suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Fall 2013

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.)

12: Coppelion

If I can see the point where your torso bifurcates and becomes legs, your skirt is too short.

If I can see the point where your torso bifurcates and becomes legs, your skirt is too short.

That's every day - see e.g. Heroclitus.

That’s great. It starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, etc.

oh god psuedodogs

oh god psuedodogs

Three girls genetically-engineered to resist radiation explore a Tokyo that has been destroyed by radiation looking for survivors.
So boring oh my goodness. Maybe long drawn-out scenes of walking around the scenery of a ruined Tokyo are more poignant to people who have actually been there when it was less ruined, but I suspect the walky-bits were mostly just an excuse to pad the runtime. They clearly do not have much in the way of ideas here, or characters. They have the sinister boss guy, the quiet one, the boisterous one, and the responsible leader, but those character traits are mostly just for show. Everybody mostly does the same thing, which is gaze out on the ruins of Tokyo and lament. The show shoots for some sort of philosophical aspect, but it amounts to having the girls loudly complain about how horrible it is to be a genetically-engineered doll, as though it’s any better to be a random genetic accident. At one point the sinister boss guy is being particularly sinister and denies a dying man medical supplies that could prolong his life just because they’re in limited supply and they could prolong someone else’s life a lot more, the responsible leader girl points a gun at him, and I thought to myself “aha, now something is going to happen” but then they just moved to the next scene of wandering through ruined Tokyo and pretended it just never happened? Apart from that the only real conflict in the show was that the girl designated as the boisterous one was whining about having to walk. Oh, and they shot a wolf, I guess. Anyway this show is really half-baked and the basic ingredients of a compelling narrative are just not there.

11: Unbreakable Machine Doll

The "are you sexually frustrated" face.

The “are you sexually frustrated” face.

October is Fat-Shaming Awareness Month.

October is Fat-Shaming Awareness Month.

Oh, is that where the awful CGI dragon came from.

Oh, is that where the awful CGI dragon came from.

An artificer and his golem servant travel to a boarding school in search of revenge.
I really wanted to like this show. To my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than the romance between an artificer and his golem servant. But everything about the show is just bad. The art is poorly drawn, and to cover it up they’ve cranked up the bloom so high that it’s painful to look at. The plot is full of Capitalized Words, there are Puppeteers who study Machinart try to become Rounds so they can be invited to the Evening Party and have a chance to become the Wiseman. And the exposition of the plot is delivered artlessly – half the episode was people standing around telling other people things everyone already knew for the benefit of the audience and yet even after all that I have little idea what’s going on. The character interactions aren’t interesting: the artificer is a bland brooding revenge-obsessed guy who is unmoved by the romantic overtures of his golem, and the golem is a bland artificer-obsessed girl who is unmoved by the artificer’s rejection of her overtures. So it’s a stalemate, which makes for really boring flirting. Lastly, the action scenes were perfunctory, confusing, and full of awful CG. I’ve tried hard, but there’s nothing to like here.

10: Outbreak Company

90/1000, would not be waited upon.

90/1000, would not be waited upon.

It's pronounced ℳℴℯ❤, sir.

It’s pronounced ℳℴℯ❤, sir.

Shouldn't this little girl have a regency council or something?

Shouldn’t this little girl have a regency council or something?

An otaku is kidnapped to a parallel fantasy world to act as Japan’s ambassador there.
Seems like gratuitous wish-fulfillment trash. There weren’t many things in the show recognizable as attempted jokes, and the things that were were mostly just playing on the main character’s otakudom in really lazy ways. For example, the empress of the fantasy kingdom is young and flatchested so he freaks out like a gross otaku about how great little girls are. Or he has a half-elf maid working at the embassy so he freaks out like a gross otaku about how awesome it is to have a half-elf maid serving you. It was kinda uncomfortable and it offended my liberal sensibilities. It made me wish for a different show, where the post of Anime Ambassador was just a ploy to spread populist democratic ideals and undermine the monarchy to promote Freedom. A show where teaching the maid to read would be a subversive act to raise the consciousness of the lower classes, rather than just trying to get in her skirt. A show where the empress being clearly unfit to rule due to her age would be an argument for the stabilizing value of elected leadership. Presumably at some point there will be a plot to the show beyond the ambassador being gross to people, but I doubt it will be any good.

9: Log Horizon

Games are fun because they provide optimal challenge and progression with minimal frustration.

Games are fun because they provide optimal challenge and progression with minimal frustration.

Physical comedy in a virtual world.

Physical comedy in a virtual world.

+5 shiny glasses of tactics.

+5 shiny glasses of tactics.

