Endless Fits of Laughter - Echoes' Summer 2013 Impressions
It's been a while! Our dear leader Chroma (blessed be his name) has been busy, so I'm here to fill the gaping void left in his absence. The summer season has just concluded, and I thought it offered an excellent selection of shows. So I'm here. To talk about them and stuff.
[Editor's note: "Talk" apparently means ramble on endlessly.]
As the title might have spoiled, this is one stupendously laughter-inducing season, filled to the brim with great comedies. One notable omission from my list if the second season of Bakemonogatari, which I've yet to watch. Waiting a week between each of those episodes would be death.
With that said, let's dive right into the Summer season. Eschewing alphabetical ordering, I'll instead talk about the shows in the order of how much I enjoyed them, starting with the one I enjoyed least and working my way up to the best the season had to offer.
The dubious honor of being discussed first in the post goes to the second season of Highschool DxD. When it comes to ecchi shows, series which heavily feature fanservice of the sexual variety, a lot of people curb their expectations as far as any other qualities are concerned.
Plot? Forget about it. Compelling characters? All the facts we need are the girls' measurements.
In general, I think this is a bit of a shame. There's no reason we can't have a good series which also happens to fit the ecchi label. Quality doesn't need to be put on the chopping block to make this happen. Come on, put that chocolate in with the peanut butter. They're good together. Sometimes this happens. Code Geass is a good example, Mai Hime is another. Then, there's the times where we get Highschool DxD New. Series which lets all the ecchi naysayers shake their head and (rightfully) tell me: "I told you so..."
I'll admit I enjoyed the first season of the show. It was dumb, but it was somewhat entertaining, and had pretty sexy character designs. In this second installment, the dumbness and the character designs remain, but the entertainment value has sadly evaporated. The way the plot progresses makes it seem like the show takes itself far too seriously, a death knell if there ever was one. The villains were lame, the new characters crammed in without serving any interesting purpose, and resulted in a jumbled mess of a show. It's not so bad that you can laugh either, it's merely mediocre and tame. You can do better than this, even if all you're looking for is sexy ladies. (Which admittedly, the show has its fair share of, and whom get plenty of "exposure." hur-hur-hur.)
I'm sure someone else is loving every minute of this show, and I don't begrudge anyone that pleasure. To me, however, there are far better shows out there catering to exactly the same interests as Highschool DxD New is that I'd rather be watching.
Fate Kaleider Prisma Illya
I hear this "Type-Moon" thing is pretty popular. I better tread carefully.
Fate Kaleider Primsa Illya is a spin-off series, taking the character Illyasviel von Einzbern (of Fate/Stay Night and related properties) and turns her into a magical girl, fighting the forces of evil with her magical wand. Joining her is the serious and talented magical girl Miyu Edelfelt, who is determined to succeed and retrieve every damn class card she can get her hands on.
The series starts off with a humorous focus as Illya gets her magical girl powers and meets the rest of the cast, as well as her mischievous wand, Ruby. This is by far the most enjoyable part of the series. I have always found Illya's voice hilarious, and seeing it being put to use for actual all-out comedy was very satisfying. Sadly, this does not last. The series takes a much more serious turn, which was not to its benefit. The characterization is wafer-thin, and I did not feel like I had any reason to care about the conflict at the series' core. There were certainly glimmers of hope throughout, with a couple of really awesome battle scenes thrown in, but overall, I found the series decidedly unengaging.
Ever since Kyoto Animation took the world by storm with the short promo, Free! has been highly discussed in the anime community. With the discussion came a certain level of controversy. After all, this was being animated by Kyoto Animation, a decidedly male otaku and moé friendly studio. "Betrayal!" was shouted from the rooftops by self-entitled KyoAni fans, faces turned red in anger, and I'm pretty sure at least a dozen girls literally fainted from the exposure to the intricately drawn and meticulously animated male muscles at display. I think the whole controversy is a bit silly. While I would have loved for KyoAni to continue producing the same kind of shows they've been for the last decade, that's not my decision to make. They don't owe me anything for being a fan. All the discussion surrounding the show aside, let's get down to what really matters. Is the show any good?
