is awkward and sort of creepy. It doesn't come across as him liking her at all, it comes across as gross fetishism. It's annoying and unfunny. I genuinely have disdain for this character. Though Akihito is the biggest offender, the rest of the cast is sadly lackluster as well. Mirai is cute and clumsy, but that's all she is. At least we are actually seeing some efforts to start developing her character now, which is more than can be said about any other member of the cast.
This is so lame. This is so not KyoAni. I really hope that this is still salvageable, and that my comments will look foolish in retrospect. Please, KyoAni, make a fool out of me.
Kyosogiga is a series I used to have trouble following. No longer. Unlike the earlier ONA versions of this series, the content in the TV version paints a quite clear picture of what's going on. (Maybe it always did and I'm just stupid, I don't know.) What I do know is that this show is very good. The art and story complement each other perfectly, resulting a show that is strange, yes, but also charmingly unique. I don't want to give away the premise of the show, it's a really inventive idea. This is a small thing, but I adore Koto's mallet. I love seeing her smash things with it. Koto also serves as a great protagonist, she's very charismatic in an eccentric way I can't quite put into words. I'm very eager to see where they take this strange tale in the remaining run. They packed a lot of emotion into the first couple of episodes, so I'm curious to see how much drama compared to comedy they will focus on as the answers eventually unfold.
Nagi no Asukara
Kyoto Animation might have had sort of an off year, but between Uchoten Kazoku and this, P.A. Works looks to be more than ready to pick up the slack.
Nagi no Asukara follows a group of humanoid creatures who inhabit the ocean who find themselves having to attend a school on land. Every other student is a land-dweller, and the series looks to primarily be tackling prejudice and interpersonal relationships so far. Problems occur on both sides, as we see mean-spirited bullying tackled and conservative traditions clash with forbidden love. The show is very heavy on the drama, right from the first episode. There's no time spent establishing the characters before showing us their faults; you get to know them as the drama unfolds, which is an interesting approach. That's not to say the show is bereft of humor either, the comedic relief is present and is quite charming.
Because the show relies so heavily on drama to move things along, the show needs a strong cast of characters to draw the viewer in. Luckily, the show provides exactly that. The relationships within the main cast are nuanced, making them interesting to follow, and the characters themselves are gradually being fleshed out, making them more and more likable as the show progresses. Hikari, for instance, started off a little grating, but is now much more relatable. Meanwhile, Manaka started off cute and adorable, a target of Hikari's protective instincts, but has since shown considerable strength herself; ironically proclaiming that she'll be the one to protect Hikari. The show does have a melancholy streak. Whenever someone experiences a personal victory, it seems to result in someone else feeling sad. I love it when a show eschews happy endings like that, but anyone seeking this show out should be aware that it can be emotionally exhaustive if you're able to empathize with the characters.
P.A. Works really went above and beyond with the visuals for this one. The character designs are luscious; an absolute delight to behold, while the backgrounds are practically museum-worthy paintings. The turquoise eyes, the oceanic vistas and the smooth character animation make this my pick for best looking show of the season. A joy to experience. Nothing short of excellent so far.
Strike the Blood
A hitherto normal high school boy finds himself becoming the 4th Primogenitor, which I think is some sort of super-vampire, and gets all tangled up in an international plot involving competing factions of various powerful entities.
First off, I am happy to report that this is not really a vampire show. I've sort of had my fill of those lately. There are all manner of demons, monsters, artificial people and mad priests to be found. The show takes place on an island off the coast of the Japan, where all of these beings live, isolated from the general populace. The show is reminiscent of To Aru Majutsu no Index, with its urban, cut-off from the rest of the world, setting and super-powered battles. It doesn't appear to have the depth of world building found in To Aru, but it is a perfectly fine shonen romp.
The impetus-less male lead doesn't do much to set himself apart from his peers, but again, he's perfectly likeable. The female lead, Himeragi Yukina, on the other hand, is quite awesome. Cute, charming and ready to lay the smackdown on transgressors at the drop of a hat, she elevates the show for me. As for complaints, I thought episode 4 got a little creepy. You see, one of the show's less compelling conceits is that the male lead doesn't like to suck human blood at all. But when he gets aroused (yuuuuup), he can't control his urges. His urges to drink blood, that is. Guh. I'd be happy if they left that part out of the show. However, considering how dirty it sounds, it's actually nowhere near as unpleasantly handled in the show as you'd imagine.
I quite enjoy this one. It abides by the cardinal rule of entertainment, namely: It's not boring. Not every show needs to caress your soul like Nagi no Asukara does. Some are just there to fill a void with some decent entertainment. For that, there's Strike the Blood.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I have taken pleasure in a mediocre anime with trite humor and terrible innuendos. Walkure Romanze is an anime about jousting. That's a first, right? But it's really an anime about pretty girls riding horses and wardrobe malfunctions.
There is jousting in it, though. But let's not kid ourselves. If you started watching this because you're a jousting enthusiast, you are what's commonly referred to as a liar. A deceiver. A perverter of truth. The opening to this anime is pretty funny. It shows the characters riding horses, swinging around lances and such, and carefully freeze-frames on an awkward panty-shot while displaying their names. It's so shameless and stupid I actually sort of love it. I can't believe they used the lance-is-a-penis innuendo three times in a single episode. They weren't short clips either. This is a show which seems terrible on paper, but which is actually really fun if you're able to laugh both at, and with, it. It shamelessly shows off its female cast, but it doesn't really feel that sleazy to me. It's sort of cute. It's all about the context of the fanservice, and in this one, I think they produce an environment which makes it playful rather than exploitative.
So that's the bad part of the show. There's some good stuff too. Some stuff I don't need to conjure up excuses for. The character designs are beautiful. That's what initially drew me to the show. They're conventional anime bishoujo stuff, but there's nothing wrong with that. Mio, the female lead, is hilarious. She's adorably stupid, and has the perfect voice to convey that, but she's actually quite a go-getter and is surprisingly strong-willed. And she looks amazing after she, in a shocking twist (eat your heart out, Shyamalan), cuts her hair down to tomboy-length to compete in a jousting duel. See, that's the kind of dedicated girl we're dealing with.
It's a guilty pleasure, and quite dumb, but I have to be honest; I really enjoy myself watching it.
Now don't I look silly, ending it on Walkure Romanze. But that's how it goes. There are quite a few shows to enjoy this season, but to bring it all around to the initial query; I'm afraid it can't hold a candle to the summer season. But that's alright. We love it anyway. Thanks for reading and happy watching!