Players of an MMO suddenly find themselves in the world of that MMO.
There’s not a lot going on in this show. It’s not really bad or anything, it just doesn’t have anything special about its plot, or its characters, or its jokes, or its ideas, or its setting. You have a wizard who’s sort of a neurotic nerd, a fighter who’s sort of a lovable oaf, and a ninja who’s sort of obsessive about feudal loyalty. You could watch those characters bump up against the generic fantasy world and talk about how playing a game through a screen is different in many ways from actually living in the world the game depicts for half an hour, and then it would be half an hour later. There aren’t any real jokes, but there’s stuff on the order of “loveable oaf says something mildly crude, woman knees him in the face” that could stand in for jokes if you were being charitable. This is a show that I wouldn’t mind watching, if I had some reason to, but the show itself gives me exactly zero reasons.

8: Yuusha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shuushoku wo Ketsui Shimashita (I Didn’t Become A Hero, So As Much As I Hated It I Had To Get A Job)

The cameraman has his priorities straight.

The cameraman has his priorities straight.

This is why I usually use the self-checkout.

This is why I usually use the self-checkout.

At least make it shaped like a wand or something.

At least make it shaped like a wand or something.

A failed hero works at a magic shop that hires the daughter of the defeated Demon Lord.
This doesn’t really seem much like Hataraku Maou-sama. In Hataraku Maou-sama the Demon Lord was an impressive character despite his unfamiliarity with the modern world. He burned with an inner greatness, a demonic ambition that would always shine through even as he was serving people burgers and fries. There was something noble in the way he adapted to his changed circumstances by earning money and living frugally. This Demon Princess is not noble. She’s a typical helpless alien girlfriend, only a couple notches more capable of taking care of herself than Chii from Chobits. Yes, she makes cackling chuunibyou declarations about how she’ll devour your soul, but that’s actually a sign of helplessness too. She just doesn’t know any other way to talk. And even though though Maou-sama was set in the real world, it actually had more fantastic elements than this show seems to. This show comes from the school of fantasy where you take modern technology, replace the word “electricity” with “magic”, and there’s your setting. From what I can remember of my engineering courses electricity is in fact magic, but it’s still lazy world-building, and strips the show of any chance at an actually interesting aesthetic. There were a few decent jokes over the course of the first episode, but they got kinda lost among all the random pantyshot pandering.

7: Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio (Arpeggio of Blue Steel)

Hexagons are the future.

Hexagons are the future.

A very carefully chosen preposition.

A very carefully chosen preposition.

You can't even inspect their source code!

You can’t even inspect their source code!

In a future where the world’s seas are patrolled by an unfriendly AI fleet, one AI submarine goes rogue and serves a human mercenary captain.
The CGI in this show actually looks quite good. The clashes between hightech battleships firing lasers and “corrosion missiles” at each other are everything one could hope for, lots of super-detailed technology and flashy hexagon lightshows. Unfortunately, the CGI looks so good they figured they could use it not just for the ships, but for the humanoid characters as well. It sort of works, and having everything done in CGI is nice in that it keeps the CGI on the vehicles from standing out and looking out of place. But it sort of doesn’t work, because even good CGI is no match for a human animator (take that, you AI scum!) and the CGI versions of the characters end up looking a little derpy. So how nice the show looks entirely depends on how much it shows ships fighting, rather than people talking to each other. Unfortunately, while they did set up some future plot elements that would make ships fight, they also have an adolescent protagonist grappling with undirected adolescent rage that he’s probably going to want to talk about eventually, and they have a ship AI girl who is going to learn about what it means to be human and how true love can overcome programming. And even if they didn’t look like crap I still really wouldn’t be interested in watching those conversations. AI doesn’t work that way, guys!

6: Golden Time

Haha, yanderes. Will they ever learn?

Haha, yanderes. Will they ever learn?

Looks like we found out where Adult Mikuru went to college.

Looks like we found out where Adult Mikuru went to college.

It's only impressive because the animators don't usually bother with lips at all.

It’s only impressive because the animators don’t usually bother with lips at all.

A guy goes to college.
We didn’t even get introduced to the premise in the first episode, they’re really slow-rolling their melodrama here. I guess the time constraints of visual novels are a little different from the constraints of anime, which is why Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was just an ordinary high school romance for its first couple episodes. But the consequence of that is that the first episode might not be very representative of the whole and ruin my whole “threshing the fall season” gimmick. The episode was a fairly faithful depiction of the first few days of orientation as you’re entering college and the administrators try to justify their salaries by telling you things you don’t care about, but a faithful depiction of a boring process is not actually what I want in my anime. The male lead met some girls, and at least the blonde yandere is cute. I can foresee some interesting drama arising based on the protagonist chasing another man’s yandere, but if they’re planning to give equal time to the other girls that don’t seem as interesting (one of them has as her trait that she wears lipstick), I dunno about this show. One episode just wasn’t enough to properly judge, I think.

