suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Spring 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 shows seem to have based on their first episodes. (Translations of show titles are my own amateur efforts and may be wildly inaccurate or actionable libel.)

14: Isshuukan Friends (One Week Friends)

Same.

Same.

Same!

Same!

Same!!

Same!!

A boy wants to make friends with a girl who forgets everything about the people she’s close to every Monday. This show was sooooooo boring, oh my god. That one sentence premise blurb pretty much sums up the entirety of what happened in episode one, in detail. The pacing is terribly slow, like they decided to adapt a 4koma comic into a 13-episode series and the first episode covers about 33% of the first panel. The show also looks like crap. The character designs are generic, most of the scenes are talking heads with little in the way of changing facial expressions, and some of the scenes are shot through the back of the characters’ heads to cheat their way out of providing even that small amount of animation. I’d feel worse about disregarding the show if the premise sounded new and exciting, but it’s been done before (cf. ef: A Tale of Memories, and that was Shaft animating it, not this Brains Base nonsense.) I’ve been hearing buzz on the internet, people like this show, and it perplexes me. I can’t see anything to like.

 

13: Black Bullet

It makes perfect sense if you realize you're not actually his fiancee and he thinks your affections creepy.

It makes perfect sense if you realize you’re not actually his fiancee and he finds your affections creepy.

It's only a model.

It’s only a model.

What is the point of living in post-apocalypse Tokyo if you still have to wear pants?

What is the point of living in post-apocalypse Tokyo if you still have to wear pants?

An evil virus is turning people into monsters, and special girls who have taken on some of the virus’s powers are humanity’s only hope of defending against it. A very standard Capitalized Noun Phrase action show, not done very well. The animation quality is decent, but the writing is bad, even for this sort of show. Shows in the Capitalized Noun Phrase genre always have a lot of exposition to get out of the way early on about what each Noun Phrase means, but if there’s a decent writer involved, the exposition can be done a lot more naturally than one cop turning to another and saying “gosh, these Cursed Children that work as Initiators sure are our only hope of fighting the evil Gastrea monsters, aren’t they”. The one thing that distinguishes this show from the other shows in the same genre are the romantic comedy hijinks it interjects into the Initiator/Promoter relationship, and since the Initiator is the product of an alien encounter that happened ten years ago and therefore only ten years old, this is kind of uncomfortable. The joke is “haha, she is a child but she is behaving sexually aggressively towards the male lead”, but that’s not really a funny joke. There were some plot holes, like if they know what sort of bullets hurt the alien monsters why can’t they give those bullets to the military instead of relying on low-paid children as independent contractors, but honestly I was not able to get involved enough in the setting to even care about the illogicality of it all.

 

12: Hitsugi no Chaika (Chaika of the Coffin)

He's a poor thief and a poor bandit, so he's ended up poor. Poor him.

He’s a poor thief and a poor bandit, so he’s ended up poor. Poor him.

If you ensorcel guns, only sorcerers will have guns.

If you ensorcel guns, only sorcerers will have guns.

I really hope he turns out to be the good guy, I like his beard.

I really hope he turns out to be the good guy, I like his beard.

A mysterious girl with a magic anti-materiel rifle hires a pair of martial artist siblings to steal something for some reason. I can’t put together a coherent explanation of why the people in this show were doing the things they were doing. There seem to be at least three factions, none of which get along with the others, and all of which are shrouded in enough mystery that it’s impossible to tell them apart. That’s unfortunately not unusual for this sort of show – in the absence of any other reason to keep watching, they throw a bunch of unanswered questions at you and hope you’ll tune in to be fed the answers. It’s a nasty trick, the Upworthy Headline of anime writing, and we shouldn’t support it. As far as other reasons to keep watching the show, the fight scenes were pretty decent, if you didn’t mind that you didn’t know why they were happening. The battle against the unicorn was nice and dynamic, they properly set it up as a tough enemy by letting the male lead struggle with it for a while before the female lead utterly owned it with her magic gun.  I was able to get hype during the battle scenes. But outside of combat, the female lead is really annoying. They’re playing up her mysterious background by not letting her speak in complete sentences, because she’s foreign or undead or braindamaged or cursed to be as aggravating as possible to those around her or something. It’s hard enough to follow conversations about the plot in a show that wants to keep its premise a secret as long as possible, we really don’t need a character who treats sentence structure like a game of horseshoes adding to the difficulty. Dialogue, obscurantist! Show, sucks!

 

11: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? (Would You Like To Order A Rabbit? (pun))

You have to order them, dummy.

You have to order them, dummy.

