suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Happy International Day Against Homophobia!

[Eveyuu] Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko. 04 [Hi10P 1280x720 H264] [832AB226].mkv_snapshot_18.11_[2013.05.12_02.50.23]

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False Conflict in Suisei no Gargantia

I’m having some real problems with Suisei no Gargantia.  All of the conflict in it seems phony, either it is between groups which are horribly unbalanced in power or else it is resolved in some cheap way.  Let me explain the history of conflict in the show to date and why none of it is interesting.

Episode 1:

There was some actual real conflict in episode 1!  It tricked me into thinking this would be a good show!  The first episode started out with a reasonably kick-ass space mecha battle from the perspective of a bad-ass mecha pilot.

gargantia

We didn’t know much about the two forces or what was at stake, but we knew the protagonist was fighting to protect the Edenic light of humanity from being extinguished by the alien Hideauze, and that was enough.  They fought, they were forced to retreat, the protagonist was accidentally caught in a space warp, thus setting up the main plot. If you had looked up promos or read previews or anything you already knew the premise and so you already knew how the fight was pretty much going to turn out, but that’s your own fault for spoiling yourself. The initial battle was legit.

Then Ledo crashed down on Earth, and as part of his attempt to figure out what was going on and blend in, he ended up kidnapping one of the locals.

gargantia2

 

This was sort of a farcical scene as the misunderstanding caused by the language barrier between Ledo and the Earthlings spun out of control.  It was clear that the two sides weren’t going to actually start murdering each other, but at least there was some tension as to how embarrassed everybody was going to be once they finally sat down to talk out their differences.  So on the basis of this first episode, I picked Suisei no Gargantia as the show with the most potential of the season.  Bad choice.

Episode 2:

By the second episode the hostage chase was over and the two sides had to decide if they were going to kill each other or what.  Ledo’s AI buddy was in favor of killing the savages before they could pose a threat, and on the side of the savages the guy with the pompadour whose name I don’t recall was all in favor of dumping Ledo’s body in the sea and looting his sweet mecha. Cooler heads prevailed, though.

gargantia3

 

But since it was the cooler heads that were in charge, there wasn’t any real conflict over what should be done.  Ledo’s AI is just an AI, and it has to do what the human says even if it doesn’t see the logic in it. The pompadour guy has no political influence and everyone obeys the fleet leader, so the most he can do is whine about how he never gets to murder people for their awesome technology. There was no conflict here, just two people deciding that the groups they led weren’t going to have a conflict. And that’s wonderful IRL, I highly recommend it, get me the Kings of Israel and Palestine on the phone because I have a suggestion for them, but it doesn’t make for gripping TV.

But then pirates showed up!  And they didn’t seem interested in deciding not to have a conflict!  Hooray!  Time to have some cool mecha battle scenes!

gargantia4

 

Or, Ledo could just pop into his ludicrously overpowered mecha and disintegrate all the pirates in a flash.  Sigh.

Episode 3:

OK, so the fight with the pirates was sort of a letdown, but now the people of the Gargantia fleet are a little freaked out by Ledo, since he has a mecha that can disintegrate dozens of people in the blink of an eye. And anyway everybody knows that you’re not supposed to kill pirates.

gargantia5

 

So there could be an interesting culture clash here, between the hardened soldier who thinks enemies are for killing and the idealistic civilians who think every life is precious.  But their philosophical disagreement on this issue was quickly overshadowed by a pragmatic issue – the Pirate Queen had heard about the deaths of her underlings and was coming back for revenge!  So rather than resolve this conflict, the Gargantia fleet was forced to ask for Ledo’s help.

 

gargantia6

 

The second battle against the pirates certainly lasted a lot longer than the first, but the outcome was no more in doubt.  Ledo was trying not to kill anybody so as not to piss off the Gargantians further, so he was reduced to punching the pirate ships with his mech’s bare hands rather than just disintegrating them all instantly with fire from the heavens.  But the pirates didn’t have anything that could even scratch his over-technology armor, so the fight was basically reduced to a long boring slog. Not even fun as spectacle.  Well, maybe the pirates’ ridiculous lobster-mechs were a kinda cool, but they would have been even cooler if they weren’t totally outmatched and helpless.

Episode 4:

Ok, the fighting is over, and now Ledo has to prove that he can contribute in peacetime as well.

gargantia7

 

How does he solve this conflict?  The same way he solves everything, with his brokenly-powerful giant robot.  He tells it to go haul freight while he sits in the shade whittling.  Capital will trump labor every time.

Then he gets in an argument with Amy about whether the weak should be ruthlessly culled.  His position is that you can’t beat up the Hideauze if you have less than fully optimal soldiers holding you back, whereas Amy’s position is that her little brother is weak and she loves him very much.  I guess it isn’t really fair to expect a rational debate over the pragmatic pros and cons of something like involuntary euthanasia that’s widely accepted in the audience’s as horrifying (not that Urobuchi doesn’t have plenty of people after his head anyway). Even so, the end of the argument was totally cheesy, where Amy’s sick brother plays the flute Ledo whittled, and suddenly this makes him start crying realize that all life has value.

gargantia8

 

What is to be done?

They’ve really written themselves into a corner here in terms of providing meaningful threats to the protagonist.  Ledo’s mecha is just leaps and bounds above anything that can be found on Earth. There might have been some grist in the culture clash between Ledo’s militarism and Gargantia’s more laissez-faire semi-anarchism, but they seem to have mostly glossed over that with tears and defense against pirates and some light carcass-eating.  Possible things that could still pose a threat:

  • The Hideauze track Ledo to the planet and threaten the Earthling’s edenic way of life.
  • The Galactic Alliance finally responds to Ledo’s distress signal, but by this point he’s already gone native and would rather munch on carcasses than fight the Hideauze.
  • Somebody steals Ledo’s mecha. Of course then there’s the opposite problem of how to deal with an enemy that has a ridiculously broken mecha, but he’s the hero so I’m sure he’d figure something out.
  • A much bigger fleet than the pirate fleet probably still couldn’t hurt Ledo, but it might be able to overwhelm his ability to protect Gargantia, which would make him sad.
  • Ledo’s AI buddy decides it’s had enough of his illogical actions and goes rogue, claiming it’s “for his own good”.

But given that they haven’t cared about meaningful threats for the past four episodes, why should they start now?  I’m close to dropping this show, I’m only hanging on because it’s gorgeously animated and because I liked some of the writing in the culture clash scenes.  Otherwise I’d be gone already.

 

 

Reasons “Hataraku Maou-sama” Is Objectively Good

By request.

Pacing

Pacing is a little hard to define and screenshot to post on your anime blog as evidence of why “Haraku Maou-sama” is objectively good, but it’s perhaps the most crucial element that determines the quality of a show like this. A show can be thought of as a collection of interesting bits, things which advance the plot, develop a character, introduce an idea, make you laugh make you cry, and so on.  (This may not apply to slice-of-life shows, whose selling point is how uninteresting they are.) After each interesting bit happens, it takes you time to process what’s going on with the plot, or dry your tears, or whatever.  If the next interesting bit happens before you finish, you won’t be able to keep up, and you’ll find the show bewildering.  If the next interesting bit hasn’t started yet by the time you’re done, your mind will wander, and you’ll find the show boring.  There’s a narrow window that the show has to hit for maximum enjoyment.  In practice most shows err on the side of slow pacing, because interesting bits are hard to come up with. (Consider shows like Dragonball Z, which when they run out of content from the manga resort to shots of people yelling to charge up their spirit for minutes on end.) Because of this, as a general rule, the faster a show is paced, the better it is.  And Hataraku Maou-sama goes pretty fast.  In three episodes we’ve seen the demonic forces win, the demonic forces lose, the demons flee to Japan, the demons adjust to life in Japan, several face-offs between the demons and the hero, a mysterious new threat has appeared a few times to upset the gameboard, workplace comedy, romantic comedy, wacky roommate comedy, a pun that was a thinly-veiled excuse for fanservice, and more.  It’s hard to be bored watching this show.

Yusa Emi, The Hero

Definitely *chaotic* good.

Definitely *chaotic* good.

