suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Summer 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. (I have done my best to translate show titles to English, but some of them just seem like random strings of syllables.)

14: Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance (Blade Dance of the Spirit-Users)

Accidentally walking in on a girl bathing is an unforgivable plot device.

Accidentally walking in on a girl bathing is an unforgivable plot device.

Taste my balls!

Taste my balls!

She might eat him.

She might eat him.

The world’s only male spirit-user ends up in an all-girl’s school for spirit-users. This show is a bad copy of fighting fantasy fanservice shows that weren’t all that great in the first place. Roughly half the runtime of the first episode was spent with either the male lead accidentally infringing on a maiden’s purity or else a maiden calling the male lead a pervert and trying to kill him. They crammed so much of that into the episode that it even bled over into parts that should have been dramatic. Like when the female lead went to try to bind a powerful spirit, and it tried to kill her to avoid being bound, the characters couldn’t even stop bickering with each other long enough to fight back, it was just like, the guy grabs the girl to pull her out of the way of a sword thrust and she shouts “why are you grabbing me, pervert?” and it makes the action scenes really hard to take seriously. The show went for some low comedy by having the girls at school humiliate him and treat him like just another spirit for them to enslave, but that’s mostly the same stuff we got in Zero no Tsukaima only in this show it’s not as well-executed. There are hints at a larger plot involving a prophecy or a conspiracy or something, but there are always hints like that in a show like this, and they never turn out to be worth a damn if the show isn’t good without them, which this show isn’t, it really isn’t at all.

13: Rail Wars

How much is that in football fields, help me out here.

How much is that in football fields, help me out here.

Huh Wow Really That Is Fascinating Please Tell Me More

Huh Wow Really That Is Fascinating Please Tell Me More

Despite the show's title, he did not proceed to rail her.

Despite the show’s title, he did not proceed to rail her.

Trainee train security officers have train-related escapades. Trains. I guess there are some people who really like trains, who spend thousands of dollars buying train-driving-simulator videogames with all the special DLC trains. Those people would probably like this show! Out of the three main points of dramatic conflict in the first episode, two of them were resolved by the protagonist remembering train-related minutiae. That’s great, if you find the finer points of steam engines and train timetables fascinating,  but I don’t. The third dramatic conflict was the stereotypical lame “guy accidentally grabs girl’s breast, man-hating harpy flips out and calls him a pervert” plotline, so there really isn’t much here for the train non-enthusiast. But if you want to watch trains go clickety-clack down the track and while anime characters who care almost as much about trains as you do talk about trains, go for it.

12: Hanayamata

If it helps, you're way younger than average.

If it helps, you’re way younger than average.

She sounds like she should be piloting a Gundam.

She sounds like she should be piloting a Gundam.

In America, this is just a normal way of saying "hello".

In America, this is just a normal way of saying “hello”.

A transfer middle-school student from America is really into traditional Japanese dance and pressures a wishy-washy girl into joining her dance club. I like the pastel pallete here with the cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the elegant dancing and the character designs fit in well with that. But when the characters open their mouths, it gets a lot harder to like them. The American girl is annoying and wacky and doesn’t have a good sense of boundaries (as expected from an American!). The Japan-native protagonist girl is annoying in her own way, because all she can talk about is how worthless and unspecial she is and how she’ll never amount to anything and doesn’t want to stand out (as expected from a Japanese?). In real life, people like this are at least quiet and withdrawn, so they’re easier to get along with than the wacky-annoying types, but since she’s the viewpoint character, we the audience get the self-loathing in full force repeated over and over again in inner monologue. The plot also doesn’t move very fast – the whole first episode was taken up by the American girl saying “dance with me” over and over, and the Japanese girl saying “no” over and over except for when she said “yes” at the end of the episode, in what I guess counts as the episode’s climax. The art is pretty, but I wish the artists were working with better writing than this.

11: Glasslip

Not even being subtle about tempting fate.

