Tag Archives: 2011
Final impression – play the game first (7/10)
Fall 2011 to winter 2012 (25 episodes)
Yuu Narukami is a city boy, who for various circumstances at home, ends up moving out to the countryside to live with his uncle and little cousin. But being a naturally suave and likeable guy, he’s quickly able to shake off the aura of being a transfer student and makes some friends. But when the tiny town of Inaba he finds himself in is rocked by a series of bizarre murders, he gets caught up in a creepy cold case where the victims are seen on a mysterious TV program called the Midnight Channel that airs on foggy nights when you have your TV turned off. In the face of such unbelievable circumstances, Yuu and his friends become the only ones capable of rescuing the victims by diving into the television and fighting the bloodthirsty monsters that live there using a manifestation of their psyches called Persona.
Writing an objective review on P4 was difficult for me since I’ve played the game it’s based on. This isn’t the same as reading the manga that serves as the source material for an anime since both of those media are non-interactive. Video games on the other hand are and being put in the position of having no influence on the characters’ decisions or the pace of the story was a little unsettling. I wonder if many other people feel this way about adaptations of video games that aren’t a loose reinterpretation of a concept, but instead a faithful retelling of the same story.
That being said, P4: The Animation recreates the events of the game as closely as is possible, with a few changes made that were probably necessary for the transition to TV. This includes obvious things like completing a side character’s story in a single episode rather than the game’s slower progression that might be spaced out over the course of the entire play time (or even not completed at all if the player neglects that particular social link). But one thing that always disappointed me about P4: The Animation was the fight scenes. The game is something of a visual novel built around the framework of a really solid RPG. That setup should have been a natural cue that the anime ought to be an action / drama. And while the drama does well, the action is dry and has an air of inevitability to it that never feels the slightest bit suspenseful.
All in all, it makes me sad because, because I loved the game and my hopes were high that the anime would live up to that same level of quality. If nothing else, the soundtrack for the P4 anime is even more amazing than the game and includes all of the original music in addition to new and expanded tracks with terrifically-written English lyrics that really gets me fired up. In the end, Persona 4: The Animation is a supplemental anime for fans of the game, but still a very solid series.
Fall 2011 and spring 2012 (25 episodes)
I think by now I’ve started to solidify my status as the alternative opinion among anime bloggers, but this review of Fate/Zero may be my most controversial so far. Voicing my opinion at critical times like this is a big part of the reason I started this blog in the first place. I’ve prepared for this by writing at length and in detail the points of contention I have with this series. Here we go.
Kiritsugu Emiya is a magus who has seen far too much suffering and injustice in the world. He dreams of being the hero who can rid the world of war and violence and he believes he has found a way to do it. By entering the Holy Grail War he can pit his skills as a modern assassin against six other magi who are also pursuing the holy relic that can grant the wish of the person who obtains it. To do this, he must ally himself with a heroic spirit that will fight by his side and share his victory (as must the other participants in this survival game). With the intention of summoning the spirit of the greatest avatar of justice, King Arthur, Kiritsugu throws his hat into the ring. But the person who heeds his summons isn’t what he expected.
Inevitably, Fate/Zero has to be compared to Fate/Stay Night since this is a canonical prequel to that story. And I’m going to be very clear and say that I did not have the same experience with Zero as many other people seem to have had. The only thing I can see that Zero has going for it is its production values. Everything else was done much better in Stay Night.
One of my biggest complaints is that the battles are poorly conceived. Nearly every fight always comes down to some sort of matching of wills pushing towards whoever can level up more, meaning every battle was always a forgone conclusion, possessing nothing dynamic. Let me compare the action in Fate/Zero to two other recent action series that actually know how to make a fight scene exciting—Shakugan no Shana III and Accel World. Both of these series understand how to deliver suspense by including strategy that is accomplished either via exploiting weaknesses in the enemy’s plans, or psychological attacks to demoralize the opponent into just giving up. This kind of intellectual action sequence doesn’t need flashy spectacle to keep your attention because you’re too caught up in the twists of the progression of events to get bored.