First things first, Free! certainly looks the part. From the aforementioned muscles to the actual swimming, as well as the classic KyoAni character designs, there's plenty here to marvel at. I wouldn't call it outstanding by KyoAni's standard, but it's good looking regardless. The characters are likeable, if a bit generic. I'm a Rin fan myself. Those pointy teeth and that reckless attitude...he's the one to watch. Good looks definitely run in his family, as his sister Go is equally attractive, and a nice female representation in the show. When push comes to shove, I don't have very much of interest to say about the show itself. It contained an enjoyable, but decidedly unspectacular, series of events. It's inoffensive, and just tries to have some fun. For that, I cannot fault it.
I'm also quite certain that you can get more than I did out of this show if you happen to like men taking their shirts off and parading around. That does little for me, but hey, it's there for the many, many people out there for whom it does plenty. And they deserve a show too, they really do.
Staz is a powerful, but lackadaisical vampire without much of an interest in sucking blood. He also has an obsession with the entertainment media of mortals, especially the output of Japan. He's an otaku, to put it simply. (As an aside, I think he'd get along really well with Nyaruko from Haiyore Nyaruko-san.)
This is the sort of premise that immediately turns me off. On the face of it, it sounds trite and leads you to think it'll be painfully unfunny. Luckily, this is not the case for Blood Lad.
Blood Lad is actually quite funny, and moves at a brisk pace. At a mere 10 episodes, it doesn't outstay its welcome either. The art style is neat, with a lot of baggy eyes, grayish skin and vaguely morbid designs all around. This contrasts starkly with the decidedly laid-back tone of the show. There's a plot, sure, and it's more than enough to keep your interest, but the show never takes itself too seriously. It's all about having a good time. It's popcorn entertainment, and it served that purpose well. Time flew by, and it was time well spent. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but well worth watching.
As an added bonus, one of the main characters reminded me of Haruko Haruhara from FLCL. That's a positively good thing.
Tamayura ~More Aggressive~
Tamayura is a wonderful, positive little show. Brought to us by one of my personal favorite directors, Sato Junichi, it falls right in line with the much of his earlier works. The title always makes me chuckle, because there's little in the world I would describe as less aggressive than Tamayura. Like previous seasons, the series centers on Fu "Potte" Sawatari, whose passion for photography leads her to take steps forward in life. (Hence the title, "more aggressive".) This time, she starts a club, makes friends with another photo-enthusiast, and explores many surrounding areas. It's almost like a travel documentary at times, but describing the plot of a slice of life show is probably getting me nowhere.
Tamayura always has its heart in the right place. It's hard to feel bad after watching an episode of this; it's just so damn earnest. There's no cynicism present or marketing concessions that seem to have been made, everyone involved seem like they genuinely love spending time in this small, charming world. My confession is that I've never loved Tamayura the way I do Sato Junichi's other works. I like it, don't get me wrong, I truly do, but there's something emotional that's just off the mark for me about it. It doesn't quite move me, and I can't put my finger on why.
I did get a little teary-eyed during the series final episode, I will admit. You will be missed, Tamayura.
Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai: Megami-hen
Also known as "The World God Only Knows: Goddesses Arc", Kami Nomi is back for a third season to convey the story that's frequently described as the strongest arc of the series. Keima is back, and so are a flock of his earlier targets of romantic conquest. Kanon, Shiori and Ayumi (among others) all get another chance to shine, and I couldn't be happier. The biggest issue I had with the second season of Kami Nomi was that the female leads just weren't as interesting as the ones in the first season, and this season steps right up and rectifies that problem. Additionally, there's actually a quite exciting overarching plot involving the eponymous goddesses present in this season. This adds a much welcome sense of urgency and tension to Keima's mission, resulting in an overall highly enjoyable ride. That's not to say that this season takes itself terribly seriously. The familiar humor is present throughout, taking small breaks when the plot starts brewing, but usually popping its head out again pretty quickly.
Two particular high-points of the season for me was Shiori's terrible writings and Ayumi's time in the limelight. Her chance to get some decent screentime was long overdue, and much appreciated.