Not even being subtle about tempting fate.

What could *possibly* be more interesting than chickens?

What could *possibly* be more interesting than chickens?

In episode 2, they discover that bears really do shit in the woods.

In episode 2, they discover that bears really do shit in the woods.

Some friends are going to graduate high school. A slow, boring first episode. It sort of has the feeling of a slow and boring high-school summer vacation, so I’ll give them credit for capturing an emotion, but it’s not an emotion I especially want my anime to provide for me. Most of the “drama” in the episode revolved around taking care of the school chickens, but in the end nothing was resolved and everybody agreed that dealing with the chickens was pretty pointless. Again, you could argue that the chickens are a metaphor for high-schoolers, they don’t know what they hell they’re doing and dealing with them always makes you feel kind of ridiculous, but again, just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t make it enjoyable TV. Presumably the show is going to eventually go somewhere, the show is called “Glasslip” so presumably we’ll eventually get more than a couple throwaway frames of glassblowing, but from the first episode it’s hard to expect it to go anywhere very good. Even the art was disappointingly uneven – some of the character designs are pretty nice, but their reach obviously exceeded their grasp on the animation, leading to lavish scenes interspersed with obvious costcutting techniques. Late in the episode there was a dramatic freeze-frame manga shot used in an undramatic and utterly unfitting scene, presumably to save them the expense of animating it because they’d run out of budget halfway through the episode because they spent too much drawing pretty fireworks earlier. Not a good look.

10: Jinsei

True wisdom lies not in creating ever-more-powerful weapons of war, but rather in avoiding such pointless wars in the first place.

True wisdom lies not in creating ever-more-powerful weapons of war, but rather in avoiding such pointless wars in the first place.

What, you mean you can't?

What, you mean you can’t?

Wow, the Copenhagen Interpretation? Fucking dropped.

Wow, the Copenhagen Interpretation? Fucking dropped.

A boy edits his highschool newspaper’s life advice column, whose writers are three girls with clashing personalities. I’m a fan of this new developing genre “one boy in a club full of girls”, but I don’t think Jinsei is a very good entry in it. The key to the genre is the torment that the girls inflict on the guy, which might be lighthearted like in GJ-bu, or actually kind of meanspirited like in Seitokai no Ichizon. In this show, the girls seem too busy bickering amongst each other to put up a united front against the guy. Without the torment, it becomes essentially  just another harem show. In fact, my impression of the guy is that he’s even more passive than your average harem lead. This may be sensible from his perspective: if he took a more active role in their spats (I’d take an active role in her spats if you know what I mean), they’d rip him to shreds. But them ripping him to shreds would be more interesting to watch and funnier than having him just sit back and observe. And this show needs some help being funny. A lot of the time in the first episode they didn’t even seem to be trying to make jokes, it was like they were actually trying to explore issues and give life advice. Which is a funny joke, but not one I’ll give them credit for.

9: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)

What if he thinks you overthink things?!

What if he thinks you overthink things?!

The Anthropic Principle suggests the answer is yes.

The Anthropic Principle suggests the answer is yes.

If love can bloom on the battlefield, surely it can bloom on a tandem bicycle.

If love can bloom on the battlefield, surely it can bloom on a tandem bicycle.

A highschool boy who draws girls’ manga misinterprets the love confession of a girl in his same class, and she becomes his assistant. This show is ruined by its slow pacing. There were some decent jokes in the first episode – better manga-author jokes than last season’s Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to, especially the scene where the manga morality codes forbid a girl to ride on the back of a boy’s bike, and they brainstorm ways to get the same effect without running afoul of the law. But what Mangaka-san had that this show lacks is delivery. Mangaka-san would leap from one uninspired joke to the next fast enough that you might be surprised into a brief chuckle despite yourself. In this show, you have a laborious setup, a gag, and then a laborious joke-conclusion-period (“tsukomi”), which means that by the time the punchline comes, you’re already kind sick of the whole thing, and you won’t give the joke the laugh it deserves on paper. The sight gags in the show work pretty well, the animation is pretty reasonably done even if I don’t think much of the character designs. I don’t suppose the romance is going to go much of anywhere, which wouldn’t be a problem if there were enough comedy to support the show, but there isn’t, so it is.