5: Kyoukai no Kanata

In glasses, I love girls in shorts.

In glasses, I love girls in shorts.

You shouldn't encourage her.

You shouldn’t encourage her.

Finally, a relatable protagonist!

Finally, a relatable protagonist!

An immortal half-demon boy and a cursed warrior girl fight demons and act emo.
My usual criticism of Kyoto Animation shows is that they look pretty but are soulless. Kyoukai no Kanata is pretty, but I think there might be a little soul there too. The female lead is cute; she looks good in glasses, she’s clumsy and insecure and generally ℳℴℯ❤, but when it comes time to fight she can form a magical sword out of her own blood and bust out some sick moves. The contrast there is appealing, “gap moe” I think it’s called? I didn’t like the childhood friend character in the literary club – her dialogue with the male lead was flatter than her chest. The writer was going for the sense of easy banter between old friends, but he didn’t hit the right notes and it ended up sounding like they were both trying too hard to pretend they were friends and could still banter with each other because they didn’t either of them want to admit that their friendship had grown into a hollow shell of a lie. Which, if that’s what they were going for, it was spot on, but I think the writing was just bad. There wasn’t a ton of fighting action in the first episode, but what we got looked good, as I would expect from KyoAni.  I have to admit that I have very little interest in the female lead’s subplot of “oh no my clan is considered cursed because we manipulate blood instead of something wholesome like stock prices and now everyone is discriminating against me”.  Combining that with the male lead’s subplot of “golly I wish I could die but oh no, shucks, I’m immortal”, things may get too whiny for me to handle.  We’ll see. So long as they can avoid an emo overload I think their characters work well together.

4: Walkure Romanze

Did she dye her horse's tail to match her hair?

Did she dye her horse’s tail to match her hair?

Maid!

Maid!

The show is a little bit trashy.

The show is a little bit trashy.

Everybody wants to win the jousting tournament at a school for knights.
I’m not sure if the people making this show realize that it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. On the one hand, half the plot of the first episode was driven by a Sexual Assault Horse that ran around campus biting the female students’ clothes off them. On the other hand the art and animation obviously had a huge amount of effort put into them. Intricately detailed armor, varied character designs, and absolutely gorgeous backgrounds of medieval German town and countryside made the show a pleasure to watch. There was a little CGI in the actual jousting scenes themselves, but it was well done and not obnoxious. I would hardly blame the animators for phoning it in when tasked with animating an adaptation of a ridiculous porno game, but instead they put in a virtuoso performance. The plot seems pretty dumb – something about how the protagonist used to be a knight, but he decided to be a squire instead because of some Mysterious Traumatic Past. (Maybe he was sexually assaulted by a horse.) But the characters seem like they’ll be fun. They’re at an academy for German aristocracy, so basically every other character is a drill-hair ojou-sama, and they do a good job of hamming it up. And the female lead has pink hair! I’m embarrassed to admit to how much I’m looking forward to more episodes of this show.

3: Samurai Flamenco

Is that magazine really named "Men's 69"

Is that magazine really named “Men’s 69”

Or he could have become an arms dealer to bring about world peace.

Or he could have become an arms dealer to bring about world peace.

Yeah well your outfit looks dumb.

Yeah well your outfit looks dumb.

A guy decides he wants to become a superhero, and meets a police officer who humors him.
The superhero Samurai Flamenco’s goal seems to be to build a better society through community-oriented vigilantism. Toward that end he’s taken it upon himself to step in and prevent people from committing minor misdemeanors, similar to the “broken windows” theory of policing. His first act as a hero is to accost a jaywalker. To some extent this is silly: even if Japan doesn’t have the scale of open gang warfare we see in the US, still things like the Yakuza are a bigger deal than people smoking within fifteen feet of a restaurant’s entrance. But on the other hand, to hell with people who use urban anonymity and the bystander effect to get away with being sociopaths to the people around them  in a million little ways! They should have to face justice, those of us who behave honestly and properly shouldn’t have lose out in everything. I think this is the reason why lots of people sympathized with the goals of Yagami Light in Death Note – nobody wants to feel like a chump while others get away with breaking the rules. And Samurai Flamenco has the luxury of more modulated responses to minor transgressions than just murder all the time. So it’s a nice fantasy. We haven’t seen any real action yet, and I don’t know if this is the sort of show that’s going to have action. It might all just be civic involvement and strongly-worded reprimands. But the characters are fun. They sort of seem like ripoffs of the Tiger and Bunny from Tiger and Bunny, but I liked Tiger and Bunny from Tiger and Bunny.  I just sort of hope it doesn’t get any gayer than Tiger and Bunny did. The show opened with Samurai Flamenco naked for what seemed like flimsy reasons, it’s kinda worrisome.