Red hair is a pretty low-tier haircolor, in my opinion. But that’s just subjective opinion; objectively, Emi is amazing. It is tempting to write “tsundere is the objectively best moe archetype” and carry the argument from there, but that would be doing a disservice to Emi and all characters like her.  Tsundere isn’t the best moe archetype.  It’s not even a single archetype.  Tsundere characters like Emi are nothing like  tsunderes like Louise from Zero no Tsukaima.  The only thing they have in common is that sometimes they are mean to the male lead (tsun) and other times they are nice (dere). But Louise’s tsun comes from her weakness – she is embarrassed when her lack of magical ability is pointed out, or when she fails to control her servant and he does something inappropriate, or whatever.  To hide her weakness and protect herself, she lashes out.  And then her dere becomes a surrender, she has given up on defending herself and will rely on the male lead to protect her instead.  On the other hand, tsunderes like Emi (or, say, Hinagiku from Hayate no Gotoku) are tsun because of their strength.  Emi holds herself to a high standard, and she demands that of others, too. She is tsun towards the male lead because he’s failing in his role as the demon king that is supposed to oppose her role as the hero.  She looks down on Maou’s part-time job flipping burgers, holding her call-center job in higher esteem. And then her dere comes from when she fails to live up to her own role, by e.g. losing her wallet and needing to crash on the demon lord’s couch, and has to admit that sometimes people make mistakes and That’s Okay. In both cases, the dere comes from weakening the character, but in Emi’s case she was too strong to begin with, and her weakening only brings her down to the level of a functioning human being. Strong tsunderes are unique among moe archetypes in being functioning human beings, and so they are objectively the best.

Sasaki Chiho, The Coworker

At least he's got one fan.

I like her character design better after her haircut, but that’s just subjective.

Chi-chan fits the role of the “head-over-heels kouhai girl”, which is less a moe archetype and more of a stock love triangle character.  But the trick is, this isn’t a stock love triangle!  She’s gotten mixed in with something over her head (as though dating an older man from work and hiding it from her parents weren’t over her head enough already, but).  She thinks she’s in a love triangle with Emi, when really Emi is just here to foil Maou’s schemes as befits a hero, except really really she is in fact in a love triangle with the hero Emi but she doesn’t understand any of the important subtleties at play.  This leads to some gloriously complex interplay between the two of them.  The important thing for the ensuing farcical comedy of misunderstandings is that Emi has a good reason for wanting to conceal the actual truth of her relationship to Maou.  Everyone would think she was crazy, and/or take her into custody for making threats against Maou’s life.  And so Emi isn’t able to successfully warn Chi-chan away from this sketchy gentleman she really shouldn’t be romantically involved with for any number of reasons, and she just gets further wrapped up in the plot.  It seems like the mysterious third-party might have something to do with her as well, since at the very least she’s been getting his mail. That plotline has yet to develop, though.

The Two Demon Buddies, Ashiya Shirou and Maou Sadao

His satisfaction must be conquered.

His satisfaction must be conquered.

That is an objectively high-quality smirk, we could get out a protractor and measure the angles.

That is an objectively high-quality smirk, we could get out a protractor and measure the angles.

These two have sort of a weird domestic situation, where Ashiya takes on the housewife role and cooks/cleans/manages finances, while Maou earns a paycheck and then blows it all chasing after pretty women while Ashiya cries.  I guess Ashiya was supposed to be doing research into getting Maou his powers back while Maou was at work, but now he’s got his powers back via a bolt from the blue, so I guess all of Ashiya’s work was for nothing.  At least he made tasty food so Maou didn’t have to subsist on burgers and fries.  The two of them do some decent domestic comedy bits together, but I don’t know that they’re objectively all that good as characters.  But they’re not objectively boring, like many male leads are, so let’s count our blessings.

The Setting

hataraku4

hataraku5

 

A common trope in terrible fantasy stories that I hate and that, worse, are objectively bad, is that of a protagonist from our world that travels to a fantasy realm and must adapt and eventually become powerful and respected for their heroism.  This show turns that trope on its head, by having the fantasy world brought to us, and by having the protagonist end up in a very low-status role.  This allows storylines and jokes that play off things that we are familiar with, like burgers, and the crushing burden of paying rent as a part-time minimum wage worker, but also fantastic elements like a voice that speaks between worlds and grandiose schemes about the conquest of Ente Isla. This setup gives the writers a wide range of freedom. And while freedom includes the freedom to make a terrible show, and there certainly have been plenty of terrible shows that tried to mix the mythic with the mundane, it also includes the freedom to make an objectively pretty good show.  It seems like the writers here are doing that.  Here’s hoping they finish out the rest of the season this strong.

Threshing Spring 2013

From Wikipedia: “Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain.” You can’t winnow the wheat from the chaff based on just one episode, or you risk missing out on shows like Tatami Galaxy and Shiki. But you can at least get some idea. Below are some ideas, sorted in increasing order of how much potential the show seems to have based on the first episode. (Translations of show titles are my own amateur efforts and may be wildly inaccurate.)

13: Aku no Hana (Evil Flower)

I mean, I get that our protagonist is supposed to be an ugly character, but...

I mean, I get that our protagonist is supposed to be an ugly character, but…

I like how his gum line just sort of stops in the middle of his mouth.

I like how his gum line just sort of stops in the middle of his mouth.

A boy reads books and is alienated from his classmates. The rotoscoping is as bad as everybody says it is. In case you only read this blog out of all the wonderful anime blogs on the internet, I’ll fill you in: everybody says the rotoscoping is real bad. The stills above, as bad as they look, don’t actually do justice to how bad the rotoscoping is, because the real problem with the rotoscoping is the jerky, flickering motions. I don’t know the details of how rotoscoping works except that it’s basically tracing over photographs, but it looks to me like between shots their models shifted in their seats slightly, and the framerate was too low to make it look natural, so it gave the impression of the characters vibrating in their chairs. This is incredibly distracting in what should be a simple talking heads shot. And there were a lot of those, because this anime seems to be dragging its feet on having any actual plot. All that happens in the first episode is that we are introduced to the three main characters and learn some basic facts about them, in between long shots of nothing where they seem to be trying to show off their animation and I really don’t want to spend this entire review just talking abut the animation quality but it’s really hard to think about anything else. It’s not animation that you should want to show off, ok? It’s animation that should make you scrap the show and reanimate it and maybe it can air in 2014 so you don’t embarass yourself and drag the manga’s reputation through the mud. Really the only thing worthwhile in this episode was the ED, which was legitimately really creepy and cool. But you can’t watch a show just for the ED. I’m not sure you can watch a show that looks like this for any reason.

12: Date A Live

"Gibberish" means "plan".

“Gibberish” means “plan”.

Because there's no point!

Because there’s no point!

A boy must seduce a girl in order to get her to stop causing destructive “spacequakes”. This show is pretty damn badly paced. The first part of the episode, where the male lead hangs out with his panty-flashing imouto, was entirely pointless. It didn’t even serve to establish the imouto’s character, since later we discovered that her lovey-dovey attitude was all an act and she was really a sadistic commander of a secret army dedicated to protecting society against the… I can’t even keep typing this. It’s so stupid. But at least they gave the imouto a personality, which is more than I can say for any of the other characters they introduced. I know, it’s the first episode, they might flesh the characters out later, but then why even bother introducing them if a name and a hair color and maybe a broad stereotype is all you’re going to give them? Why not cut out the meaningless interaction with the silver-haired genius girl, for example, so that you could spend more time on the actual main love interest girl that he’s supposed to be seducing? We learned nothing about her personality at all this episode except that she doesn’t like being murdered. Hardly anyone does!  That’s not a distinctive character trait! The combat scene was decently produced, but I couldn’t make myself care about the outcome. Decently pulse-pounding action, but it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

11: Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge (Crime Edge, Which Slices Apart)

uguuuuu~

uguuuuu~

uguu is actually getting to be a pretty dated reference by now, isn't it

uguu is actually getting to be a pretty dated reference by now, isn’t it

A boy with cursed scissors pairs up with a girl with cursed hair, and cuts her hair, with dire consequences. What good does it do you to have a story about boy-with-irresistible-scissors meets girl-with-unmoveable-hair if the haircut happens in the first episode? The haircut anime I wanted to watch has already ended. Now it seems as though they’ll be moving into a death match thriller anime where descendents of famous murders go at each other with the murder weapons of their ancestors. In principle, that might not be so bad, Mirai Nikki was a death match thriller and it was a lot of fun, right?  But I sort of doubt that the plotting in this show will be able to live up to even the somewhat sketchy standard of Mirai Nikki. In the first episode, the male lead met a girl with hair that was cursed never to be cut. He also met some descendents of murderers who were abusing the girl. Then he learned that he was a descendent of a murderer too! From this he somehow magically concluded that the scissors he inherited from that murderer would be capable of cutting her hair? Characters coming to correct conclusions with insufficient evidence based on leaps of logic is poison to a plot. Characters need to have good reasons for the things they believe. There were some things to like in this show, the girl was kind of adorable (at least the long-haired version, which we’ll never see again, oops), but you can’t have a thriller without a plot and you can’t have a haircut show without hair.

