Lost in Animeland: Checking In with Recent Anime Seasons
Due to various people being absent at cons, I haven’t really dug into the new season yet, and in any event it only just started. So I’ll save the first episodes for next time, and instead do something suggested by reader Platypus — look back at the past seasons I’d previewed and see what show actually panned out. Opinions are tricky, of course, and this is only a partial list. It’s fun to look at what I wrote about from just seeing the first episodes, though!
I should note that any of the series I mention, I watched all the way to the end, so I at least enjoyed them that much. I’m not saying the ones I mentioned negatively are bad, or that you necessarily shouldn’t watch them, just that they failed to ascend to the heights where I’d actively pick them out to talk about in the future.
An early favorite this season, Kyoto Animation’s Kyoukai no Kanata, ended up being a washout for me; it had some clever episodes (the musical one was fantastic) but the main plot never made it out of highly cliché territory, in spite of the cute character designs. Some shows I initially disliked, though, turned out to be winners!
About as weird as one might expect. The first episode’s focus on clothing expands to become the theme of the series, which might be described as “high school delinquent fighting with magical uniforms”. There’s also an anti-clothing league with some truly…interesting costumes. It basically never lets up with the over-the-top action, and progresses the plot at a pretty rapid clip, even in 26 episodes.
This is definitely one of those shows you either dig or are baffled by. If you like the slightly-ironic take on shouting, passionate combat, and can handle the rampant fanservice (the female characters have multiple transformations that repeatedly shrink their already skimpy costumes) then you’ll be happy with this. I definitely liked it, though on the balance probably not quite as much as Gurren Lagann.
(It’s one of those situations where irony becomes a little bit confusing. Like you have normal shows where girls show a lot of skin, so we’re going to parody that by just having utterly ridiculous costumes, but they still seem pretty sincerely dedicated to showing off a lot of skin. At least the male characters are also constantly stripping, in one case down to a single belt with a suggestively-placed holster and gun.)
This one turned out to be much better than expected, becoming ultimately one of my favorite shows of the season. It starts out with a “players are stuck in an MMO world” premise that has been used before, and the first few episodes are pretty ho-hom — the main cast gets together, fights some monsters, etc. But then the main focus of the show kicks in. It’s not actually about players fighting monsters, but rather about the politics and social implications of trying to set up a society in this weird new world where nobody can die and the game rules govern how things work, and also discovering new bits and pieces about how the world is put together.
One thing they get into later, which made me very pleased, is the relations between the PCs and the NPCs. The PCs are awesomely powerful by NPC standards (think of the difference between D&D PCs and random peasants) and also come back to life after dying, while the NPCs don’t. The NPCs also have a whole complicated society, economy, and so on, which the addition of a hugely powerful force of PCs with magic and post-medieval knowledge wreaks havoc on. The main characters, who are among the first to realize that in the new version of the world the NPCs are actual people rather that pre-programmed artifacts, have to convince their own side to work peacefully rather than exploit their huge military superiority and cause bloodshed. It’s really a nice, unusual plotline.
Overall, this is not a go-to show if you want something about fantasy heroes fighting monsters, because that’s not what it is at all. Perhaps the best description is something like “MMO Guild Drama: The TV Show”, but that sounds fantastically boring, while this is pretty great. If you like interesting politics and good character relationships, definitely give this a look.
A friend convinced me to watch this one after I gave up on it in one episode. The pacing improves significantly from there, with a lot less long shots of pretty scenery and a lot more solid humor. Like all comedies, it can be a bit hit or miss, but it ended up as a very solid “girls doing nothing” character humor show. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this.
