suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Winter 2014

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: Mahou Sensou (Magic Wars)

Check out the proportions on her left arm and the fingers on her left hand.

Check out the proportions on her left arm and the fingers on her left hand.

Check out his emotions on the world he thought he knew being pulled out from under him.

Check out his emotions at the world he thought he knew being pulled out from under him.

Check out her breasts. ಠ_ಠ

Check out her breasts. ಠ_ಠ

Some ordinary high school students get mixed up in a battle among magicians and end up accidentally getting magical powers. As far as the plot of the show goes it’s not so bad, the female lead’s brother has been brainwashed by an Evil Organization whose Name is Capitalized, and of course that’s a valid reason to want to fight them. The male lead got his magic powers as a side effect of the female lead getting violent when he accidentally brushed his lips against hers, which is kinda awful, but whatever, I’ve seen worse.  We didn’t get much characterization on the characters, except that the female lead likes her brother and does not like being touched by males that are not her brother, but it’s conceivable that more characterization will come in later episodes once they’re done setting the storyline up. The magic system has a couple of interesting rules about how you can’t use hostile magic directly on other magicians while in the Prime Material Plane, which seems like it could possibly lead to some cool fights with an emphasis on buffs and environmental effects, and it could make for some variety when they head to the Elemental Plane of Smoking Ruins and are finally allowed to unload on each other. But oh my god, those faces! I haven’t seen animation this bad since before KyoAni ushered in the Modern Era of anime in 2006. I would never be able to take this show seriously when characters’ faces migrate several centimeters on their heads between shots. Even the opening theme animation looks like crap, and if you’re gonna spend your animation budget on something, you’d think you would spend it on the minute and a half of animation that’s going to play in every episode.  I like to think I care more about the story and the characters and the writing than mere visual attractiveness, but when a show’s this butt-ugly I have to make an exception. Aku no Hana was better than this. At least you could defend Aku no Hana’s animation as a stylistic choice, however misguided. Mahou Sensou is trying and failing to look like a regular show.

11: Noragami (Stray God)

That's actually still pretty pathetic compared to the Christian god.

That’s actually still pretty pathetic compared to the Christian god.

oh hi I upgraded your RAM

oh hi I upgraded your RAM

Just because the vengeful spirits of the dead are hunting you is no reason to throw a fit.

Just because the vengeful spirits of the dead are hunting you is no reason to throw a fit.

A down-on-his-luck God meets a girl who turned into a half-spirit in an accident and decides to answer her prayers for help. I’m not sure one interesting thing happened all episode. The premise of a God trying to build up faith by doing odd jobs for believers could have potential as a sort of slice-of-life show, but the writers clearly don’t trust in that potential, because instead they decided to throw in a bunch of restless spirits for the protagonists to fight. So the “stray god” premise was apparently just a thin veneer, and this is yet another supernatural combat show.  And if they’re going to go that route, they need to put something actually interesting in the combat! Most of the fight scenes consisted of the male lead, Yato, running away because he didn’t have a weapon, which gets old fast. Noragami’s characters kinda suck too. They tried to make Yato a cool slacker type like Staz from Blood Lad, but they didn’t really understand the concept, so instead he just flickers rapidly between a cool sexy bishounen character and a cowardly worthless loser character. And Hiyori, the female lead, is a stereotypical silly highschool girl who spent most of the episode being confused so that Yato could explain things to her.  Neither was really likable at all. I can definitely understand why Yato’s Sacred Weapon decided she wanted out of the relationship.

10: Super Sonico

It might help if you stopped wearing headphones during the lectures though.

It might help if you stopped wearing headphones during the lectures, though.

They really are good butt.

They really are good butt.

That's... *not* what she said?!?!?

That’s… *not* what she said?!?!?