Teenage high school ninja girl!

Teenage high school ninja girl!

She's the only one.

She’s the only one.

A girl is a live-in worker at a cafe to pay for school. I’m basically in favor of moe slice-of-life comedies, but recent entries in the genre have tended to go pretty light on the “comedy” and tried to make up for it by doubling down on “moe”. This doesn’t work. The reason the slice-of-life moe comedy works is that all the parts complement one another. The slice-of-life plot helps flesh out the characters’ personalities, which helps you understand their moe characteristics, as well as providing fodder for jokes. The moe characters make the slice-of-life and the jokes super cute just by being present during them. And the comedy gives your brain something to do while your heart basks in the warmth and healing energy of the moe slice-of-life. That’s crucial: neither moe nor slice-of-life can coexist with any real dramatic conflict or heartpounding action, so comedy is the only option to keep things from getting boring. And this show was pretty boring – the best bit was the latte art scene, which did have a couple actual jokes, but even that was padded out with the characters just being cute at each other. It took a scene over two minutes long to get those two jokes out. Moe slice-of-life doesn’t have to have quite the pace a straight comedy would, but a joke-per-minute ratio of less than one is not great. And this was their best scene! Other scenes had “jokes” like “a fat rabbit that talks in a man’s voice”, which was unfunny when Tamako Market did it with a fat bird and now is unfunny and unoriginal. The characters are fine; they’re adorable, if a bit generic. (Would you be able to tell the difference if one of them was swapped out for a Kiniro Mosaic character?) But they’re just not funny enough.

 

10: Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (Mahouka High School’s Weak Student)

How is it even possible to misunderstand that?

How is it even possible to misunderstand that?

The transparent wrap-thing in the uniform really enhances the visuals of the spellcasting.

The transparent wrap-thing in the uniform really enhances the visuals of the spellcasting.

Have you considered magic academia?

Have you considered magic academia?

In the future, magic has been discovered and is studied in school. The protagonist and his sister go to a school for elite magicians. This show went out of its way to inform us that despite the protagonist’s adoring imouto being in the same grade as him, they are not twins, she’s just 11 months younger than him. It was a whole big scene that seemed to serve no narrative purpose but to break my heart. Honestly it was hard for me to tell what the purpose of most of the scenes in this episode was. They’ve got several things going on at once here: they’ve got a bland male lead surrounded by a bunch of cute girls one of whom is his sister, so they might be going for a school life harem kinda thing. But they’ve also got a school divided into “Blooms” who are really good at magic and “Weeds” who are merely good at magic, and they could be going for a serious drama about how bullying is wrong. And then there was an interlude at a martial arts dojo showing how badass the protagonist is at punching people, which would be a pointless digression unless this is going to turn into an action anime. They’re trying to have more cakes than they can possibly eat. The various unrelated parts of the show aren’t poorly done or anything – the haremettes are appropriately cute, the magical battle special effects are appropriately sparkly, and the bullying storyline is… ok the bullying storyline is kinda dumb. They’re trying to go for a moral of “it’s not right to discriminate against people just because they’re not good at casting magic”, and while I appreciate this moral (I myself am somewhat lacking in wizardry), they’re promoting the moral by having the protagonist be a master martial artist and a brilliant magical analyst and a hunk who all the ladies want and a blazingly fast typist. The proper moral is “intrinsic human worth does not depend on a person’s skills”, not “if someone is bad at one thing, they’re probably amazing at everything else”.

 

9: Gokukoku no Brynhildr (Pitch Black Brynhildr)

jiiiiiiiii~

jiiiiiiiii~

Show's not afraid to ask the tough questions.

Show’s not afraid to ask the tough questions.

Not if they know what's good for them they don't. *shakes fist*

Not if they know what’s good for them they don’t. *shakes fist*

A magic-using girl can predict the future and uses magic to rescue people who are going to die. Most of this episode was the female lead staring at people intensely, and the male lead sexually harassing her. At the end of the episode, it was revealed to the male lead that the reason the female lead was so creepy is that she’s a witch who’s hopped up on drugs and cyborg implants and the ability to tell the future. So presumably, we’re going to see that character dynamic change in future episodes. We also got the “reveal” that the female lead was actually not the male lead’s dead childhood friend like she claimed not to be, but the only reason we got this “reveal” is so that we can get the opposite reveal later on and pretend to be shocked. Not many conclusions we can draw about the plot from the first episode, but it did reveal that the male lead is too much of a dumbass to stay put when a creepy girl tells him to stay put or he’ll die, so he’s kind of a loser nerd? And the pacing, animation, dialogue, all of this was nothing special, bad or good.  There’s really nothing much to say, the show didn’t make much of an impression at all. If someone tells me it picks up later, I might believe them, but for now, the show has wasted its first impression and will not get a second one.

