suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Category Archives: Anime Rankings

Sun Tzu’s Anime Recommendations List, Organized by Flaw

This anime season seems to be shaping up to be pretty weak, so there’s no better time than the present to check out some anime from the past!  Here are some of my favorites.  They’re all really good, but I’ve grouped them together based on the problems I have with them.  That way, you can give priority to the ones with problems that you don’t care very much about, and leave until later the ones with problems that are likely to really bug you; plus, when you go to watch them, you will already be prepared for the worst, so you can only be pleasantly surprised.

Please remember as I explain the problems with these shows that I really like all of them!  Don’t get offended if your favorite show is on one of these lists, because it’s also one of my favorite shows!

Slow Start: These shows take their time establishing their settings and premises before they become awesome, which might leave you bored during the first part before the payoff comes.  The king of this category is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which takes about thirty episodes to get off the ground.  But when it does, boy oh boy!

  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes (Sci-Fi/Literary)
  • Shin Sekai Yori (Fantasy/Literary/Thriller)
  • Monster (Thriller/Drama)
  • Shiki (Supernatural/Horror)
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Magical Girl/Thriller)
  • Planetes (Sci-Fi/Drama)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (Fantasy/Action)

Melodramatic Escalation: These shows put so much emotional energy into every scene, each one competing with the intensity of the last, that it can lead to burnout and fatigue in the viewer.  When everything is super ultra important, nothing is.  The king of this category is Death Note, which is famous for trying to make the act of eating a potato chip badass.

  • Death Note (Supernatural/Thriller)
  • Kaiji (Thriller/Drama)
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (Supernatural/Mystery/Horror)
  • Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Drama/Romance)

Boring Characters: Not all the characters are boring, of course, or I wouldn’t be recommending these shows at all, but there’s serious unevenness in the quality of the characters in these shows. The king of this category is Bakemonogatari, because the only arcs that were any good were the ones Senjougahara was in.

  • Bakemonogatari (Supernatural/Mystery/Romance)
  • Michiko to Hatchin (Action/Drama)
  • Honey and Clover (Slice of Life)
  • Genshiken (Slice of Life)
  • Kanon(2006) (Romance)
  • Kuragehime (Romance)

Hard to Follow: It’s one thing for a show to make you put some effort into understanding what’s going on – that’s just a good workout for the brain.  It’s another thing if there’s no reasonable way to figure out what’s going on by watching the show.  The king of this category is Umineko no Naku Koro ni, where basically everything that appears on the screen is a lie.

  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni (Mystery/Horror)
  • Baccano! (Thriller/Horror)
  • Eden of the East (Thriller/Romance)
  • White Album (Romance)

Serious Plotlines Spoil The Fun: These shows are really enjoyable when they don’t take themselves seriously, but for whatever reason the plot writers felt like they should occasionally write a plot into the show.  The king of this category is Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, which had a jarring transition toward the end from fairy funtime to a horrible school bullying story.

  • Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita (Comedy)
  • School Rumble (Comedy)
  • Ouran High Host Club (Comedy/Romance)
  • Hanasaku Iroha (Slice of Life)

Not Enough Music: It is a music anime, and yet there are things other than music?!? What the heck. The king of this category is Sakamichi no Apollon, which had like four or five instances of jazz total in the whole series, geez.

  • Sakamichi no Apollon (Drama)
  • Nodame Cantabile (Slice of Life)

Under-exploitation of Premise: These shows have a lot of cool ideas in them! But they greedily grab more ideas than they can fully explore, letting some of the implications rot on the vine and tempting the viewer down the dark path of Fan-Fiction.  The king of this category is Mirai Nikki, which introduced and dispensed with concepts at a rate of three per episode by the end.

  • Mirai Nikki (Supernatural/Thriller)
  • Steins;Gate (Sci-Fi/Thriller)
  • Fate/Zero (Supernatural/Thriller/Action)
  • The World God Only Knows (Supernatural/Romance)

Culture Shock: These shows expect more knowledge of specifically Japanese cultural elements than I as an overseas fan have.  There were parts of these shows where I was certain I was missing some important reference that would allow me to make sense of a particular scene or punchline, and I cursed my gaijin-hood.  The king of this category is Muteki Kanban Musume, which is built around a specifically Japanese shopping-district culture and set largely in the sort of ramen shop that we don’t really have here in the US.

  • Muteki Kanban Musume (Comedy)
  • Arakawa Under The Bridge (Comedy/Romance)
  • Doujin Work (Comedy)
  • Tatami Galaxy (Literary)

Hard Act to Follow: These shows are really great, so great that any sequel would be a pale unsatisfying reflection of their greatness. The king of this category is Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, which is The Best Anime, and then the sequel was Endless Eight.

  • Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu (Supernatural/Comedy)
  • Minami-ke (Comedy)

I plan to update this post as I watch new flawed anime to recommend, and also as I write reviews that go into more spoily depth about what was good and bad about each of these shows.  Please leave a comment detailing what’s wrong with your favorite shows, if you would!

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Sun Tzu’s Picks: Top 10 Anime of 2012

Hey, remember 2012? It had some good anime, right?  Well, that’s sort of questionable, but here are the ten least-bad, anyway.  To be eligible for the ranking, a show had to begin airing in 2012, not be a direct sequel to an earlier series (shows that just vaguely share an IP like the various Gundams are ok though), and it had to be TV-serial-format (because I want to exclude movies, but not Upotte, even though it didn’t technically air on TV IIRC). Shows that haven’t finished airing are judged on what they’ve aired so far, and descriptions may contain spoilers.

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

cnb

This show was less than the sum of its parts.  It was funny as a character comedy about a chuunibyou girl shouting names of her special attacks in mundane situations and wearing wheelie shoes because they look cool as heck.  It was cute as a romance between a reformed chuunibyou and a currently active one and their awkward interactions.  And it was moving and thought-provoking as a meditation about the nature of personal identity and how society is a Lovecraftian horror that will devour you alive. But somehow it didn’t really weave those various threads together very well.  At least it was nice to look at, since it was a Kyoto Animation show.  That’s sort of becoming their signature, beautiful shows that don’t quite work.

9: Upotte!

upotte

Upotte is a show in the “womanifying objects” genre, like the hilariously bad show Akikan, except instead of aluminum cans, the girls in Upotte are assault rifles.  (One imagines they shoot at the girls of Akikan for target practice.) This was a surprisingly good show given the premise.  They made a lot of ridiculously obscure jokes about specific models of gun, but it was ok, because they always made sure to have a narrated voiceover explain what the point of the joke was, so I could be like “oh! haha! I bet that would have been pretty funny to someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of rifles!” So I felt like I was learning things about guns, just like Yakitate Japan helped me have a better appreciation for bread.  Unfortunately the gun jokes were married to a sort of generic school-life comedy that included some really over-the-top fanservice. I dunno if fanservice is even the right word, that implies a sort of a seductive restraint that Upotte didn’t really have.  Like, if you ever wanted to see an assault rifle masturbating, there are a couple of scenes where it is just right there bluntly on the screen, no coy implications or anything.  I guess that’s why Upotte only aired on the internet?

8: Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou (The Daily Lives of High School Boys)

daily lives

Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was the answer to the four-girl-slice-of-life-comedy genre, it looked at things from a male perspective.  And to its credit, it didn’t just genderswap all the girl comedy tropes, but it actually made jokes about the nature of adolescent masculinity, about the emotional toll that being expected to be manly and unemotional can take.  The major theme of the show was taking a look at how high school boys really feel, and contrasting that with how they act to keep up the facade that society expects of them.  It was a really unique show with a mature perspective on things, and it definitely wins points for that, but sometimes I felt like there just weren’t enough jokes in it.  It’s supposed to be a comedy, right?  And sometimes the high school boys were realistically awful to each other, which made me sad, which made me less receptive to the jokes. All in all, I’m glad this show exists, but I only sort of enjoyed watching it.

7: Joshiraku (Girls’ Rakugo)

joshiraku

Joshiraku was really hit-or-miss in terms of its comedy.  It was by the same original author as Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and had the same flaws and advantages as that show. The advantage is that the show had ridiculous conversations that could flip back and forth effortlessly between topics to spin beautiful absurd word tapestries out of dreams and nonsense. The flaw is that the topics frequently were subtle satires of Japanese politics or local references to specific neighborhoods of Tokyo, and as a stupid American I can’t understand the jokes.  I bet if I were Japanese Joshiraku would be ranked higher than seventh place, but I’m not.

6: Accel World

accel world

Accel World started off pretty strong.  It was a show about a secret online VR game, a little shounen-y and action-y, but it avoided most of the traps of that genre.  The rules of the game basically made sense, they didn’t layer any sort of over-the-top nonsense like “if you die in the game you die in real life” on it (seriously SAO was so bad), they made the story about kids playing a game, instead of just giving it a game flavor and then telling the same old save-the-world story.  I liked the characters, too, especially the male lead, who was my pick for best male character of the year. Unfortunately, as the show ran on, it became more and more like typical shounen trash.  The low point of the story was when it turned out there was a secret ability to use the power of imagination to do anything you wanted in the game and ignore the rules. That spits in the face of the whole point of making a show about a game! The first six or so episodes were great, but by the end, the show had declined to “sort of enjoyable, I guess”.  The fight scenes were still pretty cool, full of burning justice and all that jazz.  If that’s what you’re into.