There’s two points in this series that solidified for me that the majority of this anime does nothing more than pander to the fans. The first is in the episode devoted entirely to young Rin that feels completely out of place and ultimately goes absolutely nowhere. I know Rin is well-liked, but that’s not a good enough reason to just toss her into a filler episode because you know it’ll make people happy. If you absolutely must do something like that, put it in a bonus episode tucked away on the DVD where it won’t clutter up the main story.
The second point is near the end of the series when Saber chases Rider while riding a motorcycle that she magically enhances to catch up with him. All I could do during that scene was shake my head and say, “isn’t that something that should have been Rider’s domain?” There are way too many liberties with what constitutes flavorful powers that needed to be unique to each class. Otherwise why bother even having them if you’re just going to make the characters’ skills ultimately all up for grabs depending on whatever will tickle the fans? These beautiful, but empty shenanigans and complete lack of pace that dominate much of the second half could have easily been substituted with watching Saber jump hurtles and taking breaks every once in a while to shoot her sword lasers and miss.
In the absence of Ryuunosuke and Caster, the only two good episodes in Zero are the flashbacks to when Kiritsugu was a child. Here we are treated to a spectacularly dramatic…or maybe traumatic…procession of unfortunate dilemmas where Kiritsugu must choose between those he loves and respects, or protecting innocent strangers who could never comprehend the danger that he averted or the sacrifice he made to keep them safe.
And as hard as it is to accept (I actually caught myself getting a little choked up) there’s really no room for debate that given the circumstances he made the best decision he possibly could, which serves to only sharpen the pain. To have Kiritsugu back away from this investment at the final moment, feels completely out of character and devalues everything he had worked for. Not to mention that you don’t have to watch more than two episodes of Stay Night to see that several key events in the last episode of Zero don’t match. There’s just no excuse for this kind of oversight from a company that’s in the business of writing stories. Swiss cheese that’s been blasted with a shotgun has fewer holes in it than Fate/Zero’s conclusion. Frankly, it’s just disgusting.
To think that Gen Urobachi wrote both the incredible, gritty epic that is Madoka Magica and the teaspoon shallow, sparkling flop that is Fate/Zero is a sad state of affairs. I would never have guessed these two series to have been written by the same person. I’m going to throw at least some of the blame on Type-Moon for probably restricting his creativity to follow whatever happened in the visual novel this series took its source from.
All things considered, the heavily weighted majority of Fate/Zero is nothing more than a string of uninvested deepities punctuated by some very nice-looking, substanceless spectacle. Unless you’re the kind of person who gets easily distracted by shiny objects, stick with Fate/Stay Night and don’t ruin your experience with this spoiled, vacuous prequel. Probably the most I’ve ever been disappointed by an anime.
Impression – finely tuned and sagacious (9/10)
Summer 2011 to fall 2011 (25 episodes + 3 OVAs)
Usually I start my reviews with a plot summary of the first episode or two to give a general impression of the story, but I can’t do that for Amagami SS. This series is a real revolution for the standard formula for harem/romance/dating genre of anime. Instead of following the girls’ individual stories through the series organically (which usually just makes the protagonist look like a playboy) Amagami gives each girl four episodes to tell their story with the main character before wrapping things up and moving on to the next girl without a shred of continuity between the two.
It’s really refreshing to see an anime deviate from the default storytelling method for romance series and try something new. And the best part is that it’s awesome. It’s hard to believe that nobody thought of this idea sooner, but this formula is just enough time to get to know the characters, introduce a conflict and resolve said conflict in a very tight space of time that allows for absolutely no waste.
The cast is your usual harem mix—the hard-nosed class rep, the whimsical upperclassman, the tomboy, the airhead, the shy girl and the athlete—but they all have enough unique traits to keep them fresh and nonstereotypical. If it seems like I’m having trouble giving this title an adequately in-depth review it’s because there’s so many unconnected plotlines in this series that I couldn’t hope to discuss them at length without just giving away the whole story because everything is so concise.
I can definitely say that this is a series for people who like romance anime and are looking for something different that sets itself apart from the masses and Amagami definitely fits that bill. But I also think this series could impress people who usually stay away from harem anime because the quality of the writing in Amagami really hits home with how effectual it is at getting the point across in so little time.