10: Devil Survivor 2 the Animation

This whole anime is a joke.

This whole anime is a joke.

It's kind of cool how the big nasty monster of the week looks like an ice cream cone.

It’s kind of cool how the big nasty monster of the week looks like an ice cream cone.

Demons invade Earth but you can control them with a smartphone app and fight back. Watching this made me remember some more of the reasons why I quit playing Devil Survivor 2 the Game. I’d forgotten all about that stupid bunny girl, for example, and the whole “website that shows the gruesome deaths of your friends is the new hot meme among teens” nonsense premise. As far as I could tell that website was completely extraneous to the plot, too. Instead the plot was driven by an ultra-cliche shadowy organization with mysterious origins and goals. The production quality and pacing on the show was really solid, and I liked the fight scenes, although maybe not as much as the strategic RPG action of the game. The team working on this show definitely has chops. I just wish they’d apply those chops to a less ridiculous game.

9: Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 (There’s No Way My Little Sister Can Be This Cute 2)

Don't worry, I won't watch you any more.

Don’t worry, I won’t watch you any more.

Don't worry, I won't bother you any more.

Don’t worry, I won’t bother you any more.

The second season of OreImo. I was watching this and I just felt nothing. Last season I usually felt annoyed when Kirino was on the screen and happy when Kuroneko was on the screen and then I laughed at some of the jokes and the ups and downs averaged out to something basically watchable, but this time around, it was just a flatline. Some of that might be due to the fact that this was a glorified recap episode designed to make sure that even if you (like me) did not watch the OVAs you still had some idea of what was going on. Apparently thanks to the events of the OVAs, Kuroneko and Kousaka are an item now and they’re in a club that makes anime porno games. These seem like developments I should strongly endorse, but I just sort of ended up staring blankly. Sometime in the past two and a half years I have lost the ability to care about the plausibility of observed sister cuteness levels.

8: Majestic Prince

Meet the mecha!

Meet the mecha!

Sure, but if you do the impossible in episode 1, where are you supposed to go from there?

Sure, but if you do the impossible in episode 1, where are you supposed to go from there?

Four trainee mecha pilots that don’t get along are thrust into battle against the alien menace. This episode ended up a lot more heroic and less angsty than I was expecting. I mean, it’s the first episode, there’s plenty of time for the scarred visored director guy to pull an Incubator, but basically five dorky misfits got in cool mecha and heroically kicked alien ass. I guess I’m ok with that. But I am worried about power-level issues, because if the heroes are already able to face down a whole alien fleet with little in the way of tactics or teamwork in the first episode, what’s going to be able to challenge them once they’ve had a chance to level up and learn valuable lessons vis-a-vis friendship? I guess the usual way these things go is that the aliens will build their own Gundams using like stolen technology or something to give the good guys a decent fight. The mecha combat scenes were pretty, but they suffered from some of the same problems that the new Star Wars films had of having too many CGI spaceships on screen at once in order to show off how advanced their CGI technology was and ending up making the composition cluttered and hard to understand. I sort of prefered the simpler aesthetic of the non-mecha scenes, it has an old-school action hero aesthetic about it. All in all,  I think that the biggest problem with the show is that while the team of dorky misfits was reasonably likable, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about this show.  It doesn’t have a unique selling point, it’s just teens in robot suits beating up aliens.  There’s already plenty of shows like that.

7: Yuyushiki (Yuyu-style)

yuriyurarararayuruyuri daijiken

yuriyurarararayuruyuri daijiken

Oh my god I hate kanji SO MUCH.

Oh my god I hate kanji SO MUCH.

Three girls hang out. The beginning of this episode was downright unwatchable. The “jokes” towards the beginning all seemed to involve two hooligans being mean to their more upstanding blonde friend. Hey, anime hooligans, this is a public service announcement. If someone asks you not to poke them in the ribs, do not poke them in the ribs! It is important to respect people’s individual preferences on this issue! There were also some puns scattered in there, and it’s tough to judge the quality of puns as a non-native speaker, but based on theoretical analysis I doubt they were good. The latter part of the show, once they got into the Data Processing Club room, though, was better. There was something warm and real about their dicking around on the computer, how they were looking up facts about the Sun and comparing their results from internet quizzes and stuff. It still wasn’t more than mildly amusing, but as a slice-of-life show, it worked pretty well. I dunno how much going forward this show is going to be soft-and-fluffy slice of life stuff though, as opposed to hooliganism and bad puns and barely-veiled yuri.

6: Hayate Cuties

Not now, I have to write an anime blog post.

Not now, I have to write an anime blog post.

I'm gonna print this out and hang it on my wall to motivate me.

I’m gonna print this out and hang it on my wall to motivate me.

The fourth season of Hayate no Gotoku. Call me a sucker, because I’m signed up for more Hayate. Even though I haven’t been able to follow the changes in the setting for some time now (why is everyone living together in a single apartment with Hayate as everyone’s butler?). Even though I watched the abominable Can’t Take My Eyes Off You series to the end and regretted it more and more with each passing episode. Even though the first half of this episode didn’t really have much in the way of jokes or anything enjoyable. Even though there are a bunch of new characters that I can’t stand, like A-chan (as if Hayate didn’t have enough little girls in his harem) and Ruka (what the *hell* does some random singer have to do with *anything*?). But I see Hayate going through hell ten times over with a smile to meet the expectations of his ojou-sama, and I see Hinagiku quietly doing her best every day to meet the expectations she has for herself, and I just have to accept that I really like the core show, and I’m willing to put up with all sorts of bullshit being layered on top of that core so long as it’s Hayate no Gotoku underneath.  I’m not sure if this is a touching moral about forgiveness or if it’s just Stockholm Syndrome.

5: Red Data Girl

She wields the legendary Crime Edge!

She wields the legendary Crime Edge!

rdg2

Somebody should have protected her from those nerdy-ass glasses, yikes.

A young girl is the goddess of a mountain shrine but dislikes how much she is sheltered because of this. This show sort of reminds me of last season’s stinker Amnesia. It has a girl who doesn’t really understand what is going on and is terrified who is getting pushed around by a bunch of hot but sinister guys. The difference is that the girl here is willing to push back. She cuts her hair without asking for permission! She uses her weird magic powers to yell at her dad for not coming to the parent/teacher conferences! She refuses to move to Tokyo because Tokyo is weird and terrifying! She has some semblance of agency despite her general lack of control over or understanding of her own life. And that makes her much more interesting to watch than a girl who just goes with the flow. The animation and character designs and pacing were all pretty good too. We’ll have to see about the plot. It wasn’t so bad in this episode, but Izumiko’s uncontrolled godly powers over technology could easily become a deus ex machina, haha, and that would make things boring to watch.

4: Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko (The Perverted Prince and the Unsmiling Cat)

All the guys in the background are shocked thinking "What? Big ones are way better!"

All the guys in the background are shocked, thinking “What? Big ones are way better!”

She thinks big ones are better too.

She thinks big ones are better too.

A cat statue will grant people’s wishes by taking things from people that they no longer want and giving them to people who want them, but be careful what you wish for. Light novel harem trash with a supernatural twist, oh boy, right? But the supernatural twist involves the everyday hypocrisies of interpersonal interaction, a guy who has suddenly had them stripped from him and a girl who has suddenly had them thrust upon her, and I can’t get enough of that stuff. (Also, I think expressionless girls are cute.) Last season’s Kotoura-san let me down by not exploring similar hypocrisy themes, and it’s possible, even likely, that Henneko will too. But Henneko has a lot more real comedy to it than Kotoura-san did. The titular Hentai Ouji is funny and varied in the ways he lets his true perverted thoughts escape inappropriately into the world, rather than the joke being “haha he’s thinking about boobies” over and and over again. And so far there’s no melodrama to get in the way of the jokes, either. I’m cautiously optimistic.

3: Shingeki no Kyojin (The Invading Giants)

Thanks Obama.

Thanks Obama.

That's no giant, that's a troll!

That’s no giant, that’s a troll!

