Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Shakugan no Shana (review)

Final impression – a triumphant beginning (10/10)

Autumn 2005 to winter 2006 (24 episodes + 1 OVA) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)

High school has started and Yuji Sakai is already making the most of his youth.  But on his way home one day he steps into a sealed zone that is separated from the normal flow of time.  In here, he is attacked by monsters intent on devouring this strange human who can move within their trap.  But at the last second he is saved by a beautiful girl with flaming red hair; easily overpowering his attackers.  But despite protecting him from the monsters, it turns out Yuji Sakai is already dead.  His existence was eaten by a denizen of the Crimson World some time ago and all that remains of him is a tiny spark that will soon burn out.  He decides to spend his last few days before he disappears in the company of his savior, aiding her in any way that he can before he is gone without a trace.  However, a fortunate turn of events may give him an unexpected reprieve from oblivion.

Shakugan no Shana is a spectacular story.  It starts with the initial, horrifying concept of the enemies of humanity consuming people’s very existence as energy, leaving nothing behind to remember them by.  It’s a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that is dramatically mitigated by Yuji’s ability to keep a positive attitude about the whole situation.  He never despairs and is always thinking about how he can best make use of his limited potential.  It’s a testament to the tremendous strength of character people can exhibit when cornered by the most trying circumstances.  The series expands on its intellectual, action-filled beginning and moves into a more romantic theme as the steely Shana realizes that she’s not an emotionless killing machine and her feelings for Yuji go beyond mere camaraderie.  Even the final battle is more than it superficially appears to be because the plot never misses a chance to include a thought-provoking discussion about the characters’ inner motives.  And then to top of the amazing writing is the gorgeous art style of Ito Noizi and excellent music courtesy of Mami Kawada, KOTOKO and several other bands and singers who knew just the right style to set the mood for this epic series.  In short, the first season of Shakugan no Shana struck a perfect balance between fighting, philosophy, artistic tone and romance to create an amazingly profound first season.

Another (review)

Final impression – slightly inconsistent horror (7/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes)

After his father goes on a long business trip to India, Kouichi Sakakibara suffers a collapsed lung and moves to the countryside village of Yomiyama to live with his Aunt and grandparents.  While recovering in the hospital, he encounters a mysterious girl wearing an eye patch who is walking to the morgue to deliver a doll.  He’s unsure what to make of this strange occurrence until he meets the girl again in his class at junior high school and inexplicably, he seems to be the only person who acknowledges her existence.  As it turns out, her name is Mei Misaki and she has an important role in preventing a horrifically deadly curse from befalling the class.

Another could have been a much better horror / mystery anime if it had managed to keep a more consistent tone.  Instead it allows itself to stumble into the pitfalls of appealing to the viewers in completely unacceptable ways.  Most notable is the very misplaced swimsuit episode that makes it impossible to take the series seriously afterwards.  But for all it does wrong, Another is a very good horror anime.  You’re always kept on your toes with its consistent pacing and it gives just enough information to answer the questions of the previous episode while providing enough new content to keep you invested in the next episode.  It may be a simple formula, but its tried and true effectiveness is not to be undersold.  The character of Mei Misaki was perfect for providing a suitable amount of misdirection to keep you guessing about her role in the story and Kouichi’s levelheadedness in the face of all the darkness around him is a beacon of hope and sanity in the frenzied chaos.  And while the series is far from perfect, the ending gives a satisfying conclusion when you realize the hints were there all along.

Black★Rock Shooter (review)

Final impression – not a second wasted (10/10)

Winter 2012 (8 episodes) (TV series)

It’s the first day of junior high school and Mato Kuroi decides she’s going to be friends with the gloomy girl who has a funny name, Yomi Takanashi.  The two soon discover they have a shared love of a children’s storybook and it looks like they’re going to get along great.  But when Yomi’s spoiled, childhood friend Kagari butts in to push them apart, Mato isn’t going to just give up accept this bleak turn of events.  She makes it her mission to liberate Yomi from Kagari’s possessive personality.  But doing so will have greater consequences than she knows.  In another world, the girls’ voiceless souls are fighting their own, very real battle with life and death on the line.  And when the results of their battles become reflected in the real world, it’s going to change the course of their lives in ways they cannot possibly anticipate.

