Lost in Animeland: Fall 2013, Part Two

Here’s my look at the rest of this anime season. Most of the shows I’d been particularly looking forward to were in the first installment, so this was a matter of sifting through the rest looking for gems — fortunately, some quite watchable stuff turned up! Once again, this is roughly in order from most interesting to least, with a few at the end that I plonked early on for idiosyncratic reasons.

Next time: some favorites from past seasons, all time classics, and more!

This project has a strange history. (Which I don’t fully understand, I think, so bear with me.) It originated as a single episode for an animation showcase project, where studios typically put together short stories to show off their animation chops. In this case, it was about a girl named Koto who follows a black rabbit into a strange mirror version of Kyoto (the former Japanese capital) and rampages around with her giant hammer, while being pursued by Buddhist priests and pistol-packing gangsters in fedoras. A further three or four episodes were made, which added a bunch more random elements but didn’t explain things.

Just your average girl-with-giant-colorful-hammer-facing-off-against-giant-Buddhist-robot picture.
Just your average girl-with-giant-colorful-hammer-facing-off-against-giant-Buddhist-robot picture.

Either the original creator had the mythology all mapped out beforehand, or someone is very good at filling the gaps after the fact, because the TV series that started this season is laying out the backstory, and it all makes a certain amount of sense. (Sort of. I mean, there’s this guy whose drawings come to life, and he draws a rabbit. The rabbit falls in love with him, and gets a woman’s body from a Buddhist deity so she can be with him. You know. Sense!)

Character designs and animation are on the loose and energetic side, with a lot of really creative touches. I’m still a little cautious, because the “plot” is extremely convoluted, but they seem to be making a real go of getting it all to fit together, and it works well visually. If they keep it up, I’m going to be very happy with this one.

Onwards? Yes! It feels like it could still fall apart at any moment, but I hope it works out.

In a modern-ish world dominated by giant airships/mecha, three sisters are attacked by a mysterious organization. The siblings are descendants of the great Galileo Galilei, and the bad guys seem to be after a relic of his. Later, air pirates also turn up, and the three are forced to escape using a giant goldfish-shaped airship the youngest has built, complete with missiles and gatling guns.

More heavily armed than your average flying goldfish.
More heavily armed than your average flying goldfish.

This one was a pleasant surprise. It hits a sweet spot for me — just odd enough to be interesting, without being just totally silly and random. Good character designs and animation, moving forward at a fairly good clip without getting bogged down in too much exposition. (Which is good because I don’t think the world design would hold up under close examination.) After a few episodes, the plot is starting to develop, so we’ll see where they go with it.

Onwards? I’m in. They’ve cleared the first hurdle of being basically watchable; the next is if the overall plot is anything other than standard-issue.

We’re in alternate Victorian England, where magical “puppeteers” are able to create powerful, intelligent constructs and now fight the world’s wars. Raishin, with his puppet Yaya, turns up at the puppeteer academy looking to gain entrance to their elite ranks, in order to take his revenge on one of the top students, who apparently killed his family? (Or something. So far only brief flashbacks. The guy wears a mask, though, so you know he’s bad.)

No way THIS guy could be evil!  Let's make him head of the school!
No way THIS guy could be evil! Let’s make him head of the school!

There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but it’s entertaining and well-executed. In order to get in to the elite Tea Party, Raishin has to defeat one of the existing members in combat, which is apparently allowed at this school. Yaya, who of course looks like a cute little girl, has hidden powers that let her stand up to the various dragons, knights, and so on that the other fighters use. The animation isn’t top-notch, but it’s competent enough not to be distracting. It remains to be seen if there’s going to be a plot beyond “I’ve got to get the guy who killed my family,” though.

That's exactly the look you want for your unstoppable robot killing machine.
That’s exactly the look you want for your unstoppable robot killing machine.

I have to mention there’s kind of a weird sub-plot with Yaya — she’s in love with Raishin, in the “constantly getting naked and trying to sneak into his bed” sort of way. He obviously has no interest, but it’s not clear if that’s because she’s more like his little sister, or because humans just don’t get it on with puppets. I’m honestly not sure where they’re going to go with it; my guess would be, “He’s forced to realize he cares for her deeply as family,” since her jumping into bed with him is basically played for laughs.

Onwards? For now, sure. Pretty well-done magical fighting show, though not going to be one for the history books.

Right after a new expansion pack goes live, the players of the world’s most popular MMORPG find themselves trapped inside the game world, living under the game rules. (I hate launch day bugs, don’t you?) Our hero Shiroe, newly returned to the game with a max-level character, teams up with a tank and a stealth/DPS rogue to … do something? It’s not actually clear what he’s trying to accomplish yet.

In a fine example of anime logic, this girl is supposed to be a graduate student.
In a fine example of anime logic, this girl is supposed to be a graduate student.

This show works visually, though it’s not stunning; I particularly like the cute assassin’s character design. But it has a couple of problems. One is, as noted, the characters seem to have no particular goal as of the third or fourth episode — they do stuff that seems like a good idea at the time, but they’re stuck in this game world with no idea how to get out or even whether that’s possible. They’re not in any danger, either, since if they die they just respawn at the graveyard. (No word on repair fees.) This makes any sense of peril sort of lame. (“Oh no! If she can’t get away, she’ll have to … walk all the way back here.”)

The second problem is one of context. There was another show, Sword Art Online, that aired earlier this year with more or less the exact same plot — a new MMO goes online, and the players find themselves trapped in the game world. The difference is that SAO had something to drive the plot — players who died in-game were killed in real life by booby-trapped hardware, and only by beating the final boss could they ever escape. It gave that show (which was by no means perfect) a sense of momentum that’s lacking here.