Impression – an ideal, if somewhat inflexible sequel (7/10)
Winter 2012 (13 episodes)
Probably the biggest failing of Amagami Plus is that it will have absolutely no chance of pulling in new viewers for this franchise. Just like season 1, the writing is short and to the point without an inch of dead time—which of course means there can be no chance for a recap to get fresh eyes up to speed with the stories already in progress. This basically dooms it to being a nice little bonus package for people who enjoyed the first season, though the necessity of some of this extra content is sometimes questionable.
With only 13 episodes this time around, each girl only gets 2 episodes to squeeze in a little epilogue (plus a bonus episode for Junichi’s sister, Miya). They all have their own charm and fit nicely onto the end of their previous plotlines. While I was somewhat neutral on why we needed more screen time for Tsukasa, Haruka and Ai, I think Kaoru’s extra content actually stagnated her story from where it left off in the main anime. The two girls that I felt actually needed expanding on were Sanae and Rihoko and Amagami Plus did a great job continuing and finishing the romance that Junichi started in season 1.
Amagami is easily one of the sharpest anime I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The music is really good too, with the opening setting a wonderfully cheerful mood and the ending themes done by the voice actresses in the themes of their respective characters. Essentially free of any ecchi or fanservice to speak of, this is a strong, confident, romance franchise that knows how to handle itself.
Fall 2011 to winter 2012 (24 episodes) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)
After Yuji recovered Reiji Maigo from Bal Masque he, Shana and Kazumi resumed their Christmas Eve. It was to be Yuji’s responsibility to choose between the two girls in order to settle their rivalry in romance once and for all. But something happened that neither of his wooing ladies expected. Yuji just disappeared. It was as if his existence as a torch had been snuffed out as all of his possessions and remnants of him through the memories of others simply vanished. But Shana sensed that he still existed…somewhere. So they had no choice but to resume their lives as best they could and wait for his return.
For all of you who were put off by Shana II much more than I was, let me start by saying that Shana III is undeniably better. Gone is the love triangle between Yuji, Shana and Kazumi…as well as pretty much everything else to do with school life in general. It’s back to the much more action-packed style we saw in the first season that favors story progression. Please do try to ignore the first three or so recap episodes that start Shana III in a pitiful attempt to get new viewers up to speed. Rest assured that the old format is finally back, but it’s much colder and calculated—fitting of two worlds on the brink of war.
Although it tries its best to bring back everything that made season 1 awesome, there are a lot of new problems in Shana III that just can’t be overlooked. The most difficult for me to grudgingly accept was probably unavoidable because of where the story needs to go—the ever-expanding cast that seems to grow by about five characters each episode for the first half of the series. It gets really hard to keep track of names and loyalties after a while, especially when they only get about a thirty second introduction and then reappear a few episodes later to finish the tasks they’ve been given—major, plot-altering assignments at that. Occasionally, I had to just sit back and let them do their thing and most of them are so poorly characterized their presence hardly seems necessary.
Yes, I understand that this is war and there’s a hierarchy of commander and subordinates all playing their part in the big picture that needs to be established. But a lot of this is fine details that I feel could have been done without. It leads to getting things spread too thin and I wish Shana and Yuji could have had a stronger presence. Either that, or some of the bigger players should have been allowed a more gradual introduction so we could get to know them better and care about why they’re taking part in this endeavor—even if they’re just going to die in a few episodes. At least then it wouldn’t have felt like such a waste.
But as I said in my Shana II review, the amount of dead time back in the second season starts to show very clearly in the third because so much material is getting crammed in to make a mad rush to the conclusion. So while Shana II was painfully slow, Shana III has the exact opposite problem of being almost too fast to keep up.
But there’s a lot of high points, too. The psychological attributes of season 1 that had been mostly absent in season 2 have made a strong comeback. It’s also managed to up the ante from Shana I and push the limits a lot higher. Shana I simply dealt with the nature of existence on a very platonic level. But Shana III addresses a deeper theme in the purpose of existence. There are some very strong concepts dealing with loss of direction in one’s life as everything you devoted yourself to becomes irrelevant and a future full of nothing but aimless emptiness is all that waits after several lifetimes devoted to a single-minded cause that has suddenly disappeared. But if freed from this burden, there is also a chance to discover a new, greater cause if you manage to not despair and broaden your focus to look at the big picture.
