Anime of Tomorrow
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Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info) (title literal translation – Sasami at Not Doing My Best)
Going into Sasami-san, I expected that I would enjoy it a lot more than I did. It’s a nice-looking Shaft anime with a trippy premise and the cast includes Chiwa Saito and Kana Hanazawa, two of my favorite voice actresses. So finding myself in the position of not liking it has me somewhat perplexed. The only reason for this I can think of is that this anime wants to be a psychological comedy in the vein of Bakemonogatari, but unfortunately is being let down by the problem of not having a plot. I can’t find any motivating force behind the actions of these weird characters and that wouldn’t be an issue if Sasami-san had the same quality of dialogue that graces Nishio Ishin’s works. Wandering aimlessly isn’t the best setup for this kind of anime unless there’s an overarching theme that ties it all together and because there’s so many other anime right now that are put together much more cohesively, I’m going to have to let this one go.
Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info)
Based on its art style and a three-sentence description I’d expected Kotoura-san to be a two-dimensional moe anime. However, what I got was a rollercoaster ride of emotions that really caught me by surprise. The first half of this episode encapsulates Kotoura’s rough childhood and the troubles that come with her ability to read minds and her good-natured honesty. It’s a truly disheartening series of misfortunes that shows what becomes of people who can’t be honest with themselves, but are then confronted with their own inner truth. In this way, Kotoura is the knife that’s peeling away the mask that people wear to play the game otherwise known as, “being social.” I can understand her pain, but perhaps it reflects poorly on me that I wouldn’t have chosen to be so frank if I had the ability to read minds; using my ESP to live a more advantageous life.
The supposition that most people would be ashamed to have their inner thoughts broadcast to others appeals greatly to me because I can say with a fair amount of certainty that my thoughts are an honest reflection of my actions. I take great pride in the path I’ve chosen to live a life free of hypocrisy within my own character. I’m not ashamed of who I am and because of this, I identify strongly with Kotoura-san’s male protagonist, Manabe, who similarly takes his classmate’s mind-reading ability as a chance for self-improvement (when he’s not broadcasting his fantasies). This change of circumstances from Kotoura’s lonesomeness and off-putting attitude to finally meeting someone who can push her to open up is fantastically written and shows a lot of potential for future growth. If I was to give a criticism to this anime, I’d say its cute visual design devalues its very serious premise. But if that’s all I have to complain about when I’m already an admitted moe fan, then I’m going to give it a pass and remain on the edge of my seat, expectantly waiting to see what will become of this unexpectedly sophisticated anime.
Autumn 2012 to winter 2013 (22 episodes) (synonym – Psychopath) (more info)
Imagine a world where people’s mental state can be measured—quantified. To know that someone is in the mindset to commit a crime and be able to sequester that person before harm can be done sounds dangerously Orwellian, but I’m intrigued by the very different tone of Psycho-Pass. It’s a setting that people want to live in voluntarily and to be happy. Being told what’s best for you and having your life micromanaged by a computer algorithm is certainly totalitarian. But if you are enjoying your life more for it by avoiding unnecessary struggle, never getting lost and being at the height of productivity is it really such a bad thing?
I have a lot of confidence in Psycho-Pass at this early stage because of one name—and it’s not who you think I’m going to say—Kana Hanazawa. Nearly every anime in which she portrays a leading lady has been among my top titles and she’s already showing a fantastic performance as Akane Tsunemori. This is a young woman whose aptitude meant she could have had anything she wanted in a world where most people have their futures decided by tests and AIs. But she chooses the challenging job of being a police enforcer and all the innocence, confusion and shock of a newbie in a sink-or-swim situation is conveyed impeccably by Hanazawa’s skill. I’d expect nothing less of the voice actress who has starred in stunning roles in top-tier anime like Bakemonogatari, Durarara, Angel Beats and Black Rock Shooter.
I know plenty of people will have contentions with what I’m about to say, but I feel that already in the first episode of Psycho-Pass Gen Urobuchi is making amends for the mistakes of Fate/Zero. Where Fate/Zero took forever to get the ball rolling and relied heavily on the fans’ prior knowledge of the setting and source material, Psycho-Pass is already in the thick of things and feels very sure of the story it wants to tell. Combine that with an absolutely beautiful and distinct aesthetic and everything adds up to the possibility for something awesome. I’m calling this the must-watch anime of fall 2012.
Autumn 2012 (12 episodes) (English title - Blast of Tempest) (more info)
Some Japanese writing, whether it be JPRGs or anime has a tendency to be lacking in backstory at the start. But I think Zetsuen no Tempest is one of those stories where it’s ok to not disclose all the details up front. After all, who in their right mind among the common folk could predict the coming of a supernatural disaster? I really like the immediacy of the conflict because being forced to pick a side with little knowledge of the core causes of the conflict is a great way to force someone’s hand into making a decision they’re going to regret.
There’s also a great lesson to be learned about dealing with dangerous and determined enemies—isolation may not be the most permanent solution to getting rid of them. Hakaze’s resourcefulness has a fantasy-esque MacGuyver feel to it that resonates with me on a couple of different, seemingly disconnected levels. The overall feel has a bit of a Guilty Crown vibe to it, but so far while none of the characters are coming out as likeable just yet, they all have unique and exciting personalities—being neither jerks nor wimps. But if the setting is still a bit of a mystery after the first episode, the motives of the characters are very clear and most of their goals overlap along the theme of recovering something that was lost. The way they have all managed to coincide to create a web of comradeship despite how their personalities constantly clash gives moments for some lighthearted chemistry to take off the edge.
If the first episode of a series can leave me in the dark about little details, encapsulate the cast’s overarching motives and make me interested to know what’s going to happen next, then it’s done its job quite well and Zetsuen no Tempest nailed each of those points perfectly. I also have a part of me that loves characters who meld justice and vengeance into one mouth-wateringly satisfying vendetta. And since it’s made by Bones, it’s probably going to be pretty good; even if it doesn’t turn out to be a masterpiece, I’m doubtful I’m going to be disappointed.
Autumn 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – From the New World) (more info)
Shin Sekai Yori doesn’t have even one second of introduction as to what the heck is going on. Right away we’re tossed into the deep and expected to start traversing dangerous waters. And while I’m definitely interested in the mythos of the setting, the fact that so much of the first episode remains unexplained has left me very confused. But I’m not going to hold it against the anime just yet because it’s only the first episode, the writing and pace are quite good and there’s still plenty of time to get everything sorted out. In a lot of ways I can see the motives of Shin Sekai Yori already taking shape, so I’m fine with not understanding for now.
On a metaphoric level there are some really strong themes about the fear of growing up and the uneasiness of being trapped between the worlds of child and adult, not knowing how to move forward but at the same time being unable to go back. For these young people—heroine Saki Watanabe in particular—it seems the stakes are quite high because if you can’t become an adult properly, bad things can happen. This adds a really tense horror element to the atmosphere that has me excited to see what happens next. With sharp visual and setting designs as well as a strong theme involving Shinto, I know that Shin Sekai Yori is going to be worth a closer look.
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.
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.
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.
Initial impression – a rough diamond
Winter 2012 (8 episodes) (title synonym – BRS) (more info)
And so begins the anime that was inspired by a Vocaloid song. The first episode is showing excellence, but comes with quite an emotional roller coaster; leaving me only slightly optimistic about the tone of this series. It would seem that with only eight episodes they’re rushing content and a slower revelation of this anime’s darker elements would have been better—allowing more time to set the mood. That being said, there’s still an air of novelty around the concept of our inner psyches engaging in epic battles as we experience the tumultuous drama of our daily relationships. The art style is also trying something unique with reality looking plain and somewhat unrefined; switching to a sharper and edgy theme when the action starts. The talent of Kana Hanazawa greatly adds to the depth of the composition, which is going to be a necessity to pull off the range of feelings Mato is inevitably going to experience. At its core, Black Rock Shooter is an experimental anime that’s breaking new ground and it’s off to a promising start.
Initial impression – if you haven’t seen Bakemonogatari, go watch it so you can fully enjoy its sequel
Winter 2012 (11 episodes) (title literal translation – Imitation Story) (more info)
Perhaps I simply received bad information or maybe I read it incorrectly, but I had the distinct impression that Nisemonogatari was going to be primarily about Araragi’s little sisters. But so far we’ve only seen Tsukihi berating her older brother for his cluelessness when it comes to women’s hearts and Karen is thus far completely absent. It all starts with Araragi’s free spirit getting reigned in by Senjougahara’s pure black, oppressively sadistic affection. Then the lion’s share of this first episode is Araragi and Hachikuji playing with semantics in the Japanese language to great comic effect that feels like something straight out of this anime’s predecessor, Bakemonogatari. The distinct lack of a mission for Araragi to pursue in Nisemonogatari leaves an empty feeling of directionlessness. Maybe this is going to be the new facet that sets Nisemonogatari apart from its roots and will allow it to just indulge in its hilariously reckless tempo. Bottom line, if you liked the original series, then Nisemonogatari is definitely going to please because the spirit that made Bakemonogatari Anime of the Year for 2009 is still alive and well.