Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fall 2013 Anime Wrap-Up!

Alright, the Fall season is finally over and a new year is beginning! I'll be getting to the winter soon, so it's time to put the Fall to bed! And man, what a season. Time to see how everything ended up and give the final rankings. First, the full list of what I followed, or at least what I tried following in a few cases.



* Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova


* Beyond the Boundary

* BlazBlue: After Memory

* Coppelion

* Diabolik Lovers

* Galilei Donna

* Gingitsune

* Golden Time

* Kill la Kill

* Kyousougiga

* Log Horizon

* Miss Monochrome

* Nagi no Asukara

* Outbreak Company

* Samurai Flamenco

* Strike the Blood

* Teekyu S3

* Tokyo Ravens

* Unbreakable Machine Doll

* Valvrave S2

* Walkure Romanze



I think this was a really mixed season filled with surprises. On one hand, what was outstanding was really outstanding. Kill la Kill and Outbreak Company alone are going to stick with me as some of the best shows I've seen in decades in their respective genres, while stuff like Samurai Flamenco and Kyousougiga just smashed apart whatever expectations I had. The gold was of the highest karat.



On the other hand, what was bad was outright offensive to my senses. There's only one show among what I dropped that I would consider redeemable in some way. The others, not so much. What little good about them was either done far better by another show this same season, or instantly overshadowed by one or more crippling problems. I'm actually a bit amazed by some of what got aired this season, and I'm know I'm far from alone in the hatred for one particular series. But I'll get to that in a moment.



Pretty much everything else was right in the middle. There were all series I wanted to love in some way, but there were just so many problems for all of them in some way. Despite that, some managed to surpass expectations, such as the surprisingly touching Coppelion and clever Log Horizon. Others have a lot of parts that I love but a messy execution, such as Tokyo Ravens, which may be more a problem with the source material. In the end, this was the entire rainbow of anime quality in a single season, and it feels like every major flaw or strength was present in some way or shape. So, if you like good anime, you were happy. If you like garbage, you were happy. If you've ever watched a Sunrise show before, you really should have expected Valvrave to do what it did you dummy.



Anyways, let's get this party started with the two series of shorts before getting into the dropped crap (best to worst) and the stuff I stayed with (least to greatest).



MISS MONOCHROME



pay me fuk



This was a lovely little surprise this season. I only picked up Miss Monochrome because of glowing praise from a few I knew viewing it, and they did not steer me wrong. Unlike forgettable garbage like Black Rock Shooter, Miss Monochrome avoided a lot of the usual traps of these animations based on mascots fall into and made something surprisingly charming, and the main reason for it was Miss Monochrome herself. Her personality in this show took the android concept to the full extent, creating a very straight faced personality who has no idea how double meaning works. The result is a series of surprisingly funny shorts where Miss Monochrome works her hardest to become an idol and keeps messing up somewhere in the plan due to a lack of common sense or more abstract human concepts.



What makes this show memorable to me is how dry the humor is, yet how relatable it is. It's all based around ironic outcomes coming from misunderstandings or bizarre plot cul-de-sacs for bits of the absurd. All the while, Monochrome's struggles are surprisingly human, despite her being so inhuman. She's a hard worker who wants to be seen by others as an idol, and despite how often she fails, she just keeps going on and accepts all the failures she goes through without a second thought, or finding progress in what should be a regression by the definition of another, all while barely showing emotion. Somehow, that just speaks volumes more to me than some of the longest dramas I've ever seen. It's a simple story with a simple character, but one I saw a ton of myself in. I know this sounds strange, but Miss Monochrome is an inspiring series to me, with a really heartwarming ending that made me want to try and achieve my dreams of earning a living as a writer more than ever. It's an amusing little oddity that somehow speaks truer to me than just about any other show I've seen this year. Not bad for three minute shorts about a vocaloid knock-off.