5: Psycho-Pass

psycho

Psycho-Pass is still airing, but it seems pretty decent so far.  They don’t go as far as they might with the premise of the role of police in a society in which the cops can look at your brain and throw you in prison based on your criminal tendencies, but it’s better than going too far.  Psycho-Pass is still cool even if it’s just a future police procedural.  I like their vision of a future society ruled by an all-powerful AI, and how people just sort of keep on keeping on, dealing with the demands of the Sybil System just like we Americans deal with the demands of Modern Liberal Democracy.  More interesting than stories of utopia or dystopia are stories of ambitopia, a society that’s different from ours, but not obviously better or worse.  Those stories are more honest in how they explore the nature of societal change and what makes a society good or bad.  Those are topics I enjoy thinking about, so that’s why I’m more interested in the glimpses of everyday life that sometimes crop up in this show than I am in the cop stories that form its heart.

4: Nazo no Kanojo X (Mysterious Girlfriend X)

nnkx

Nazo no Kanojo X is probably the best anime it is possible to create on the topic of drinking other people’s saliva. Yes, the relationship between the male lead and the female lead is sort of weird and incomprehensible and a little bit gross, but there is an ~*artistic*~ reason for that.  It’s because when you’re young, and getting into your first serious romantic relationship, love and sex are sort of weird and incomprehensible and a little gross. If the two of them had a normal romance, with less finger-licking goodness, then it wouldn’t convey the honest truth of a young man’s first fumbling steps into love to us, the jaded audience who has had tons of romantic interactions and basically knows how they work by now.  By keeping us guessing it helps us empathize with the protagonist, who is kept guessing.  It’s a really neat effect, and it makes for a cool romance anime, even if sometimes the characters are not as fleshed out as I would like.

3: Sakamichi no Apollon (Apollon of the Hill Road) (Kids on the Slope)

sakamichi

 

Sakamichi is the first show on this list I can wholeheartedly recommend.  It’s in theory a show about jazz, but really it’s more a story about youth.  The main character starts out as an uptight classical pianist rich kid, he meets a poor kid who plays jazz, he realizes there’s a whole other world out there, his horizons expand…  It’s maybe just an ordinary coming-of-age story, but it’s set in 1960’s rural Japan, and with jazz music as the sort of centerpiece, so it manages to stay interesting.  It’s a very earnest story, an honest story, a story that doesn’t have enough jazz in it, but in that way it’s sort of a metaphor for life, because life also doesn’t have enough jazz in it.  Man, I don’t even like jazz, what am I talking about?  I guess that’s a sign of how powerful a story Sakamichi no Apollon is, to make me think I want more jazz in my life.

2: Shin Sekai Yori (From The New World)

ssy

 

Shin Sekai Yori is still airing, but what has aired so far has been great. It’s a story set in a post-apocalyptic demon-haunted world, a world where humans can use magical powers, but it’s pretty far from the standard fantasy tropes.  It’s a serious look at what sort of society could survive despite human frailty if humans had the power to massively reshape their surroundings on a whim.  The demon-haunting and magic give it a nice atmosphere (and it’s a really nice atmosphere, for sure), but essentially this is a story about sociology, it’s a story about what would happen if the Progressive Ideology had to deal with real, serious, existential threats.  The story is told from the perspective of children growing up in this world, struggling to deal with their powers and the unreasonable demands that society places on them.  I’m not sure what the moral will end up being, since it’s still airing, but it’s given me a lot to think about already.

1: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita (Humanity Has Declined)

jintai

 

My pick for best anime of the year is Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, a satire about the waning days of humanity.  This isn’t a story about the aftermath of some major apocalyptic event.  Humanity wasn’t destroyed, it just declined.  The new dominant species on the earth is fairies, and this is a show about a girl who acts as a liaison between humans and fairies.  As expected from a show about fairies, it’s very soft and pastel.  But it’s also hilariously funny. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, being funny without being mean, but Jintai is just about the nicest satire I’ve ever seen.  It’s not bitter about the follies of humanity – after all, what’s the point in kicking a declining humanity when it’s down?  A lot of the humor in the show derives from humanity trying to cling to their old accustomed dignities even after their civilization has been reduced to an afterthought, but that’s part of what makes Jintai such a surprisingly optimistic show.  People are still people, even after humanity’s decline.  Species come and go, the show seems to say, it’s nothing to get worked up over.  I’m not sure I agree, but it’s certainly interesting to watch.

Sun Tzu’s Picks – Best Characters of 2012

Here are the best characters of 2012, meaning the characters that were most memorable or contributed the most to their shows.  Characters are only eligible if they were first introduced during 2012, and only one male character and one female character from each show is eligible.

Top 5 Female Characters of 2012

5: L85A1 (Eru) – Upotte!

eru

Incompetence as a moe trait is nothing new, but Eru brings a fresh twist on it by being an incompetently-designed assault rifle, who can’t fire more than a couple hundred rounds without jamming.  That’s somehow cuter than dropping plates or tripping over her own feet?  The series was full of jokes about how terrible a weapon the L85A1 is, and one thing I appreciated was that even when the series got serious and the gun girls were having passionate battles, Eru didn’t suddenly become a reliable gun through the power of friendship, or anything.  She remained a dud, but fought hard to contribute anyway.  To fight for justice even in the face of inevitable mechanical malfunction is true heroism, so Eru gets a place on the list.

4: Inaba Himeko – Kokoro Connect

inaba

At first, when the strange incidents in Kokoro Connect began happening, Himeko seemed to be the calm, rational leader of the group, stopping everyone from panicking and figuring out what they could do to limit the damage.  As things continued, though, she broke down. Her calm, rational facade was hiding her insecurities and her inability to trust anyone or anything, and when the incidents forced her to trust people because she lost control of her body, she couldn’t keep it up. Unlike the other characters, she didn’t have any sort of hidden trauma in her past causing her grief – and this very fact made things worse, because she felt like she didn’t deserve to be having emotional struggles when nothing bad had happened to her like it had to her friends. This made her a more interesting character than her friends with their boring conventional personal traumas.

3: Kanoe Yuuko – Tasogare Otome x Amnesia

yuuko

Yuuko was a ghost, doomed to forever haunt her old school where she had died. But she didn’t get all weepy about it, she took things in stride and used her spectral powers to troll the living, in particular her sort-of-boyfriend the living human Keiichi.  And this made for some good comedy.  Then later we found out that she didn’t get all weepy about it because she had been repressing her emotions at the time of her death and her negative emotions were physically removed from her ghostly form.  And this made for some good drama, as the characters tried to make her whole again, and wondered what she would even be like if she were whole. The conclusion to the story was kind  of weak, but up to that point, the character of Yuuko had been compelling.

2: Agiri – Kill Me Baby

agiri

Agiri is a secondary character in Kill Me Baby and so only occasionally shows up, but when she does, she’s great.  She has a dubious repertoire of “ninja tricks” (such as a ninja trick to disguise your voice by breathing in helium), a laid-back attitude toward life, and love of trolling. All the best characters are trolls, really.  Plus, she has an amazing voice.  Listen to this character song of hers, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  I just wish Kill Me Baby had had more Agiri in it, she could have salvaged it.

1: Protagonist – Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

protag

She may never be given a name, but she’s still a great character.  I’m not sure she’s what People Concerned About Representations Of Women In Media mean when they talk about needing more Strong Female Characters, but I think she does a good job of being simultaneously heroic and feminine. I’m not sure what it is about her, but she’s one of the most female characters I’ve seen in anything.  Maybe it’s the long pink hair, maybe it’s that her hobby is baking sweets to share with fairies, maybe its her emotional problem-solving skills. Anyway, she has a really appealing earnestness about her. She’s cynical about human society, but that makes her perfect for her job as a liaison with the fairies.  She’s cynical about human society, so that allows her to look at the weirdnesses of fairy society without pre-judging them.  After all, they can hardly be worse! Someone with a more conventional view on things would get angry at all the nonsense the fairies put her through, but she accepts it with just a few wry jokes.  She’s great.

Top 5 Male Characters of 2012

5: Kaiki Deishu – Nisemonogatari

kaiki

 

Kaiki Deishu, the villain of the first half of Nisemonogatari, only appeared in a few scenes, but the scenes he appeared in, he dominated.  A self-proclaimed conman, he took control of any conversation involving him.  First, when Karen came to challenge him, and he showed her that she was suffering from wishful thinking when she thought she had the power to protect people.  And then when Araragi and Senjougahara came to take revenge, he confused them and turned aside their wrath. Senjougahara had come prepared to do murder, and he left her standing there looking like an idiot. He was like an adult among children, which in fact he was.  An impressive villain, all the more impressive for how impressive he was despite being just a conman and not having magical powers like many of the other characters.

