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[In which I review] New anime, Summer 2011

Jhiday

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Appleseed XIII
(13 episodes, distributed on streaming and as OVAs)

What's it about ?

The adventures of a SWAT squad in the future, fighting terrorists and conspiracies.

Characters

Deunan, our protagonist. Trained to survived in the wilderness by her father since her early childhood, she's the gung-ho rookie of the squad. I'll give this to Maaya Sakamoto : she's got enough charisma to pull off her character whining non-stop for the full duration of the episode and still not have her be too annoying. Although she comes very close here.

Briareos, her BFF since forever (or maybe more ?). After a bad accident, he had to be turned into a cyborg to survive. He's still following her devotedly to protect her (especially from her own reckless behavior).

Dia, an innocent bystander who turns out to be a special cyborg or something, and will presumably be important to the plot later on.

The plot of the week involves a bunch of terrorists ("the Argonauts") storming the Russian Poseidon embassy to retrieve one of their agents. (Did I mention there's a heavy Greek Mythology theme permeating everything ?)

Production Values

This is a full CGI series, with some degree of cell-shading when people are involved. To be frank, it looks terrible. The character designs for people don't quite work, and most importantly the body language looks awfully off. It's not a problem when everyone on screen is in power suits, but the humans move like creepy ragdolls, pushing them deep into the uncanny valley. It looks like cheap videogame cutscenes (you know, the ones that aren't pre-rendered), which is all kinds of disappointing.

The backgrounds and the scenes without humans look much more impressive, but that's only a fraction of the overall screentime.

Overall Impression

Ouch. I don't know anything about the Appleseed franchise, but this is a decidedly underwhelming offering. The artstyle is a complete failure, and Deunan is obnoxious beyond belief. I think there may a decent story beyond those roadblocks... and then I realize I've seen this kind of story done much better with Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex. Which had the advantage of not making my eyes bleed.

I'll give it another episode to check whether the heroine gets less annoying and I can enjoy it for the plot, but I'm not optimistic.
 

Jhiday

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I usually don't say much about OVA or sequels, but I figured I'd say a few words about Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kira, the first episode of which was recently released.

Now, the thing with Higurashi is that, while it's a very good story, the plot got conclusively resolved at the end of the second season, in a way that leaves no room whatsoever for straight sequels. The first OVA series, Rei, got around it by featuring an interesting story hook that brings a new light over the wider picture, trying to tie it a bit more to the overall When they Cry franchise (probably as an tie-in to the then-debuting Umineko anime)... but in a way that's self-canceling, and again leaves no room for further elaboration. Also, Rei was padded up with a couple of random comedy episodes that were kinda cute but didn't bring anything new to table.

Well, the first episode of Kira makes it look like it's going for the "random comedy" episodes route, except with even more fanservice. The first half of the episode is literally the male cast (Keiichi, Ooishi, Tomitake & Irie) fantasizing about "punishments" they could inflict to the whole female cast as part of the "penalty games". Not only doesn't it do much for me, but it gets quite uncomfortable when it reaches the younger members of the cast (Rika rubbing the windows with her ass ? Really ?). The second half is slightly more fun, not really because the female cast gets to retaliate (that's nearly as tedious as the opposite), but because it actually makes an effort to tie the whole thing into the wider plot (however ridiculous that may sound). It doesn't quite succeed in canceling out the bad taste left by the first half, but at least I don't feel like I completely wasted my time.

Is this worth watching ? Well, no. It doesn't look like Kira is going to add anything to the plot ; it feels like a cash-grab exercise, or at best an opportunity for the creators to have fun with the most lighthearted aspects of the premise. (The preview for the second episode certainly looks like it's going to be entertainingly bonkers.) You can't really put a clearer sign for "out-of-continuity zaniness" than featuring the Soul Brothers in a major role. I'm a die-hard fanatic of the franchise, so I'll probably keep watching this, however pointless it is, just out of affection for the characters ; but you probably shouldn't bother.
 

Jeremy Kopczynski

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I just watched Higurashi Kira and the first half left me feeling dirty. I had never felt so uncomfortable watching anything Higurashi related. The call back to the first arc in the second half was cute but kind of pointless. As Jhiday said the entire plot was neatly tied up at the end of the second season.

I would still love to see a prequel set during the early days of Onigafuchi and the establishment of the cult of Oyashiro though.
 

MadMac

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With the summer season all but finished, I think it's about time for the traditional end of season wrap-up discussion. What did you watch? What did you drop? What surprised you, and why?

Overall, this feels like the strongest summer I can easily remember watching, if only because of all the great 24+ episodes series carrying over from Spring. Anyways, without too much rambling:

What I watched.

Tiger And Bunny

I really liked this show from the first episode, but even so I'm a bit staggered at what a hit it apparently is. It's a very odd show in that nearly everyone I've seen comment on it agrees that it doesn't really hit it's potential, but what is does is still damned entertaining, cliches and all. I only hope the inevitable sequel has a protagonist at least half as charming as Kotetsu was. Also, I'd like to see more face time for some of the more underused characters--Dragon Kid, Sky-High and Rock Bison especially felt like they drew the short stick for character development. Or maybe they'll introduce several new heroes? Anything can happen, I suppose. They could even have Kotetsu develop new powers or what have you, but his character arc feels more or less complete at this point.