One thing that has always endured through the Shana story is the very clear understanding that the Crimson Denizens are not all evil. Just as you wouldn’t call a lion evil for killing a zebra, the bad guys have always been simply acting on their nature, even if at times the terms excess and greed could be applied to their methods. Particularly in Shana III we are given a difficult-to-handle dilemma of just who is actually on the right side during this war—the Denizens attempting to achieve their own, personal paradise or the Flame Hazes who zealously deem such a paradise nothing but a dangerous delusion.
The ending manages to find a compromise between these two extremes, but it doesn’t feel half-hearted or conciliatory. It instead goes for a tone of understanding and inevitability even if that isn’t something that adequately ties up every loose end. And as much as I like the characters of Shana and Yuji as separate entities, the two could have avoided a lot of pain and suffering they inflicted on each other unnecessarily if they had just sat down and talked things through honestly, which is a sad little detail that undermines a lot of the dramatic strife of this series.
I’ll say it again, Shana III is better than Shana II because it takes a lot of cues from Shana I, making itself into a nice wrap-up to a really great franchise. The battles are suitably epic in the smart, well-composed flow that is a hallmark of the action sequences in the Shana series. It’s let down by a few writing and pacing problems, but overall is a solid and thought-provoking anime.
Final impression – the journey is better than the destination (7/10)
Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (26 episodes) (title literal translation – The Future Diary)
Yukiteru Amano has been entered as an unwilling candidate into a survival game by Deus Ex Machina, the god of time who will use the contest to decide his most appropriate successor. Yukiteru was chosen, along with 12 other contestants, because they have been keeping impeccably accurate observation diaries that Deus deems a worthy character trait to qualify them for the role of the god of time.
As part of the game, each player has had their diary upgraded by Deus to predict the future out to a considerable amount of time. Their actions in the present could change their futures and those changes will be reflected in updates to their diaries. Thus the best candidate will be the one who can control their future and eliminate the others. But Yukki isn’t the most gung-ho about being unwittingly involved in this survival game no matter how big the prize, especially when he has to put up with his creepy, stalker girlfriend, Yuno Gasai, whose diary is capable of predicting his every move.
I’m not the type of fan who can fully enjoy a series based solely on the adventure. I need some measure of closure at the end—something to wrap things up or at least signify a proper ending. It doesn’t matter too much if I disagree with the outcome. After all, it’s at the writer’s discretion to tell a story the way they think it should be told, not to tell it the way I want.
That’s why I’m so conflicted about Mirai Nikki. It seems too focused on the path to the conclusion than on the conclusion itself, even if the voyage along the way was a doozy. The finale does an exceptionally poor job of signifying a true ending as it goes about a little epilogue with a real dearth of imagination. I just can’t imagine sitting in a self-imposed exile doing nothing but lamenting the loss of your loved one for 10,000 years. I was always a big believer in the concept of time healing all wounds; particularly those of the heart.
Many times in this series I think Yukki’s personality is just far too inconsistent; even taking into consideration the chaos that’s always threatening to envelop him at any moment. The pacing of the story also can’t keep a steady tempo with a lot of little bunny trails that seem to lead off to nowhere. But for all of my complaints it does do a good job of telling a story filled with a terrific variety of interesting characters with a multitude of motivations and flaws; all packed with some pretty grisly details that make me wonder if they’ll be uncensored on the blu-ray.
Can true love literally last forever even if you can never see that person ever again? Is it really healthy to remain true to your greatest passion or does there come a point when it’s best to just let go and move on? And what about endings? Is it best to have closure or can the journey be just as rewarding, even if the reward at the end is seriously lacking?
What’s immediately clear about C^3 is that it’s trying to be a philosophical discourse about the bonds of humanity to the tools we use. What’s amazing is how well it accomplishes this goal—shattering the initial trepidation that this series might turn out to be nothing more than a gilded brick. Haruaki’s strong, competent personality provides a natural foundation for the other characters to rely on, but the real gem comes from the sadistically cute voice acting of Yukari Tamura. Watching her magnificent portrayal of Fear was plenty to elevate C^3 to number five on my list of 2011’s best anime.
