Ashita no Anime

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Tag Archives: winter 2012

Rinne no Lagrange (review)

Madoka suplexes the enemy mechaFinal impression – a mecha series without the angst (8/10)

Winter 2012 and Summer 2012 (24 episodes + 1 OVA) (English title – Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne)

Madoka may be a boisterously cheerful, overly outgoing and enthusiastic young woman, but at the end of the day she’s just an ordinary high school girl with an odd personality.  So when she’s approached by mysterious, uniformed girl named Lafinty and invited to do her part to help the world, it’s understandable that she didn’t expect to become a mecha pilot.  Being an athlete of all manner of sports and martial arts, Madoka quickly adjusts to her new responsibility as a guardian of the Earth.  But when her older cousin arrives on the scene vehemently against this development, it’s clear that there’s more to the situation than everyone is letting on.  Read more of this post

Persona 4: The Animation (review)

The cast of Persona 4: The AnimationFinal 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.

Yu calls IzanagiWriting 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.

The girls can't cookThat 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.

"Welcome to the velvet room."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.

Ano Natsu de Matteru (review)

Impression – nicely redone (8/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (English synonym – Waiting in the Summer)

Last night, Kaito had a weird dream where something fell out of the sky and killed him. But he brushes off his perceived near-death experience as it’s close to the start of summer break and Kaito and his friends are thinking about making a movie as part of a project they can all enjoy together.  Coincidentally, their countryside school gets a transfer student in the relatively attractive Ichika.  On his way home, he notices Ichika wandering around town seemingly lost.  As it turns out she doesn’t have a place to stay because her transfer was so sudden and poorly planned.  Being the gentleman he is, Kaito invites her to stay at his house until she can get on her feet.  But the mystery of this summertime transfer student who is living with him takes on a whole new dimension when Kaito’s friend, Lemon recruits Ichika to be the heroine of their film project.

While Ano Natsu is a pretty standard school romance story on the surface—the seriousness about how it presents its story gives it an air of refinement, even when it’s being silly and having fun.  What I like most about this anime is the mere fact that despite being a romance story that sticks pretty close to familiar formulas, it doesn’t wait until the end of the series before allowing the hero and heroine to express their feelings.  This gives the plot some additional time to expand on their relationship and actually solidify them as a true couple with genuine feelings within the main story—something that is normally assigned as a lazy afterthought to an epilogue contained in an OVA that nobody ends up caring much about.

That’s where Ano Natsu scores big points for me.  Compared to other anime romances where the climax is the confession, this series goes above and beyond to give us something that feels more complete.  That extra time after their mutual confession is filled by a lot of loony, off-the-wall craziness.  But it sticks to the theme of doing whatever is necessary to avoid being separated from the one you love, which is a powerful story element so I don’t begrudge it too much.

The real kick in the pants for this whole premise though, is that Ano Natsu is basically just a revamped version of Please Teacher.  I’d call Ano Natsu a sequel if it wasn’t simply a nearly verbatim rehash of that loosely constructed mess.  It’s probably a good thing they didn’t hype up its links to material from ten years ago because otherwise I might not have watched it.  The story follows a suspiciously similar procession of events starting with having the hero and heroine living together because of extenuating circumstances.  Both series even have their token oddball characters Ichigo and Lemon, both voiced by the smarmy Yukari Tamura as well as animal-like support robots for the heroine—a pretty clear indication to me that we’re working in the same universe.

But even though it’s Please Teacher with a more modern spin, Ano Natsu simply does such a better job all around; so much so that the two anime feel worlds apart.  It takes care to make sure all of its plot elements are not only fun, but also not so over-the-top ridiculous that it leaves you with too much to swallow all at once.  Probably the most important change is that while in both series the main characters end up living with each other, Ano Natsu doesn’t try to pull the wool over our eyes by forcing them into a contrived marriage of dubious necessity.  Interestingly, Yousuke Kuroda wrote the script for both series, so in a weird way it’s as if this is an opportunity for him to show how his skills have grown over the past decade, which as it turns out is quite a bit.

All in all, I’d very much like to see more romance series take risks the way Ano Natsu managed to break the mold.  It challenges established storytelling rules.  While it’s not always as smart as I wish it would be, it ends up telling a compelling adventure that takes place during one wild summer vacation.

Amagami SS and Amagami SS+ plus (review)

Amagami SS

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.

Amagami SS+ plus

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.

Shakugan no Shana III Final (review)

Impression – the end of a legend that unfortunately, may not endure (8/10)

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.

Rinne no Lagrange (ongoing)

Impression – excellent character growth with energetic creativity

Winter 2012 and summer 2012 (more info / part 2) (best English equivalent – Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne)

Probably the most outstanding aspect of Rinne no Lagrange is how it tells a story reminiscent of psychological trips with mecha backdrops similar to Evangelion or RahXephon.  But very pleasingly it has managed to ditch the angsty boy pilot and replace him with a brave, cheerful young woman.

On the surface this does have a slight tendency to subvert the heavy atmosphere that naturally accompanies these types of anime, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I’m all for taking tried and true methods of storytelling that have produced some great anime and putting just enough twists on the formula to create a familiar, but fresh experience.  And that’s what Rinne has accomplished at the halfway point in its two-part run.