What on earth could you possibly say about Tekyu that would give the reader any semblance of what to expect from this show? The show crams more jokes into its two minute runtime than some shows do in their full twenty-five. Okay, so perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but Tekyu is pretty ridiculously fast. The animation is bare-bones, but that fact is largely irrelevant. In fact, the shoddy look sometimes makes the show even funnier. Tekyu knows comedic timing, and if you rewatch these episodes, you'll notice so much stuff that just flew by you the first time 'round.
I find this show hysterical. It's unbelievably good for its run-time, and you've got nothing to lose by giving it a shot. It's like a truncated Excel Saga. Just more consistently funny.
Kiniro Mosaic follows the daily lives of a handful of girls, somewhat centered on the dynamic between Shino (who's obsessed with blond girls) and Alice (who's obsessed with Japan... and has blond hair.)
I'll cut right to the chase and say it; This show is ridiculously cute and endearing. Whether they're spouting surprisingly earnest attempts at English dialogue or just being silly, this group of girls are an absolute joy to watch. The strange, almost stalker-like obsessions the main pair have with each other leads to an unusual dynamic, which results in a lot of adorable and hilarious scenes throughout the series run. Aya might just be the cutest lesbian-in-denial I've ever seen in a show. You will want to hug her. It's inevitable, believe you me.
The absolute show-stealer for me though, was Karen (brilliantly portrayed by Toyama Nao, who also voiced Kanon this season.) Her unconditional devotion to her friends and infectiously curious and positive personality makes every second she's on screen nigh-hypnotic. You'd think the fake accent would be annoying, but the exact opposite turns out to be true; it's absolutely sublime. Easily one of my favorite voice acting jobs of the year.
Uchoten Kazoku (which, as I understand it, translates to "The Eccentric Family") is one of those shows which has just about the most perfect title. You're damn right they're eccentric. They're shape-shifting tanuki.
This clever show follows the deeds and misdeeds of this family of shape-shifters, which includes having to sweet-talk grumpy, old tengu, discovering the truth about their dead father, and avoiding becoming the main ingredient of the yearly hot-pot party hosted by the mysterious social club known as the Friday Fellows.
The strengths of this series are plentiful. The cast is varied and fleshed out, and you'll grow to like them more and more as the series progresses. The series eschews stereotypes and tries hard to give each character charm and some sort of flair. Even the obnoxious twins Ginkaku and Kinkaku, true brats in every sense of the word, have a charm to them. Their snobbishness and unpleasant personalities don't come across as irritating, but rather entertaining in a love-to-hate kind of way, thanks in no small part to the hilarious voice acting. The series does an excellent job at making you ponder its mysteries. What happened to their father? Why is one of the brothers permanently stationed at the bottom as a well in the form of a frog? Why do the Friday Fellows want to capture and eat a tanuki every year? Naturally, I won't spoil the answers to any of these questions, and unfortunately not every question is answered in the show itself either. But that's a small price to pay for getting to enjoy such an intelligent and charming show.
Oh, and the soundtrack is amazing. I rewound so many scenes just to listen to the track one more time.
You know those people who were worried about watching Free! because of their subconscious fear of it turning them homosexual? They were worrying about the wrong show.
Genshiken Nidaime continues the tale of the Genshiken club, but now with an almost completely new cast of members. The old cast still make appearances, and Madarame in particular just can't seem to let go of that alluring clubroom. While the old cast was primarily male, the new members are all female fujoshi. So we're led to believe, anyway. Then the wig comes off. The long-haired beauty is actually a guy in drag, and what a "guy" he is. Hato could have single-handedly made this show interesting enough to watch. The issues this guy has with his gender identity and his sexuality would make Freud's head spin. You are constantly wondering just why he's acting the way he does, and what his true, underlying feelings could be. I don't care what anyone says either, he's still attractive. Dude, or no dude. In all likelihood the most moe male character I have ever seen.
As compelling of a character as Hato is, the burden of carrying the show need not rest on his shoulders alone. Every character in this show warrants your attention. Everyone is either interesting, funny, adorable, or all of the above. Characters that could have easily been pigeonholed into one-note roles, i.e. "the fat one" (Yajima), "the mascot character" (Sue) are instead given actual characteristics and personalities. The result is a cast that you can't help but love and connect with, every step of the way. The true testament to this series quality is that I can be engaged and excited by what these girls are doing, because of their strong characterization, even though I don't actually give a lick about the stuff they're obsessed with. (That is, yaoi.)
All this praise, and I haven't even touched on the returning characters from the original Genshiken series. Out of everyone, Madarame has the most screentime, and his personality is also the one that's most interesting. His relationship with Hato, his struggle to live the nine-to-five life of a proper adult while still maintaining his hobby, his attempts to come to term with his crush on Saki... it's all good, good stuff. He's matured, and the change is subtle; believable.
Did I mention this show is really, really funny? Well, it is. The opening and ending themes are also awesome, and won't ever leave my playlists. But this unbridled enthusiasm has to come to an end, I've rambled quite long enough about this show. It's a sequel that, in my mind, surpasses an already excellent original.
Watashi ga Motenai no wa Do Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!
I'm not quite sure where to begin praising this work, so let's just start with Tomoko. Tomoko is one of the most uniquely intriguing characters I have seen in a long while. An unpopular girl who's a complete nerd with no social skills? Sure, we've seen that before. What separates Tomoko from the pack is her complexity. She's not a pure, innocent victim who's picked on by the mean, merciless world. Nor is she a terrible human being who deserves everything that's currently coming her way. Tomoko is unpopular because she's awkward. And creepy. And spiteful. She's all these things, and she's so often the architect of her own destruction, but that's not all she is. She is also adorable, inventive and proactive in her quest to dig herself out of the hole she's in. Although she appears to be in denial about many things, she also attempts to face a lot of her problems head-on; she's actually quite courageous given her condition. She tries so damn hard, and that alone is highly commendable.
Commendable though it may be, there's no denying that Tomoko's plans have a pretty low success rate. From attempting to personify various anime stereotypes to gain popularity to cheating at Magic the Gathering to impress her younger cousin, Tomoko's plans rarely pan out they way she envisions them. That's of course where the comedy kicks in. Like clockwork, almost every single time you think someone will finally throw Tomoko a bone, the rug is instead pulled out from under her, and she falls flat on her face. This show's humor can be dark and even mean-spirited. You laugh, but you sort of feel like you're a terrible person for doing so. It's a peculiar emotional response, but I loved every awkward moment of it. All these terrible events also contribute to that wonderful, wonderful relief and joy you feel at the few breaks Tomoko catches. I couldn't help but root for her. Flawed and sometimes outright mean as she was, she was still sympathetic. In fact, it's these flaws that make her the marvelous character that she is. I just want to give her a big hug and tell her everything's going to be all right. I really, really do.
One thing which I rarely point out (because I'm generally bad at noticing it) that I thought warranted mentioning here is the direction of the show. There are a lot of really neat scenes in this series, from the cockroach flying through the classroom to the final scene of Tomoko running matched to the opening theme in the last episode. The visuals are also top-notch, they are such a perfect fit for the mood the show is conveying. I love the little snippets of Tomoko's fantasy where you get to see her as she wants to be, conventionally attractive. She's super-cute in those, but what I actually like about it is that they chose not to go with that style for the show itself. I think Tomoko has an unconventional attractiveness about her still, but she is also portrayed (with great meticulousness, I might add) as creepy, and sometimes even as outright repulsive. She's shown throwing up more than once, and there's even a scene where she matter-of-factly states that she has wet her pants. It's not fetishized in any way, you don't even get to see it. It's just there to establish what kind of person we're dealing with here; the kind of person who looked at a bottle and considered dropping the trip to the bathroom altogether. I think it's sort of amazing that a show like this exists, and moreover, that it's actually this damn fantastic. I don't have a single bad thing to say about this show. It's by far the show I enjoyed most this season, and I'm happy to see that there are others who feel the same way.