4: Akasaka Ryuunosuke – Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

ryuunosuke

 

Ryuunosuke is sort of a horrible person. He hides away in his room all the time, he wrote an AI maid to respond to his email for him so he wouldn’t have to bother with it, he hates everyone, especially women, and especially people with big dreams but no work ethic. But honestly, I kind of hate the characters of Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo too.  So when he yells at Sorata for taking game design lightly, or at Rita for being a hypocrite and hiding behind a fake smile, I am usually cheering right along with him. Plus the maid AI he built is cute.

3: Tabata Hidenori – Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou

hidenori

 

Daily Lives of High School Boys was at its heart a show about insecure young men trying to behave appropriately in the world, and the trouble they got up to trying to meet society’s expectations.  This theme was most strongly explored in the character of Hidenori, who was always overthinking a situation to see what would be expected of him, and went to great lengths not to let the other party down.  The best example is in his interactions with the Literary Girl, Yassan.  He notices that she wants to have a dramatic meeting by the riverbank, and goes to great lengths to be that dramatic meeting.  It’s not clear what he hopes to gain out of it – as much as I might have wanted them to, the two of them never pursue a romantic relationship.  He’s just trying to do his duty, as he sees it.  And the crazy things he sees as his duty lead to some good if awkward comedy.

2: Polar Bear – Shirokuma Cafe

polar bear

 

Polar Bear is a polar bear.  He runs the Shirokuma Cafe.  Shirokuma is Japanese for Polar Bear.  In fact, his name is actually “Shirokuma”, I just translated it into English for the sake of my English-speaking readers. Shirokuma likes puns.  He likes really bad puns.  He makes the puns with an implacable deadpan, although who can even read a polar bear’s facial expression anyway?  He dispenses deep wisdom/obvious trolling to the regulars at his cafe.  Polar bears are cute.

1: Arita Haruyki – Accel World

arita

 

Haruyuki is sort of an unlikely hero – he’s short and fat and cowardly and so down on himself that the online avatar he uses is a pig.  But that just makes it more interesting to watch him fight to become stronger and live up to Kuroyukihime’s faith in him.  If there’s one good thing about him, it’s his loyalty.  And not loyalty, like, to his friends (although he is surely loyal to his friends and that surely does him credit), but loyalty to his guild leader and the goals of Nega Nebulous.  It gives him courage he could never find on his own.  A short fat cowardly waste of space like him would never become stronger to protect himself, he would just sort of shrug his shoulders and accept that it was his fate in life to be pushed around and bullied.  But serving the goals of Nega Nebulous and Kuroyukihime let him strive towards an end and better himself in a way that he never could have on his own.  It’s not a usual tale of heroism, but Haruyuki isn’t a usual hero.

 

Sun Tzu’s Picks: Best Anime Openings and Endings of 2012

An anime’s opening and ending theme has a huge effect on how the anime is perceived.  A good opening gets you excited and shouting “let’s watch some good anime!”, and a good ending theme leaves you thoughtfully nodding and saying “yeah, that was a good anime I just watched”.  Here are the best five openings and the best five endings that aired during 2012.  They’re judged perhaps more on the animation than on the music, but more than either they are judged by how well the two go together, and even more than that they are judged by how well the two go together to support the show.  For example, Mouretsu Pirates‘s opening theme, “Mugen no Ai”, was full of vigor and excitement and schoolgirls in pirate hats, but it doesn’t make the list because the show proper was sorely lacking in those things.   Of course, the piece still has to be good – Sword Art Online’s OP isn’t going to win just because a shitty OP is a perfect fit for a shitty show.  Also, shows are limited to one OP and one ED on the list, so you can’t run the categories by changing your OP every episode (I’m looking at you, Nisemonogatari). Some lyrics translations appear below – the usual disclaimer that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about applies.

Top 5 Openings:

5: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne – Self Producer

This might be something of a controversial choice, because the video ranges from thinly-veiled sexual innuendo to just not bothering with the thin veil.  But  it’s well-done sexual innuendo! The “oral scenes” section in particular shows deep craftsmanship, for example in the part where Anastasia is stepping back and forth in time to the music while lewdly playing her flute, then turns to notice the viewer is just incredibly solid. And in any case, this is a pretty good taste of what the show is like, so if you’re the sort of person who’s gonna get offended by this, might as well have you get warned off by the opening animation. But the lyrics (sung by the excellent Chihara Minori) are about how you should “love how you want to, with an honest attraction”, and I think that’s at the end of the day a good message.  Honesty is nice.

4: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita – Real World

I can’t say I approve of nano.RIPE’s deliberately squawky vocals, here, but the animation fits the show so well that I can’t leave this song off the list.  It has the unnamed protagonist dancing with fairies! So many fairies, so much pastel, dancing forever.  And then there’s cakes and cookies and candy and sweets!  And the song is at least upbeat, even if it’s hard on the ears.  This opening gets you in the proper mood to watch Jintai (the proper mood to watch Jintai is “Fairies!”)

3: Psycho-Pass – Abnormalize

The song, the animation, and the show itself are all trying just a little bit too hard to be edgy. But if I dial myself back a little from maximum hipster ironic detachment mode, all three are really enjoyable.  The animation kinda reminds me of the first OP for Mirai Nikki.  It even does the same trick of symbolizing insanity by having the insane character fight a copy of themselves. (OK, in Yuno’s case it may not have been entirely symbolic.) And then in both pieces, the insane character falls after the battle, and reaches up for their sane counterpart to save them.  Except, rather than reach down and grab Kougami, like Yukiteru did for Yuno, Akane shoots him instead.  Pretty harsh, but totally in line with the show’s themes of how horrible latent criminals have it.

2: Shirokuma Cafe – Boku ni Invitation (An Invitation For Me)

(Only the first half of the video is the piece in question). What’s not to love!  Cute animals doing funny things, and a reasonably catchy, if kinda overproduced and poppish, tune to go over it.  There are some cool visual gags in this opening, I think my favorite is when the song starts singing about a “mango shake” and Polar Bear starts shaking his behind at the camera.  It’s just cute animal gag comedy, which is exactly what you can expect from the show, too.

1: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo – Kimi ga Yume wo Tsuretekita (You Brought A Dream With You)

I love the first little vignette in this opening, about Sorata vs. the wasp nest.  Everything about it is perfect, from Misaki’s makeshift armor to Mashiro’s mouthed encouragements to Nanami’s horror at the aftermath.  And while the second part may not have as good a narrative, people smiling and clapping in time with the music is a reliable source of goodfeels. And it’s a nice catchy song, upbeat without being too corny, and with cool lyrics too.  “The first time could be unintentional, the second time, I wonder.  It must not be a coincidence, now that our eyes have met three times”. Everything about this song got me pumped to watch Sakurasou.  Which is kind of a waste, because I didn’t actually like the show that much and I think I’m gonna drop it.

Top 5 Endings:

5: Joshiraku – Nippon Egao Hyakkei (One Hundred Japanese Smiles)

A cute chibi-character dance, along with a nice happy song.  The song is maybe a little less happy if you listen to the lyrics closely – the Joshiraku girls are imploring you to smile “smile, smile, in times like this we have to smile, even if you don’t want to smile there is nothing you can do but smile,” it ends up coming off a little creepy.  That fits Joshiraku’s style of comedy well, it often moves into dark satire of the sort where you put on a crazed grin because the world is so awful you can’t even cry about it.  There’s also a cool pun in the song, which I can’t really translate, but suffice it to say it plays on the fact that there is a traditional Japanese garment whose name sounds like the English word “happy”.

4: Accel World – Unite

Honestly I can take or leave the song, here.  I’m just in awe of the amount of story they were able to put into the animation. You have Kuroyukihime being all shy, and then her boyfriend gets stolen by her virtual avatar, and then she damn well goes and gets her boyfriend back and whacks her virtual avatar on the head with an umbrella to remind her who’s boss.  Her throwing away the umbrella at the end was a great touch.  It communicates just how peeved she is about the whole situation, and how she is upset that she’s run out of people to hit. So does this battle with herself symbolize insanity too?  Does this mean Kuroyukihime is as crazy as Kougami or Yuno? They went into little enough detail about her life in the parts of the story the anime showed that I guess it’s possible.

3: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita – Yume no Naka no Watashi no Yume (My Dream Inside A Dream)

In most years this ending theme would be good enough to take the gold.  For whatever reason this year had some really great EDs, even better than the openings! But this is a really great one, it’s sort of “artsy” but it’s not too bad.  It’s the main character in silhouette, strolling past the rise and fall of civilization, represented in the medium of candy and other sweets. At the end she slips and falls, sheds a tear for the fallen society, and then lays down for a nap or to die, depending on how morbid you want to interpret it.  But it’s all done in sweets, so instead of being depressing, it’s otherworldly.  The song is like that too, it’s a sad song, but it’s sung sweetly so we don’t taste any of the bitterness.  It’s a song for the decline of humanity, but not a song to lament it.  Rather, it’s a song to fondly remember humanity as it was, and to courageously accept the future.

