Limited, But Punctual! Echoes' Summer 2012 Impressions
Heya, Echoes here. Having not caught a lot of shows this season, I still wanted to chime in with my opinion on what I did see this season. I’m essentially here to disagree with everything Chroma had to say about the season. Just kidding...that guy's alright.
From its very first episode, Sengoku Collection didn't attract that much positive attention (or any attention at all.) Maybe it's the simple character designs, maybe it's Sengoku-genderbend burnout (which admittedly is understandable), but whatever the reason is, I find it a little sad that this show isn't garnering more fans. It's an episodic deal, with each episode focusing on a new character from the distant past who has been hurled through time and ended up in our modern era. There's a little bit of carryover with some reoccurring characters, but with very few exceptions, you can jump in and out of the series at any point. As much of an apologist as I am for the series, I will admit that there is one elephant in the room with this one we have to talk about, and that is consistency. Like a lot of episodic shows, Sengoku Collection has a great deal of disparity between its individual episodes; some being great, and some being anything from incomprehensibly weird to somewhat boring. Most of them are at the very least good though, and sometimes go above and beyond their call of duty, delivering truly moving pieces that would do well as short films. Getting back to the actual topic of this season, the second half of the show has been much stronger than the first, maintaining the variety in styles and genres the first half delivered while raising the level of consistency a great deal; I've yet to see a mediocre episode in the second half. This one isn't quite over yet, and I'm anxious to see how it'll all be wrapped up in the end.
My personal favorite episode is "Sunshine Ruler" (every episode is named after the protagonist's title, and they're nearly always really cool), which succeeds with one of the simplest stories of the bunch. Horie Yui delivers an amazing performance, and her character, Liu Bei, has one of the most unique and appealing character designs I've seen in recent memory. The best episode in my humble reckoning is "Four Leaves". It is an evocative, beautiful and tragic tale of an unlucky and lonely, but kind girl working at a factory who finally finds some happiness through a pen pal known to her only as "Angel." I shan't spoil the ending, as I urge anyone to see the episode (it works as a standalone experience, no prior knowledge of the series required), but suffice it to say, it just about brought me to tears. Maybe I'm just a big softie, but this to me is an example of great art.
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse
That title is a bit of a handful, huh? So is the show. I actually have quite a bit to say about this one; it's definitely the show that's made me bounce back and forth the most this season.
Total Eclipse (that's what I'm sticking with for an abbreviation; it's the coolest part of the title) is set in an alternate version of our world, where horrible insect/monster alien creatures know as Beta have invaded the Earth, decimating the population and creating widespread havoc. Humanity's weapon of choice to combat this threat is, of course, the trusty mecha robots. The two first episodes set up the basic premise, and after that, the series proceeds to time-skip a bit into the future, following one of the few survivors of a mission that went awry, Takamura Yui (among others). Our male lead is a half-Japanese, half-American mech pilot called Yuya Bridges, which leads me to my first real gripe with the show. The show likes to play around with bigotry based on nationality/race, but it does so in a very hamfisted and awkward way. Bridges, for instance, can't stand those Japanese! Oh boy does he hate them, and so did his grandfather(?). This is conveyed in the least subtle way possible, which lessens the impact of what could have been an interesting aspect of his character to explore. Speaking of Bridges as a character, he has some great, great reactions. Whenever he's upset (which is at the drop of a hat, especially when his archenemy, Lieutenant Yui, is around!) he looks like someone is jamming a shard of glass into his hand or like he just swallowed the world's hottest chili. He makes the most over the top facial expressions and reacts with such spiteful bitterness to even the slightest criticism; it's pretty fun to watch. I've given up trying to figure out if this is a point in the show's favor or against it, but it's really funny either way. However, he grows as the series progresses, and becomes a more well-rounded human being. (More likeable, but probably less funny.)
So what's good about the show? Well, quite a bit actually. The opening is seriously badass, and the music sets the mood for the tense scenes as well as the battles (that is, when they don't add vocals that don't fit at all...but they thankfully seemed to stop doing that a few episodes in). The art is a mixed bag, but leans heavily to the positive overall. The animation is not great. There are a lot of still frames and some occasionally glitchy CG. However, the character designs are absolutely gorgeous. Allow me to be a superficial male for a second and compliment the female designs in particular, which clearly had a lot more meticulous effort put into them than their male counterparts.