A girl works hard to juggle college, a job as a model, a job as a waitress, and playing in a band. Super Sonico is super cute.  She has pink hair, and she tries hard, I knew that much going into this episode. They didn’t really present much else, though. The extent to which this show is pointless fluff actually sort of impresses me. A summary of the plot: Sonico is late for school, but since it’s college nobody even cares. Her friends want to go eat macarons with her afterwards, but oh no she can’t because she has to go to her job as a model.  She’s sexually harassed by a sleazy guy at her modeling job, but her manager steps in to save her so she doesn’t have to, like, stand up for herself or anything. Then she goes to wait tables at her grandma’s bar where the customers tease her, but her grandma steps in to save her so she doesn’t have to, like, stand up for herself or anything.  I don’t think they even had a pretense of any sort of plot conflict for the part of the episode where she met up with her band. Maybe this was just an introductory episode and the plot will get more interesting later, but I think more likely it’s the result of trying to make an anime about a company’s mascot character that was designed with special attention to her visual appeal and no attention at all given to things like “personality”. So she has the personality quirk of always wearing her headphones everywhere, and besides that, she’s as bland as possible. The show’s not actively unpleasant to watch: Sonico is easy on the eyes, and the plot-such-as-it-is moves along fast enough that it doesn’t get all that boring.  It’s just a totally pointless waste of time that could better be spent on something with actual substance.

9: Mikakunin de Shinkoukei (Unidentified and Progressing)

They say arranged marriages are actually happier than "love" marriages.

They say arranged marriages are actually happier than “love” marriages.

You respect her boundaries and her personal space. Please. I am begging you.

You respect her boundaries and her personal space. Please. I am begging you.

jiiiiiiiiiiiiii~

jiiiiiiiiiiiiii~

A girl turns 16 only to discover that she is engaged to a bumpkin from out in the country who has come with his little sister to live with her. This show doesn’t have nearly enough jokes in it to be a comedy, and the premise is too absurd for it to work as straight romance. I think the problem is that the writers think a lot of things are jokes which are not, such as the female lead Kobeni’s older sister Benio being a sexually aggressive lesbian pedophile. This is the same issue that Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai had with Sena and Kobato, and it’s just as unpleasant here. Public Service Announcement here: someone marrying into your family does not give you license to molest his little sister!  And Kobeni telling poor little Mashiro to just try to put up with Benio’s predatory behavior the same way she did when she was younger was super creepy and sort of made me not feel like laughing at anything. It’s a pity, because I actually like the male lead, Hakuya.  He’s got a deadpan, understated comedic delivery that works, and the culture clash between country folk and city folk is an old but rich vein of comedy. And Mashiro trying to be mature and adult all the time to show off for her in-laws is pretty cute too. The Mitsumine family deserves better than the Yonomori family.  I guess that’s the result of the constrained romantic options that people in sparsely populated rural areas have, that Hakuya had to settle for whatever he could get, even a family of child molesters and spousal abusers.

8: D-Frag

You would think the club advisor at least would know not to set the school on fire.

You would think the club advisor at least would know not to set the school on fire.

And open graves.

And open graves.

Doesn't that actually make you the one rebelling against the social order?

Doesn’t that actually make *you* the one rebelling against the social order?

A delinquent is press-ganged into joining the Game Development Club so that it doesn’t get disbanded. At first this looked like a comedy in the vein of GJ-bu or Seitokai no Ichizon, but it turned out to have a very different feel. It has the club consisting of four girls ganging up on a single guy, but there are two elements that don’t fit with the model. First, in GJ-bu and Seitokai, while the girls did sometimes pick on the guy and the guy did sometimes complain about it, it was always in good fun, and nobody was really upset about the arrangement. Here, the girls literally had to torture Kenji into joining the club.  This makes any teasing they do later seem less like friendly ribbing and more like bullying. Second, in GJ-bu and Seitokai, the club was for all intents and purposes the whole world. Almost all scenes were set inside the clubroom, and those that weren’t were still focused solely on interactions among club members.  Here, we have lots of outside stuff going on, like Kenji’s delinquent ambitions to rule the school, and the battle over the student council presidency between Kenji’s square friend Ataru and the Game Dev Club girl Chitose. I think the lack of focus hurts the show a little, it’s way too many characters to keep track of.  The comedy seems funny enough, there was a nice running gag throughout the episode about the various elemental powers that each of the Game Dev Club girls embodied. There was maybe a bit too much “exaggerated reaction to minor absurdity” instead of jokes, though. The girls are cute enough, but I don’t like the guys, they shout too much. This show might turn out to be good if they bring it in to the reliable GJ-bu formula and stop asking me to care about Kenji’s loser friends, but the odds don’t seem great.

7: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai 2 (Even Though I’m Chuunibyou I Want To Fall in Love 2)

Punk is dead.

Punk is dead.

Even Though I'm Chuunibyou, I Want To Be Terrifyingly Clingy

Even Though I’m Chuunibyou, I Want To Be Terrifyingly Clingy

Then why was Harry Potter set in Britain?

Then why was Harry Potter set in Britain?

Second season of Chuu2Koi. From an artistic perspective, they were probably correct to shake up the old formula that they had in place from the previous season.  The first season was about characters who were reinventing themselves, so you can’t have a second season without characters reinventing themselves again.  But I liked Nibutani better as a poser popular girl than a poser prim-and-proper girl, and the less that is said about the puns Kumin has taken it on herself to pollute the world with the better. And Yuuta and Rikka are now theoretically romantically involved and even living together, but that just intensifies the weird dynamic where Yuuta plays “Mom” to Rikka’s worthless ass. His excuse for them living together despite the appearance of unchastity is that he’d be worried about whether she’d be able to live alone. I guess we tried last season to make Rikka grow up and eventually we decided that it was a bad idea and she should be allowed to stay childish as long as she’s cute.  The only character who hasn’t seemed to have changed much is Dekomori, and she’s the only one whose presence in this episode I really enjoyed.  So maybe the show would have been better off remaining in continuity-free stasis.

6: Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil (Wizard Barristers: Mage-lawyer Cecil)

I've seen lovelier. Her hair's not even pink.

I’ve seen lovelier. Her hair’s not even pink.

That seems like the sort of loophole you could drive a truck through.

That seems like the sort of loophole you could drive a truck through.

Every lawyer needs their own battle mech, right?

Every lawyer needs their own battle mech, right?

A young prodigy wizard girl becomes a wizard defense lawyer and defends wizards accused of committing wizard crimes. This show has a serious identity crisis. Sometimes it seems to want to be a cool legal drama about heroic lawyers sticking up for the rights of society’s most vulnerable members. The protagonist Cecil showed up some cops by refusing to consent to a search of her belongings, passionately resolved to get her client acquitted, and had Dramatic Backstory about how her mom is locked in prison for presumably something she didn’t do. (I’ll gain lots of respect for this show’s writing if it turns out she really did it, and not for any particularly extenuating reason either. Criminals Who Really Did It are people deserving of love too, after all.) But on the other hand, Cecil also summoned a golem made out of scrap metal and bad CGI, got sidetracked on her way to the office by a daring daylight magical bank robbery, and, though she had nothing to do with it, the opening scene of the episode was a magical shootout. I get that defense lawyers are not the easiest heroes to cheer for, because they can never achieve justice for the original crime, the best they can do is prevent a second injustice when an innocent person is punished for it. (The only reason Phoenix Wright achieves Justice For All is because the real criminals are stupid enough to testify in court.) But I’m interested in the legal drama, that’s what this show has to offer that’s unique. I’m not interested in the supernatural combat, at least not until they find some better CGI.

5: Witch Craft Works

That rabbit has swag.

That rabbit has swag.

The best part of being a witch is being able to summon cherry blossom petals to make your romantic advances more enticing.

The best part of being a witch is being able to summon cherry blossom petals to make your romantic advances more enticing.

Meet the harem.

Meet the harem.

An ordinary schoolboy finds himself the subject of intense attention from various rival witches.  Sort of a standard Sudden Girlfriend Appearance plotline, but it’s a little less gratuitous wish-fulfilment than those sorts of shows usually are because the female lead Kagari treats the male lead Takamiya more like a MacGuffin than a human being with thoughts and feelings. It sort of feels like a feminist “oh well how would you like it if you were objectified” deal, especially since Kagari literally calls Takamiya her “princess”. I’m interested to see how that dynamic evolves now that a bunch of new witches showed up at the end of the episode – will Takamiya be wooed away by one of the other witches who promises to respect his agency and gender identity and then we all learn an important lesson about respect? Probably we will just see more magical battles. But the magical battles in this episode were actually pretty decent! The “evil” witch they were fighting had an army of CGI robot bunnies, but somehow, and I don’t really understand it myself, they didn’t look awful.  The fight scenes were totally competently done, and there was some creativity involved in e.g. dropping a house on your enemies before they set you on fire. This show seems like the sort of show that really should be bad, but it’s been done well so far, so I’ll hold out hope.

4: Nisekoi (Fake Love)

She's a walking argument for a reinstatement of the Sakoku laws.

She’s a walking advertisement for reinstating the Sakoku laws.

On that day, humanity received a grim reminder.

On that day, humanity received a grim reminder.

Gesture is a universal language.

Gesture is a universal language.

The son and daughter of rival gangs have to pretend to be dating to quell a gang war despite not getting along with one another. Shaft’s expressive visual style, as much as I love it, seems wasted on this simple love-triangle romance. It makes more sense in supernatural shows like Sasami-san@Ganbaranai or Foomonogatari, where there’s weird stuff actually going on in the world of the show and the weird visuals can complement that. In Nisekoi, the weird visuals end up in otherwise down-to-earth scenes, absurd stuff like glitter shooting out of the mouths of the two quarreling lovebirds as they quarrel. I’m not sure why Shaft’s style worked in Hidamari Sketch, which was also extremely low-key in its goings-on, but it doesn’t work here. Visuals aside, the storyline is pretty simple but it’s moving at a fast pace, so the simplicity doesn’t make it boring. The female lead, Kirisaki, is kinda cute and tsundere, though it always bugs me when tsunderes engage in physical abuse instead of just verbal abuse. Ichijou is right when he refers to her as a “barbarian girl”. The bad blood is mutual between the two of them, but it seems to me he has a much better reason for disliking her than she has for disliking him. The male lead, Ichijou, is more interesting than male leads in male-oriented romances often are: he has a tension about not wanting to be associated with his yakuza family, and he gives as good as he gets in the bickering with Kirisaki. (Of course, he doesn’t give as good as he gets when she starts getting violent. Perhaps because he’s a civilized Japanese and not a rambunctious foreigner?) The childhood friend character, Onodera, really does nothing for me, though. It’s not unusual for childhood friend characters to be sort of bland, but she really seems to have no substance at all, and even her character design is just sort of vaguely female. I dunno that I could pick her out of a croud of background characters except that she’s voiced by HanaKana. They weren’t able to show much of the mechanics of the titular fake love in this episode, they had to spend most of their time just setting it up, so I’ll be interested to see if they can do a good job with the wacky love-triangle implications of that. Hopefully it doesn’t just fall by the wayside like a similar setup did in OreShura.

3: Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

You're gonna put yourself out of a job that way.

You’re gonna put yourself out of a job that way.

Just an airshow for now, but imagine what they could do in a fight!

Just an airshow for now, but imagine what they could do in a fight!

The fact that she didn't punch him after this scene makes her the best female character of the season.

The fact that she didn’t punch him after this scene makes her the best female character of the season.