 

8: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii (Even So, The World Is Beautiful)

You should probably grind out a few more levels tormenting rats before you tackle a princess.

You should probably grind out a few more levels tormenting rats before you tackle a princess.

Her self-confident bearing is very empressive.

Her self-confident bearing is very empressive.

The thing about your destiny is, it comes whether you call it or not.

The thing about your destiny is, it comes whether you call it or not.

A princess from a small backwater country gets shipped off to marry the conquering Sun King, but becomes embroiled in intrigue. This show is naive. This show is overly optimistic about how beautiful the world is. In the world of this show, most people are good and radiate light, and it’s just a few shadowy figures who scheme and plot, along with some greedy dunces who allow themselves to be used as pawns, that are the sources of darkness. This kind of thinking causes problems in the real world, when every soul has light mixed with darkness inside it. And even the darkness in this show is not very impressive – yes, some courtiers were plotting to kill the princess, but through implausible coincidence she avoided assassination, because the beautiful world won’t allow bad things to happen to good people. A kidnapping could be laughed off, because of course the villains couldn’t possibly overpower the good-hearted people. Just gotta knock the kidnappers around a little and teach them the error of their ways, and soon they’ll be chauffeuring you around. I mean, it’s true that the positive-thinking nature of the characters is sort of charming in its own way, and on a technical level this show is well done. The character designs are appealing, the backgrounds are gorgeous. The show is beautiful, but even so. I don’t think I can put up with its simplistic view of morality.

 

7: No Game, No Life

Interestingness is literally just the inverse of probability.

Interestingness is literally just the inverse of probability.

A pastel-colored fairyland where you can game forever and ever.

A pastel-colored fairyland where you can game forever and ever.

Yowza! Full indeed! Oh, you're talking about your poker hand.

Yowza! Full indeed! Oh, you’re talking about your poker hand.

A game-addicted NEET brother and sister pair are transported into a fantasy world where all competition takes the form of games. The problem with the premise of this show is that being good at twitchy MMOs is not the same as being good at strategic games like chess, and certainly not the same as being good at cheating in poker. If the male lead is a hikkikomori NEET, where did he learn how to read someone’s tells by looking in their eyes? Who was he practicing his card-manipulation tricks against? “Games” are not a single skill, memorizing the Scrabble words that have “q” in them will not help you get sick noscope headshots. The main thing that struck me in this episode was the upbeat attitude of the protagonists about being uprooted from the world they knew. They were just like “to heck with it, the real world sucked anyway, time to clown on some fantasy ladies with big tits and poor judgment”, which is more fun than the moping these sort of transplant fantasy protagonists usually get up to. Possibly at some point the fantasy will stop being so fantastic? I dunno, the god the world is ruled by seems pretty chill, his tenth commandment is “let’s all have fun playing together” that’s how chill he is. You should never trust a god, I know, I know. But for now, things seem pretty light and carefree, and that’s enjoyable. The artstyle is kind of ugly, the animation is pretty low-budget, and the pacing is a little rushed (they didn’t even bother to explain how they cheated at poker, they were just like, oh yeah, I win). This show isn’t well-executed, but it might turn out to be kind of charming anyway on account of the fun protagonists.

 

6: Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (If She Trips A Flag)

You're cheating by inspecting their flags, though.

You’re cheating by inspecting their flags, though.

Foreigners just don't get how important and valuable Japan's lexicalized social hierarchy is.

Foreigners just don’t get how important and valuable Japan’s lexicalized social hierarchy is.

The most rewarding part of conquest is watching your flag fly.

The most rewarding part of conquest is watching your flag fly.

A boy has the ability to sense destiny-changing events in the form of friendship/romance/death/etc. “flags” that appear on people’s heads. This show seemed a little incoherent. Maybe it was just that there was a lot of setting-up of their premise they had to do in the first episode, but there was a lot of nonsense they threw in that had nothing to do with the premise. So not only does he have his magical “flag sight”, but he’s also friends with a mystery-solving European princess, and he lives in an abandoned building, and he romances a squeaky-voiced girl who can’t take a hint that he just wants to be left alone, and he wants to be left alone because he’s under a mysterious curse that dooms all those around him. The pacing is just way too rushed, too many things we’re being asked to handle at once instead of them being introduced over the course of multiple episodes. And I don’t care much for the character designs, which look overly soft and glossy and doll-like, even moreso than average anime character designs. The possible saving grace for this show is that by the end of the episode everything was sort of starting to come together and I was getting a The World God Only Knows vibe , what with the dating-sim terminology and the guy casually meddling with girls’ destinies for a good cause. TWGOK had similar problems with a rushed first episode but it settled down and ended up being really good, so maybe there’s hope for this show.

