Category Archives: Lost in Animeland

Django Wexler looks at Anime

Lost in Animeland: Fall 2014

Fall season, traditionally probably the biggest of the anime seasons, is finally upon us! There’s an enormous avalanche of shows, more than even I can watch. Even restricting ourselves to only the SFF shows, it’s a pretty long list. I’ll go over some that stood out from the first and second episodes I’ve watched so far.

One notable thing is that there are quite a few new seasons for older shows starting up. Psycho-Pass, Fate/Stay Night, Log Horizon, and Mushishi are all getting new seasons. I’m not going to talk about them here, since as far as I know none of those make for great starting points, but you can go back and watch from the beginning!

As usual, these impressions are based on the first few episodes only. No spoilers for beyond that point!
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Lost in Animeland: Ghost in the Shell SAC and Dennou Coil

While we don't know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won't look like this.
While we don’t know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won’t look like this.

One thing that’s fairly rare in anime is “science fiction” in some of the stricter senses of the term. What is and is not science fiction is a serious ontological debate that I’m not interested in getting into here, but what is clear is that while anime often includes SF settings and tropes (robots, mecha, spaceships, aliens) it’s much rarer for plausibility to be a major concern. More importantly, in my view, the traditional SF role of examining life and society under potential future conditions is often discarded in favor of setting up mecha battles, sexy aliens, and robot philosophers.

There are shows that examine these ideas, though, so let’s look at a pair that talk about the (for lack of a better term) “cyberpunk” future: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Dennou Coil.
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Lost in Animeland: Sword Art Online

Last time I mentioned that I was watching Sword Art Online II, and enjoying it quite a bit. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to talk about part three of a series without spoilers, so I figured I’d save the discussion for next time. So today, let’s talk about it!

This column contains spoilers for Sword Art Online. I won’t talk about any of the big reveals or twists, but information of the “which characters don’t die” sort is impossible to avoid. I personally think you’d be fine reading this and then watching it, but you can make your own decision!
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Lost in Animeland: Summer Season’s Picks

I’m back! It’s been a while — lots of cons, book stuff, and other exciting happenings on my side. I’ve got a new John Golden novella out (and a paperback with both stories), plus I’m in a cool Kickstarter anthology.

Also, I’ve had some time to catch up on my anime! We’re about three-quarters of the way through the summer season now, so rather than go through the first episodes I’m going to skip right to talking about the show I’m actually liking a lot. Summer season is usually pretty lackluster, but this time there’s quite a few! (As usual, I’ll try to confine spoilers to the first episode or so.)
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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.
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Lost in Animeland: Kino’s Journey

For me personally, the term “episodic” is usually not a compliment when it comes to anime. It depends on the genre, of course: comedies work better in an episode-by-episode format than dramas do, because there’s only so much of a dramatic arc that can be squeezed into 22 minutes. At their worst, episodic shows devolve in a “monster/case/artifact of the week” and repetitive formulas — this was very common back when more shows were 26 episodes instead of 13 and need more filler.

The best filler ever?
The best filler ever? (Click for animated GIF.)

Making a dramatic, episodic show work is not impossible, but it takes superior writing — there’s no room for lost time when you’re trying to tell a fairly complex plot in a short span of time. I’ve already talked about one show that does it, Paranoia Agent. While it has a continuing story, each episode (until the very end) is a separately crafted piece. Cowboy Bebop, which follows the standard plot-filler-plot-filler-plot structure, has filler episodes that are individually so good you’d never notice. Today I’d like to talk about another show that does this style very well!

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Lost in Animeland: Code Geass and Endings

Endings have always been a problem in anime. Even among my favorite shows, those that actually come to some kind of satisfying conclusion at the end of the series are a small minority. As an anime fan, it’s just something you learn to deal with — I’m at the point, especially with one season (13 episode) shows, that I just don’t expect them to actually wrap anything up. Even so, it can be frustrating!

(It also means that when a show does have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, planned and executed for its run time, it often stands out. This is one of the reasons Madoka Magika was so impressive.)
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Lost in Animeland: Spring 2014, Part 2

More shows from Spring 2014! Lots of SFF this season.
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Lost in Animeland: Spring 2014

Apologies for the break! I’ve been a bit busy launching my new middle-grade fantasy, which means I haven’t had as much time to watch anime, let alone write about it. But now I’m catching up, which means it’s time to look at what we have on the slate for Spring 2014!

As usual, I’m not going to bother with shows I hated, sequels to things I haven’t written about, or shows with no SFF element. (Though one of my early favorites, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka, is in the latter category as another “cute girls doing nothing” show.) Also as usual, I’m only one or two eps in to these, so these are only initial impressions!
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Lost in Animeland: Lain, Boogiepop, Paranoia Agent

Today I’d like to look at three shows that aimed to create a roughly similar atmosphere, with varying levels of effectiveness. Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, and Paranoia Agent all try to create a kind of creeping horror. Not jump scares, or sprays of gore, but a weird, oppressive feeling that keeps the watcher disoriented and in suspense. They share some storytelling and visual techniques in places, too: surreal imagery, washed-out color palettes, an emphasis on repetition and paranoia. All three have things to offer a viewer, but in my final judgment only Paranoia Agent, the late Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece, is ultimately successful as a single work. Let’s have a look!
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Lost in Animeland: Read or Die

Read or Die deserves its place on the list of Best Anime Ever, but I’ve always had a extra fondness for it, both because I identify with the heroine at times and because it was one of the first truly great anime I watched when it was actually coming out, as opposed to it being presented to me as part of the canon. I can still remember watching it for the first time (a pirated copy on my old Dell PC, please don’t tell on me) and realizing that this was something special and much better than the endless action shows I’d been watching to that point.

There have been two animated series so far (based on the original manga and spin-offs), set in the same continuity — a three-episode OVA series and a full-length TV show. The OVA series comes first, both chronologically and in-universe, so let’s look at that.
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Lost in Animeland: Hare+Guu and Nichijou

Comedy is hard. To date, I haven’t talked much about anime comedies, for a couple of reasons. First, and most important, in my experience they are much more of a subjective experience in terms of quality. There are shows that inexplicably “click” with me, comedy-wise, that leave others baffled, and vice versa. That makes recommendations, or preparing a best-of list, a tricky business.

Second, a lot of comedies — at least the sort that I like — depend fairly heavily on Japanese cultural and language knowledge. Shows like Lucky Star, for example, are only funny if you understand where the jokes and parodies are coming from, and thus are not particularly suited for a non-otaku audience.

Other brands of comedy, though, cross through cultural boundaries more easily. Here are a couple that I think are worth a look, even if you’re not steeped in anime fandom.
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Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014, Part 2

Today we have the second half of the Winter ’14 season, alphabetically speaking. We’re now four weeks in, so I’ve seen three or four episodes of most of these shows, but I will keep the spoilers to episode one.

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Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014

Well, we’re almost two weeks into the Winter season, which has given me a chance to take a look at the first episodes. This season I’m trying a slightly different format — instead of covering every show, I’m including only the ones I either liked or found ridiculous/hilarious. Winter is traditionally a weak season (Spring and Fall are when the big-money shows air) but there’s a few shows shaping up to be good!

Side note: I’m leaving out a few shows with no SFF interest (Sakura Trick) and sequels to shows I haven’t talked about (Chuunibyou) so this isn’t 100% representative of my own viewing habits. Entries may contain spoilers, but only for the first episode.

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Lost in Animeland: Lyrical Nanoha and Gunslinger Girl

In the name of the Moon, I will punish you!
In the name of the Moon, I will punish you!

The tradition of schoolgirls fighting things — monsters, criminals, each other — is an old one in anime, going back through Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura. It’s such a common trope (especially since high school is the default setting for most shows) that it has spawned a whole set of adaptations, genre-twisters, parodies, and so on.

Someday I will get around to talking about Madoka Magika, a show that is in this genre and is probably at the top of my “favorite anime of all time” list. (It’s very difficult to write about because so much of its awesomeness is embodied in a few plot twists that are hard not to spoil. Short version, just go watch.) Today, though, I want to talk about a couple of other shows that have interesting takes on the basic concept.

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Lost in Animeland: Black Lagoon and Black Heaven

This week, we have two shows that (a) are called “Black Something” and (b) fall well outside the norm for anime in terms of setting and protagonists. Anime fans apparently never get tired of high school students saving the world from monsters, or hapless guys with more magical cute girls than they know how to deal with. And while I’m certainly on board with those shows (when they’re good) it’s nice to do something different for a change. So today: Salaryman protagonists!
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Lost in Animeland: Index and Railgun

Going Forward

Now that I’ve done a once-over of the present season, here’s the plan. I’m going to talk about some shows that I have seen which (a) I think would be of interest to SFF fans, and (b) are not well known outside the anime community. Part of the stated purpose of this column is to be a sort of missionary from Animeland to SFFland, and my observation has been that many of the shows that people who live in Animeland consider required viewing are essentially unknown in the wider SFF world. So, if you’re already an anime fan, some of these are pretty old news, but take it from me that a lot of people still haven’t heard of them.

I’m also not going in any particular order, nor necessarily starting with the Best Shows Ever. (Really, that just provokes arguments.) I’m just going to talk about some shows I think SFF types might find interesting to watch, and try to explain the reasons and explore the flaws.

There will probably be some information in these columns that might be considered “spoilers” in the very strictest sense, but I’ll do my best not to ruin any big surprises, reveals, or endings. In the event that I absolutely can’t avoid it, I’ll slap a warning on the top of the column.

On to the shows!
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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!
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Lost in Animeland! First Episodes, Fall 2013

Every quarter there’s a new anime season, with a whole new lineup of shows to take a look at! I watch through the first episodes of anything that might have some genre interest, and try to sort out what’s worth watching. Here’s the first part of the fall season, roughly from most to least interesting to me. (This isn’t all by any means — more to come!) I’ll try to say a bit about the show, and whether I plan to keep watching it.

My goal with this feature is to be comprehensible, even to the non-anime fan. To that end, there’s a Lost in Animeland FAQ and glossary which I’ll be updating as I go along. Feel free to leave questions in the comments here!
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