A young pilot goes to piloting academy and falls in love with a noble girl who is also a pilot. I was expecting more cool aerial combat from this show, maybe I focused too much on the “pilot” in the title and too little on the “love song”. It’s possible we’ll get more sick battles later in the show, the episode ended with an ominous “we did not yet realize how cruel the world can be”, but there are lots of ways for the world to be cruel that do not involve awesome death-defying dogfights.  Maybe the pilot he was singing a love song to has cancer or something? They did seem to imply she was sick. Anyway, the first episode of Toaru Hikuushi was not what I expected, but it was fairly cool for what it was. We only got a few shots of the airplanes flying around, but they were nice and detailed, and the studio was very sparing with its CG, which was refreshing in this day and age. Some of the best scenes took place on the ground, though. I’m not sure the bit where the two lovebirds bicycled through a cloud was meteorologically sound, but it sure made for a striking visual. It’s hard to say exactly where the plot is headed.  For now it seems like a school life story with an emphasis on romantic encounters with a side-order of class anxiety, but there were allusions made to a quest for the End of the Sky, so there’s going to be something for them to do once they graduate. The show is off to a slow start, but it looks gorgeous, so if they can put an interesting plot or characters behind those images it will be great.

2: Nobunagun

Gungirl.

Gungirl.

Rip and tear.

Rip and tear.

Gungirl got an upgrade.

Gungirl got an upgrade.

A girl caught in the middle of an alien attack turns out to be the reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga, able to summon a magical machine-gun in place of her right arm. This show is just crazy enough to be cool, I think. It helps that the main character has a lot of character – half the episode was spent with her just wandering around Taiwan being dorky, feeling sad and lonely but also being happy about being alone because dealing with other people always goes wrong so it’s just easier to be by yourself and think about military hardware a lot. So when the aliens attacked, it was easy to emphasize wit her and care about her and root for her to win and shout “hell yeah” when her arm turned into a gun. The artstyle is kinda cartoony and low-budget, but it knows its limitations so that’s fine.  The exaggeratedly wacky artstyle matches well with the exaggeratedly wacky premise.   And hey, the “reincarnated warriors from history” theme has been cool before, in Fate/Stay Night. I’m eager to find out what special attacks Gandhi can use. I’m expecting cheap, turn-off-your-brain fun from this show, but cheap fun can still be a lot of fun if it’s done well.

1: Sekai Seifuku – Bouryaku no Zvezda (World Conquest – The Schemes of Zvezda) 

What is it with all the violent anime women this season, anyhow?

What is it with all the violent anime women this season, anyhow?

That only works in China.

That only works in China.

Actually they're pretty useful if some jackass decides she wants to conquer the world.

Actually they’re pretty useful if some jackass decides she wants to conquer the world.

A runaway schoolboy gets caught up in a  wacky secret society run by a young girl that aims for world conquest.  This show surprised me.  I never really understood what was going on, but it kept me engrossed from start to finish by keeping its protagonist, Asuta, on the run rather than stopping to think about how nothing really made sense. The characters seem to have potential: the female lead, Kate, is absolutely adorable in how she juxtaposes high-flying ideological conquest talk with her childish nature, and while we haven’t gotten to hear much from the other members of the secret society Zvezda, at least their character designs are interesting-looking. Personally my favorite is the fat general with the death’s head mask – he really looks like he belongs in a paramilitary organization, unlike some of the others who are more appropriately dressed for a nightclub. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the setting – why was everyone treating martial law in Japan like a totally normal thing? Why is a nine-year-old girl trying to conquer the world? What is the nature of the powers that Zvezda used to resist the coercive force of the State? I don’t have faith that those questions will necessarily be answered.  The obvious way for this show to go wrong is to take the Penguindrum path and keep spinning out absurdities that sound cool without worrying about weaving them into a coherent hole, and winding up 10 episodes down the line with a giant tangled pile of plot thread that’s impossible to take seriously. But that’s not a guarantee, and this is the only show this season that really seems to have the potential to rise to greatness.

So there are several shows here that seem like they could go places, even if none of them have really blown me away yet.  Not such a bad haul for a winter season. I’ll probably watch 2Chuu2Koi and everything above it, or at least try to. I’ll probably have to drop a couple, because I’m still watching Golden Time as well. I’m glad I decided to widen my search after all this season’s shows seemed terrible – I would have overlooked Sekai Seifuku, Nobunagun, and Witch Craft Works otherwise.  But it did make this post a little late, so, please forgive me.

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