Humanity hides in walled cities from the giants that ravage the countryside, but the walls can’t hold forever. The setting seems absolutely great. A heroic fantasy story of humanity fighting for survival against terrifying monsters that we can’t hope to defeat through strength of arms alone. And it looks really nice too. The giants especially are great monster designs, their skinless flesh evokes horror without looking like it’s trying too hard to evoke horror. They are grotesqueries that don’t look like some juvenile concept artist’s conception of what a grotesquery should be. So I have high hopes for this show, even if the first episode was, plotwise, a little unsophisticated. Oh, yeah, the protagonist and his buddies are yelling about how the giants must be destroyed and the walls that have stood for a hundred years won’t protect the village forever, and everybody laughs at these silly children and don’t take them seriously, and then the walls are destroyed and the giants rampage through and destroy everything they care about. Looks like the kids were right after all, who would have guessed? Sure, it introduces the characters and concepts and themes all appropriately, but it’s a pretty lazy way to do those things.  Philosophically speaking I’m a little uncomfortable with heroes that were totally right but nobody was willing to listen because everyone else is stupid and evil. Usually when nobody is willing to listen it’s because you’re wrong, and even when it’s not, you’re usually doing a bad job of communicating.  Placing the blame on society is a cheap fantasy that shouldn’t be indulged in.

2: Hataraku Maou-sama (Working Demon King)

The dark lord Satan, conqueror of kingdoms, cooker of fries.

The dark lord Satan, conqueror of kingdoms, cooker of fries.

At least he's got one fan.

At least he’s got one fan.

The demon king and his loyal retainer are cast through a dimensional portal to modern Japan and must adapt. This show reminds me of nothing so much as the early volumes of the Excel Saga manga, where Excel and Hyatt had to struggle to earn money to eat while also planning the conquest of the city in the name of Lord Il Palazzo. The newer volumes have kind of gone off the rails, and the anime version was off the rails from the start, but I love the first ten or so volumes to death. The dynamic isn’t quite as pure here (the dark lord Satan is only struggling for his own aggrandizement rather than out of absolute loyalty to Il Palazzo), but the contrast between his grand goals and his low socio-economic position is still delicious. The only thing to be worried about is whether or not this show going to end up turning into yet another trashy harem light novel adaptation. We time-skipped over most of the work the demons had to do learning to fit in in modern Japan, which would have been a good place to sit and make jokes for at least a couple of episodes if they mostly cared about making jokes. But by skipping ahead, they get to skip right to where Satan already has a cute female co-worker, a hot female boss, and a girl passing by that he can lend his umbrella to. We might not have ten volumes before this one goes off the rails.

1: Suisei no Gargantia (Aquatic Gargantia)

Yay progress!

Yay progress!

Look at these savages, I bet they don't have hardly any Edenic light to speak of.

Look at these savages, I bet they don’t have hardly any Edenic light to speak of.

A futuristic mecha pilot is cast through a dimensional portal to the mythical lost planet of “Earth” and must adapt. The show obviously isn’t done even setting up the premise yet, so it’s a little hard to judge it, but so far it’s pretty solid. The opening battle scene was maybe longer than it needed to be for the amount of story implications it actually had, but I actually didn’t even mind, because the animation was frickin’ gorgeous. The scenes after the battle was over were well-animated too, but less in your face with starfields and spaceships and bullet hell. Instead we got a great sequence about a pilot stranded in unknown territory with only his AI partner to help him. I liked the sort of Wooster-and-Jeeves interplay between the two of them when he decided to kidnap a native girl for use as a hostage and his AI was like “that is an… interesting choice you have made”. Snarky but matter-of-fact AIs should feature in every sci-fi show, in my opinion. There’s a lot of stuff that could still go wrong with this show – we’ve hardly seen any characterization from the Earthlings, for example, and I’m not even sure what genre the show is yet. But everything the show’s offered so far has been really good, so let’s have hope.

 

Well, this season doesn’t look quite as bad as I feared during the preview.  It’s not great, though, considering that this is a spring season and supposed to be strong. There are eight shows here I could imagine myself watching, but there aren’t really any that seem like slam dunks.  Even Gargantia and Hataraku Maou-sama have obvious paths by which they could go wrong, turning into a generic mecha series and a generic harem series respectively.  We’ll have to wait and see.

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!

Spring Anime Season 2013 – Three More Months Of Winter

Winter 2013 was kind of a weak season for anime, but that’s to be expected.  Winter and Summer are supposed to be the weak seasons, and all the good shows are supposed to start in Spring or Fall.  Looking over the lineup for Spring, though, it doesn’t look like much of an improvement over Winter at all. And this time we don’t have Shin Sekai Yori continuing from the previous season to pick up the slack.  Here are my thoughts on the pitiful crop of shows that are going to be airing this season. Title translations are mine, except when they’re correct, in which case I probably just copied the official translation.

Date A Live: Mecha action plus sudden girlfriend appearance, the same formula that Full Metal Panic used.  FMP is over ten years old at this point, so it counts as “old-school”, right?  There was definitely an old-school sensibility to a lot of the scenes in the promos for this show.  There was a pantyshot in one of the promos, and rather than being exasperated at the pandering, or naively appreciating the pandering, I was struck with nostalgia for an age where animation studios put random pantyshots in every show just because they could, and there was none of this coy modern nonsense about beams of light obscuring things to force you to buy the blu-rays because blu-rays hadn’t been invented yet.  It was that sort of pantyshot.  I’m not sure that’s enough to keep me interested in a whole show, though.  FMP was interesting, to the extent that it was interesting, because of its fish-out-of-water male lead.  Date A Live seems like it will be playing up the horrible destructive power of the female lead instead, and the male lead is going to be yet another spineless harem protagonist.  It might be worth a shot, though, I kinda liked the action scenes in the promos.  They had missiles and people at computers and swordfighting and an exciting soundtrack.

Red Data Girl: A girl who just wants to be a normal girl and date boys but she has mysterious supernatural powers and is bound up in some dark family secret stretching back centuries or whatever.  The Red Data Book, huh?  Maybe her family’s dark secret is that they’re Communists.  It sort of looks like gratuitous wish fulfillment, right – everybody wants to suddenly go to a new school and change their hairstyle and discover that they’re really important.  Probably it will be your ordinary modern-day supernatural mystery nonsense where nothing is ever explained and the supernatural powers are whatever is convenient for the plot at the moment, but I can check it out I guess.  The animation in the promos looked pretty good and I like the character designs.

Karneval: A show about battlin’ bishounen and a “powerful defense organization” called “Circus”, and I’m not sure I can take either one of those seriously.  Pretty boys should be delicate flowers like in Ouran High Host Club, they should leave the actual fighting in outrageous costumes to the magical girls.  One of the promos had a fight scene on a train that reminded me of Baccano, and Baccano was pretty amazing, but I don’t think it was the train that made it good. Probably gonna pass on this.

Yahari Ore no Seishuun Rabu Kome wa Machigatteiru (Yeah, There’s Something Wrong With My Youth Romantic Comedy): Looks like another generic harem light novel adaptation complete with long-ass “ironic” title.  The only thing that struck me from watching previews was that the characters all seemed to have “realistic” hair color, which you wouldn’t expect from a silly LN adaptation, but apart from that the character designs looked pretty crap.  Is this going to be the first generic harem LN adaptation that looks so bad I won’t bother giving it a watch?

Joujuu Senjin!! Mushibugyou (Constant Battle!! Insect Magistrate): Looks old-school, and not in a good way.  It looks just like the loud, poorly animated action trash that was some of the first stuff to get brought over and translated for an English-speaking audience and that colored wider public perception in the US of what anime was about for a long time.  (See, for example the Homestar Runner anime parody.  That’s what the author thinks anime is, because of shows like this.) Shouting and speedlines are not enough to make an anime good, so I’ll avoid this one.

Photo Kano (Photo Girl): A story about a guy who builds a harem of girls by taking their photos?  …?  There isn’t really a lot for me to go on, here, so I’ll just say that I worry that they might focus too much on the minutiae of photography, like compositions and lens refraction incidence angles and accidentally putting your thumb over the viewfinder.  Photography is boring, and anyway the iPhone and Instagram have pretty much killed it, the same way blogs like this one have killed Serious Anime Journalism.