2: Shin Sekai Yori – Wareta Ringo (Split Apples)

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDU4ODI4OTEy.html

This is another artsy ending theme, but the real thing to note is the music.  It’s perfect, and it fits the show perfectly.  It starts off with an ultra-restrained guitar as the only instrument and grows gradually in complexity, while still staying restrained, then about halfway through it opens up, just as fireworks burst in the sky in the animation.  And the lyrics are about a fragile soap bubble buffeted by the wind trying to keep hope alive.  It’s a perfect fit for a show about the terror of childhood, about helplessness and being lied to by adults and the hostility of society and the hostility of the world and the water keeps rising and you don’t know what to do because you’re just a soap bubble.

1: Kill Me Baby – Futari no Kimochi no Honto no Himitsu (The True Secret of Their Feelings)

This is an ending dance to rival Hare Hare Yukai, set to a seriously funky song. I love it. It’s simultaneously understated and wacky, which was an aesthetic the whole show tried for, but it missed more than it hit.  The ending dance was definitely one of the hits though.  One surprising thing about this ending is that the dance was actually taken directly from the manga! There was a bonus page in the printed collection that suggested making a flip-book out of the dance, but the animators went one better than that. So no credit goes to JC Staff for the animation here, except for, like, the tapping foot at the beginning.  It was a really good tapping foot, for sure.

Fall 2012 Episode 11 Rankings

7: Hayate 3

Please don't put the jokes aside.

Please don’t put the jokes aside.

Space butlers!

Space butlers!

Nagi lures Dolly and the spirit inhabiting Hayate’s body into a final confrontation. I’m not sure why I’m still watching this. Their big reveal of what’s been going on for the last several episodes depends not only on the existence of magical items with convenient properties, but also requires coincidence after coincidence to be layered on top of that. It seems like if the black camellia were going to be lost it would be lost with some random peasant idiot’s soul inside it, since the King shouldn’t have been left in there for longer than it would take to stab some random peasant idiot. And then Nagi’s father randomly activating its sword form at the exact moment he got in a car accident so he would get stabbed by it? Come on. For a big reveal to be enjoyable, it has to explain many confusing facts in the narrative with only a few new pieces of information. It should be clever and elegant, like a scientific theory that explains a lot of data with a single equation. This episode’s revelations were too full of a thousand different parameters that had to turn out just right in order to result in the events we saw: more string theory than Maxwell’s equations. (NO CHANGE)

6: Busou Shinki

bss

The moral of the story is, you are actually just an ugly duckling, so give up on your dreams.

The moral of the story is, you are actually just an ugly duckling, so give up on your dreams.

Hina finds evidence that seems to suggest that her supposed Master may actually not properly own her. So they decided to shoehorn some plot in in the last couple episodes. Bad choice. Busou Shinki is at its best when it’s low-key and silly – I’m not going to be able to take the trials and tribulations of tiny maid robots seriously.  Especially given that, when all is said and done, Shinki are consumer electronics, and you can just buy another one if one gets stolen.  (Well, ok, Hina is a super-rare model that you can’t buy in stores, but it’s not like her Master properly appreciates her rarity. Maybe she really is better off in the hands of a collector.) At least the sudden intrusion of plot meant that we didn’t have to spend much time at the Shinki tournament.  I was worried that it was going to be another Great Shinki Race situation where the entire episode is full of boring action sequences, but then Kurara lost in the very first round and we got on with our lives. Hina moping about whether or not her Master truly has legal ownership of her and whether she is who she thinks she is might not be very entertaining, but it’s better than watching Shinki battles. (DOWN 1)

5: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

sorry

sorry

We live in a technological utopia!

We live in a technological utopia!

The culture festival begins! This show tends to suffer from having too many narrative threads going at once and not resolving them in any rational order.  Like, in this episode we had everybody striving passionately to complete the Nyaboron show before the deadline, but simultaneously Misaki was dealing with her crippling insecurity, Mashiro was being sad and lonely about having to go back to England, and Jin and Misaki’s relationship issues were being resolved. It was just too much to keep track of. I know, that’s realistic, in real life you can’t just pick one interpersonal relationship to grind up to level 10 before you move on to the next one, but in a narrative if you have all these plots going on at once they should really feed into each other so that they feel like a single story. The closest this episode came to tying everything together was that all the True Love and Passion nonsense flying every which way inspired Sorata to come up with a satisfying ending for the Nyaboron story, but it was pretty weak.  At least the random culture festival gags were fun, and we got to see Akasaka dressed up in a frilly maid outfit, so the episode wasn’t a total loss. (DOWN 1)

4: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

Much like my posting.

Much like my posting.

Has there ever been a show where the harem ending was actually canon?

Has there ever been a show where the harem ending was actually canon?

Arisa sees something weird in the woods around the dormitory and everyone goes out to investigate. We got an Anastasia focused episode this time, and it was pretty good. The most interesting facet of her character is her overly-sensitive pride that makes her unable to be honest about her feelings and drives her to be super competitive, and it was on display this episode. Having her run outside without panties on after hearing Arisa scream was a brilliant move – it fed lots of cheap-but-funny gags throughout the episode as she tried to reconcile her lofty dignity with her unorthodox underwear situation. I’m not sure what the point of the editor’s fantasy at the end of the episode was, though.  Just to remind us that she still exists?  She’s cool, and the polygamy end what-if was cool,  but I’d rather have her included organically in the action than thrown in as an afterthought. (UP 2)

3: Shin Sekai Yori

Honestly, I'm not sure why they didn't do so a long time ago.

Honestly, I’m not sure why they didn’t do so a long time ago.

The trick is figuring out what they are without accidentally knowing them.

The trick is figuring out what they are without accidentally knowing them.

A new kid, Ryou, is brought in to replace Shun after he is wiped from the kids’ memories. So I guess the adults have been using hypnosis to cover up for all the children that are disappearing.  It seems like they shouldn’t rely so heavily on hypnosis if it’s as ineffective as this – it wasn’t able to keep Satoru’s Cantus sealed when they were fighting with the ratpeople, either. Or maybe Saki is just unusually good at fighting hypnosis? Unfortunately, she’s also unusually rebellious, at least for a member of the Society of Love.  She doesn’t trust that the Ethics Committee has good and just reasons for making her forget about her dead friends, and so she’s going to keep prying into stuff, and probably end up destroying the world. It reminds me of Watchmen, kinda: you can try to build a good progressive society, but there’ll always be a jackass Objectivist who wrecks everything by insisting that Truth is more important than Good. Remember, kids, nothing is more important than Good, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re Evil.  This was a solid, engaging, dramatic episode, and I feel bad ranking it at number 3, but it’s hard for Shin Sekai Yori in the middle of its run to compete with the thrilling conclusions of shows that are ending this season. (DOWN 2)

2: Psycho-Pass

No wonder Crime Coefficients are contagious.

No wonder Crime Coefficients are contagious.

Shoot the hostage!

Shoot the hostage!

Akane catches up with Makishima, only to find that the Sybil System won’t let her shoot him. Pretty brutal episode.  I honestly didn’t expect them to go that far – I expected Akane to be crushed because of something Kougami did, but it was her own cowardice/poor aim that did her in instead.  Or you could blame Makishima, I guess, but with a Crime Coefficient like that you’re gonna have a hard time making the case that he did anything wrong. So what’s the deal with his perfect Psycho-Pass anyway? Makishima seems to think it’s because he’s freely choosing to do evil deeds rather than doing evil deeds because his brain tells him to. This is, of course, bullshit, but you can’t rule out the possibility that it’s bullshit the author believes. Lots of people out there have yet to hear the good news of naturalistic determinism.  I think a more interesting possibility, though, is that Makishima is actually a good person, at least by the Sybil System’s standards.  After all, our AI overlords are above petty moralizing about deontological nonsense like “torturing people to death is always wrong”. A “good” person, to the Sybil System, is a person who’s good for society. And society has a major problem with people dropping dead due to eustress deficiency syndrome! The crimes Makishima is committing are all part of his search for a reason to live, which if he found it, would be really useful. He could be viewed as a researcher, experimenting to find a cure for the most deadly epidemic of the age, tranquility. Such a person could be a great benefit to society, so it would be a waste to splatter him all over the walls just because his experiments involve human subjects. After all, who needs ethical review boards when you have the Sybil System? (NO CHANGE)

1: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai

Never ask that question.

Never ask that question.