It’s not often an anime comes along that blends issues of science and morality as well as No. 6. It reminds us that the natural resources of our world can be our greatest sources of inspiration and innovation. But we also need to respect the power of nature, especially when dealing with phenomena we don’t fully understand. Accepting our own place in nature is also pivotal to our survival, which goes hand-in-hand with our respect for our fellow humans. Through a bit of fantasy, science fiction and post-apocalyptic ingenuity, No. 6 fits nicely into last year’s fourth place.
Wandering Son touches on some very important, often misunderstood and undiscussed issues dealing with the growth of children into young adults. Its core theme deals with gender identity and how this confusion and desire to be someone very different from society’s expectations can lead to turmoil. This anime takes a very candid view of what men and women are expected to be and tells a story through the eyes of some honest young people about acceptance and being who you want to be, rather than what someone else wants you to be. It’s a powerful concept, the art is beautiful and the wonderful music is the icing on the cake that puts Wandering Son at third place for 2011.
I’ll come right out and admit that my choice for A-Channel to be the second-best anime of 2011 was highly biased by my own personal experiences—the lens through which I view the four main characters. Although each of the four girls are colorful and unique, I can see a little of myself in each of them. Like Run, I have a hard time waking up in the morning and I’m bad at reading the atmosphere of social situations. Nagi is smart, wears glasses and is sensitive about her self-image—just like me. Yuuko and I are both tall and ticklish. And Tooru hates hot summer weather, which is also one of my greatest enemies. It’s just good, hilarious moe fun and its charms will put a warm smile on your laughing face.
Everything about this anime is so spectacular it’s easily capable of deflecting the attacks of any naysayer and I predict this title to be one of the most cherished, memorable anime in history. We’re literally witnessing the rise of an anime for the ages—something that will transcend generations to come. Its accomplishments are too numerous to go into detail here, so I’ll do my best to keep my enthusiasm brief.
1. Madoka took the magic girl genre that generally doesn’t get a lot of love from more casual anime fans, threw away everything wrong and then added its own original flair to show that the right amount of creativity can make anything shine brightly.
2. The story is deep and intellectual. Between imagining ways of warping space and time, then twisting the delicate emotions of young people who wish to fulfill their kindest desires resulting in tragedy while distorting misunderstood feelings, culminating in a selfless, powerful will that can alter the physical properties of reality itself, there’s no shortage of deep thinking and fresh ideas.
3. Music and art that merge the story and setting into a complete piece, crafted with such flawless skill that we’re unlikely to see this level of quality again for quite some time. It’s just so tight and focused, not a second, not a color, not a single word is wasted fluff that would distract from the central story.
It’s really just a no-brainer that Magic Girl Madoka Magica would be my anime of the year.
Impression – straightforward, yet philosophical
Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (more info)
As good as the Persona 4 video game was, I wish its anime series would deviate more from the default script or fill in some more fine details that have thus far flown under the radar. Arguably, fans of the video game are going to be the primary fanbase of the anime, but if there are no surprises for us we’re not likely to give very good opinions to more casual viewers who may only have a passing interest. So the plot of Persona 4 is stuck in a weird catch-22 where it needs enough new material to keep the old fans interested but it also needs to stay true to the original story. In some ways, it’s suffering from some of the same problems as Fate/Zero. But it’s more than worth it to watch Persona 4 just for the killer music and sharp art style that is an intrinsic quality of Atlus. One of the things the anime does get right that is a perfect mirror of the video game is the pacing of events to match real dates and create a tangible passage of time. And while the story may have felt more natural in video game format, it’s still totally awesome. Its best points are a cast of varied, loveable characters, a good sense for spinning elaborate mysteries and an overarching theme of emphasizing the importance of the bonds we share with our friends. When you think about it like that, there’s not much else to be desired.
Impression – superbly grand, but hampered by some problems
I’m of the opinion that a little more time could have been spent waiting to get the series released in one 24 episode block without this huge lapse in pace, especially when it ends on such a big cliffhanger. Because Fate/Zero is a prequel, it also means that in order to keep consistency with canon, the story needs to conform to some rigid guidelines to fit what comes after. Knowing that none of this is going to end well puts an emotional barrier between the viewer and a lot of the characters, prohibiting real attachment. The result is that the viewer feels like an outside observer waiting for the inevitable, rather than wanting to get invested in something that’s ultimately going to be futile. It’s sad because the new side characters are colorful and there’s a lot of spirit in their personalities. But I don’t want to suggest that Fate/Zero is a waste of time. It’s gorgeous and emotional, but also deeply thought provoking; delving into some really fun, dark corners of the human psyche. The twisted personalities of Ryuunosuke and Caster manage to contort morality to match their own ambitions and that’s always an interesting exercise of mental gymnastics. However, the fact that this survival game that is the Holy Grail War has thus far resulted in no casualties for the participants is a telling sign that the writers are pandering to the fanbase rather than thinking things through organically. Fate/Zero is beautiful and epic to watch in the way that Type Moon always puts forward, but it’s not nearly as immersive as I’d hoped it would be.