8: Aldnoah Zero

Darn those Martian jerk bastards to heck!

Darn those Martian jerk bastards to heck!

You can't smudge enough dirt on those mechs to hide the shame of the CGI.

You can’t smudge enough dirt on those mechs to hide the shame of the CGI.

The same thing that happened to every generation since Egyptian kids were told that hauling stones to help build the Great Pyramid would look good on their college applications.

The same thing that happened to every generation since Egyptian kids were told that hauling stones to help build the Great Pyramid would look good on their college applications.

The fifteen years of uneasy peace between Earth and Mars are at an end, and they must now fight each other with robots again. I’m trying very hard not to get suckered into another weakass mecha show just because Urobochi’s name is connected to it, after the disappointment that was Suisei no Gargantia. If you ignore the Madoka and Fate/Zero connection, the first episode was pretty forgettable. There was a lot of infodumping about the history of Earth and Mars, and it wasn’t handled very well. If you’ve gotta give me a history lesson, just cut the crap and straight-up give me a history lesson. Shin Sekai Yori did it and it worked. What doesn’t work is to have your characters casually tell each other the relevant bits of history, interspersed throughout an episode, because A) it makes for unrealistic dialogue (how often do you find yourself discussing the geopolitical context of the War on Terror in an average day?) and B) it’s an inefficient way of providing information. The history lesson format evolved to compress and distribute historical information; if they had sucked it up and done a documentary-style opening for the episode, we could have gotten the necessary context out of the way in the first 5 minutes, rather than sitting through 15 boring minutes of people talking alternatively about having eggs for breakfast and the history of Earth-Mars relations. The show looks nice, and the action scene we got as a reward for sitting through the boring crap was appropriately exciting, but the low-quality infodumping makes me worry about the quality of the show’s writing going forward, and knowing that Urobochi is involved does not comfort me like it once would have.

7: Akame ga Kill (Cut by Akame/Killed by Akame [pun])

It's good for young people to dream big.

It’s good for young people to dream big.

#NotAllWomen

#NotAllWomen

Nonbasic lands are Mountains.

Nonbasic lands are Mountains.

A brave adventurer heads off to the Big City to seek his fortune but it turns out the Big City is full of decadence and horror and he ends up working with a gang of assassins. There’s not much not to dislike about this show – it seems like a pretty standard adventure story, the purehearted lad taking a stand to overthrow the evil minister that corrupted the king. Maybe with a bit more darkness and gore than the standard story of that type. The main character is likeable, if a bit naive, and while we haven’t really been properly introduced to the members of Night Raid yet, many of them are girls with swords who cut things. On the other hand, there’s not much to like about the show either. It’s a pretty standard adventure story, and it shows no signs of ambition to rise above the stock tropes of its genre, except maybe by adding a bit more blood. None of the characters are offensive, but none of them are interesting. The dialogue and plot move along at a decent clip, but their movements are too predictable. They set up the horror and decadence of the capital as a big reveal at the end of the first episode, but they sort of spoiled it by telling us about it at the beginning of the episode. The animation looks nice, that’s about all I can say. Good craftsmanship, but I don’t see any real artistic value here.

6: Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride)

#NotAllBoys

#NotAllBoys

She better not let her girlfriends catch her with a stuffed bear that cute.

She better not let her girlfriends catch her with a stuffed bear that cute.

I prefer to think of myself as "a good value".

I prefer to think of myself as “a good value”.

A high-school girl is reunited with her middle-school crush who moved away after a misunderstanding. But things have changed between them. The premise here is just a standard romance story, with decent enough writing and art, but the interesting thing is the female lead. She’s cute, but in fact she’s too cute and it makes the other girls get jealous and be mean to her, so she deliberately sabotages her own cuteness, keeping her head down to avoid Tall Poppy Syndrome and get along with her friends. It’s an interesting and somewhat horrifying dynamic, and it will be interesting to see how she revises her image now that there’s a boy around that gives her the doki-dokis that she might actually want to attract, how far she’s willing to push her luck. The male lead, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have anything so interesting going on. He’s just that cool-and-uncaring alternating-cruel-and-kind bishounen stereotype that’s basically the shoujo equivalent of a moe-blob. Hopefully they’ll develop him more in later episodes. In a romance it’s ideal for both characters to be interesting, but if only one can be, it shouldn’t be the protagonist.

5: Majimoji Rurumo ([pun on “magic” and the onomatapoeia for behaving shyly] Rurumo)

They're not just any panties! They have little pictures of apples on them!

They’re not just any panties! They have little pictures of apples on them!

Fitting that a witch would hang out with a monster of legend.

Fitting that a witch would hang out with a monster of legend.

Did it hurt? You know, when you fell from heaven?

Did it hurt? You know, when you fell from heaven?

A highschool boy summons a witch and the two are bound by a contract that trades her magic power for his life force. The female lead in this show is adorable, a shy witch with a pointy hat bigger than she is, who screws things up sometimes but will stoically accept the consequences, even if it means a century in hell-prison. The male lead lead is not as likable. OK, sure, they never are in this sort of sudden-girlfriend-appearance show, but the male lead’s basically just a wacky pervert archetype, without the self-awareness of the guy from Sora no Otoshimono, or the clever rascality of the guy from Henneko, or really any attempt at depth of personality. The comedy in the first episode was on the low end of acceptable, as well. Some of it was solid, like the extended sequence where the male lead learns the female lead isn’t wearing panties and contrives a series of increasingly farcical excuses to look up her skirt, but many of the jokes were just the male lead being loud and lewd without any additional humorous content. The humor might improve as the characters grow more developed and the show can start playing off their characteristics instead of cheap bawdiness. I’m just a little worried that they might not bother developing the male lead at all. I don’t want to watch 12 episodes of him yelling about panties.

4: Tokyo Ghoul

I'll take a hamburger... and eat it!

I’ll take a hamburger… and eat it!

Sono me, dare no me?

Sono me, dare no me?

I'm hoping it's "scraps".

I’m hoping it’s “scraps”.

A highschool boy is attacked by a man-eating ghoul. After surviving the attack, he discovers that he’s becoming a ghoul himself. This show strikes a balance between horror as gore and horror as existential crisis. The gore is decently-enough animated but not really intellectually stimulating; ghouls just rip the poor undefended humans apart with their teeth or tentacles or whatever, or super-ghouls do the same to ordinary ghouls. There wasn’t anything resembling a proper fight scene with back-and-forth tension in the first episode, although maybe that will change in the future. What the first episode did do well was the more psychological horror, as the protagonist felt himself changing inexorably into a ghoul. The first five or so minutes of the episode were devoted to the protagonist just being an ordinary boy enjoying his youth, and that gave depth to his transformation – you could see what is life was, and what it became, and the gap between them. It also set up the character of his best friend, and the parts where his friend tried to get in touch with him after his transformation and he had to avoid him while shaking in horror and ravenous hunger were properly heartbreaking. If the protagonist gets over the whole “eating people” issue and the show turns into super-ghouls battling with magic powers, I’ll be  really disappointed after this emotionally affecting start.

3: Zankyou no Terror (Echoing Terror)

His face lights up at the thought of poison gas.

His face lights up at the thought of poison gas.

This is just good advice in general.

This is just good advice in general.

Frickin' millennials can't even enjoy blowing up a building without posting it on Instagram.

Frickin’ millennials can’t even enjoy blowing up a building without posting it on Instagram.

Two high school boys are terrorists. A bullied girl in their class gets caught up in their terror plots. This show wants us to accept these terrorists as protagonists. There have been shows that have tried that gambit before, but in the case of Excel Saga and Sekai Seifuku it was played for laughs, and in Code Geass they were righteously resisting the Brittanian occupation forces. In this show they are actually blowing up actual buildings owned by the actual presumably-legitimate government of Japan. There have been some hints at something in their background that might justify this, but until we know what it is, we’re being asked to take the viewpoint of people just randomly blowing up buildings and not going to a huge effort not to hurt civillians either. It helps that they’re personally likable. The banter between the playful terrorist and the cold, serious terrorist is adorable, and they rescued a girl from being bullied, which on your karma scorecard has to cancel out at least a few indiscriminate bombings. The art is good, the dramatic scenes are full of tension, and the snowmobile chase at the beginning of the episode was exciting even if it hasn’t yet been properly explained. I’ll be watching and waiting for an explanation; I hope it’s a good one.

2: Sabagebu (Survival Game Club)

Playing with toys is fun!

Playing with toys is fun!

Playing with toys is fun!

Playing with toys is fun!

This show really doesn't have the animation level necessary to make fanservice worthwhile, I'm afraid.

This show really doesn’t have the animation level necessary to make fanservice worthwhile, I’m afraid.

A girl transfers to a new highschool and gets shanghai’d into the club for shooting pellet guns at each other. The premise of this show is more or less identical to last year’s C3-bu. C3-bu started out light and fun, but eventually got bogged down in drama, turning from a funny show about girls with fake guns into just yet another sports anime. I don’t think that this show will go down that path. It’s got a lot more aggressive wackiness, including a Hayate-no-Gotoku style postmodern narrator making snarky remarks about the goings-on. And the show couldn’t really support a turn for the serious – the only genre that can survive art and animation this bad is comedy. They have to fill their gunbattles with gags about shooting each other’s tits off, because they aren’t animating the action well enough for it to be exciting on its own. Fortunately, this is a comedy, and it’s got funny characters, good jokes, and solid pacing, and so long as it stays that way, the neglect to the animation budget isn’t a dealbreaker. The main character is especially likeable. Rather than being a hapless sufferer of the schemes of the other members of the Survival Games club, she fights and schemes right back, and that’s much more interesting to watch. It’s also a much richer source of jokes, since the jokes don’t all have to be at her expense. It is a pity that her pink hair is being wasted on animation this bad, though.

1: Barakamon

Hot-blooded fighting anime Barakamon

Hot-blooded fighting anime Barakamon.

The people of this village are very wise.

The people of this village are very wise.

The people of this village are very wise.

The people of this village are very wise.

An up-and-coming calligrapher gets mad and punches out a respected elder, and has to retreat to an obscure island full of simple folk while he waits for the heat to die down. Sort of like a cross between Non Non Biyori and Nodame Cantabile, I guess, with the countryside playing the role of Nodame in taming the tempestuous heart of the uptight artiste.  Watching a high-flying city-boy’s pride get punctured by simple rural folk wisdom is a classic source of comedy, and one I was disappointed we didn’t see much of in Non Non Biyori because the girl from the city acclimated too fast. This show doesn’t have as much gorgeous scenery as Non Non Biyori, but the main character’s interactions with the villagers and especially the annoying village children show a fair bit of depth to the characters, which is something Non Non Biyori really lacked. I found it easy to like every character they introduced in the first episode, and I look forward to watching Handa’s redemption guided by the friendly open-hearted people of the village.

 

So this season looks pretty good! Especially considering that it’s a summer season, although I’m starting to doubt that those old stereotypes about all the good anime airing in the spring or fall hold true anymore. There’s fully four shows this season I’m actually excited to watch, and as many as five more that could conceivably turn out decent.  Better than we’ve seen in a long time.

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