;_; ;_;

;_; ;_;

Rikka gives up her chuunibyou delusions. This episode was utterly crushing.  I cried. The worst, most wrenching tragedies are the self-inflicted ones, and it was really hard to watch Rikka destroying herself as the guy who should have been supporting her and protecting her instead urged her on. She sacrificed everything that made her her on the altar of the all-consuming eldrich horror known as Mainstream Society. When she was cleaning her room and she didn’t know what she could keep? What she was *allowed* to keep? She didn’t know which aspects of her self were forgivable, so best to just throw it all out and start fresh. She can populate her new identity by buying a girls’ magazine and extrapolating a personality from its contents. Ugh. People have to be allowed to change, it’s true, but some changes are hard to distinguish from death. And Dekomori was the only one trying to save Rikka’s life, the only real friend she had. The loyal servant to the end, good for her. Essayist Paul Graham suggests that you should keep your identity as small as possible: I think this episode was a good demonstration of how horrifying it can be to actually try to put that into practice. (UP 2)

Fall 2012 Episode 10 Rankings

(Merry Christmas, by the way! Or if you’re not into that, please enjoy your next two days anyway.)

7: Hayate no Gotoku 3

This isn't how Hayate no Gotoku ought to be.

This isn’t how Hayate no Gotoku ought to be.

This is more like it. Katsura-sensei's the only one who remembers what show she's in.

This is more like it. Katsura-sensei’s the only one who remembers what show she’s in.

Hayate miraculously survives being stabbed, but decides to quit working as a butler. So now we’re caught up to the flashforward that started the season.  They kind of cheated us out of any real explanation for it, though. Hayate quit being Nagi’s butler for no apparent reason, and Nagi was stranded in the desert because she was riding along and then her car unluckily crashed.  That’s not narratively satisfying!  It’s looking like there’s some sort of mind-control nonsense going on with Hayate though, because surely if he were in control of his own thoughts he would never abandon Nagi, he would come running the moment she screamed his name to the sky. Plus, he survived even though the light disappeared from his eyes, and mind-control is the other thing besides death that dead eyes can signify.  Plus, earlier it was a plotpoint that he couldn’t speak English, and then he threatened that robber in English in the only funny scene in the episode.  So clearly there’s magical mindcontrol going on somehow.  But that’s not very narratively satisfying either.  I hate magic. (DOWN 1)

6: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

Before you get too excited make sure you understand what the letters "BL" stand for.

Before you get too excited make sure you understand what the letters “BL” stand for.

Are you aware of the Anthropic Principle?

Are you aware of the Anthropic Principle?

Gin reminisces about her past with Akito as he recovers from his illness. This episode had jokes again, at least. There were even jokes during Gin’s serious backstory!  I feel like Akito was kind of acting like a jerk in the flashback, though.  Some people just want to be left alone to read their books, and we should respect that, rather than trying to provoke them into fighting us. It’s a terrible message to be sending our children, not that children should be watching this show. In the second part of the show, where the president got some private time with Akito, I agree that she was cute, but I think it’s less a phenomenon of “gap moe” and more “her ordinary excessive sexual aggressiveness is a huge turnoff so stopping it is a huge improvement”.  I do think an eyepatch is better on her than a chuunibyou heterochromia contact lens, though. (UP 1)

5: Busou Shinki

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Not just any reindeer - the most famous reindeer of all!

Not just any reindeer – the most famous reindeer of all!

Ann takes a part-time job as Santa’s helper. Just fluff, but enjoyable fluff. The whole show’s like that, but the added fact of being a Christmas episode compounds things. No epic life-or-death struggles, just the Shinki dressing up in cute outfits and doing cute jobs, some simple but well-executed comedy, and a plot about tiny maid robots Doing Their Best. It was kind of touching how the other Shinki all dropped what they were doing in order to help Ann when her gift delivery got out of control and they managed to save Christmas.  Even if Lene was as useless as ever. (DOWN 4)

4: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

She meant it sexually, she totally did.

She meant it sexually, she totally did.

It's a shame we don't have a perfect society of expressionless emotionless robots, huh?

It’s a shame we don’t have a perfect society of expressionless emotionless robots, huh?

The Sakurasou people try to persuade Rita to help with their culture festival project. This was solid drama.  I don’t know why they waited so long to introduce Akasaka, he’s great. He’s like an audience mouthpiece, saying all the terrible stuff to the whiny children of the show that we want to say. I don’t hate women or like tomatoes quite as much as he does, but when it comes to whether people should get over themselves and go back to work, we’re pretty much on the same page. I guess it’s rough when you have something like art, though, which is almost a pure positional good. Art isn’t good or bad in a vacuum, it’s more impressive or less impressive based on what you’re comparing it to.  And so it’s natural for one artist to feel threatened by another artist, in a way that someone making something useful wouldn’t.  If you’re a programmer, and you meet a programmer that’s better than you, that doesn’t make your gui-frontend to enterprise database software any less valuable. When you’re an artist, just the fact that someone else makes a better painting can turn your painting from good to trash. (Which makes the whole institution of art galleries a little perverse, by the way.) (UP 1)

3: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai

Umbrelladere.

Umbrelladere.

oh no

oh no

Rikka’s sister reveals that she is going to be moving away and Rikka will have to live with her mother. I liked this episode when it was cute, but then it got sad. Rikka’s love confession was great, I was glad she beat Yuuta to the punch, because after all, the Tyrant’s eye is the strongest.  And Dekomori getting all jealous was great too. (I guess she really was angling for a threesome last episode.) But then Rikka’s mom had to show up and ruin everything, just like in Toradora. Why can’t schoolkids be kids, just for a little while longer?  Why do they have to accept your fascist notions of reality? If you cure Rikka’s chuunibyou, who is she, even? Why would Yuuta do that to her? What’s so great about reality, anyway? Hopefully these questions will be answered in the next couple of episodes, and we can avoid a downer ending. The awful thing is, if Rikka weren’t chuunibyou she might be able to be trusted to live on her own.  I can’t see her making more of a hash of it than Taiga did in Toradora. (UP 1)

2: Psycho-Pass

What an old-fashioned style of phone.

What an old-fashioned style of phone.

Of course he isn't! That's up to the Sybil System to decide.

Of course he isn’t! That’s up to the Sybil System to decide.

Kougami is kidnapped and thrown into a deadly game. Pretty much a straight action episode.  I thought the villain’s plan to entrap Kougami by making him think he was trying to entrap Akane and then wait for Kougami to be all knight-in-shining-armor over her was pretty clever.  And it was great how Ginoza spent the episode assuming that the whole thing had been set up by Kougami as part of an escape plan – it was a reasonable thing to think, Kougami wouldn’t be above pulling that sort of stunt if it were necessary to get his revenge. There was nothing too clever about the actual death-game segment, but it provided its cheap thrills, at least. Pulse-pounding tension running from cover to cover while dodging shotgun blasts and robot dogs. Maybe now that Kougami has had some personal experience in what a hunting dog is actually like, he’ll stop referring to himself as one? (NO CHANGE)

1: Shin Sekai Yori

;_; shun ;_;

;_; shun ;_;

ssy1

Saki visits Shun in quarantine. They foreshadowed it perfectly with the story about the boy who became a karma demon however many episodes ago, but it’s still heartbreaking to watch a man crush himself to death for the sake of the Progressive Society of Love. Their societal engineering worked pretty well, I guess – society can calmly explain to him that he’s a threat, and he’ll go along with them and record his scientific observations before his death, instead of pulling a Harrison Bergeron and smashing up everything out of spite. Saki doesn’t seem to have quite the same progressive spirit, though. And now she knows the secret, she knows that the Sacred Barrier is actually more of a psychic smokestack, spewing magic pollution out into the rest of the world to keep their little island pure. I bet she could smash a lot of shit up armed with that knowledge. Maybe she’ll even be able to frame it as justified vengeance for Shun.  I wish she’d consider for a moment that sometimes you have to feed philosophers hemlock, rather than let them corrupt your youth. Society has to be able to defend itself, and Karma Demons seem like a very real threat. Freedom is great and not feeding children to demon cats is even better, but not destroying the world with an uncontrolled release of psychic energy is the best thing of all. (UP 2)

Fall 2012 Episode 9 Rankings

7: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

Reflecting on your inadequacies is a good habit to get into.

Reflecting on your inadequacies is a good habit to get into.

*Jaws music begins playing*

*Jaws music begins playing*

Akito falls ill and his harem must nurse him back to health. This episode wasn’t as full of fanservice as the last, but it wasn’t any fuller of jokes.  I guess I could identify three whole jokes over the course of the twenty minute episode: various girls come up with hypocritical reasons why they should be the only one taking care of Akito, Arisa wants to stick an onion up Akito’s butt but Akito is less enthusiastic about this plan than she is, and Anastasia gets all flustered when Akito notices her going in for a kiss. None of them were great jokes, but as near as I could tell the rest of the time jokes weren’t even being attempted. Akiko seemed to pretty much be seriously trying to help her brother get better, rather than hilariously trying to get in his pants! Which is good and proper, you shouldn’t try to take advantage of someone in their time of weakness, but it’s hard to make funny jokes about being a good sister and supporting your brother when he needs your help. (NO CHANGE)

6: Hayate no Gotoku 3

Everyone's favorite tsundere.