2: White Album 2

Having fun is serious business.

Having fun is serious business.

Everyone's unconquerable right up to the point that they're conquered.

Everyone’s unconquerable right up to the point that they’re conquered.

Such a powerful conversationalist...!

Such a powerful conversationalist…!

The light music club breaks up right before the school festival and now the backup guitarist has to recruit new members.
It’s a nice-looking show! Not really pushing the envelope visually but what they have attempted they have definitely succeeded at. The connection this show has to the previous White Album seems to be tothe extent that the light music club in this one is going to cover the songs of the idol in the last one, so in other words, nothing. It doesn’t seem as deep and contemplative as the previous White Album, but it goes further than anything else this season so it’s hard for me to complain. What really strikes me about this show is the depth of the characters. When the protagonist is flirting with the popular girl, they don’t end up just resorting to the cliches every anime uses when a protagonist flirts with a popular girl. They exchange original, subtle, believable dialogue, with some actual back and forth and parry and counterthrust in their mutual language game. And this makes it more plausible that a romance could have begun to bud with that conversation.  A lot of this episode was just setting up the situation that presumably they will flesh out over the course of the season, so it didn’t really knock me off my feet, but I expect great things. Even if it doesn’t quite live up to the original White Album it could still be an excellent show.

1:Non Non Biyori (Non Non Nice Day Outside)

Tokyo is amazing.

Tokyo is amazing.

It's because she's such a small target to try to hit.

It’s because she’s such a small target to try to hit.

I bet if you lived out there for a while you'd get sick of all the green.

I bet if you lived out there for a while you’d get homesick for billboards.

An elementary school girl’s family moves from Tokyo to the country and she must adjust.
I think the title is supposed to evoke the Japanese word “nonbiri”, meaning “taking it easy”, because this was the most relaxing anime I’ve ever seen. I like slice of life anime, but usually only when they have some notions of plot or conflict included; the full-on “iyashikei” healing-type anime just leave me bored. I think the key difference that Non Non Biyori brings to the table is its pastoral setting. It presents an idealized view of country life, where everybody knows each other and has to get along because there are only like five kids in a fifty mile radius, and where you can hang out and relax because buses only come every two hours but that’s ok because they’d just take you to a school where you would work through problems in a workbook on your own anyway and now that I’m describing this it sounds sort of awful? Maybe I was just taken in by the gorgeously-drawn scenery of forested hills, I’m sure I don’t actually want to abandon city life and go become a farmer. I bet they get shitty internet speeds out there. But whether or not the ideal is worth pursuing in reality, this show’s depiction of it has melted my stony heart. There were some jokes in the episode, gentle jokes like a warm breeze rustling the grass, but they were fun. The main running gag of the episode was the kids trying to convince the youngest that they didn’t actually live out in the country, and children naively believing the lies their elders tell them is always funny. All-in-all this seems like a good anime for a modern urbanized fellow like me who suspects that the grass might literally be greener out in the country.

 

This season looks terrible.  The only show whose first episode I actually really enjoyed instead of thinking “well, it has potential” was Non Non Biyori. When a fanservice show like Walkure Romanze comes in at #4, you know that’s a bad sign.  This coming after such a high-powered summer season makes me wonder if the tradition of putting the heavy-hitter shows in spring and fall has come to an end.  It never really made sense to me anyway, you figure you’d want to spread them out as much as possible to avoid competition, right?  Or maybe they really think all this CGI shit is putting their best foot forward.  Who knows.  All I know is, it’s looking like I have more time to work through my anime backlog this season.

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One response to “Threshing Fall 2013

  1. sage October 15, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    For as many new shows as there were this season, it’s been really disappointing how many seem to be DOA. I think I’m much more optimistic on Coppelion and much more pessimistic on White Album 2.

    The first ep of Coppelion seemed to be more a setup for episodic sci-fi hijinks in a postapocalyptic urban wasteland setting than a setup for an arc-based show. Maybe that’s just because it was boring and didn’t establish much of a narrative, but boring episodic scifi/fantasy shows that don’t work too hard to establish narratives can work nicely (kino, mushishi).

    You hit on what I was disappointed with for White Album 2. Everything that made White Album distinctive is gone or diminished. The male characters seem to have their own distinct personalities so it does have that much going for it. They also appear to have retconned the original show from 1987 to 1997, which was probably a bad move given how autistic their audience is.

    The first episode of the gargantuanly-titled multiple choice show was so bizarre that I was unable to form an opinion on it. If it was trash, it was atypical trash. Might be worth a look.

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