5: Mekaku City Actors

This AI's gone rogue, time to pull the plug.

This AI’s gone rogue, time to pull the plug.

Look at those elaborate backgrounds. I'm surprised my video card could handle such complexity.

Look at those elaborate backgrounds. I’m surprised my video card could handle such complexity.

You say things like that, you're gonna trip his death flag.

You say things like that, you’re gonna trip his death flag.

A hikkikomori NEET and his AI buddy venture into the outside world and are punished for their hubris. Ok, first things first, gotta get it out of the way. “More like Mekaku SHITTY Actors, amirite?” Haha. Second things second, if you have an AI servant that can recognize speech, why do you even NEED to go out and buy a replacement keyboard? Employ the ancient lost technology of having a secretary take dictation! OK, now that those two issues are out of the way, this show was kinda disappointing for a Shaft fanboy like me. The character designs are stylish, and the AI girl was cute, as you’d expect an AI girl to be. But Shaft’s animation direction is usually pretty on point and visually interesting, while this episode just felt flat and lifeless. The most striking example was in the scenes with the terrorists; the hostages just sort of sat there flat against the background, there was no sense of fear or the emotional weight of the situation presented in the animation. And when the mysterious people helped the protagonist escape, there was no sense of action or tension, or anything in those scenes. They were portrayed as flatly as when he first walked into the department store.  He’s risking his life defying terrorists with deadly weapons, it should have been exciting, and it wasn’t. It’s hard to tell whether the story is going to be worth a damn here. The show spent the first half of the episode with the protagonist and his pet AI making light banter, which is great, banter’s wonderful, except then the show spent the second half with mysterious people showing up and using weird magic for inscrutable reasons. I would have liked to had a little extra time in the episode for them to explain who they were and what they were doing, so I didn’t have to worry that this crypticity was going to be a habit with this show.

4: Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to (Of The Manga Artist and His Assistant)

Men have dreams that women will never be able to understand.

Men have dreams that women will never be able to understand.

Don't look at me like that! I'm an *artist*.

Don’t look at me like that! I’m an *artist*.

Kinda hypocritical coming from the woman profiting off his shamelessly perverted drawings.

Kinda hypocritical coming from the woman profiting off his shamelessly perverted drawings.

The author of a fanservice-laden manga series sexually harasses his colleagues, but in a comedic way. This show has a nice fast pace to it, and some of the jokes are pretty funny – the ones that puncture the artistic pretensions of the fanservice-manga industry, like when the protagonist goes shopping for women’s underwear to use as references, and they’re worried he’ll be mistaken for a pervert, and then they realize that’s not really a mistake. That’s about half the jokes. The other half, though, are the protagonist sexually harassing women and getting beaten up for it. Which was never a funny premise for a joke, and even if it had been once would not still be after decades of weakly-written “comedy” anime using it as a crutch. The show has half-length episodes, which helps it avoid wearing out its welcome, and the character designs look nice, even if the animation is not highly-budgeted. We’ll see if they branch further into character-driven comedy later or if they stick with these cheap gags.

3: Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin (The Buried Treasure of Ryuugajou Nanana)

Monster-in-a-box!

Monster-in-a-box!

Man, how do I get someone to murder me under mysterious circumstances?

Man, how do I get someone to murder me under mysterious circumstances?

She's got a good head on her shoulders. You should marry her and keep her provided with alcohol.

She’s got a good head on her shoulders. You should marry her and keep her provided with alcohol.

A boy moves into a cheap apartment, only to find that it’s haunted by the ghost of a girl who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The ghost girl is cute. I’d be totally up for a sudden girlfriend appearance slice of life comedy with her as the sudden girlfriend. Unfortunately I’m not sure that’s what’s being offered here. If it was just that she’d been murdered and they had to find her killer, that’d be one thing, but there’s talk of buried treasure and political intrigues and youth rights seasteading and all sorts of complicated plot-related stuff that makes it seem like he’s not going to get too many chances to hang out in his room eating pudding and playing videogames with a ghost. The apartment manager lady seemed like a fun drunk hedonist chick, why did she have to turn out to be involved in all this conspiratorial nonsense? But the pacing was solid, the animation was gorgeous, and none of the characters was particularly annoying. If he wants to go hunting for buried magical artifacts to overthrow his tyranical father instead of hanging out with a cool ghost chick,  it might still turn out ok.

2: Akuma no Riddle (The Devil’s Riddle)

You only have fanservice shower scenes because you're meant to have fanservice shower scenes.

You only have fanservice shower scenes because you’re meant to have fanservice shower scenes.

Pink haired chick detected!

Pink haired chick detected!

Yeah, after all, he's not the target.

Yeah, after all, he’s not the target.

At a special school for assassins, twelve assassins are in a class with one ordinary civilian, and they all compete to be the first to murder her. The premise here is kinda nonsense. I doubt this is a cost-effective way to train assassins, and I’m not sure why someone hasn’t just stuck a knife in the ordinary girl’s neck already, given how defenseless she’s been acting. Maybe she’s got super assassination survival powers like Yasuna from Kill Me Baby? Come to think of it, the protagonist assassin is reminscent of Sonya, with her no-nonsense taciturn nature; I hope someone turns out to be Agiri. They didn’t give all twelve assassins proper introductions in the first episode (wise, it would have been rushed), but the ones that were introduced had character designs and personalities wacky enough to match the premise. Combining that with a decent-sized but not overwhelming dollop of fanservice shower scenes and skirt-flipping, and it looks like they’re shooting for the same semi-trashy action genre that Mirai Nikki fell into. I don’t have my hopes quite at Mirai Nikki levels, but the protagonist is quietly cute, the episode’s pacing was solid, and it can be fun to watch wacky characters bounce off each other sometimes. I am a little concerned about the availability of decent subs, the SSS subs had serious translation issues and the Watakushi subs had problems with their editing. Hopefully a real sub group picks this up. It seemed like maybe there was something going on with the protagonist’s patron I didn’t quite understand. He was making grand conspiratorial pronouncements and sending the protagonist weird riddle texts on her phone, and I wasn’t sure if the show was just being pointlessly obscure or if it was a translation problem.

1: Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (We’re All Pitiful/We’re All At the Kawai Apartments (pun))

She sees the best in everyone.

She sees the best in everyone.

Realistically, how much leverage is she even going to be able to get, holding it at that angle?

Realistically, how much leverage is she even going to be able to get, holding it at that angle?

Don't get all private because your cocky is still unused.

Don’t get all private because your cocky is still unused.

A high school boy moves into an apartment full of outrageous characters who drive him up the wall, but he stays because he has a huge crush on a girl from his high school who lives there. This is a classic anime premise, dating back at least as far as the 1980’s with Maison Ikkoku, and probably most famously done in Love Hina. They’re not scoring many points for originality here, but a classic scenario can be enjoyable if it’s executed well, and the first episode of Kawaisou was. The comedic timing was sharp, the animation supported the comedy with low-key sight gags, and the the outrageous characters were not so unpleasant that they spoiled the fun. The protagonist’s crush is a little plainer than I would have expected – she’s got a boyish haircut and a flat chest and a reserved personality, she’s not eyecatching like Otonashi Kyoko or Narusegawa Naru. He said he wanted an intelligent girlfriend, and she’s been spotted reading on multiple occasions, so there’s that. I guess basic literacy is more of a feat in Japan, where you have to learn all those danged kanji. Anyway, I can’t say I share the protagonist’s tastes, but for comedic purposes, she seems like she’ll make a decent straight-man. Her reserved personality makes it a little harder for the show to rely on unfunny “oops I did something that upset the tsundere and now she’s responding with exaggerated force” gags, so that’s nice.

So all in all this looks like a pretty weak season.  Kawaisou is gonna work out, and maybe Akuma no Riddle and Nanana too, but beyond that are longshots and hoping. Recently Spring seasons haven’t seemed any better than Winter seasons, maybe studios are getting better about spreading their hits out so they’re not competing so harshly with each other.

 

3 responses to “Threshing Spring 2014

  1. Amarrez April 18, 2014 at 3:10 am

    No Ping Pong? I know it’s sports anime and they’re usually pretty dreary, but Yuasa is behind it.

    • suntzuanime April 18, 2014 at 3:30 am

      Yeah, it got filtered out by the “no sports/mecha/card battle” filter. It’s getting good reviews, so maybe I’ll check it out if I have time.

      Then again, Isshuukan Friends is also getting good reviews.

  2. multiheaded April 23, 2014 at 9:12 am

    It’s probably because I’m shit-faced, but I’m laughing hysterically at your captions.

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