Hanasaku Iroha.

Honestly, after about the halfway point I was loosing enthusiasm for the show and would often put off watching new episodes for weeks at a time, but whenever I watched it I still enjoyed it a great deal. Great production values and execution count for a lot even when I'm not overly enamored of the plot and characters, it seems. The ending drama in particular was starting to rub me the wrong way and the Ohana/Ko relationship felt more then a little forced, but the last episode was so fantastic I forgave everything. Why? I don't know. It's just the strange power over me the show has.

My Ordinary Life

I watched new stuff this season too, I swear I did. Nichijou was the polar opposite of Hansaku Iroha in that I don't feel it really took off until the second half and then I fell madly in love with it. The new opening in particular is just the best thing ever. That said, the final episode wasn't as strong as I hoped it would be and I'm not sure any episode was free from at least one dead segment but all the same I loved this and would buy the hell out of it if it gets picked up for physical release.

Usagi Drop

This one had a lot of hype behind it and I'd say it mostly lived up to expectations. It was so down to earth that it made even standard slice of life shows look like they had riveting plot developments, but that sense of realism is where most of it's charm comes from, especially in it's depiction of children which was almost a complete 180 from what you'd see in just about every (Well, non-Ghibli) other anime ever. The last episode in particular didn't feel like an ending at all but I guess that was rather the point. I've been told that the anime already covered most of the pre-timeskip manga, so unlike most shows I liked I can only pray this one never gets a sequel. ;)

Penguin Drum

Love this show, love it in a dangerously unhealthy way not unlike virtually every relationship depicted in self-same show. To be honest, I've never had much interest in watching Utena before seeing this, because the dated art and the plot summaries never did much for me. Now, on the other hand...well, we'll see. I'll be watching this every week until it ends and then I'll cry myself to sleep that it's over.

Baka and Test Season 2

I really enjoyed the first season, but meh. MEH. The first few episodes were just barely skating by on the strength of the first season, the entire middle run is absolutely dire, and the last few episodes...Actually, the more serious and relationship focused episodes redeemed this season a tiny, tiny bit, which is something I never expected to say about a brainless High School Comedy. If you must watch this, take my advice and start on episode 8. I can guarantee you won't have missed anything.

Kamisami Dolls I'm not entirely sure why I started watching this over a half dozen other shows I could have used to round out my summer schedule, but I did and it's pretty ok. Nothing memorable and the female lead's character design looks embarrassingly out of place compared to every other character, but it won't rot your brain or anything. It does have a few fairly nifty action scenes and tense moments and the core concept is decently interesting. The final episode won't air for a few more days but I daresay it won't wrap up much. This feels like it's based on a series of light novels that haven't ended yet.

What I dropped.

Uhhhhh....Cat God? I had so much on my plate already this season that I just flat out didn't bother watching anything that I didn't think sounded interesting, and I only watched a few episodes of Cat God (snore) because someone compared it to those shorts with the cynical laser-eyed catgirl mascot I can't recall the name of just now.
 
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Jhiday

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I've been meaning to do those "retrospective" looks for several seasons now, but the earthquake delays made it collide with the "new" season previews, and I just couldn't find the time for it. But no we're getting back on schedule... somewhat, so let's try it.

Concluded from the Spring season :
(Yep, a lot of the good stuff in summer was indeed the continuation of the previous season)

Steins;Gate was a bit uneven along its run, and it suffers a bit from its climax happening a bit too early... but that's just mere details. Time-travel plots always carry the risk of drowning into incoherent nonsense, but I think this show pulled it off by focusing on its very narrow cast (sometimes to absurd results), and especially on Okarin, by far the most compelling protagonist of the year (yes, above Wild Tiger). Mamoru Miyano's performance is a thing of wonder, perfectly capturing the nuances of this self-proclaimed mad scientist's slow fall into madness and despair. It's also become one of the few shows I'd recommend on the strength of its dialogue alone (joining the whatever-gatari and Spice & Wolf).

Tiger & Bunny kinda mis-sold itself as a biting satire with its first episode, but it's actually been a much more traditional super-hero show that embraces all the clichés of the genre... And hey, there's nothing wrong with playing those tropes straight with enthusiasm. Kotetsu was a strong protagonist, and I was relieved by the lead writer's recent statement that he couldn't imagine the (inevitable at this point) sequel without him.

Hanasaku Iroha was a fun little slice-of-life series. Nothing more (besides awesome production values), but still very enjoyable throughout.

... I dropped Nichijou after 8 episodes, as the hit-to-miss ratio was far too low for me, and I didn't find it funny enough to care.

Bizarrely, I did keep watching SKET Dance till episode #23 (despite the absence of actually funny episodes after #13)... and was persuaded to keep watching into #24-25 for a couple of very strong episodes relating Switch's origin story. But I'll stop there, as it can only go down from here on (and next week's Gintama crossover has downright negative appeal for me).