Quality in writing is often not about a story’s content, but about how well that story is told.  Sometimes the best plot is the simplest and Black Rock Shooter tells a fabulously creative adventure about the subtleties of relationships and how the most well-meaning intentions can have unexpected, unintended consequences.  It’s a wonderful metaphor about allowing ourselves to be close enough to our friends that we can fight with them honestly and without inhibitions.  We must accept that we occasionally hurt people and that we are hurt by others; how we deal with that pain shapes our character and the ultimate fate of our relationships.  Balancing this emotional drama between real people and their actions mirrored by their duplicate selves locked in gallant combat is a poetic dichotomy flooded deeply with incredible metaphors.  Kana Hanazawa is perfect in her role as Mato Kuroi, depicting her exceptional personality and growth from naivety to strong, determined young woman.  But what’s most amazing about Black Rock Shooter is that it probably would never have existed if it wasn’t for the Vocaloid song by the same name, popularized by casual anime fans who wanted to know the story behind the music.  For something so spectacular to come out of simple fandom and not from a novel, manga or video game is truly remarkable.

Guilty Crown (review)

Final impression – pretty but unpolished (6/10)

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (22 episodes)

In 2029 an outbreak of a mysterious disease known as the Apocalypse Virus hit Tokyo causing cancerous crystals to emerge from people’s bodies, reducing them to dust that blew away in the wind.  Now it’s 2039 and much of Japan’s policies are under the control of the GHQ—an organization devoted to researching and preventing another pandemic.  However, under the guise of public safety, the GHQ restricts the freedom of the Japanese people, which naturally makes them rather unpopular.  To counter this stifling new branch of government that sometimes descends into spontaneous martial law, the terrorist group Undertaker seeks to liberate Japan using covert, guerrilla tactics.  Shu Ouma is just an average high school student living in Tokyo who laments the current state of affairs and feels there’s nothing he can do to change things.  But he gets thrust into the heart of the conflict when his path crosses with the indie singer, Inori Yuzuriha.  On the run from the GHQ, she entrusts him with delivering a stolen package to Undertaker.  But an accident along the way imbues him with the power to change the course of fate.

Guilty Crown is very beautiful both in its crisp drawing style and harmonious music, which create a terrific setting with awesome potential.  This optimism further gets bolstered by the growth of Shu’s character as he goes through a transition of ordinary to mighty, then misguided and finally culminating in noble selflessness.  The flow of his personality follows an organic development that is as natural as it is elegant.  But looking past the artfulness and the excellent character development of Guilty Crown, the writing of this anime is thick and muddy.  As much as it wants to be epic and tell an amazing story of realizing your own weakness and overcoming your preconceived limits, it fails to accomplish this goal eloquently.  Whether it’s relying on misplaced tropes like a swimsuit episode, contrived plot points such as reviving a character who was supposed to be dead or some overused quasi-romantic sort of martyrdom, there’s plenty of wasted potential.  To its credit, Guilty Crown never goes so far as to allow its clumsier episodes to break up the flow of the plot.  But some of the characters’ motives are so unreasonable that it feels like they’re puppets of the writer rather than real people with free will and personalities.  So while Guilty Crown is easy on the eyes and ears, its story is frustratingly forced and rushes to finish in its shorter-than-average run.

Anime of the Week (3/18 – 3/24)

Anime of the Week – Black★Rock Shooter
Ever since it debuted halfway through the winter 2012 season, this series has been far and beyond the best in so many ways.
March 18 Nisemonogatari Ep. 11 This series always performs well when it focuses on its strong point. Its intellectual dialogue is always awesome.
Zero F Ep. 11 If your loved one sent you away to protect you, would you honor their protective wishes or do everything you could to return?
March 19 Mirai Nikki Ep. 22 This was a brutal episode. But all these cliffhangers and mysteries are starting to annoy me. Are they really necessary?
Rinne Ep. 11 Sure enough, Madoka went berserk in Vox Aura. But I’m confused. When a pilot loses control don’t bad things usually happen?
March 20 Another Ep. 11 It seems we’ve reached the breaking point of sanity. How will this curse be brought to an end and what will be the cost?
Shana III Ep. 23 In some ways the battle is over and in other ways this is just a minor change in the status quo, but it was most elegant.
Ano Natsu Ep. 11 Seriously!! Just who is Remon? Things are getting a little ridiculous, but it’s still a lot of fun so I’m not too annoyed.
March 23 Guilty Crown Ep. 22 Talk about crunch time. A pretty series with an interesting concept falls flat with a rushed and empty ending. =(
March 24 BRS Ep. 8 The winding path this series takes belies its actual simplicity. Telling such a straightforward story so beautifully is amazing.
Persona 4 Ep. 24 Ah… all the secrets are getting revealed. I really love this part since all the subtle clues were there all along.
Amagami+ Ep. 12 It seems the Morishima family is full of bad girls. After jumping through all those hoops I’m glad he got the good ending.