Another one that turned out a lot better than I expected. My initial problems with it were that the character animation was sub-par, being all CG, and that the characters were pretty boring. The former remained true, and it’s something one just kind of has to accept, but the latter improved rapidly. The alien fleet consists of battleships run by cute girl AIs, and the main character, as he fights his way through them, tends to recruit the “good” ones. So the characters you see in the first episode, his bridge crew, are by far the least important or interesting. The show improves a lot by episode three or four when more of the ship-girls are introduced, and they really carry the show. Definitely worth a look if you like the SF Navy stuff and aren’t turned off by the awkward animation.
A lot of “ho-hum” stuff in this season, that I watched to the end of but can’t really recommend. Buddy Complex never did anything special, though it has some gratuitous use of English that gets hilarious at times. Nobunagun and Sekai Seifuku are both spectacularly weird, but never really take that weirdness anywhere interesting, though the former is more coherent than the latter. Toaru Hikkushi e no Koiuta has a neat premise but proceeds awfully slowly for my tastes. Noragami has a strong opening and a decent ending, but gets very dull in the middle episodes.
This one I liked in my preview, and more or less continued to like, though my caveat there remains: a lot of the humor is dependent on understanding either Japanese mythology or the culture of Japanese office or government workers, since the point of the jokes is turning the former into the latter, so Hell becomes a bureaucracy mostly populated with time-serving slackers. It’s definitely funny, though, so if you are up on your cultural references I recommend taking a look.
A lot of these I’m still watching, so I can only offer real opinions on a few.
This one turns out to be vaguely similar to Attack on Titan — giant monsters have overrun the world, except for a few enclaves kept safe by giant metal monoliths. A class of little girls with super-powers helps fight the monsters, paired with older male handlers, but normal citizens consider them dangerous monsters themselves. This is pretty well-worn terrain for anime, but it’s handled competently, and the characters are enjoyable.
What’s a little unusual is the pacing. Like many anime, it’s adapated from a series of light novels, and rather than try to stretch one volume of the novel series into a whole anime season (the typical approach) they cover several volumes, at about four episodes each. This has some drawbacks — a cool villain introduced early on, for example, is disposed of startlingly quickly, and some characters get short shrift. On the other hand, it means there’s never any filler, and the plot moves along at a pretty good clip. If you want a solid action-adventure series with an emphasis on cute little girls who beat things up, this is a pretty good choice.
This turned out to probably be my second-favorite show of the season, although it has some serious drawbacks. The art is gorgeous if weird, and the characters are interesting. It has humorous bits that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, which is very unusual for what is basically not a comedy. And the main plot, which pretty much consists of our main characters challenging people to “games” (loosely defined) and then revealing their elaborately contrived strategies for victory, is — if not terribly plausible — at least entertaining.
There’s definitely a lot of fanservice here, though, including of various loli characters, which might not sit well with some viewers. Also, one of the female characters who joins the party early on is constantly being abused, insulted, and otherwise put-upon, to the point where it actually started to make me uncomfortable. Whenever she gets fed up with it, it always turns out that the main characters “had a good reason” for whatever they did, which somehow makes it even worse. Nothing terrible, but definitely a negative for me. Still, it’s cute, funny, and reasonably clever, which counts for quite a lot. They don’t finish the story in the first season, of course, and I’m hoping it goes on.
This was a very good show, my favorite of this season. It took me a while to get used to the CG animation, but unlike Arpeggio, above, once I did it stopped feeling clunky or awkward — they do a pretty good job, both on the mecha combat and with the characters. After it gets through the first arc, where the trainees have to step up to replace the actual competent pilots, it deviates sharply from the well-worn paths of the space-mecha show and does some really interesting things with its characters and plot. The world design is also excellent, and they’re constantly revealing little touches of cleverness in the backstory.
My only real complaint here is that it doesn’t wrap up the story, or even come close. The manga is ongoing, and I don’t know whether there’ll be another season of this, but I’m hoping for at least a manga translation so I can keep up with the story. If the space-mecha-fighting-aliens genre appeals to you at all, definitely try this, and give it a few episodes to accustom yourself to the different art style.
Next Time: Summer Season For Realz!
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.
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