Devil Survivor 2 The Animation: Adaptation of Devil Survivor 2 The Videogame. Have videogame adaptations other than visual novels ever been any good?    I guess the Persona 4 adaptation was supposed to have been pretty good, and it was directed by the same guy that’s doing this.  I didn’t watch the Persona 4 adaptation because I’d already played Persona 4, but I didn’t make it very far into Devil Survivor 2, so maybe I should watch this. On the other hand the reason I didn’t make it very far into Devil Survivor 2 was that the plot wasn’t really gripping me. I wish they were adapting the original Devil Survivor instead, it had a cool plot that I’d be happy to experience again in the form of an anime.  Well, maybe I’ll watch this, just to see if the story is a more natural fit for an anime than an RPG.  One of my complaints with the game is that I felt railroaded, and that’s naturally not a problem in an anime.

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince (Galactic Armored Squadron Majestic Prince): I don’t like the artstyle on the characters very much, but the mecha combat scenes in the promos look decent enough.  Lotta flashy things and fast flying and missiles that go WHIZZZZ and then KABOOOOM.  The premise, where the heroes are children genetically engineered to fight and die in the wars of the adults, sounds like just the right flavor of existential despair to spice up a mecha show and keep it interesting.  They might end up ignoring the premise, and that would make me sad, but I’ll give it a look.

Yuyushiki (Yuyu-style): Looks like a completely standard four-girl slice-of-life comedy, with the only variation being that there are only three girls. I’m guessing there’s a reason that most four-girl slice-of-life comedies have four girls, but it’s worth a look anyway.  By the way, the name seems to come from the fact that all the girls’ names start with Yu, but in that case shouldn’t it be Yuyuyushiki? Or maybe one of the girls is a third wheel to the titular Yuyu pairing’s yuri paradise?  But then you’d have the “yu” from “yuri”.  It’s a puzzle.  Note that, by having three girls instead of four, fully one third of the main cast is able to have pink hair.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 (There’s No Way My Little Sister Can Be This Cute 2): I liked the original OreImo fine, but it’s not like I have been chomping at the bit for more Kirino, you know?  I don’t really regret the time that I spent on the original, but the problem with sequels like this is that they rarely get better and they often get worse.  So if my upside is limited to a show as good as the first season of OreImo and my downside is theoretically unlimited, the smart money says don’t make that trade.  On the other hand, this seems to be the only incest-themed show coming out this season (what??? how could this happen, Japan?) and I’ve gotten kind of used to having a sister-screwing show in my weekly rotation, even if Sasami-san didn’t really pan out. And if the show turns out to be as bad as, say, the second season of Haganai, I can always bail.

Shingeki no Kyojin (The Invading Giants): Apparently this is a world where giants show up and wreck your shit sometimes so you gotta grab a sword and kill them.  Wasn’t that the plot to Jack the Giant Slayer? Is this gonna be another Kimba the White Lion situation? This looks a little too action-y for my tastes, there was a shounen shouting and swinging his sword but I really like the skinless muscle aesthetic that the giant has (very “metal”), and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the manga it’s based on and honestly I’m just happy to have something based on a manga instead of a light novel.

Hataraku Maou-sama (Working Demon King): A show about an otherworldly Demon King who is forced to struggle to survive in the hyper-hell that is modern capitalist society sounds like ripe ground for cutting satire, but judging from the number of moe-type girls in the promo video, it’s not likely to be that sort of show.  Looks like yet another trashy harem light novel adaptation. These harem light novels bring in a far-out premise to try to differentiate themselves from the crowd of other trashy harem novels, but then once they’ve pulled in a customer the work of the premise is done, and it’s easier just to write the same standard harem plotlines that every other light novel uses except this time instead of being chuunibyou the male lead actually is a Demon King from another world. This is by the same studio that did Steins;Gate, though, and Steins;Gate was amazing.

Kakumeiki Valvrave (Valvrave the Liberator): Sunrise mecha show.  Sorry, but I can’t endorse the mecha designs on this one.  Those glowing neon green fringes they have are the exact same shade of neon green as the translucent plastic that cheap plastic toys use when they want to make something look cool and glowy and sci-fi.  Presumably this is not an accident – presumably the glowing green neon fringes are that color because that is the color of the translucent plastic on the cheap plastic toys they intend to sell as merchandise for the series.  I have nothing against merchandising, and I’m not going to pretend that every mecha show isn’t always merchandised to hell and back anyway, but the association of that color in my mind with toys and only toys is too strong for me to be able to take the series at all seriously.  Is electric blue plastic really that much more expensive?

Hayate no Gotoku Cuties: Ugh.  The Hayate no Gotoku manga series is one of my very favorites, and I always eagerly anticipate the next volume’s translation.  The first two seasons of the anime adaptation weren’t quite as good, but they were decent enough.  But then there was “Hayate no Gotoku: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, which started out fun but got horribly bogged down in some overly complex fairy-tale about a ring or a sword and there was an evil dryad and an evil tengu and the plotting started to remind me more of bad fanfic than anything else.  It did a lot to kill my enthusiasm for the franchise.  Based on the name and promos, it looks like this series is going to be focused on harem antics, which is probably better at least than trying to have a serious dramatic plot.  But Hayate isn’t a harem romance any more than it’s a drama thriller.  It’s supposed to be a light action comedy.  It’s a shame that it’s lost its way.  But apparently the fifth episode is about Hinagiku, and I can’t get enough Hinagiku, so I guess I’ll watch it for at least that long.

Suisei no Gargantia (Aquatic Gargantia): This show has a world covered in water and a young man who is very serious and military but has fallen in with a bunch of civilian types who are not so serious or military.  In very broad strokes, this reminds me of Tide-Line Blue, a show I very much wanted to like.  Tide-Line Blue had fun characters and an interesting setting, but it was basically ruined by a wacky animal comic relief character in the form of an ostrich that got into the submarine by mistake and followed the characters everywhere doing silly animal things.  So I’m a little concerned about the appearance in the promos of a character’s pet squirrel sidekick, it makes me think history might repeat itself.  But this show was written by the same guy as Madoka and Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass, so maybe not.  Psycho-Pass didn’t live up to its potential, but its main issue was taking itself too seriously, so maybe I can trust Urobuchi not to go overboard with the friggin’ squirrel.

Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko (The Perverted Prince and the Unsmiling Cat):  Looks like another trashy harem light novel adaptation!  Hooray.  I guess the unique selling point here is that the female lead is a kuudere? That’s actually kinda nice, usually the kuudere characters are like second-tier haremettes that get maybe one episode focused on them and then fade into the background.  I mean, I understand fading into the background is sort of a kuudere’s job description, they can’t exactly demand attention. But they deserve more love than they usually get.  On the other hand, “perverted” is an overdone personality type for a male lead.  I don’t expect much from harem leads in general, but honestly I think I’d rather have a spineless harem lead with no personality at all than one whose personality is centered around hooting and hollering every time he spots a bit of exposed flesh.

Arata Kangatari: Kangatari is not a word I know or can find in a dictionary, it reminds me of the weird portmanteaus used for the Bakemonogatari series.  Arata is the name of the dude who traveled to a parallel dimension and now has to dress like a chick and deal with a rebellion and wield magical powers?  I really prefer my fantasy stories not to have modern teenagers who fell through time-portals as their heroes.  It’s an attempt to ground the story in something real, I guess, but it just ends up making the unreality of the whole thing stand out.  Setting is the most important element of fantasy, and forcing a connection to the modern world can only serve to water down the setting.

Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge (Crime Edge, Which Slices Apart): He cuts good hair because he has sharp scissors!  There are way too many Capitalized Noun Phrases in this show’s blurb for me to be happy about it, but I’ll watch anything with a premise as wacky as “girl whose hair cannot be cut except via Wish or similarly powerful magic meets boy wielding artifact scissors”.  I’m not too sure about the “murder game” part, but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  Hopefully at some point the girl’s uncuttable hair becomes the solution to a crisis.  Maybe it’ll be a formulaic show where her invincible hair gets used in a new way in the resolution of ever week’s episode.  The first week she can just deflect bullets with it, maybe next Rapunzel it down to the male lead who’s hanging off a cliff.  When the heroes need to power up in the midway point, she can string a strand taut between two pegs and have an ultrasharp unbreakable sword!  That would own, now I’m going to be hugely disappointed by how the show actually turns out.

Aku no Hana (Evil Flower): Not at all sure what to think of this.  The blurb makes it sound like some school life drama, but the promo video makes it seem like dark psychological/supernatural horror.  Is the girl he doesn’t like that forces him to make a contract with her Satan?  And the contract is to sell his soul in exchange for not being outed as a pervert?  That makes no sense.  I dunno, I’m interested in the show I see in the promo.  I’m less interested in the show I read about in the blurb.  I don’t see how they can be reconciled.  I suspect one of the two is a misrepresentation.  I hope it’s the blurb.