Everyone’s favorite tsundere.

Where did she even get that sword, anyway?

Where did she even get that sword, anyway?

Hayate suffers a series of mishaps and loses the black camellia. I guess this episode is what everything has been leading up to. It seems a bit weird how they had all those filler episodes at the beginning, and then they rushed through two different kidnappings, two different robberies, and two different shootouts in the space of one episode, with enough time left over to put Hayate in a compromising position with two different haremettes and also pretend to kill him off. (Well, probably he’s dead for real, his eyes went blank and I think that’s how you indicate death in anime. But surely the power of the black camellia will resurrect him or something). I know Hayate no Gotoku likes to keep a fast pace and I appreciate that, but it only works if the action is comedic, not if people are actually being stabbed and killed. I didn’t have time to appreciate the gravity of the standoff between Isumi and the demon, for example, because it was over in like two seconds and they cut to a gunbattle.  I mean, maybe they didn’t have confidence in the strength of this plot (wise of them) and so they wanted to throw some silly episodes in at the beginning to give the fans something, at least, and then get the actual (terrible) plot over with as soon as possible. My advice would just be not to make bad anime in the first place, but if you have to, you may as well minimize the damage. (DOWN 1)

5: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

spn1

What a charming fellow.

What a charming fellow.

Mashiro’s friend from England comes to Japan to persuade her to return to the world of fine art. So we finally got to see the programmer guy in this episode.  He just casually walked out of his room and greeted everybody? Like it was no big deal? For eight episodes he’s been this big enigma, and then for no reason at all he shows up at school and eats tomatoes.  It’s realistic, in real life most things happen for reasons that remain mysterious and everything is how it is until it suddenly becomes a different way, but it is generally considered good narrative technique to have reasons for the things that happen in your story.  Anyway, that weirdness aside, this was an ok episode.  At least it made me care about the main drama of the episode, which was that apparently everybody thinks Mashiro should go back to painting pictures just because she’s really good at it.  I’m pretty sure I disagree with them? That’s not how we do things in modern Western civilization, at least. She’d rather draw mediocre manga than paint amazing pictures, and if the monetary inducements aren’t enough to get her to do the job she disprefers, we as a society don’t make a habit of enslaving geniuses. And maybe it is in fact correct of us not to? I mean sure, it sucks that we don’t get amazing pictures, I can see their point there.  Also sort of awkwardly crammed into this episode was the subplot of the game the Sakurasou residents are making for the culture festival. Sorata’s idea this time provides a good contrast with Sorata’s earlier game design proposal – great things don’t come from sitting down racking your brain thinking “what’s a great thing I can do”, they come from an off-hand response to a remark sitting around bullshitting with your friends where you accidentally commit yourself to doing a great thing before you realize how much work it’s going to be. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with that. (UP 1)

4: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai

Dekomori is totally angling for a three-way.

Dekomori is totally angling for a three-way.

Nature is the real chuunibyou.

Nature is the real chuunibyou.

Rikka struggles to come to terms with her developing feelings for Yuuta. This episode was pretty much all just Rikka being shy, but hey, that’s cute. And she overcame her shyness to challenge Yuuta to a midnight showdown at the shrine, which is even cuter. But imaginary danmaku battles are not actually a good way of communicating the wavering feelings in a maiden’s heart, so it’s a good thing that Rikka has a little adult supervision in terms of Nibutani, who was fun this episode as always.  Although, Nibutani’s help was in the form of giving Rikka the female version of PUA tips (seriously, tricking someone into confusing their fear of heights with love for you is Not Polite), and she almost got Rikka killed, so maybe I shouldn’t cheer her too much. But in the end the cute couple was tearfully embracing, so it all worked out I guess?  Maybe I shouldn’t say “all’s well that ends well” given that there are still a few episodes left in the season. (DOWN 1)

3: Shin Sekai Yori

Never trust an ethicist.

Never trust an ethicist.

This is what you get when you let a bunch of scientists design your society.

This is what you get when you let a bunch of scientists design your society.

The kids try to find out what happened to Shun. Kind of a slow episode. Even for Shin Sekai Yori.  Normally I don’t mind the slowness because of how atmospheric the show is; I can just sit back and enjoy the scenery and the amazing soundtrack.  But there was a clear and urgent goal in this episode: find Shun! This is no time to be luxuriating in the sparkle of water as it flows over your oar.  Maybe part of the problem is that the big reveal of this episode, that the adults are feeding bad children to their pet monsters, was foreshadowed to hell and back over the course of the past 8 episodes. The presentation was excellent, the shouting match between Saki who wanted answers and her parents who were terrified that Saki was going to get herself disappeared for wanting answers was a really well-delivered dramatic scene. I just found it hard to get as worked up over the final answer Saki got as the show wanted me to be, given that I’ve basically known about it for months. (DOWN 2)

2: Psycho-Pass

Full-length mirrors with Facebook integration.

Full-length mirrors with Facebook integration.

psp2

Akane and Kougami visit a profiling specialist to discuss the case. Great episode, despite or perhaps because of a lack of anything actually happening. For this show, plot advancement just tends to get in the way of chatting about cool future stuff anyway. There were a lot of cute bits in this episode, like Akane getting teased by her holographic robot jellyfish maid, and Ginoza freaking out at her for risking her mind learning Forbidden Knowledge instead of just getting an Enforcer to do it.  The niftiest bit, I thought, was the interview with the transhumanist cyborg who is actually one of the big bad villains.  I guess that might not square with my theory that the villains are a group of hyperconservatives, since transhumanism is usually framed as a progressive cause.  But on the other hand it might not be, necessarily. The villain made it clear that his quest is immortality, to “live long enough to live forever”. And when you consider that the older people get, the more conservative they tend to be, it seems that immortality might be a huge boon for conservatism.  It has been said, “science advances one funeral at a time”, as adherents to old outmoded ways of thinking die out and are replaced by a new generation trained on new theories. It’s not unreasonable to think that social progress might also work this way.  And so we must abandon our puny mortal bodies lest we die and leave future generations to slide even further into decadence and despair. (NO CHANGE)

1: Busou Shinki

Is this what they call "gap moe"?

Is this what they call “gap moe”?

bss2

The Shinki discover a hidden society of unowned Shinki underground. This episode was incredible. Maybe the best single episode of any anime so far this season. They managed to fit a coherent plot about a struggle against an evil empire in accordance with an ancient prophecy into a single episode without it feeling rushed at all. They managed to have plenty of jokes (with excellent comedic timing as usual), exciting sword battles against the soldiers of the empire (exciting battles are definitely *not* the usual for this show), and interesting philosophical questions to think about(the resistance forces claimed to fight for “freedom”, but the freedom they were fighting for was the freedom to be owned by human Masters; the “evil” empire seems to have the better objective claim to stand for self-determination. Or does freedom include the freedom to be enslaved?) And they wrapped it all in a cute story about the tiny robot maids delivering their Master’s lunch, trekking across town carrying an orange bigger than they are. I can’t think about any portion of this episode without breaking into a smile.  Tiny maid robots fighting for a noble cause with passion and friendship and justice! What could be more adorable?  (UP 3)

 

Fall 2012 Episode 8 Rankings

7: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

I try to maintain a respectable blog and not post screenshots of blatant fanservice.

I try to maintain a respectable anime blog and not post screenshots of blatant fanservice.

There wasn't much to screenshot in this episode apart from blatant fanservice, though.

There wasn’t much to screenshot in this episode apart from blatant fanservice, though.

Akito’s harem tries to pick out swimsuits that he will like. I was really hoping that Arisa was going to be a one-episode character, but apparently she’s been added to the list of haremettes. Well, at least they kept her out of the worst of the fanservice. And the fanservice got pretty bad this episode. I mean, this has always been a show heavy on the nudity and sexual innuendo, but at least there’s usually jokes to go along with it. In this episode the fanservice crowded out everything else. Wearing a skimpy swimsuit does not qualify as a joke. Well, it might, but only if it were somehow unexpected or incongruous. And considering how often these girls show off their assets, it’s not incongruous for them at all. (DOWN 3)

6: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Sorry! Sorry!  I promise I won't take any more screenshots of girls wearing swimsuits!

Sorry! Sorry! I promise I won’t take any more screenshots of girls wearing swimsuits!

See? She's not wearing any of them.

She’s not wearing them, ok.

Sorata’s game design makes it past the preliminaries in the game design competition. I think part of the problem I’m having with this show is that I actively dislike all the characters? Well, Jin’s ok I guess, and Nanami isn’t so bad when she’s passionately striving instead of tiresomely love-triangling. But for example, when Sorata blew his game design presentation, I got the feeling that I was supposed to feel sorry for him, rather than laughing in his face and dancing on his grave. That made the whole second half of the episode kinda weird. They were trying to have fun as a distraction from the sadness of Sorata’s failure, but I wasn’t sad about it in the least. He was a foolish child to expect to be able to win with a shitty indie game proposal about trains, so he just needed to man up and get over it.  It’s great to have big dreams (citation needed), but expecting them to come true is going too far. There were a few good jokes about girls’ underpants in this episode, but all in all the mood dissonance was just too much for me. (NO CHANGE)

5: Hayate no Gotoku 3

Every brave adventurer needs a hireling or two.