Onwards? I’m on the fence. I must like it, since I keep saying, “One more episode!” to see if they develop anything like an actual plot, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Oh, well, if it's IMPORTANT...
Oh, well, if it’s IMPORTANT…

Makoto is a shrine maiden, living in modern times, who is the only one who can see Gintaro, a fox spirit that protects her family shrine. He’s abrasive and often unhelpful, but he has a weakness for oranges, and she gets him to help her and her school friends with their problems.

I honestly don’t have much to say about this one, other than that I was faintly bored. The concept is good, and it’s competently executed visually. Gintaro is a nice design, sort of big and fluffy looking. Makoto doesn’t have much to distinguish her as a character, though, and it seems like the kind of show where everything is very low-stakes. (The first episode revolves around finding a lost cat.) So, nothing particularly objectionable, but nothing that really made me sit up and take interest.

Onwards? Probably not.

It's pretty tree!  I hope you enjoy looking at it, like, a lot, because it gets a ton of screen time.
It’s pretty tree! I hope you enjoy looking at it, like, a lot, because it gets a ton of screen time.

This is part of a genre sometimes called “slice of life”, and sometimes, more accurately, “cute girls talking about nothing”. Normally I am a sucker for that sort of thing, but the pace on this one is really slow. That kind of show works best with rapid-fire jokes and situational humor, whereas here we get long panning shots of the gorgeous backdrop for a couple of minutes between lines.

Onward? Nah. Pretty, but dull.

In this show, the human race is divided into land- and water-dwelling branches, who are only now learning to live together. Due to budget cuts, a water school is closed and the kids have to attend land high school.

Also this girl's knee turns into a fish.
Also this girl’s knee turns into a fish.

It’s rare that “physics” or lack thereof really impedes my enjoyment of anime. But in this show, the animators don’t even seem to have heard of, for example, buoyancy. The water people walk around their town as though everything were exactly the same as above-ground, except with fish everywhere. Then, in the next scene, they’re suddenly swimming up like they were actually underwater. It threw me completely, and the rest of the show didn’t offer any compensation.

Onwards? No. Pick a specific gravity and stick with it, damn you!

These CG characters look just as good as real animation, right?
These CG characters look just as good as real animation, right?

Suddenly, an armada of alien warships (mostly old WWII ships, it looks like?) appears and destroys the combined fleets of humanity, forcing humans to retreat to the land. Our heroes at the suspiciously high-school shaped Naval Academy steal an enemy submarine, the I-401, and fight the invaders.

(Meaningless historical sidenote: The actual I-401 was an aircraft-carrying submarine, then the largest in the world, launched by the Japanese in 1945 in an abortive attempt to bomb the Panama Canal.)

I actually like the concept a lot, but the execution is poor. Everything is in CG, and while the ships look good, the characters are distractingly terrible, like something out of a Final Fantasy VII-era cut-scene.

Onwards? No. I tried to like this, but I can’t take the stiff, fake-looking characters seriously.

This is a thing that happens.  Did you think I was kidding?
This is a thing that happens. Did you think I was kidding?

This is a sports show where the sport is jousting, in full knightly kit, with squires and everything. Most of the jousters are cute girls (obviously!) who wear armored tops with very short skirts, because that makes complete sense. In the first episode, we’re introduced to a horse that likes to sexually harass young women.

Onward? There’s a horse that sexually harasses schoolgirls? So, no.


Django Wexler is the author of fantasies The Thousand Names and The Forbidden Library. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not watching anime, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts.

6 thoughts on “Lost in Animeland: Fall 2013, Part Two”

  1. So many messed-up offerings here. Unbreakable Machine Doll sounds like the only one I might watch, really. Well, and maybe Non Non Biyori, because I too am a sucker for slice of life shows. I’m the kind of person who can sit through every seasons of Hidamari Sketch and then end it by going, “Hmm, I think I should watch that again.) (Then again, Hidamari Sketch experimented with some interesting animation styles from time to time, so it was kind of neat from that perspective.)

    1. Kyousougiga is definitely worth a look, at least. It’s very strange, but in a good way. But yeah, normally there’s at least a few of those slice-of-life shows every season, but this season has been lacking.

  2. I’ve wanted to watch Galilei Donna for a while now, it looks really interesting. Kyousougiga also sounds really interesting too.

    SAO was one of those anime that really dragged me in this year, even though I’m not an MMO fan. However, because of *spoilers redacted* that happen later in the series, my interest has completely turned off. I’m only going to watch the rest of it since I’ve invested the time to so far into the series. /end rant

    I’m excited to read the novels for SAO though, to see how much it follows the anime.

    1. Agreed — without getting spoilery, I was really happy with the first half of SAO and much less happy with the second half. Ugh. Log Horizon has improved a bit since I wrote this, but still has no sense of tension.

      1. I watched SAO, and while there were many things I liked, there was a lot I didn’t. I enjoyed the deconstruction of the living-in-an-RPG meme, but I felt they frequently slipped back into standard hack-and-slash, and there were huge chunks of important character transition that were simply missing. Plus, as you say, the ending. The villain’s motives made no sense. Not even ‘sense’. (Or at least, not to me.)

        So, no, I don’t think I’ll jump into Log Horizon. Thank you for the heads up.

        I probably will try Kyousougiga, (hey, I like weird & convoluted), Galilei Donna and Unbreakable Machine Doll. I’m glad to have your column available.

  3. Like I said on Twitter, I quite liked the first episode of Arpeggio, even through the somewhat wonky animation. I think the series has potential. Will see what the next few episodes are like.

    And I also got the episodes for Kill La Kill, the first two, so will be seeing those at some point. Lots of viewing ahead!

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