So now that I’ve gone through all the new shows airing in Spring, I have not managed to find even one that I’m really excited about.  The ones that seem like they have the best shot at going somewhere are Yuyushiki, Shingeki no Kyojin, and Aku no Hana.  I’ll also check out Date a Live, Red Data Girl, Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince, OreImo 2, Hataraku Maou-sama, Hayate Cuties, Suisei no Gargantia, Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko, and Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge.   That’s thirteen shows in total, but I’ve included a lot of pretty marginal stuff here simply because I expect the yield rate to be so low.  I’ll be happy if even a quarter of these shows turn out to be any good.

I’ll report back in a couple weeks once everything’s started airing with a threshing post containing my initial thoughts on the shows.  If everything turns out terrible, I guess I can always work on my backlog.  Or, I dunno, take up knitting.

What Happened To Winter 2013?

I didn’t blog it.  Stuff came up, I’m sorry.  I’m going to be targeting a Thursday/Sunday update schedule this next season, hopefully that will keep the updates flowing.  I figured I could at least provide a retrospective of the stuff I watched though.

Amnesia, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT, Mondaji-Tachi ga Isekai Kara Kurusou Desu Yo Dropped after one episode.  See https://suntzuanime.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/threshing-winter-2013/ for reasons.

Tamako Market: 

Anime does not need wacky talking animals.

Anime does not need wacky talking animals.

Dropped after one episode. Everybody was talking about how great Tamako Market was, but I don’t see it.  From watching the first episode it looked like the sort of technically slick but ultimately soulless anime I expected from the Kyoto Animation team responsible for K-On.   I did not expect a wacky sassy obese talking bird (pictured above), but he did not exactly do a good job selling me on the show.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: Dropped after two episodes.  See https://suntzuanime.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/sasami-sanganbaranai-2-sasami-r-u-even-trying/ for reasons.

Maoyuu:

Not blogging the winter anime season!

Not blogging the winter anime season!

Dropped after four episodes.  I was a little dubious of their economic model from the start – it sounded like the Broken Window Fallacy, where breaking a window (or in this case waging a never-ending war against the demons) is supposed to make everyone rich because they can sell a new window to the guy whose window got broken (or in this case, swords and armor to the army fighting against the demons).  In actuality, it would work better to not break the window and use the resources you would have spent replacing it on something of positive value to society, like growing potatoes (growing potatoes).  So it was already lagging behind Spice and Wolf in terms of economics.  But the romance turned out to be a little dubious as well!  The problem was that there was no tension to the love story.  The hero and the demon king were basically stuck with each other as part of their conspiracy to save the world, and they had better things to do than get romantic with each other anyway, because there was a world that needed saving.  In Spice and Wolf, the male and female leads were two little people whose problems didn’t amount to a hill of beans, and so the romance loomed relatively larger in the narrative.  And Holo was a capricious wolf-spirit,  so we could at least pretend she might give up on Lawrence.  At the start of Maoyuu the hero and the demon king were bound together by a contract, and so the romance was over before it began. “Will they/won’t they” doesn’t work for a married couple.

Kotoura-san:

Is she surprised, or belching?

Is she surprised, or belching?

Dropped after eight episodes.  Kotoura-san was the show I was most excited for after the first episode, but it utterly failed to live up to its promise.  I was hoping for a show that would explore the hypocrisy of society and the horrible things that happen people who don’t believe the lies that everyone tells each other every day.  I hoped it would explore what happens in a romantic relationship when one side is disadvantaged by the other’s ability to see their private thoughts.  I even sort of hoped it would address the question of whether or not people like Kotoura are even a good thing for society, or whether the sea of bullshit we all float in is serving as social fertilizer by allowing people with different views to get along with each other.  Kotoura-san didn’t do any of that.  Kotoura-san was just a weak romantic comedy that sometimes veered gracelessly into melodrama, and Kotoura’s mind-reading  power was little more than a gimmick.  The effects of her mind-reading on her relationship with Manabe were mostly just a convenient excuse for her to beat him up for having ecchi thoughts whenever the writers felt they needed a “joke”.  I held out hope for a while and satisfied myself with the fun facial expressions (pictured above) but eventually I gave up.

Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru:

I dunno, is your hair pink?

You’d look more beautiful in brighter color.

You should hang out with Kotoura.

You should hang out with Kotoura.

I didn’t think much of OreShura at the start of the season.  I didn’t like the washed-out pastel artstyle, and the premise of the male lead being blackmailed with his old chuunibyou delusions bugged me too. Those things continued to bother me throughout the season, but I finished it anyway.  This show filled the “guilty pleasure harem nonsense” slot for me this season, the slot that had previously been filled by the charming sister-screwing show Onii-chan Dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankei Nai Yo Ne, and before that by the charming sister-screwing show Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imoto ga Iru.  OreShura was less charming than either, and less incestuous (though the dude’s hot aunt did briefly flirt with him). It was generally speaking a much higher quality show, though.  The writing was sometimes quick and witty, and the characters had some depth to them (except the harem protagonist, naturally).  I actually have trouble choosing who I feel should win the harem, because the show made each of them appealing in their own way.  The childhood friend tries the hardest, but the manipulative bitch is the most sympathetic, but the chuunibyou girl is the most charmingly earnest, but the pink-haired chick has the pinkest hair.  I was impressed that they could pull off that level of balancing act, and in general it was a surprisingly good show on the merits.  Of course the “surprisingly good” there is “surprisingly good for harem nonsense”, so caveat emptor.

GJ-bu:

This should have been the disclaimer at the start of each episode.

This should have been the disclaimer at the start of each episode.

I love it! I think it's cute!

I love it! I think it’s cute!

GJ-bu doesn’t have a gimmick to it.  It’s a comedy about four girls and a guy making up the Good Job club, and the way they spend their time together after school. That puts a lot of pressure on the characters to be interesting to watch, and the characters are up to the pressure.  At the start, I was mostly interested in Megumi, the sweet pink-haired girl who loves to brew tea, because while the characters all seemed stereotypical to me, that’s a stereotype I enjoy.  But as the show continued, it showed me more sides to the characters, and I grew to appreciate them each for their own individual personalities.  It’s a pretty amazing trick they pulled, actually.  This isn’t some drama with long-running storylines, the characters were fleshed out entirely through the medium of comedic bits.  They even managed to give the straight man/harem lead, Kyolo, some personality beyond “hapless target for the whims of the girls”, which you could see in the “OreMan” character he pulled out as a party trick.  That showed he was playing along with the girls because he liked them and enjoyed that particular dynamic, not because he was a hopeless spineless doormat.  Unfortunately, while the five main characters were very well-characterized for this sort of comedy, that didn’t really extend to the cast of secondary characters.  The “imouto sub-harem” was full of one-dimensional characters, and the new underclassman girl introduced midway through did not really manage even a single dimension.  Still, the main cast was great, the jokes were mostly pretty funny, and I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would.  The best new show of the season.

Minami-ke Tadaima:

Moe~

Moe~

Moe~

Moe~

The first season of Minami-ke, by Daume, is one of my all-time favorite anime.  The next two seasons, by asread, came nowhere close to living up to its greatness.  This season, by Feel, continued that unfortunate tradition. Feel went wrong in a different way than asread did, though.  The problem with asread was that they strayed too far from what made the original season so amazing, they started doing things like mixing in fanservice and adding uninteresting characters like Fuyuki.  The problem with Feel’s take on it is that they stuck too tightly to ground that had already been trodden.  Many of the jokes felt tired and unimaginative, and a few were virtually identical repeats – for example, the joke where Chiaki gets turned into a teru teru bozu, or the joke where Kana runs around trying to kiss Chiaki and she doesn’t want to be kissed.  The vegetable song wasn’t quite a full rehash of the earlier Curry Fairy song (one of the only good bits of asread’s seasons), but it was still too close for comfort.  I don’t know if the source material has run out and Feel had a hard time coming up with their own jokes, or if the repetition is in the original, but either way, it marred the experience.  I did enjoy the new content, some of it quite a lot.  In places it captures the spirit of the original well.  But there are too many places where it captures a lot more than just the spirit for me to be happy about it.  And even if the original work has run dry of content for them to adapt, that doesn’t excuse the opening theme, which was a blatant ripoff of the original’s, right down to the “M-I-N-A-M-I-K-E Let’s Go!”.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai 2 – Sasami r u even trying

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is a show that, by all indications, I should like. It’s got Shaft animation which means it’s a pleasure to look at.  The female lead is both cute and capable of independent thought.  And the two lead characters are a teacher and a hikkikomori, both professions that I can relate to to some extent. There were a few laughs of recognition scattered throughout this episode.