Every brave adventurer needs a hireling or two.

Just be sure to deal with them firmly if they start acting up.

Just be sure to deal with them firmly if they start acting up.

Nagi goes to Las Vegas to retrieve the black camellia. This episode was all right. They’re finally in Las Vegas, so there’s some unintentional humor to be had from Japanese voice actors trying to speak English.  (I don’t know why more shows don’t use native English speakers, it can’t be that expensive). I still don’t care much about the plot, but at least the gags are coming with some regularity; a clock that makes its bearer unlucky has some nice comedic potential. I really liked when Hayate coincidentally met Ayumu while under the influence of the clock’s powers, because that seems to imply that meeting her is bad luck for him. Which is fine for me, since I ship him with Hinagiku, but the Ayumu fans must be furious. (NO CHANGE)

4: Busou Shinki

School Uniform Armor!

School Uniform Armor!

bss2

Ann uses a potion to turn herself into a human so she can go on a date with Master. This episode sort of missed the point of Busou Shinki, I felt. If I wanted to watch a show about humans, there are literally hundreds of them for me to choose from. I am watching the tiny maid robot show for the tiny maid robots, ok? In particular, the Master showed up way too much in this episode, and what’s worse, on the same level of social hierarchy as Ann. The character of the Master works better as an exalted being that the Shinki labor to serve and treasure their occasional contacts with. It would be like a Catholic getting to go on a date with God. Although I guess that is sort of the idea of what Heaven is about? I’m not a theologian. And if anyone deserves an eternal reward, it’s Ann, who works so hard and earnestly and always tries to do the right thing. So I won’t begrudge her her happiness. She can go on a date if she wants. (DOWN 2)

3: Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai

Well, uh. Yes?

Well, uh. Yes?

Beats the heck out of acting like a lonely adult.

Beats the heck out of acting like a lonely adult.

Yuuta and Rikka cut their vacation short and head home early. Now that Rikka has spilled her dark secret, we can get on with the important business of adolescent romance.  It’s a pretty decent romance, too! This episode’s romantic bits between Rikka and Yuuta felt nice and unforced because they had already been set up as friends with sexual tension earlier. And the failed-romantic bits with Kumin and Isshiki were cute too. Every harem comedy lead needs a male friend who strikes out with the ladies, for the same reason every superhero needs a weaker sidekick. I was happy to see in this episode that the relationship initiative has shifted mostly back to Rikka, rather than the Yuuta-dominated paradigm we had in episode 5. When they were home alone in this episode, the initiative was entirely Rikka’s to take, even if she chose to waste it on creeping on Yuuta while he slept. (UP 4)

2: Psycho-Pass

A futuristic utopia where children have achieved equality under the law.

A futuristic utopia where children have achieved equality under the law.

What a friendly little fella.

What a friendly little fella.

The team chases down the criminal behind the mutilation murders. This episode did a good job of portraying the dark, alienating feel of a society where everything including a person’s psyche is ruthlessly quantified. Two points struck me especially – Kougami’s visit to the therapy-prison, and the enforcer woman trying to comfort the girl who lost her friend. Both of them were working under the same fear: the fear that the numbers would go wrong, and someone would end up outside the boundaries of what society was prepared to accept. I also thought it was interesting at the end of the episode how the villains turned on the murderer girl. They made a point of not explaining why, but my guess is that they turned on her because they didn’t like her reason for targeting the school. She said she hated how the school tried to instill traditional feminine virtue in the girls, how they were being trained to be quiet and beautiful and chaste and submissive to their future husbands. She saw the school as not progressive or feminist enough. But the villains are working from a philosophy of arch-conservativism! This sort of girls’ school is exactly what they think Japan needs more of, to give meaning back to women’s lives, the meaning of being a good wife and mother. Progressives opposing that vision are only fit to be hunted down like not-very-dangerous game. (UP 1)

1: Shin Sekai Yori

ssy1

ssy2

Two years have passed, and the kids are starting to notice the opposite same sex. Hahahaha of course they’re all bisexual! What good would it do to have a society of love modeled on the bonobos if you only wanted to have sex with half the people, right? A nice progressive solution to a very practical problem, thanks scientists. This episode returned to the idyllic garden-of-eden style of the early episodes, only now there’s cool bisexual love polygons in the mix, too. I was a little confused towards the end, though. If the higher-ups in the church knew all along that the kids were using contraband psionic powers, I don’t see how they could have let them slide. They’ll disappear kids for cheating at sports, but not for cheating the law? Plus, something definitely happened when the high muckety-muck came to visit their classroom. The only thing I can think of is, maybe this is sort of an Anakin Skywalker situation, where Shun is prophesied to bring balance to the force, so they were going to let him slide on a few things. But then on a random classroom visit, Yoda noticed that hey, this guy is a loner, which basically means he’s pure evil and not the sort of person who can contribute to our society of love. And so they decided, we have to take care of him now before he turns into Vader. BTW spoilers. (NO CHANGE)

Fall 2012 Episode 7 Rankings

7: Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai

cnk1

It's like a dream come true.

It’s like a dream come true.

The Summer Magic Napping Society goes to visit Rikka’s house over summer break. Well, this was a “funny show turns serious” episode, which hardly ever works out and didn’t in this case. But it was worse than usual, because if there is one thing I explicitly did not want to see, it was Rikka’s tragic backstory. I like to enjoy coolweirdbroken people on the merits of their personalities, and not be forced to come face-to-face with the fact that there are reasons that they’re coolweirdbroken. It makes me feel sort of guilty for enjoying something that only exists as a product of the suffering of others, like sweatshop shoes or blood diamonds or 3D porn. And then it puts me in the uncomfortable position of not wanting them to resolve their traumas lest they become unbroken and thus normal and lame. Can’t we all pretend that we shout “Mjolnir Hammer” because it’s cool to shout “Mjolnir Hammer”? Geez. (DOWN 5)

6: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Maybe if you weren't such a philistine you'd already know.

Maybe if you weren’t such a philistine you’d already know.

ssp2

Sorata’s little sister comes to visit him over summer break. An overly clingy imouto character, a gratuitous bathhouse scene, and a love triangle that made exactly zero progress despite taking up the whole episode! This episode encapsulated everything wrong with male-oriented romance anime. (Not that female-oriented romance is any better; it’s just bad in different ways.) The only good part of this episode were the brief asides with Misaki taking driving lessons, and you *know* it’s a bad episode if Misaki is the best part. It still ranks above the Chuu2Koi episode, though, since it just wasted twenty minutes of my life, instead of also invalidating the two hours that came before it. (UP 1)

5: Hayate no Gotoku 3

Hey, I like the "super deformed" art style as much as anybody, but there's such a thing as going too far.

Hey, I like the “super deformed” art style as much as anybody, but there’s such a thing as going too far.

Lots of cool anime bloggers live in America.

Lots of cool anime bloggers live in America.

Tsugumi tries to find a way to get to Las Vegas to claim the Black Camellia. The quiz show in the middle of this episode was hilarious. The Hayate no Gotoku author can write some solid freakin’ comedy when he wants to! Unfortunately he’d rather write some silly fairytale about a black flower that is also a clock and a bird person that casts tornadoes or whatever, and the rest of the episode was full of boring plot stuff. I don’t care about Nagi’s mother’s backstory, and I certainly don’t care about whoever it is that’s giving Tsugumi orders. Fantasy elements have their place in Hayate no Gotoku, but their place is to allow for cool jokes about invisible ghosts spying on Maria while she’s changing or whatever.  If the fantasy elements are crowding out jokes, as they were in this episode, they’ve turned evil and must be destroyed. (UP 1)

4: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

"Problematic".

“Problematic”.

odd2

A young girl that Akito knew from his old home comes to the dorm. Less bad than I thought it would be after Arisa’s character was introduced in the previous episode. Pedophilia is worse than incest, but as long as Akito fully rejects both of them, it doesn’t matter, right? It’s the Hanamaru Youchien exemption. Even given that the age-wise problematicity turns out not to be a problem, though, I don’t think the character of Arisa is adding much. She’s just a convenient target for Akiko to get jealous of, and beyond that she isn’t anything more than a linear combination of Akiko’s doomed love and Gin’s earnestness. A few good jokes (about Akiko’s hypocrisy, especially), but “less bad than I though it would be” doesn’t mean good. Neither does “not as bad as this week’s episode of Chuuni, Sakurasou, or Hayate”. Man, what happened to anime? Last week was so great, too. (UP 1)

3: Psycho-Pass

pcp

A futuristic dystopia without anime.

A futuristic dystopia without anime.