Moving on to the meat of the series, the story and enjoyment value. I'm 12 episodes into the series, and I still have no idea who the Beta really are, where they come from, and why they are so hellbent on destroying humanity. Nor do I know why the series is called Total Eclipse. But hey, it's a two-cour season, they got plenty of time to get into that later (or not, a mysterious enemy can work too). I'm going to be blunt, despite all the series' flaws, I'm really enjoying myself watching it. The hordes of ravaging Beta provide a real sense of tension and dread, the kills are absolutely brutal, with devoured characters usually screaming in pain for several seconds before dying, as opposed to just instantly dying the second they enter the beasts' maws. This adds a gritty element to the series and intensifies every scene involving the Beta, especially when the characters aren't in their mech suits. The plot itself is very addicting once it gets going, and I find myself forgiving the sometimes questionable decisions the characters make because I'm having such a good time. It doesn't hurt that the show is chock-full of beautiful, cool women either (and Daisuke Ono; he's pretty much impossible to dislike).
This show was already comprehensively covered and thoroughly praised in Chroma's previous (superior) post on the subject, so I shan't waste too much time retreading that ground.
Buuuut. This show is so good. It's just so good. It's genuinely funny, it's super cute without being overbearing or tiresome, it never wears out the welcome of any of its jokes, it effortlessly shifts the focus to whichever character it wants, regardless of role, and it's just so colorful and pretty! The color palette is perfect for the lighthearted, laid back atmosphere they're trying to convey, and the character designs are a pure stroke of genius, conveying every emotion excellently for fantastic comedic and heart-melting effects. Is that enough praise? No! The opening and ending are somehow even more addicting than the already excellent ones from the first season, and the "Akarin~" opening sequence has somehow managed to stay fresh throughout. *Takes a deep breath* Okay, that's enough.
The bottom line is this. Yuru Yuri might be just another moé comedy with young girls doing cute things. All that granted, this is the cream of the crop. This is fine dining. This is an aged wine, a fine cigar, a prist-.... you get the point.
Binbogami ga! is a strange beast. I should hate it. It subscribes to the Adam Sandler school of comedy, which is essentially based on one axiom: "SCREAMING MAKES IT FUNNY! THE LOUDER AND ANGRIER YOU SCREAM IT, THE FUNNIER IT GETS!"
Sorry about that, but it's true. There is a lot of screaming in Binbogami ga! and there's a lot of juvenile humor, but it does it all so well. The characters are likeable, especially the constantly-in-each-other's-hair, unstoppable force-versus-immovable-object duo which makes up the show's main characters. Sakura Ichiko is too damn lucky. More specifically, she has too much fortune. The God of Misfortune Momiji is on the job though, and she'll drain Ichiko of her excess fortune and restore balance to the world! Or maybe she'll just laze around, watch TV and put it all off until tomorrow. Comedy is highly subjective, and it's hard to predict what people will find funny. I find the show hilarious for the most part, with a few hiccups along the way, but your mileage might vary significantly. It is also great to see Hanazawa Kana step outside of her comfort zone and play a spoiled, improper and somewhat mean-spirited character. This is definitely not your run of the mill moé show, and seeing Hanazawa broaden her range alone makes this a worthwhile viewing experience for me (she performs excellently in the role too; it's not just a novelty).
Okay, this one is sort of hard to explain the appeal of. "Unfortunately, no one can be told what Joshiraku is. You have to see it for yourself".
From the author who brought us the hilarious Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei comes another dialogue-based comedy, satirizing social issues, anime, geek culture at large and just about anything they can come up with. While not as subversive and grim as SZS, Joshiraku has elements of the dark humor and absurdism that make SZS such a hit. But enough comparisons (okay, one more, the character designs remind me of Saki, which is fantastic!), what's the show actually about? Well, it's about five girls performing short rakugo skits (I'm not going to lie, I don't get those at all) and then proceed to spend the entire rest of the episode discussing various topics, usually straying far off-topic and coming to absurd, stupid or hilariously over-complicated conclusions. Sometimes they actually have a good point or two as well, but it's usually pretty damn funny regardless. One important aspect of the show is the reliance on puns and language-based jokes. Despite some absolutely stellar fansubs being available for this show, I do feel that I'm missing out on quite a bit not understanding Japanese myself. There's more than enough here as is, but I'm sure this show is even more of a treat for those among us who can actually understand the jokes in their original form. The show is extremely self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking and might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it hits you, I reckon it'll hit you pretty hard.
Although I only watched a handful of series this season, I think I ended up with some pretty great shows, which speaks well of this season overall. Or perhaps I'm just lucky, for once. I hope you were lucky this season too.