I could definitely empathize with the part where Sasami was getting bored and annoyed!

I could definitely empathize with the part where Sasami was getting bored and annoyed!

But the problem with this show lies in the supernatural elements.  I was worried at the end of the last episode that we wouldn’t get an explanation for what was going on when the whole world turned into chocolate, and that they’d try to string the audience along forever like Penguin Drum did. But this episode, we got an explanation, of sorts.  Apparently there are gods living inside everything in the world (the animist belief system). These gods all serve the ultimate god, Amaterasu, who happens to be instantiated in the form of Sasami’s older brother. And so, then, obviously, the explanation for the Chocolate Incident:

I'm not sure why they needed to turn the whole world into chocolate to achieve that, though.

I’m not sure why they needed to turn the whole world into chocolate to achieve that, though.

From that perspective, it becomes a little bit easier to see why Sasami might have fallen into hikkikomorism. She has a strong aversion for the outside world, but if it’s a world filled with capricious gods who’ll turn you into whatever foodstuff seems appropriate to the occasion, it might not actually be unreasonable to try to hide away in your room. (I wonder how Lot’s wife turned out, for example.) Perhaps Sasami-san is not trying, but in a world where the gods just do whatever nonsense they feel like, what’s the point in trying?  Even if you try, a god could just decide to inflict you with boils or whatever based on pure whim. (I’m looking at you, Job.) In a world as religiously active as Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, mere mortal hikkikomoris have no agency, no control over how their life goes. And so instead of trying, they will stay shut up in their rooms, with their eight different computers and their enormous collections of media, because that’s something that they can have control over.  Or at least, they can have control over it until their brother’s asshole friends come in and start smearing their greasy potato-chip hands all over everything.

But just as unpredictable divine intervention robs Sasami of her agency, it also destroys my interest in the show.  I like when events follow sensibly from one another.  I like a plot that I could in principle follow.  I like stories about people figuring out what needs to be done, and then doing it, and then not having that victory overruled by a god who happened to be feeling feisty. I think it’s instructive to look at the difference between Sasami-san@Ganbaranai and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu.  Haruhi has superficially a similar premise.  There is a foolish and erratic character with the power of the ultimate god, there is a snarky narrator who is that character’s romantic interest, and then there are three more characters who exist to try to control the damage done by the ultimate god being foolish and erratic.  But Haruhi is a great, classic anime, because fundamentally, Kyon ends up doing stuff that relates to the stuff that is happening. He kisses the girl or hits the home run or instructs Yuki to use her cheaty magic or whatever.  He’s trying, and that makes the difference between one of the best anime of all time and an anime I’m going to drop.

Sasami is cuter than Kyon though.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita has awakened me to the joys of messy hair.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita has awakened me to the joys of messy hair.

Shin Sekai Yori 15 – Liberals Liberals Liberals LIBERALS LIBERALS LIBERALS

It was clear to me from the moment the kids met the rainbow library demon that Shin Sekai Yori was a show about the Progressive Ideology taken to logical extremes – I made a post about it a few months ago.  At that point, I figured that the show was taking a stance against progressivism – “It’s saying, here is a situation, here is the progressive response to this, and here are the justifications for that response, but you can see that it has this and this and that bad effect and children are being fed to cat demons.” At some point along the way, though, I became less convinced that that was the author’s actual stance.  The threats that society faced from itself turned out to be even bigger than I had thought. I had thought they merely had to contend with a demon-haunted world, I didn’t realize that the demons were actually drawn from the ranks of society. (“No, John, you are the demons.”) At some point the danger is great enough to justify even their unironic implementation of fiftieth-trimester abortion. And the Ethics Committee seemed to be reasonably decent people, they let the kids live even though they knew all about their encounter with the rainbow library demon and they may have tried to kill Shun but Shun was obviously a clear and present danger and he wanted to die anyway so no harm no foul right? So I thought maybe the point was to stretch the progressive philosophy to its breaking point and show that it can endure.

Then episode 15 happened and it turned out I was right to begin with!

(Disclaimer: I’m going to have fun with politics in this post. I don’t necessarily agree with everything or anything I say. Despite all my rage I am still just a Good Liberal Progressive.)

Oh no! Liberals!

Oh no! Liberals!

What I had forgotten was the rat-people.  The rat-people represent the global poor, the people of developing nations, and it’s typical, isn’t it, that I would forget them?  First world liberals don’t like to think about how they can afford to spend time caring about their gun control and abortion rights issues only because there is an exploited underclass that labors in slave-like conditions to grow our crops and whatnot.  Sometimes they get imported to do the dirty work we don’t want to, like murdering all the children who seem like they might turn into demons.

This episode was all about the rat-people discovering democracy.

Squealer's become a *politician*.

Squealer’s become a *politician*.

Apparently, after the events of three years ago, the Robber Fly colony was starting to rebuild, but their queen was standing In The Way Of Progress.  So the rat-people of the Robber Fly colony rose up against their queen in the name of democracy and equal rights for all rat-people.  Which sounds good right, as a good progressive you hear the word “democracy” and you cheer, except that the rat-people species is one where there is one queen per colony and she births all the rat-people.  It’s like the idea of a beehive rising up and sending its queen to the guillotine – the hive can’t live without her.  So their solution was to lobotomize her and remove her power, reducing her to a baby-making figurehead.

Incidentally, isn’t it sort of cute how they play two progressive ideals against each other there? Do you support Democracy instead of Monarchy, or do you support Women’s Control Of Their Own Reproduction?

Anyway, now the Robber Fly colony has become a revolutionary republic, and like any good revolutionary republic it is spreading its revolutionary ideals far and wide, taking the queens of other colonies and lobotomizing them as well. They seem to be using Saki and Samoru’s appearance as an opportunity to go even further, battering down the defenses of those who would stubbornly retain their old outdated monarchist system.  Saki and Satoru are not very comfortable with this.  It sort of reminds me of the Arab Spring revolts that brought Mubarak out of power, and how people were wringing their hands worried that with Mubarak out of power an Islamist would be elected. Democracy is all well and good, after all, but what if the people choose the wrong things?

SSY4

ssy3

(The chronological order of these statements has been reversed to make the blatant hypocrisy more apparent.)

The first-world progressives are terrified by the rat-people implementing the democracy they supposedly hold dear.  When they hear that Squealer learned about democracy from a book, they immediately get suspicious of him, and take the fact that the rat-people are building structures out of concrete as evidence that they have some illicit source of information, like a rainbow library demon or a traitor human. Like hilarious liberals, they also get concerned that the rat-people might become consumerist:

You have earth-shattering psychic powers, and you can't let them have a little concrete?

You have earth-shattering psychic powers, and you can’t let them have a little concrete?

It sort of reminds me of the American left wringing its hands over the contribution to climate change that Chinese industrialization was going to make, while they enjoyed a standard of living an order of magnitude wealthier than the Chinese which had originally been built on America’s own gluttonous consumption of fossil fuels. Of course, the fact that the rat-people are a different species while the Chinese aren’t makes blatant racism a little easier to use as an excuse for oppressing them.  You wouldn’t hear a good liberal say the Chinese are “just animals, they don’t have feelings like us” if they thought anyone was listening.

Maybe I’m overthinking this?  I haven’t even started comparing the kids getting dragged into the rat-people’s wars to the Libyan intervention, or comparing the power of Cantus to the power of a Predator drone. Maybe I should just lie back and ship Saki x Satoru.

If you were really good progressives you would kiss.  I'm just sayin'.

If you were really good progressives you would kiss. I’m just sayin’.

Threshing Winter 2013

From Wikipedia: “Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain.” You can’t winnow the wheat from the chaff based on just one episode, or you risk missing out on shows like Tatami Galaxy and Shiki. But you can at least get some idea. Below are some ideas, sorted in increasing order of how much potential the show seems to have based on the first episode. (Translations of show titles are my own amateur efforts and may be wildly inaccurate.)

9: Amnesia

Because that would make things too easy.

Because that would make things too easy.

His eyes are pokeballs.

His eyes are pokeballs.

A girl has lost her memory due to magic and must try to recover it by interacting with the people she used to know. The girl has no agency. She doesn’t have enough information to make good decisions so she just wanders around hoping other people will tell her what to do.  Her dialogue consists of “thank you” and “sorry” repeated over and over again, and on those rare occasions when she does deviate from that script, it’s because of a magical fairy only she can see telling her what to say. She’s not a person, she’s a horrible sucking void of personality. I feel like I’ll never be able to call another spineless harem lead “bland” again, because even the worst spineless harem lead is a kaleidoscope of interesting facets compared to this girl. What the hell.  It was painful trying to make it through 23 minutes of this, I should have heeded my instincts and stayed away.

8. Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT (I Don’t Have Enough Friends NEXT)

Let's all be pals and nobody torment anybody ;_;

Let’s all be pals and nobody torment anybody ;_;

Geez, I've heard of dense harem protagonists, but this is ridiculous!

Geez, I’ve heard of dense harem protagonists, but this is ridiculous!

The second season of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. I guess I’m just sick of people being horrible to each other and calling it comedy.  For the first season I kind of found it appealing that they made their friendless characters realistically unpleasant, but by now the charm has worn off.  I don’t want to go through another season of Yozora bullying Sena, Sena molesting Kobato, and Kodaka turning an uncaring eye to the whole business.  And now Yozora has short hair, which doesn’t look as good as her previous hairstyle. There’s gotta be something better I could be doing with my time.

7: Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru (My Girlfriend and Childhood Friend Are Fighting It Out):

Yeah, I've heard good things.

Yeah, I’ve heard good things.

I dunno, I've heard good things.

I dunno, I’ve heard good things.

A girl who is uninterested in romance blackmails a guy who is uninterested in romance into a sham romance to fool potential suitors. It’s a mildly interesting premise I guess, a sham romance is a nice literary device for exploring the extent to which all romance is a sham, and indeed, the extent to which the entirety of our modern society is a sham. But the jokes weren’t funny, and I’ve had my fill of people being blackmailed with their chuunibyou history in last season’s Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai.  And there’s something weird about the art style, like it’s really overexposed and washed out.  There’s too much white, not enough color in the art, and it’s hard to look at. It’s possible that this first episode was just setup and the show will start coming into its own once the girlfriend and the childhood friend actually start fighting it out, but meh.

6: Mondai-ji Tachi ga Isekai Kara Kurusou Desu Yo (It Seems Like Problem Children Come From An Alternate Universe)

What a charming protagonist.

What a charming protagonist.

If I don't get to become a magical girl I'm not interested.

If I don’t get to become a magical girl I’m not interested.

Three youths with strange powers are transported to a strange realm to participate in strange gambles. This is the sort of show that always looks vaguely interesting from the start, but as you continue watching it it becomes clear that there’s really nothing there. (See also: C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control.) There were some funny comic relief bits, and the ojou-sama character’s design sort of reminds me of an off-brand Tohsaka Rin, but I’m not sure that’s enough to overcome the generic tournament battle setting.  Maybe if the bunnygirl’s hair were pink all the time, instead of only when she transforms.  Maybe if the terms of the gambles were a little more locked down instead of just being “bet whatever you want”.  Maybe if they came out and told us what the bunnygirl’s big secret is, rather than just alluding to the possibility that she has one.  I just need some reason to have hope, and I didn’t find one in the first episode.

5: Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (Sasami Isn’t Trying)

This is just a plain depiction of the days of the lives of the three Minami sisters.

This is just a plain depiction of the days of the lives of the three Minami sisters.

Don't taunt Chocolate-thulhu.

Don’t taunt Chocolate-thulhu.

A hikikomori high school girl is waited on hand and foot by her teacher older brother, and then for some reason the whole world turns into chocolate? I really have no idea what to make of this show.  It seemed like it was an interesting  if slow-paced comedy about a girl hikkikomori and her older brother who spoils her too much, with the usual Shaft wackiness thrown in (like the fact that the older brother always has an object hiding his face when he appears).  But then suddenly things shifted gears and there were three magical sisters battling a chocolate demon by firing titty missiles? That goes beyond the usual Shaft wackiness and into the realm of downright incomprehensibility.  I don’t like downright incomprehensibility in my anime. Maybe they’ll explain themselves in episode 2, and everything will be ok. If not, it won’t.

4: Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (Maoyuu Demon KingHero)

Who isn't, these days?

Who isn’t, these days?

If I don’t get to become a magical girl I’m not interested.

The hero goes to face the Demon King, only to discover that she is a woman and would rather propose a collaboration than fight. Lots of people talking about geopolitics in this episode, so that’s cool.  I’m not sure I understand their economic model, though.  How is the war helping the economy, isn’t the economic output that goes to sustaining the war basically just wasted? I know that back then people still basically thought of wealth as a function of land, but she was talking about how the war reduced unemployment, and boosted exports for the Central Kingdoms, and I can’t help but think that the Central Kingdoms would be doing even better if they weren’t giving away all their wealth to help support the fight against the demons. So I’m worried that the show might not get the economics right. But the other major theme, the idea of what it means to be a hero, seems on more solid ground.  Being a hero means doing what’s good for the world, not killing Demon Lords. Except… didn’t the Demon Lord provide an argument that the war was good for the world?  So why should he stop it?  Won’t everyone starve then or something?  I’m hoping things will be explained better in the coming episodes, because I do like the style here, but I’m worried that the substance is not as meaningful as it’s trying to pretend.

3: GJ-bu (Good Job Club)

If you outlaw kisses only outlaws will get kisses ;_;

If you outlaw kisses only outlaws will get kisses ;_;

Pink!

Pink!

People in an after-school club interact. Pretty much a textbook school club slice of life comedy. The basic framework is there, you’ve got a club that doesn’t do much of anything, with a guy and then some girls.  You’ve got your tiny fiesty tsundere, your sweet feminine girl with pink hair, your cool genius girl with a dry sense of humor, and then a wildcard, which in this case seems to be a half-feral girl who only wants to eat meat. They’ve executed on the framework with craftsmanship but not much inspiration.  But that’s ok!  It’s a good framework, so all you really need is cute artwork, good pacing, and decent jokes, and you’ll have something I’ll be happy to watch.  GJ-bu met all those standards in the first episode.

2: Minami-ke Tadaima (Minami Family Right Away)

Don't look so sad about the only reason society doesn't totally rip itself apart with warfare.

Don’t look so sad about the only reason society doesn’t totally rip itself apart with warfare.

Don't look so happy about ripping society apart with warfare!

Don’t look so happy about ripping society apart with warfare!

The fourth season of Minami-ke.  OK, I laughed a fair bit watching this.  Maybe not as good as the sublime awesomeness of the first season, but Chiaki still overthinks things in a childish way, Kana still pulls everyone around her into her crazy notions, and Haruka still takes responsibility for her younger sisters who are sometimes sort of a handful. The secondary characters were mostly absent from this episode, so it remains to be seen if they will do justice to my favorites Mako-chan and Housaka, but so far they’re doing better than seasons two and three at putting forth a charming picture of the everyday life of the Minami sisters.

1: Kotoura-san

Whoops, someone accidentally labeled Higurashi no Naku Koro ni as a comedy!

Whoops, someone accidentally labeled Higurashi no Naku Koro ni as a comedy!

Have you considered a life of lies and hypocrisy?

Have you considered a life of lies and hypocrisy?

A girl with the power to read minds upsets the people around her who would rather not have their thoughts made public. Well, this show sort of made me want to kill myself, but apart from that it was real good. The first half of the episode was relentlessly bleak. Kotoura’s ability to pierce the intricate web of hypocrisies we call society shattered her family, drove away all her friends, and eventually broke her down to the point where she shunned human contact because she was tired of hurting people with the truth and having them respond by hurting her in return. It has been said that in an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act, and what tends to happen to revolutionaries is that they are caught and hanged as traitors. So that was pretty horrible. Then in the second half she met someone who didn’t automatically take honesty as a slap in the face, and we actually got some funny jokes! As though this show were supposed to be a comedy or something! Anyway Kotoura makes me sad to watch, but it’s well-written and well-paced. The animation isn’t so great, but at least Kotoura has gradient hair.  And I have hope that now that the Tragic Backstory is out of the way there will be more jokes and less existential horror. At least this way it won’t sneak up on me out of nowhere like it did in Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai.

All in all, this looks pretty decent for a winter season.  Three good shows and a couple more that I can still hold out hope for.  Plus I’m still watching Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass from Fall, so that’s plenty to keep me busy and provide grist for the blog.