FINAL SCORE: 9/10



TEEKYU S3



THE RIDE NEVER ENDS



Teekyu is going to go on forever, I can already tell. The series of shorts costs almost nothing to produce, yet brings in a surprising amount of business. In fact, a forth season is already confirmed. I am thankful that I live in a world where Teekyu can continue being Teekyu, because it is amazing in some bizarre way. You will never see a show throw this many gags at you this fast, which under normal circumstances, would be a good thing. Each episode is two minutes of concentrated madness, but for some strange reason, it manages to work and keeps me coming back each and every week.



Judging Teekyu based on the standards we humans use seems almost insulting. It's a storm of visual puns and absurd randomness, but it just works through some form of witchcraft, I imagine. All the characters have a defined personality and play off each other well, the complete lack of animation carries a bizarre charm, and each and every gag feels like it was crafted with thought and love. I will understand if you don't like Teekyu because it's too fast for you, but let me make one thing clear. It's not that the show is too fast for you, it's that you're too slow for Teekyu.



FINAL SCORE: 8/10



And now to the garbage! The disgusting, terrible garbage!



DROPPED



BEYOND THE BOUNDARY



"Hey, remember when we made Haruhi!?"



I'm not going to be too hard on Beyond the Boundary, because it was really close to being good. But my god, it's just so ...boring. It's amazing in just how many ways it's boring. I am astounded by it, really. This was KyoAni trying their hand at a dark fantasy light novel adaptation, and they really missed the mark. The show wanted to be a moving piece about people who were all trapped in horrible circumstances fighting demons and the such, but the impact that could have been had was lost due to just how bizarre the pacing was. Things that should have been built up were poorly handled and just made me shrug when they were revealed, and the tone had problems balancing KyoAni's comedy style with the real meat of the tale. On that note, way too much time was spent on said comedy bits that were mostly just the same character jokes repeated endlessly. It was just stale and tiring.



This is a real shame, because the show is a visual masterpiece. I sincerely mean that. While I'm not big on KyoAni's character designs, the animation is some of the best that the studio has ever put out, and that is some of the highest praise I could give. The use of effects was perfect, as were the fluid yet believable movements of the human and demon characters. The editing is also incredible stuff, like the wet dream of a film critic. No shot is wasted, delivering some sort of information to you, from character bits to foreshadowing, and creating incredible atmosphere. Where the problem comes in is when the show kept trying to have its cake and eat it too, with the usual KyoAni bits of pandering and such that just felt completely out of place. I really think a different set of writers should have handled the adapted script, and this series could have been something amazing. But that didn't happen and it just feels like waster potential. I hear there was a massive twist down the line, but that doesn't really fix the problems of the series first half. You only have so much time; use it wisely.



FINAL SCORE: 5/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 6



ARPEGGIO OF BLUE STEEL: ARS NOVA



We're animating the entire show how!?



Yesh. I knew I was done with this show by just over halfway through the first episode. Now, I can't really say if the show is worth your time or not on that time lone, but I can say this; it's a fucking ugly show. Well, not always. The action is cinematic quality stuff and just looks stunning, some truly top of the line CG work. The problem is this is where the entire budget was used, because I'm pretty sure all the characters were made in Miku Miku Dance or 3D Custom Girl. It's almost RWBY bad here, people. Yeah, that bad.



It's not really apparent at first, though. In stills, the characters look great, almost like 2D characters. And then they start moving. The show was right in the middle of the uncanny valley for me when it came to the CG work on anything with a pulse or pretending to look like something with a pulse. I imagine the funding went down the drain with the glorious ship battles, and all the characters had to be animated in low end 3D model programs. It's especially bad for all the background characters, who almost made me want to vomit. I am astounded by just how awful they looked. I might revisit this series one day on blu-ray versions, and it might actually be good. But there is no getting past that god awful CG work for me. Just wow.



FINAL SCORE: 4/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 1



STRIKE THE BLOOD



[fail horn]



Silver Link, you are responsible for one of the best shows of the year, but there is no getting around that Strike the Blood is boring and lame. And that's a shame, because the show had the parts for something really cool. Main character is basically a vampire god, the action is incredible and very visceral, and the concept is a nice twist on the modern magic sub-genre, with an entire city acting as a mixing ground of humans and heavily regulated magical beings. Despite this, the series doesn't really know how to make this interesting.