Summer season : already over

Nothing to add about Bunny Drop : charming, fun, perfectly conveying the joy of bringing a child up... there's no plot resolution whatsoever (thankfully), and the last episode clumsily recaps the whole series for the slow people, but overall it just works.

No. 6 wasn't a huge disappointment for me... mostly because all its failings (the utterly non-convincing dystopia with a level of Big Brother that completely depends on whatever's convenient for the plot, Shion's incomprehensible behaviour, the sprawling subplots with no resolution whatsoever) were there from the start. There are enjoyable bits, but overall it completely falls apart (as it was obvious from the start it probably would).

Sacred Seven was a dumb generic action show that kinda worked when it was obviously self-aware (with silly concepts like the Rock Appreciation Club), but fell apart when it tried to take itself a bit more seriously. Also, the fight scenes somehow became a lot more boring as the series went on. Voluntary blandness is very tricky to pull off, and this didn't really work.

Blade was slightly better, not out of being any more intelligent (he's got a dog with silver fangs !), but simply because it strikes a better balance between stupidity and awesome. Huge misstep in the next-to-last episode, though.

La Croisée dans un Chemin Etranger was artificial cuteness. Perfectly watcheable, but completely empty of actual content.

God's Memo-Pad was a disappointment. There was some promise in a mystery show starring NEETs, but this show didn't really pull it off. The male lead turned out to be way blander than I thought at first. The NEET sidekicks are one-note characters. The childish detective doesn't have enough charisma to be endearing instead of annoying. And most of all, the mystery plots were very underwhelming (especially the middle arc with the gang wars, which was extended way past reason). It's a show that had a lot of potential, but it just didn't gel.

Summer season - still ongoing

Mawaru PenguinDrum is obviously a standout, with a director who does more than just tell the story, but I slightly worry that we're 10 episodes in (out of 24), and the plot has yet to really coalesce (although some of the recent episodes have been huge improvements). Still, it's the show I always look forward to the most every week.

Baka + Test + Summoned Beings S2... well, that's a way to squander all the goodwill from the first season. There are only two episodes worth watching : #8 & #11. Everything else alternates between the utterly awful (the first two episodes, the "summer camp" three-parter) and the barely adequate (everything else). There used to be something interesting in Class F's hopeless struggle against better classes, but this season seems to have completely lost sight of it ("boys vs. girls" is way, way less interesting).

Mystic Archives of Dantalian baffles me. Sometimes it will pull off awesome little set pieces that strike the right balance between funny and disturbing. And at other times, it will just bore me to tears. Also, I have no clue how it can reach any sort of conclusion with only one episode left. (I like those "extra" backstory episodes following other protagonists, but they don't help the pacing one bit.)

Kamisama Dolls is, let's be honest, ludicrously stupid. But the pervasive insanity of it all makes it a compelling watch. I'm now convinced that controlling those things is damaging for sanity, as every single character has proved to various degree (although there's no explaining Kuuko that way). It's not high art, and yeah lead female's boobs are ridiculous, but I like it a lot despite its flaws.

The Early Dropped

I gave nearly everything a first episode in this thread. The only ones I went further with were :
- Uta no Prince-sama : (2 ep) I gave it a bit more rope to hang itself ; it took it with gusto by being awfully boring aside from Principal Wakamoto's cameo.
- Blood-C (2 ep) : did it ever get any less boring ?
- Mayo-Chiki! (4 ep) : crap.
 

MadMac

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Ah, How did I forget Steins Gate! That was one of my favorites, too, and yes, Okarin made the show. It must have slipped my mind because it ended a little sooner then the others.
 

KoboldLord

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This last season I've been watching and enjoying Tiger & Bunny, Penguindrum, Hanasaku Iroha, and Natsume Yuujinchou. I've also been watching Baka to Test, but I've long-since lost the reason why I continue to watch it. It's always been a pretty horrible setting if you ignore the slapstick and the fanservice, but lately it seems like it's stopped pretending to be a romantic comedy and gotten progressively more Kafkaesque. They've pretty much stopped pretending that the two main guys are secretly enjoying the attention from their respective stalkers, and it's been getting harder and harder to laugh.
 

Katsue

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- Blood-C (2 ep) : did it ever get any less boring ?
Kind of. It turns out there's some kind of reason for the incongruity of the setting, which is good because frankly I think it's the show's main hook. I can't imagine I'd have continued watching it if I hadn't seen Blood: the Last Vampire.
 

Wolfwood2

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Kind of. It turns out there's some kind of reason for the incongruity of the setting, which is good because frankly I think it's the show's main hook. I can't imagine I'd have continued watching it if I hadn't seen Blood: the Last Vampire.
It's one of those shows that creates a setting for the pure pleasure of tearing it down.
 

Jhiday

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Kind of. It turns out there's some kind of reason for the incongruity of the setting
Well, yes, obviously (and that's why I gave it a second episode). But the impression I got from the first two episodes was that it would take forever getting to the reveal, and I didn't have the patience to wade through any more dumb cliché school hijinks with horribly flat characters.
 
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