Though it’s often silly and a little too lighthearted at times for its own good, the depth of the characters is really something to be appreciated.  I think I started out hating every character other than Madoka at first.  Her pushy cousin Youko, the halfhearted Lan, deceptive Muginami, annoyingly larger than life Vilajulio & Co. as well as the sickeningly bourgeoisie Astelia all rubbed me the wrong way to start off.  But as a testament to the force of Madoka’s personality, they all started to shift ever so slightly as the story progressed and to my surprise, looking back I can’t indicate a specific turning point when they started to grow on me.

This anime has some unique, interesting flaws to point out—most notably being how it ungracefully tiptoes around how it wants to deal with the almost-fanservice moments that it seems to want to indulge in, but always backs off before doing anything too risqué.  To its credit it has an elegant air about itself, but that kind of flirtatious attitude can only go so far before it starts to become a little too obvious.

All in all, Rinne has enough originality and depth in the cast to leave me looking forward to seeing where things pick up again this summer.  But this break between the two halves got me thinking.  Between Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange and then Jormungand soon joining the team, there’s a theme developing where anime are doing two twelve episode seasons separated by a one season gap (about four months).  How do you feel about that?  Would you rather get it all done in one go or do you think there is a benefit to breaking up a two season series like this?

Mirai Nikki (review)

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?

Anime of the Week (4/8 – 4/14)

Anime of the Week – Sankarea
This is definitely a thinking person’s anime. It gives rise to such thoughts as the purpose of love and the value of life. And it’s supported well by Chihiro and Rea’s excellent chemistry.
April 8 Fate/Zero Ep. 14 I’d always known Tokiomi was a dick, but I never imagined that the twisted depths of his disgusting logic ran so deep.
April 9 Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? of the Dead Ep. 1 Initial impression – more silliness http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kE
A-Channel +smile Ep. 1 Ah! It’s really refreshing to see some new content for this series. The girls’ friendship always makes me happy.
A-Channel +smile Ep. 2 I love how Tooru frames helping Yuuko get over her cold in terms of nursing the number one victim of her teasing.
April 10 Medaka Box Ep. 1 Initial impression – could go either way http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kJ
Mirai Nikki Ep. 25 Ok…now what? It seems Yukiteru has no avenue of escape and he’s well and truly lost. What will be the finale’s twist?
April 11 Natsuiro Kiseki Ep. 1 Initial impression – I don’t follow (3/10) http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kM
April 12 Upotte!! Ep. 1 Initial impression – a difficult premise (3/10) http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kP
April 13 Sankarea Ep. 1 Initial impression – surprisingly interesting and well-thought http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kS
April 14 Sankarea Ep. 2 I can really feel for Rea. Anyone might think death to be an alternative to the oppressive lifestyle imposed by her father.
Tasogare Otome x Amnesia Ep. 1 Initial impression – an aura of fun http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kV

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

Anime of the Week (4/1 – 4/7)

Anime of the Week – Accel World
What strikes me most about this series is its character design. I’ve never seen such a stark contrast between the hero and heroine.
April 2 Amagami+ Ep. 13 As fanservice goes, this was pretty tame. Beyond that, I don’t think there was anything novel about this series’ finisher.
Persona 4 Ep. 25 I’m curious about how the true ending will depict the events in the game, especially since this episode was so rushed.
April 3 Mirai Nikki Ep. 24 I hoped that Yukiteru would have become more decisive, but he’s still going about things with a wishy-washy attitude.
Accel World Ep. 1 Initial impression – the beginning of something really cool http://wp.me/p1Gaby-k9
April 4 Space Brothers Ep. 1 Initial impression – the wrong style (4/10) http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kf
April 5 Zetman Ep. 1 Initial impression – too niche (4/10) http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kk
To Heart 2 Dungeon Travelers Ep. 1 This series has always been hilarious and ridiculous, so adding an RPG twist really isn’t a big stretch.
April 7 Hiiro no Kakera Ep. 1 Initial impression – deliberately hazy (4/10) http://wp.me/p1Gaby-kp

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

Anime of the Week (3/25 – 3/31)

Anime of the Week – Zero no Tsukaima F
I’ve always been enamored by the undeniable charm of this series. Though occasionally romantic, sometimes ecchi and often hokey doesn’t sound like the best formula, it’s a really fun story.
March 25 Zero F Ep. 12 It was a bumpy road for Saito and Louise, but the final season of the series got it right and gave them a great finale.
Shana III Ep. 24 It was a nice ending to a roller coaster of a series. But it also squished in a lot of story that really needed more time.
March 26 Rinne Ep. 12 I didn’t care for the flashback-style order of events in this episode, but it was a nice send off while we wait for season 2.
Mirai Nikki Ep. 23 There seems to be a lot of shadowy motives floating around in this series. But I’m glad Yukiteru now knows the truth.
March 27 Another Ep. 12 As much of an exaggerated slasher this series turned into, it continued to be smart about how it dealt with the curse of 3-3.
Ano Natsu Ep. 12 As smooth as this anime was, the ending was really hokey. It completely did not match the tone of the rest of the series.

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

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