Strike the Blood has a major world building problem. Most of the first few episodes is just explaining conflicts and various powers in this world, not actually showing them or giving many personal stakes with the characters besides some generic and simple ones. This comes at a heavy cost to character, as everyone is the laziest stock character you can imagine. There are some fun bits, like how completely sheltered Yukina is to regular life and seeing most everything as some sort of awesome weapon, but far too much time is just dull, emotionless exposition dumping mixed with really lame and been done comedy bits. The character designs don't help, nor does the animation outside combat scenes. Lifeless is the best way to describe Strike the Blood, despite how it so desperately wants to be ridiculous fun.



FINAL SCORE: 4/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 3



UNBREAKABLE MACHINE DOLL



The blinding eye pain is normal.



You know, I didn't really have many expectations for this series, but it found a way to dash them all the same. Unbreakable Machine Doll is a series where magicians use magical dolls to fight each other to prove who is the best, with the joke being that the main character is dumb to book stuff and more has strength from his tactical experience in combat and sheer will. Also, his doll is the insane yandere Yaya, who is the one truly good thing out of this entire series. Everything else ...ugh.



The animation has its moments, but CG gets used too often in action scenes and just looks silly in a bad way. The lighting is so ridiculously bright that I could barely bake out what I was looking at during close ups. The characters all ended up to be overdone arc types, like the badass female rival turning out to be a run of the mill tsundere who is usually there just to get rescued, and don't even get me started on the girl with the dog. Perhaps the worst problem was just how tired everything was, yet presented itself as fresh and new. The main character is a put down normal guy in a world of geniuses who suffered a great tragedy by a family member's hand and went on a quest of revenge, while effectively gaining an unwanted harem in the process. That sounds like every shonen action anime in the past decade. That's also the entire show. The opening and ending to the show are great, but everything else can easily be forgotten and left to the side.



FINAL SCORE: 4/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 5



BLAZBLUE: AFTER MEMORY



QUALITY



AH HA, OH WOW. This was just ...wow. Fighting game anime rarely do well, which is astounding because they really just need to get a good team to animate action scenes and slap some narrative around it. They tend to fail at this, but BlazBlue brought it to a whole new level of inept terrible. Not a single thing went right with this series, it is truly amazing. Now, I can't really say that since I only watched one episode, but only a passing glance at some of the worst of lists that came out this season and year will tell you that this is truly a special kind of bad. Getting an animation studio almost nobody has ever heard of should have been the first big warning.



After Memory's greatest accomplishment is somehow making the narrative of BlazBlue even more confusing than it already was. Keep in mind this is a series created by the Guilty Gear people, who even admit they have no bloody idea what they were writing for that entire series. To make things make even less sense is truly an accomplishment. How? Make it completely unclear what time this anime takes place, for one. Newcomers will be scared away by the constant talk of repeating cycles and unexplained mythology, while old fans will just be bored by most of these lame story bits. Of course, the bigger issue they'll have is the animation. This is some of the worst animation I have ever seen, with QUALITY exploding out of every scene. Character models are all over the place, and most the flashy effects are completely phoned in. I swear, I saw the four guys to move one rock slowly moment outdone in this show. I'm still not sure how that's possible. This is prime riffing material right here, a true testament to lack of talent that can go into a professional, televised project.



FINAL SCORE: 3/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 1



WALKURE ROMANZE



HE COMES, UGUU~



I really should have researched this one before I watched. I don't think a show has pissed me off this much since the ending of Buso Renkin. I think that's because I had raised expectations for what amounted to the single worst ecchi I have ever seen. Yes, that includes season one of Ikki Tousen. It is that wretched. The plot is that generic harem man with good looks and no personality has a bunch of girls wanting him to be their coach and assistant for the jousting tournaments, but he ends up helping his pink haired friend instead. This could have been a neat little twist on the sports series formula.