Last Exile – Fam, the Silver Wing (4/10)
Dropped at episode 4 of 21 (more info)
I remember fondly the sense of urgency and mystery that filled the original Last Exile and made it a great introductory anime to anyone who wanted to take a closer look at the steampunk genre. The magic of the original series has been lost over the years and its second season has become just a boring old pirating anime, set in a world at war that deals with issues of honor in very contrived ways.
High School DxD (4/10)
Dropped at episode 2 of 12 (more info)
There’s good ecchi and bad ecchi. To its credit, High School DxD falls somewhere in the middle, but there’s still way too much ecchi for its own good. The plot is really quite silly and the character designs portray the women with completely unreasonable proportions, purely for fanservice purposes. Its redeeming feature is that it actually has a somewhat original and interesting story to tell, but that’s not enough when the rest of the anime feels as though there’s no effort invested in its creation.
Kill Me Baby (3/10)
Dropped at episode 2 of 12 (more info)
The super-deformed moe style certainly isn’t for everyone, but what kills Kill Me Baby is the serious lack of personality in its characters. Sonya is supposed to be aloof and detached, but seems much more bored and apathetic all the time. Agiri may always be up in the clouds and look spacey, but her voice sounds either like she’s about to fall asleep or maybe she’s on drugs. Lively Yasuna does her best to make up for the two cinder blocks she hangs out with, but when they’re content to just leave her behind I can’t see how the plot of this anime could possibly go anyplace exciting.
Inu x Boku SS (3/10)
Dropped at episode 5 of 12 (more info)
The idea of tsundere Ririchiyo being naturally driven to adopt this personality by virtue of her cloistered and bourgeois lifestyle is a level of depth in character creation seldom seen from this character archetype. Giving her a doting companion / bodyguard who will naturally be able to melt her icy personality through his devoted loyalty was the perfect complement to Ririchiyo and the beginning of something really cool was all set to wow the viewers. And then it all went horribly wrong as it floundered in a sea of misplaced and pointless S&M jokes. Really, this is one of the strangest changes of tone I’ve seen in a long time.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear (3/10)
Dropped at episode 3 of 13 (more info)
Hibiki and Tsubasa’s relationship is on bad terms, but it’s mostly because Hibiki seems to turn off her social skills in favor of playing the starstruck underdog to Tsubasa’s cold, professionalism. It’s also paced way too slow, with too little information revealed about the origins of this war and with supporting characters who clearly understand more than the combatants. Being a singing anime with less than mediocre music is also not a great way to sell a title to fans who are interested in that kind of genre. Symphogear could have been a cool, technological / magic girl anime along the lines of My-HiME, but the fight scenes are clunky and the characters are either super bitchy or socially incompetent airheads.
Impression – half over, all awesome
Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (22 episodes) (more info)
At the halfway point of Guilty Crown, it feels like everything is finished. But…there’s still another full season of content. It’s very clear that this anime has decided to split its story into two very distinct arcs, which I’m worried is going to give the impression that the first arc was just a drawn-out way of establishing setting for what is now the main story. Just how much of what happened in the first half is going to matter in the second is still up in the air. But with such an abrupt change of direction, much of what came before may not continue to contribute meaningfully to current events. An anime that’s only half-important to watch is liable to only be half good. But I feel that I’m being overly pessimistic with that evaluation because Guilty Crown has some really brilliant action. It’s also trying its best to be a supernatural thriller, and while I give an A for effort, when the best it can muster is an apocalypse, I’ve seen much better compositions on that theme in other anime. My advice is to watch Guilty Grown for its gorgeous music, smooth art style and top-notch fights that exhibit some amazing spontaneity and creativity.