*You could have read these tweets in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.

Ookami Kakushi (review)

Final impression – good atmosphere around a passable story (6/10)

Winter 2010 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Wolfed Away)

Hiroshi’s father, an author of folklore and occult novels, has decided to move the family to the remote, countryside village of Jogamachi. His friendly attitude and city-boy personality allow Hiroshi to quickly make friends with his classmates.  But the one thing he never really becomes accustomed to the unusual traditions of this backwater town.  It becomes increasingly suspicious for Hiroshi when the dreary Nemuru, his classroom representative (daughter of the town’s oldest, traditional family) tells him to stay away from the old side of town across the river. But the apprehension really kicks in when people suddenly start leaving Jogamachi and the flimsy explanations for their quick departures just don’t make sense.

Ookami Kakushi’s most distinctive feature is its original drawing style that feels suave and matches perfectly with the fog of mystery that surrounds the story.  The writing is pretty good, too—pacing out just the right amount of information to feed your appetite, while managing to keep you hungry for more.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t leave much of an impact when it’s over.  Without spoiling too much, it’s a fairly standard “spirited away,” scenario that gets much less intriguing when the big surprise is that the circumstances are only superficially supernatural.  All in all, it’s a good show that gets you to feel for the characters and manages its allotments of suspense with skillful timing.  Certainly not for people who don’t care for slow, moody anime, Ookami Kakushi is a fine example of well-composed atmospheric pacing.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai (review)

Final impression – prone to hyperbole, but respectably expressive (8/10)

Autumn 2010 (12 episodes + 3 OVAs) (title literal translation – My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute)

Kyousuke Kousaka finds an anime DVD case lying around the house one day and is surprised to find an h-game disc inside.  Nobody in his family matches the image of the sort of person who would own this item.  Intent on discovering its owner, Kousaka brings up the topic of anime during dinner where his parents firmly rebuke the idea of anyone in their household watching anime.  But this elicits a very different reaction from his little sister Kirino whose shocked expression is enough to set off alarm bells for his suspicions.  Later that night, she confronts him and reveals her secret that she’s a closet otaku (and a pretty hardcore one at that).  Surprised at this frank honesty, Kousaka doesn’t try to belittle his sister for her unusual tastes. Instead, he begins to encourage her to be more honest and to pursue a happiness she had been unable to attain by hiding her true self.

Ore no Imouto tries to be a social discourse about the acceptance of otaku in today’s culture, but ultimately does a poor job by representing otaku as their stereotypes rather than real people.  Not all otaku play h-games.  Not all otaku cosplay on a daily basis in full view of the general public.  Not all otaku dress like creepy shut-ins who fear light and fresh air.  It probably wouldn’t have made for a good story, but most people who watch anime are not as passionate as Kirino, Kuroneko or Saori.  The fact that Oreimo depicts otaku coming from a variety of very unassuming backgrounds (including fashion models, ordinary high school students and upper-class) does do some good in legitimizing the culture and showing that it’s not limited to just one particular unsocial group.  What’s most telling about this anime is not the kinds of people otaku might be, but how the self-loathing of some can lead to the idea that it’s impossible for friends and loved ones to accept them for who they really are.  But none of this should be taken to mean that Oreimo is a failure—far from it.  It may have a few issues, but it’s funny, ironic and deals with the problems that some otaku face when their hobby is discovered by people they didn’t want finding out.

Nisemonogatari (review)

Final impression – satisfyingly philosophical (8/10)

Winter 2012 (11 episodes) (title literal translation – Impostor’s Story)

A short time after the events of Bakemonogatari, Koyomi Araragi’s life is beginning to return to normalcy.  He’s studying hard for college entrance exams, playing games with friends in his free time, trying to impress his overbearing girlfriend and being a generally annoying, but loving brother for his two younger sisters, Karen (火憐) and Tsukihi (月火). But things are not going so smoothly at the junior high where his sisters go to school.  Calling themselves the Fire Sisters because their names both contain the kanji for fire (火) they’ve made it their personal vendetta to find out who has been spreading curses and rumors among their classmates.  But ultimately, it’s going to be Koyomi who will have to make sure their mission of justice isn’t something that is beyond their capabilities.

First off, don’t watch Nisemonogatari without first watching Bakemonogatari.  The masterpiece’s sequel includes little refresh time to get new viewers up to speed and there’s a few points where you’re going to be lost if you just jump right in.  Second, while it follows the gorgeous, intellectual writing style of its parent series, the pacing is not as good as the original.  Where Bakemonogatari was focused and Koyomi was always on a mission to help someone, Nisemonogatari is more of a fluid, slice of life story.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a very different tone.  But one of the less understandable attributes of the sequel is the degree to which it was touted as the adventures of Karen and Tsukihi and how little emphasis is given to them.  All in all, it feels more like an epilogue than a sequel because there’s never a big climax to accentuate the plot and in some ways that’s a very refreshing way to compose a follow-up series.  So while Nisemonogatari may not be quite as powerful as its source material, it’s a nice follow-up companion that will satisfy fans of the original series.

Bakemonogatari (review)

Final impression – a magnificent, philosophical escapade (10/10)

Summer 2009 to spring 2010 (15 episodes) (title literal translation – Monster Story, English synonym – Ghostory)

During spring break of his final year of high school, Koyomi Araragi had an encounter with a vampire. Fortunately, he was able to mostly restore his humanity through the aid of the supernatural specialist Meme Oshino, who was able to intervene before things got worse.  As part of a way of thanking the man who saved him from becoming a vampire himself, Koyomi has begun helping people he encounters rid themselves of their unnatural afflictions.  And it’s a good thing he retains some of his vampiric traits, because most curses are not willing to go down quietly.

Bakemonogatari is an amazing masterpiece of wordplay.  I’ll come right out and say that if you don’t like dialogue-heavy anime you’re not going to enjoy this series because its strongest attribute is the way it twists language and and plays with our perceptions of humanity.  But if you revel in the intellectual—the sociological—then you’re going to have a hard time finding anything better than this.  And the awesomeness doesn’t stop with its writing.  It has a great cast of voice actors including Kana Hanazawa and Yui Horie who are masters of their craft and depict their characters’ personalities perfectly down to every nuance.  Then, if you thought my praise was over, the music is absolutely spectacular with a fresh opening theme for each of the female protagonists, sung beautifully by their skilled voice actresses.  Dealing with such topics as love, hopelessness, responsibility, desire and lust, Bakemonogatari is passionate and insightful.  If you let yourself get caught up in its pace, your blood will start to boil with the brilliant energy radiated by this incredible anime.

Anime of the Week (3/11 – 3/17)

Anime of the Week – Black★Rock Shooter
This series has been fantastic; touching on intellectual insights and covering the difficult intricacies of relationships, all while creatively slipping in some epic fight scenes. But now that Mato has to face herself, what will the ending yield?
March 11 Persona 4 Ep. 22 How will the anime address the video game’s bad ending? Will there be a new spin or will it just cut right to the good end?
Nisemonogatari Ep. 10 As this series winds down, it’s turning away from the intellectual tone that made Bakemonogatari so philosophical.
Zero F Ep. 10 The current plot point serves no other purpose than to put Louise and Saito’s love in jeopardy, which makes it feel hollow.
March 12 Rinne Ep. 10 More team building followed by a threat of war and losing something precious as well. But what’s at stake is still unknown.
Mirai Nikki Ep. 21 This was such a satisfying episode that was well worth the wait. But, why do new mysteries suddenly keep appearing?
March 13 Another Ep. 10 When desperate people get cornered, there’s no telling what they’ll do. What will be the result of their hasty conclusions?
March 14 Ano Natsu Ep. 10 Things feel like they’re wrapping up nicely. A little love and a little heartbreak leads into this anime’s last segment.
Shana III Ep. 22 What tricks does Yuji have to pull this turn of events back in his favor? Will his last resort be venting his frustration?
March 16 Guilty Crown Ep. 21 As the story winds down, everyone puts their faith in Shu while he honors their trust by praising their humanity.
BRS Ep. 7 Things are really starting to move. How will Mato resolve her fight with Yuu? And how will Yomi play a role in wrapping things up?
March 17 Amagami+ Ep. 11 Haruka is such a bad girl. The way that Junichi plays along with her silly, often frightening antics is hilarious to watch.
Persona 4 Ep. 23 Now that the mysteries are getting solved, I’m suddenly getting a desire to replay the last few battles of the video game.

*You could have read these tweets in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.

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