The team begins looking into the new series of human sculpture murders. This episode was all about the motives of the villains. Apparently they’re not too happy with technology and how it makes people’s lives easier to the point of uninterestingness, and they want to jam up technological society so that we can all go back to passionately struggling to grind calories out of an unforgiving wilderness. As Ludditisms go, it’s probably the form of Ludditry I’m most sympathetic towards, but still, it’s a properly villainous sentiment. Difficult games are more fun than easy ones, but that’s no excuse for trying to introduce permadeath into real life. And in any case, the biggest problem with having life be too easy is the negative effects on your mental health. But the Sybil System makes managing your mental health easier than ever! And as a side effect, it helps manage the various crazinesses that technology didn’t cause, too. For every problem you cause, you just have to solve one plus epsilon problems, and you come out ahead – that’s the promise of progressivism. Anyway, the politics was interesting in this episode, but it was conveyed pretty artlessly. Most of the episode was just one person explaining their philosophy to another person with little or no provocation. At one point it was a naked chick explaining her philosophy to a corpse, and man, if the writers can’t think of something better to do in that scenario they need to go back to writing school. (NO CHANGE)

2: Busou Shinki

"Those who tell ghost stories should take care that they do not become ghost stories" - Nietzsche

“Those who tell ghost stories should take care that they do not become ghost stories” – Nietzsche

bss2

The Master forgets his umbrella on a rainy day and the Shinki take it to him. This episode’s mood was sort of all over the place. There was the earnest and hard-working plotline about getting Master his umbrella, there was the whole creepy ghost story thing, and then there was the emotional reunion of the lost Shinki with her master, and all of these were woven together. It was enough to make my head spin. But each plotline individually was pretty good, so I wasn’t too concerned. Tiny maid robots working dilligently to help their Master when he needs something is a pretty good premise for a heartwarming comedy.  I couldn’t take the ghost story plotline seriously after last week’s fakeout but it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, so that worked out just fine.  And the little lost Shinki plot was kind of corny, but it had a cool callback to episode 5 at least. (UP 2)

1:  Shin Sekai Yori

Squealer's kind of a badass.

Squealer’s kind of a badass.

...or not.

…or not.

Satoru and Saki reunite with the other children. Looking back on this episode and trying to encapsulate it in a single italicized sentence, it seems like nothing much really happened. The whole “oh no we need to run away or Ratpeople Sephiroth will murder us” thing turned out to be a huge narrative no-op, for example. But it was a cool episode anyway. Squealer is a fun character, always having to balance his fawning deference of the gods with the fact that he wants them to crush his enemies and hey, he doesn’t mean to nag, but have you had a chance to crush his enemies yet, just asking, he knows you have a lot on your plate, but if you could get around to crushing his enemies he’d really appreciate it. And there were a bunch of times where Satoru and Saki brushed hands or moved in close to each other that I got to ship and squee and mutter about bonobos under my breath.  (NO CHANGE)

Everything was terrible this week.  Even Shin Sekai Yori was less awesome than I’ve grown accustomed to it being.  I blame imoutos.

Fall 2012 Episode 6 Rankings

7: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Adults are always saying that sort of thing, aren’t they?

Nanami struggles to manage Mashiro, her part-time jobs, and her voice acting training.  This episode made me sad. That’s not necessarily a point against it, I can enjoy a good tragedy from time to time, but I what I don’t like is watching a perfectionist jam her hand in a blender while her supposed “friends” urge her on and even go to great lengths to keep responsible adults from stopping her from sticking her hand in a blender. And then the show wraps things up with some sort of trite moral about how ok maybe your fingers are a little mangled, but think how much you would have regretted it if you never even tried putting your hand in a blender. Ugh. Please don’t encourage heroic young people in their pointless self-destruction.  Everyone was Bad Decision Dinosaurs all the time in this episode, it was painful to watch.  (DOWN 1)

6. Hayate no Gotoku 3

Don’t you just hate it when the PCs repeatedly ignore the adventure hooks you’d prepared?

Don’t be so mean to your poor imouto.

Nagi wheedles Ruri’s true objective out of her. This was a decent enough episode, it’s only down at number six because the rest of the shows put forth a better than “decent enough” effort. The beginning of the episode was better than the end, it was nice to see Nagi being all selfish and childish and spoiled and Hayate having to respond tactfully but firmly.  It’s the most interesting character dynamic for Nagi, way more interesting than the “thirteen-year-old girl watches anime” we got in episode four. The second half of this episode was them finally getting around to advancing the plot but it turns out I don’t care about the plot? OK, there’s some mythical black flower or whatever. Fine. Hayate no Gotoku is at its best when it’s small, self-contained bits of silliness. Those are hard to do well and Hayate no Gotoku does! But it’s less good at more conventional plotty stuff.  This is a problem for the manga, too. In the English release of the manga, there was recently a string of like seven chapters devoted to Hayate’s Tragic Backstory and it was just awful. Authors need to be careful not to develop delusions of grandeur. (DOWN 1)

5: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne

Pantsu Kakumei.

Akito’s editor visits his home to try to discern whether he has a sister complex. This episode was pretty good, because it focused on Akito and Akiko’s relationship, which is more interesting than any of the other relationships. And Akiko’s “gue-heh-heh” laugh is better than any of the noises the other girls make. And Akiko has more t-shirts with pro-incest slogans than the other girls, too. I’m really really really worried about Akito’s newly introduced child fiancee, though. I cannot see anyway that she will turn out to be anything but terrible; our only hope is that she will be quickly dispensed with, and that’s a faint hope. But that’s going to ruin future episodes, it didn’t ruin this one. (DOWN 2)

4: Busou Shinki

Whoa, don’t get all Sakurasou on me now.

Evil Doppelgänger Ann is not impressed.

The Shinki discover a group of terrorist Shinki and must foil their plot. This was a good episode, much better than the previous action-oriented episodes. I think the ticking time-bomb gave the action scenes a little more urgency and meaning than previous episodes, where Shinki were basically just fighting because they were bored. The plot was sort of cliched, and you have to roll your eyes at the final resolution, but it was a cute and well-executed instance of the cliche, so that’s fine. And there was actually some surprising philosophical depth stemming from the terrorist Shinki being the same model as Ann, which made this a thought experiment about nature versus nurture, and the extent to which any of us are actually responsible for our actions. After all, who’s to say that we ourselves would not be terrorists, if only we had had the misfortune of being purchased by a Master who wanted to blow up a plane? (NO CHANGE)

3: Psycho-Pass

How can you call Shakespeare’s comedies boring? They have dudes dressed up as chicks!

Akane looks into the case that drove Kougami insane. We got a lot of cool world-building and character-development stuff in this episode. I especially liked the girls’ school where the girls were sent to be hidden away from all the nastiness of the world that might possibly cloud their Psycho-Pass during the vulnerable stage in their development. It’s great because it’s basically just a formalization of things that already go on – we already protect the innocent minds of our children, it’s just that we don’t have handy pocket readers to tell us whether or not we’re doing a good job. Thank god for the utopian future. On the other hand, the crimey parts of the episode weren’t so great. This episode’s human sculpture murderer was better than the internet personality murderer but not as good as the robot factory murderer. I guess it is a special kind of depraved to make sculptures out of human bodies when the technology exists to simulate any sort of sculpture cheaply via hologram.  I’m kind of upset that all the murders are being linked together as the work of one pointlessly-violent criminal mastermind, though. That’s lazy story structure. (UP 4)

2: Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai

The brute force approach to romance.

Communication is impossible.

Isshiki receives a mysterious love letter. The minor characters continue to be more interesting than the major ones. Isshiki had his crowning moment of traditional masculine virtue this episode, which somehow wasn’t even diminished by the fact that he was hypocritically trying to show off to his female classmates. In keeping with the theme of the show, everything everyone does ever is fake, so why pick nits over whether or not his motives were pure? If you shout about Mjolnir Hammer and the Tyrant’s Eye, that’s a lot of fun, and it’s no more a ridiculous delusional construct than ordinary interpersonal relationships are.  I also really liked how Nibutani and Dekomori kept constantly locking horns with each other. It’s sort of like a mini Itchy & Scratchy Show going on in the background. (NO CHANGE)

1: Shin Sekai Yori

More cowardly than having a god-wizard do your fighting for you?

Poor Satoru. Slaughtering ratpeople is hard work.

Satoru wages a one-man war against the invading Ground Spider clan. Another amazing episode. The way Satoru got his powers back was sort of cheaty, but at least we got a sexual-innuendo-laden flashback out of it. (It’s a society of love, like the bonobos…) And then we got to watch Satoru go nuts on some ratpeople! Magic is nice when it feels powerful. Wizards should just beat fighters eight ways from Sunday, no matter what D&D 4e says. Of course, the wizards in this world only have access to telekinesis and pyrokinesis, they don’t have the sorts of divinations and abjurations and metamagics that would make them immune to sneak attacks and snipers and running out of energy.  So one wizard versus an army is more of a fair fight than it might otherwise be. (NO CHANGE)

Big Winner: Psycho-Pass

Big Loser: Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne