A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Fall 2012

From Wikipedia: “Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain.” You can’t winnow the wheat from the chaff based on just one episode, or you risk missing out on shows like Tatami Galaxy and Shiki. But you can at least get some idea. Below are some ideas, sorted in increasing order of how much potential the show seems to have based on the first episode. (Translations of show titles are my own amateur efforts and may be wildly inaccurate.)

16: K

What are you looking at, punk?


A cheerful high school boy with some sort of dark past is hunted by a gang of superpowered hooligans and a super-powered dude with a sword. This episode must have been something like 75% establishing shots. I mean sure, the animators have drawn some very attractive cityscapes, it’s understandable that they’d want to show them off. But it got in the way of having anything at all happen in the first half of the episode, or explaining the things that did happen in the second half. People attacking other people with special powers, there was a naked floating woman who might have been a cat? I think? There are some number of Kings and their colors matter, which worked out OK for Accel World I guess, but Accel World actually established the setting before getting into talk of kings and whatnot, rather than trying to cram it in at the end of an episode that was mostly gorgeous shots of the Japanese urban environment. They’re really nice-looking backgrounds, but that’s not enough reason to watch a show on its own.  And there was absolutely nothing else at all in this episode.

15: Girls Und Panzer (Girls and Tanks)

Hi there! Let’s be pals!

Show him your panzu.

In a world where tank combat is a traditional female martial art, a girl who doesn’t like tanks is pressured to join the tank combat club. The premise of a tank battle club is kinda oddball and cool, I wish someone would make a halfway-decent show about it. This isn’t that show. Most of the episode was really bad high school drama. (Oh, hello transfer student, let’s be friends! Oh no, the student council is bullying our new friend! We have to stick up for her! Oh, oops, it turns out the student council always wins.) There was a CG tank battle at the beginning that they were obviously really proud to show off, but it looked kinda cheap, like a videogame running on hardware that couldn’t quite handle it, or home movie footage of a child’s birthday party. Basically the problem is, they didn’t really manage to sell me on either the girls or the panzers in the first episode, and so they’ve got nothing.

14: Magi

You ain’t never had a friend like me.

Money can’t bring back the dead or make someone fall in love with you, but it can make you more money.

Aladdin and his friends Ali Baba and the djinni Ugo go on adventures and raid dungeons for fabulous treasures. Visually speaking, I like this show. It’s bright and colorful, it’s got distinctive character designs, and the Arabian flavor of the backgrounds and outfits is nifty. I really doubt the plot of the show would be able to hold my interest, though. The main themes of the first episode were “slavery is bad”, “friendship is good”, and “there’s more to life than money”. Those are all basically true claims (although money can be exchanged for a large fraction of life), but they aren’t exactly expanding my perspective or teaching me new ways to think about the world. I’m aware that slavery isn’t so great. Plus, the main tension of the episode was “when is the powerful wizard Aladdin gonna get off his butt and actually use his big angelic powers to save the day”. I’m sure that as the series progresses they’ll face bigger threats than fat slavers and wandering monsters, but even for the first episode it’s not okay to just have the character solve all his problems easily with magic.


Bomb Art Online

If your user needs a manual, you’ve failed as an industrial designer.

A NEET who is highly ranked in the MMO “BTOOOM!” finds himself on a tropical island forced into a death game that mimics his MMO. They spent the whole first episode just setting up the premise, and they’re not even done yet. This doesn’t bode well for the pacing. I like the idea of a fighting game that uses grenades only, but in practice the actual fight they had this episode was really lame. Enemy throws grenade, it lands nearby the protagonist knocking him around a little, enemy says “shucks I missed”, repeat however many times is necessary for the protagonist to finally decide to win. It’s possible there will be more interesting fights later, but they haven’t shown any reason to trust that there will be. There might be something interesting they can do with the NEET nature of the protagonist, but probably they’re just going to come up with some obvious moral about how virtual worlds don’t count and the real world is the only thing you should care about. And I guess they’re planning to do this by showing that blowing people up online can’t possibly compare to blowing people up in real life? I almost want to keep watching to see how they wrap their heads around that moral.

12: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (The Monster Seated Next To Me)

Stop yelling at me, I’m just trying to enjoy my hamburger in peace. 😦

Right! I mean, either the program halts for all input or it doesn’t. You guys are just overcomplicating things.

A cold-hearted bookworm girl finds herself the target of the affections of a boy with no friends and Poor Impulse Control. I guess I didn’t expect the Monster to be quite so, uh, monstrous? I mean, in ToraDora the male lead looked scary but was actually really nice and everyone was just misjudging him. In this show, everyone’s judging the male lead exactly right. I mean I don’t want to be the guy who screams “rape culture” at every little thing, but he threatened to rape the female lead, this is something that actually literally happened in the first episode and not something I am making up or exaggerating for effect. And you can say, well, what’s a few rape threats between friends, it’s not like he actually carried them out, but he also hauled off and punched her in the face at one point. I’m sort of going to find it hard to root for them to have a nice romantic relationship! It’s a shame, because I like the female lead, she is studious and looks cute eating a hamburger. But that’s sort of basically why I don’t want to watch her get sent flying across the room after being punched by a psychopath. I mean, I guess I watched Zero no Tsukaima, where the female lead lays into the male lead with a riding crop, so maybe this is a double standard? I dunno.

11: Zetsuen no Tempest (Isolated Tempest)

Actually that’s hypocrisy.

What good do you think a shotgun is going to do you against the awesome power of boot-to-the-head?

A witch stranded on a deserted island trying to stop an ancient evil has to work through the medium of a nihilistic high school boy. The action scenes in this were better than I expected, lots of flashy moves, fast footwork, and bullet-parrying. And I like butterflies as a signifier for magic, because butterflies are pretty, but also sinister(?). That said, I really like my heroes a little less emo than the mage’s conduit guy in this. His sister is dead and that’s a shame, but come on, the fate of the world is at stake here! Show a little common human decency and maybe prioritize saving the living over avenging the dead? Probably this will end up being just another emo supernatural combat anime like Darker Than Black. It’s a shame, because it does have a nice aesthetic to it.

10: Robotics;Notes

Sigh, moe, I guess. Doki doki waku waku, if I absolutely must.

Why can’t you build a time machine instead?

A near-future high-school robotics club wants to build a giant robot, but they will be disbanded if they can’t win a robotics competition. This didn’t feel anything like Chaos;Head or Steins;Gate. The key to both of those shows was the characters, the paranoiac hikkikomori of Chaos;Head and the self-proclaimed mad scientist of Steins;Gate. What does Robotics;Notes have? It has a couple of high school students in a club. One of them is tiresomely enthusiastic. The other is bored by everything, and it has been said, if you’re bored then you’re boring. It’s the same problem Hyouka had – if even your characters can’t get excited by your show, how do you expect the viewers to feel? There were occasional flashes of craftsmanship I spotted during the show; the nekomimi AR app, for example, or the giant robot maintainence scene. (Although I’m not sure you should be doing dirty work like that in your school uniform.) But I dunno that it’s worth watching the show just for those occasional flashes.

9: Little Busters!

Boot-to-the-head, I’m telling you man.

It’s morning in America.

A group of high school friends start a baseball team. I gotta say, it doesn’t seem like JC Staff is really putting much effort into this anime adaptation. I mean, I know they can’t all be Kyoto Animation, I’m not expecting it to be Kanon or anything, but Toradora, for example, was JC Staff, and it looked a lot better than this. There were way too many scenes that were just slow pans over a still shot. If you’re not going to take the time to animate the scenes, you lose the only advantage the anime version of the story has over the visual novel! (Well, actually, I bet the voice actor cast they have is better than the voice acting the visual novel has, if it even has any. But still.) A decent fraction of the jokes were funny, the characters seemed likable enough, and there were seeds of maybe a deeper touching story about personal connections or something lurking in the background, but the key issue is, I felt like I should just go play the VN instead of watching the anime.

8: Busou Shinki (Armed Shinki)

It’s pretty optimal for most situations, really.


A tiny robot girl revealed in wrath.

Three tiny robot girls (Shinki) do household chores for their master and battle other Shinki. This show was surprisingly good. I was expecting it to be mostly about tiny robot gladitorial combat, but instead it was a tiny robot light comedy with only a brief dogfighting intermission in the middle. None of the characters were really all that fresh or unique – there’s the earnest one, the dizy one, and the fiesty one, and then once I tell you their respective cup sizes you have a complete description of their characters. And the jokes were uniformly light and inoffensive, they had me smiling most of the time but I never felt in danger of laughing. Still, the tiny girl robots were cute, the pacing was solid, and even the combat scene had interesting things going on in it. It doesn’t seem like there’s much meat to this show, but a balanced diet has to include not just meat but also popcorn, you know?

7: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankeinai Yo Ne (He’s My Older Brother, But As Long As We Have Love That Doesn’t Matter, Right?)

And thus you should make it as small as possible.

Sword Art Online!

A sister who has been living away for six years and had developed a serious crush on her older brother comes back home to live with him. A nice light harem comedy. The incest angle doesn’t actually seem too obnoxious, since the protagonist makes it clear that it’s entirely a one-sided romance on the sister’s part. Similar to how in Hayate no Gotoku it’s not a problem that there’s a thirteen-year-old girl head-over-heels in love with Hayate, since the author came right out and stated that our wholesome hero has no romantic interest in children. And from that perspective, watching an obsessive love that’s doomed never to be reciprocated is pretty good grist for comedy. It also helps that there’s more girls than just the sister in the mix. (What they’re doing living together with the protagonist was somehow just glossed over, but hey, as long as they have love that doesn’t matter, right?) The busty eyepatch girl didn’t really thrill me, but I liked the other two, the cheerful one and the quiet sharp-tongued one. All in all, this show seems like harmless fun, rather than a sign of the depraved degeneracy of modern Japanese visual culture.

6: Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World)

But my earthly desires have a little label saying “WARNING: Do not dispose of in fire, may explode or leak”.

Same. Same! SAME!!!

In a small enclave of safety in a demon-haunted postapocalyptic world, a girl attends a school for telekinetics. But the school harbors a dark secret… The problem with anime where such-and-such a thing harbors a dark secret is that the tension the dark secret creates is a lot of fun, but once the secret gets brought to light, it’s usually pretty disappointing. If the children who don’t go through magical puberty just disappear overnight and nobody talks about it, you get cool tense scenes where you’re trying to probe for details and the powers that be are deflecting your questions, or where you’re trying to sneak into the suspicious brick building at night, or whatever. But once you actually sneak into the building and find out that the kids are being turned into Soylent Green, what are you supposed to do then? You have to start killing your parents, or become complicit, or walk away from Omelas, or whatever. All those things are less interesting. So, there are some concerns about the future of the show, but all in all I liked the first episode. The mysterious ritual at the beginning, especially, was really captivating – I could believe that could have the power to turn you from a child into an adult. And the class exercises they were doing to train up their telekinetic skill were nifty. I’m not a fan of the character designs, they seem like generic big-eyed kids, but maybe they’ll grow on me.

5: Psycho-Pass

Yeah, screw logic! Long live Bayesian inference!

How did you make it all the way through Thought Police Academy without realizing you’d be policing thoughts?

In the future, portable scanners can detect latent criminality. Police pursue potential criminals and force them into therapy. Seems like a nice, gritty sci-fi story that is interested in exploring philosophical themes instead of just making pretty laser gun light shows. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if the laser gun light shows are pretty enough.) I’m worried, though, that the philosophical conclusions they’ll draw are likely to be dumb as hell. It seems like they’re exploring the same sorts of issues from the same sort of angle as Minority Report did, and as far as I could tell the moral of that movie was “even if you have a system that is stops crimes before they happen, someone prepared to put in heroic effort might still almost get away with a crime, so isn’t it much better to just let people murder their wives every once in a while?” It’s sociopolitical ludditism, that’s the only way I can describe it. Smashing the looms that would weave the fabric of a better society. Oh well, I enjoyed Minority Report in spite of its awful message, so I could probably enjoy this.

4: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Thank you, fuck you, a villain has arrived!

What the heck are you doing, that’s not a boot!

An ambitious young man seeks to make a rich boy’s life a living hell and steal his money. This is an absurd, absurd show. You have a villain boiling over with hatred and cruelty, whose first action after arriving on the scene is literally to kick a dog. You have exaggerated boxing scenes where people’s fists grotesquely deform other people’s faces to the tune of on-screen onomatopoeia. I should find it ridiculous, but by god it makes for arresting TV. It doesn’t give a damn how absurd it seems, it wants the viewer to viscerally hate its villain and viscerally feel its punches. I’d call it New Sincerity, except the manga is from 1987 and I don’t think New Sincerity had been invented yet. This is just Sincerity. I’m an ironic person by nature, so we’ll see how long I can stand to watch this, but for now it certainly has my attention.

3: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! (Even Though I’m Chuunibyou, I Want To Fall In Love!)

Mikuru Beam!

One of the few nice things about being a little kid is that you’re allowed to enjoy stuff.

A boy who gave up his childish chuunibyou delusions on entering high school becomes unwillingly involved with a girl who still suffers from/indulges in such delusions.  Rikka, the chuunibyou girl, is cute. Oh my god, so cute. I’m not saying anything surprising here, stories of her cuteness are all over the New Media Web 3.0, but you can add my voice to the chorus, she’s adorable. She wears heelies, she plays with umbrellas, she shouts out incantations of power. She was arguing with the protagonist about whether this stuff was cool or embarrassing, but it’s neither, it’s cute. Or maybe cute is what you get when you mix cool and embarrassing, like how red plus green makes yellow? In any case, I look forward to watching the rest of this show and downloading a million gifs a week off various Tumblr/Flickr/Whatevr pages.

2: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo (The Girl Who’s the Pet of Sakura Apartments)

Which is more moe do you suppose, a tiny robot maid, or an AI spamfilter maid?

Because it is the natural state for things to be nude, and there did not exist a clothing force of sufficient causal power to change that state for her.

A boy lives in the misfit dorms of a pretigious art high school, and one day a girl moves in who has trouble dealing with everyday life, but in a cute way.  This was a pretty funny show! Real shades of Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko with the hopelessly incompetent girl pushed onto the protagonist by a sexually aggressive older woman, but it seems like maybe they’ll go less of the “this girl has a serious mental problem” route and more the “this girl just thinks about things on a deeper level, when you get right down to it there’s no real reason to wear panties anyway” route. The pacing was nice and fast, and the side characters seemed decent enough, even if they’re sort of stereotypical for this sort of apartment-building comedy. The protagonist seemed a little too much like the generic spineless harem lead type, but I did like his smart-ass answer when the girl asked what color he was and he said “opalescent”.

1: Hayate no Gotoku: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

The new XCOM is a real good game, you should all play it. Not a joke, not an obscure reference, just solid freaking advice up in this caption.

One leg at a time, just like everybody else.

A new installment in the Hayate no Gotoku series. I had low expectations going in, but this was great. It seems much more like the manga than either of the two previous anime adaptations. The first was just nuts, it was like the Excel Saga anime where they halfway ignored the source material in favor of cramming in as much zaniness as possible. The second was a much closer adaptation of the source material, but the portions of the source material it was a much closer adaptation of were sort of outliers, they were from a period when the Hayate manga had moved away from its screwball action comedy roots to turn into a haremy thing. And while the haremy thing was great, it gave us Hinagiku and Hinagiku is amazing, I really like the action comedy parts of Hayate too. I thought the off-model character designs were going to bug me, but I got over them quickly. I’m a little trepidatious about the prospect of Nagi’s long-lost imouto entering the story (what is it with imoutos anyway, they’re always getting long-lost), but I think I’ll choose to have a little faith.


All in all, this season isn’t looking so amazing, unfortunately.  Some stuff worth watching, but I don’t see anything that looks like the next Madoka.  Well, I guess even Madoka didn’t look like the next Madoka from the first episode.  How do you guys feel about the new shows?  I am eager to hear your opinions.


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