Then episode two happened and I realized where I had seen these character designs before. Walkure Romanze is an adaptation of a hentai VN, which doesn't have to be a negative. Some adaptations like these remove a lot of the sexual context in exchange for the premise and story bits. They went the opposite direction here. Walkure Romanze is basically a giant string of innuendo, both as physical gags and dialog. They're either tired and unfunny, or lack any subtly at all and just become offensive, and that's coming from me. I wouldn't care so much if that wasn't the entire show; I can't remember a single moment of that second episode that wasn't some form of sexual implication, except the moments where it seemed like it would be about something else before going right back into the gutter. Queens Blade and Seikon no Qwaser are more reserved than this garbage, and the latter makes breast milk a plot point. I don't think I've ever seen dreck this awful, and I couldn't handle a single episode after the second. I have my limits, and this bastard decide to test them with great success.



FINAL SCORE: 1/10, DROPPED AT EPISODE 2



FINAL RANKINGS



DIABOLIK LOVERS



And you're not nice ;-;



Well, I didn't think it would be the "vampires sexually abuse self insert character for women I just don't understand" show that would end up disappointing me, but that's exactly what happened. In retrospect, I should have realized that something based off an Idea Factory property could only bring mediocrity. Diabolik Lovers was a series of fifteen minute episodes that adapted a visual novel game about six vampire brothers who torment the main character girl I can't be bothered to remember the name of because some people get off on that (who am I to judge, really?), and then the plot eventually happens and is surprisingly good. Diabolik Lovers has the DNA of good old gothic horror mixed into it, with six main characters who are interesting in their depravity and psychosis, terrible ironic fates occurring everywhere, and powers above us weak mortals tormenting the human lead. It's also pretty hilarious.



I originally decided to watch this series because of how many people were going on about how it was "TEH WORST ANIMEZ EVAR!!11!1" and I'm just a sucker for self-harm. I decided to follow because it ended up being both good and hilariously terrible at the same time. The atmosphere of the show at times is grim and creepy, and the designs are pleasing to the eye. When it wants, it can make a really effective scene that isn't all arousing soft-core, like one particularly uncomfortable moment where the main character gets drugged by one of the brothers, who is just one wrong word away from snapping someone's neck in quiet anger. When it's not doing this, the brothers are playing darts to decide who gets to feed on the human chick, or the red-haired one tosses her in a pool and demands she call him the best. Oh, or the crazy yandere tries to stab all his peas to death, giggling. The show definitely knows what it is and has fun with that, and thank god for that.



So how did this end up disappointing? Because the main plot eventually showed up. The main girl gets possessed by someone from the brothers collective past, and it starts off interesting in the process, but makes mistakes of trying to make the five psychos and the one broken guy into sympathetic heroes of some sort. It show eventually ends on a complete thud, and I was just left with an empty feeling. Suddenly, the house of crazy vampires are working together perfectly to save what five out of six of them consider sexual food, and the girl turns into a vampire before the remaining half of the episode is just the voice actors saying sexual things to the audience like it was in the VN. If you had looked up the endings in the VN ahead of time like I did, you would be equally as saddened. The endings in that game are fucked up and insane, and any one of them would be a perfect cap. But nope, super mega happy ending for the vampire rapists and girl with no personality. In the end, it was just a lame ad for the game and nothing more. Essentially, a collective of effective scenes or hilariously stupid riots, and then a large shrug for one sixth of it. I suggest only watching a few of the early episodes and stopping, only if you like terribly hilarious things.



FINAL SCORE: 5/10



GALILEI DONNA



i mad dis 4 ya grl. ...p-pls respond...



Now, Daibolik Lovers was a disappointment, but not on quite the same level as Galilei Donna. This was a series with incredible promise to be something special, but things didn't work out that way and what we were left with was a hollow shell of what could have been. To wit, Galilei Donna started as an adventure series following three sisters running from an evil corporation that controls the world and is trying to get their hands on a mysterious treasure left by Galileio. Only the sisters are able to find said treasure, and it may very well be the key to saving the world. There's a great villain in the CEO's cold, murderous son, the sky pirates made for strong comedic relief, and the art style was wonderful. All the requirements for something really enjoyable was here. And then that didn't happen.



I normally don't talk about behind the scenes production stuff here, but it's important to understand this show. See, the director originally wanted Galilei Donna to be a twenty-two episode series, continuing into the Winter. That didn't happen, meaning the series only had half of the originally planned time. This, the series was hit with one of the worst endings of the season, a quick wrap up that ignores the greater conflicts that were being built up and threw in a confusing plot hole at the same time. It was obvious that the director stopped trying at a certain point, most likely already sure that there was no adequate way to save his creation. I just wish he tried to do something else than what he went with.



I had a lot of enjoyment with this show as it continued on. It has a wonderful design and great dramatic editing, on full display in the first episode, along with truly nasty villains and heartwarming themes about family and longing. There was a lot of promise, but it eventually fell apart and went a bit too dark a bit too fast, something that left me a tad confused at first. It's not really worth your time if you're wanting a satisfying story, only if you want to imagine what could have been. At least we still have that awesome opening.



FINAL SCORE: 6/10



TOKYO RAVENS



"dem bitches aint go no class, son"



You ever have a show you really want to love because it does so many things right, but it's so flawed that you can't really get into it the way you want to? This is not Bleach for me, I am stuck on that ride. Rather, my beast is Tokyo Ravens, which is a series filled with great ideas and personality, but awkward execution. It took me three episodes to really start grooving with the show and getting what it's about, due to a rough cultural barrier, but I eventually got there. The series follows two members of a famous line of Japanese exorcists, attending a school for mystics while dealing with mysterious villains trying to kidnap one of them for some sort of religious motive. Or it might be more complicated, as several characters seem aware of the cycle of rebirth various set characters are going through, and that cycle might end up with a sudden twist in the established pattern.



Tokyo Ravens is an adaptation of a series of light novels, which might explain the bizarre pacing. See, the series so far takes place roughly over the span of several seasons, which is covered in twelve episodes here. As a result, there's a lot of skipping through time with each multi-episode arc, resulting in never really getting a fell for most the cast, who seem to just be there to hang around after their initial purpose is served. The plot movers are mostly passive characters at this point, leaving the main leads, Harutora and Natsume, to carry the show. Of course, they have the running problem of very little time to develop characters because the story is hopping across time quickly, leaving very little room for small moments where characters can just breathe and develop. Yet despite this, I think they manage to make the show work.



The first three episodes are time well spent in terms of character development, not in plot. It's all about establishing who Harutora and Natsume are, and I think it accomplishes that. There's a lot of time spent establishing Harutora's fear of joining the world of spiritualists, making his turn to becoming Natsume's familiar a powerful moment. Natsume makes up for Harutora's more generic personality, being a bag of nerves and insecurity that constantly explodes in hilarious ways. She gets some further development in the following arc and we get an idea of the crap she has to deal with on a regular basis, making her actions in the first arc (tricking Harutora with her own familiar to talk him into returning to spiritualist training) have a lot more weight. The two are strong enough as characters to keep things interesting, while there's a good mix of comedy and action the remaining time, despite some really bad CG in the first half of those twelve episodes. Also, Kon is one of the most adorable and hilarious characters I have seen in years. Her constant failures are a thing of beauty. It's a flawed series that doesn't really click as it should, but what is there is pretty enjoyable. I hope the second half improves on the faults.



FINAL SCORE: 6/10



GOLDEN TIME



"smoke evryday, m8"



Golden Time, you had me for a minute there! I thought you were going in the worst possible direction, but you saved yourself! Now, for those wondering what I'm talking about, Golden Time is a romantic comedy and drama about Tada Banri, the man with the greatest name ever. He's suffering from memory loss, but it's okay, because he falls in love with a batshit crazy girl named Kaga Koko, the woman with the second greatest name ever. The two attend college with various other interesting people, including Nana from the really good manga and anime series, who is the greatest character in the entire show. Hyjinks ensue, along with a lot of spats between characters that work, for some bizarre reason.



This show comes from the writer of Toradora, a series I dislike for being generic romantic drama dribble. Strangely, I can gel with Golden Time. The characters are all wonderfully flawed and relatable in some way, even the biggest jerks like Koko herself. She's nuts, but she's likable because she's doing her hardest after awhile to try and turn down the possessiveness. Her old crush, Mitsuo, is a jerk for entirely justified reasons, what with having to deal with Koko his entire life, but eventually mellows out into a likable dork. Banri himself is a great lead, a playful dude who isn't afraid to try new things, even crossdressing for a job at one point and having fun with the whole experience. He's a clown who just wants to get along with everyone, but his issues with memory ground a bit and make him a tad more relatable. Even Linda, who's more a plot device for a bit, has a very likable personality and her role as the third wheel that causes most the drama is well done and creates a situation where nobody is truly being a terrible or perfect person. I really like this, along with some great gags running throughout, like the crazy tea club's parties, or Banri's increasing tendency to be a big goof, even pretending to be gay in an amazingly convincing way to help Mitsuo get away from another crazy girl. It's one of the funnier moments of the season, easily.



Great art design, nice music, good direction, there's very little to dislike. The one problem I have with Golden Time, however, is absolutely idiotic and frustrating. See, the writer thought it was a good idea to make conflict arise from the old Tada Banri, pre-memory loss. Old Tada Banri is an inspired, spineless mess who breaks down in tears because his name was forgotten on a school tee-shirt, and his role in the show is to make the Tada Banri the audience spent the most time with do contrived things to create conflict. To the show's credit, it handles the misunderstandings in a surprisingly well done way, but old Tada Banri is so unlikable that he becomes a black cloud, hanging over the entire show like a bad omen. I am terrified that Golden Time is going to go in a bad direction, and while it managed to avoid it at the half-way mark with Koko and Banri having a heartfelt talk instead of pointless drama, I am terrified that the endlessly persistent pest will find a way to ruin everything. Cautiously optimistic with Golden Time, but as of now, it's doing rather well.



FINAL SCORE: 7/10



GINGITSUNE



Strike a pose!



Gingitsune is probably the best show this season I can barely remember most of the time. It's a very sweet and cute show, but I tend to forget most of what happened in it a few days after an airing. That said, that may be because I'm not really the target audience here. Gingitsune is a family show about a girl who lives at a shrine and the fox spirit she befriended as a child that acts as the messenger to a god. The show is a series of lighthearted adventures with the various characters, with some life lessons to be learned and some dramatic elements popping up from time to time, and it does what it needs to do well. I just wish it went a bit further.



Let me make this clear; Gingitsune is a good show, a very good one. It has a great cast of characters and a nice sense of humor, along with a pleasing art design and some well done drama. It does everything it's supposed to do well and has some nice thoughts on life to share, it just lacks ambition. Gingitsune is a show that mainly aims to please a single audience, and it does it very well, but it comes at the cost of there being anything else. For example, the dramatic stuff is brought up, but usually quickly shelved after awhile. It gets addressed, but in a relatively quick way that doesn't really try to get to the bigger meat of the issues presented. There is development of the cast away from the things that were holding them down, but it feels like there's still something there that could use more exploring. Then again, maybe that's the point.



Gingitsune is a reflective, almost zen at times, story about people going through their life and dealing with the good and bad of it. It offers ways to deal with the bad and advice to appreciate the good, which is a very nice thing to have in a show aimed at a family audience. But it could do what it's doing better. I can't really pick out something the show does wrong, I can only say that it lacks a powerful identity to call its own. This is a story and a set of themes that have been done far better in a similar way, a lot more could have been done. But what was done is really enjoyable, just don't expect many found memories of the show a few years after.



FINAL SCORE: 7/10



COPPELION



"80% off designr crack fuk yeah"



Coppelion got a bad rap, and while I understand why, I can't help but be incredibly annoyed by the reasons. I really enjoyed this series, flaws aside, and I really wish it wasn't such a sales disaster (I seem to have a habit of liking bad selling series, what with C3-bu). Of course, you have to go with the flow of the show, or else you'll be a no fun having grumpy bunny who constantly complains that military technology doesn't work like that. The idea of Coppelion is that some genetically engineered girls are put in charge of finding survivors in a city polluted in nuclear waste, and then things go from tragic and atmospheric drama to giant robot spider controlled by a clone of a serial killer actress who has electric powers.



I think in all its forms, though, Coppelion works great. The dramatic early episodes are pretty fantastic, especially the out of nowhere second episode that is far too good for where the show heads off. After some time, the show becomes more idealistic, which I like; nothing is more grating than a overly dramatic "HUMANS ARE THE REAL MONSTERS" environmental story, so mixing those themes in with hope and optimism was a good call, especially all the angel theming with the girls themselves. It doesn't ignore the sins committed by man or the importance of nature, but it also remembers that, hey, not every human is exactly the same and there's something worth saving, even in the worst of us. That really shined through with the ending, which I felt was a perfect note to leave on. There's a lot of really moving and almost poetic moments as well, with musings from various characters that leave an impact without bashing you over the head with the point.



And then there's that point where the show got ridiculous. I do get why some would be turned off with this show, as it starts off grounded and ends up smack dab in wacky action anime world, but I really didn't mind. The over blown tone and comedy that came in play when the Ozu sisters appeared was great stuff, with every character getting a good moment and using a bit of juxtaposition with that tone and the more serious moments. The Ozu sisters and the 1st Division are great villains, but the two tones they make clashing really ends up having an emotional punch in the end and fitting into the series major themes. All that fun was welcome, giving us time to really care about these characters before things got dark again, and giving weight behind their sacrifices and struggles. Of course, there's more mature ways to handle that, but I didn't mind. What I can say in agreement with many who disliked are that there are a few lapses in logic among some of the cast, but it never quite reaches distracting levels due to that shift in tone. The show takes itself seriously enough to properly function, but knows how to have some fun at the same time and make it work. I admire that. Also, dem backgrounds. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.



FINAL SCORE: 8/10



VALVRAVE S2



"Alright, it's time to discuss operation 'Get all the bitches.'"



Man, Valvrave was just so close to going down as something truly special, but it didn't quite reach that level. Starting back in the Summer, my initial thoughts on the show were a bit mixed. I think a big problem with that first season was a lack of definition over just what was going on. It set up a lot of mysteries, but at the cost of some basic definition of the real conflict, leaving things to a repetitive formula where the Valvrave pilots and students got their new tech or strategies countered by Dorssia, then pull through impossible odds, followed by a hint of the greater mythology or motivations of certain characters. The second season made a wise choice and bucked this trend, putting the school in a more proactive position and establishing just what the ultimate villain was, allowing the themes to become stringer in the end. Somewhat.



Valvrave comes from the writer of Code Geass, and man, it really shows after awhile. There's a lot of reused ideas and plot beats on display (main action girl imprisoned for several episodes, progressive ideals winning over conservative ones, major characters who pull off insanely smart strategies constantly, a high cost for lies, ect), but it manages to be more than a retread through the strength of the cast. All the students, from the major to the minor, have a defined personality, and almost everyone has an arc of some sort. The villains are deep in the gray and even honorable in many ways, really shining through in the final episodes. The action is miles above what Geass managed, with some fantastic CG work in the mechs and a lot of flashy attacks everywhere, but still grounded enough to easily follow and admire all the work that went in each battle sequence. It has all the parts, but the scope may have been too big for the show's own good.



Valvrave really needed another season or to have compressed the events of the first one a bit. This season was the finale and it felt very suffocating at times, with the last four episodes heavily rushing things along to reach a satisfying conclusion. I think it was pulled off, but at the cost of greater promise. Like CC's name being ignored in R2, the promised fighting in the future never really came to get any more time spent on it, and the child was never explained either. This is okay, as they didn't really matter much to the main story at play, but at the same time, it left me feeling a bit empty. Valvrave really needs a third season to see what the students created in the future, it can only add to the themes established and lead to a far more interesting show. There are full blown aliens that aren't body hopping alien souls, I want to see what type of mechs things like those goopy creatures would have. I enjoyed what I got, but it really feels like Valvrave could have been a whole lot more.



FINAL SCORE: 8/10



LOG HORIZON



WOW WOW WOW WOW



After the awful Sword Art Online, I was hesitant to try Log Horizon. Eventually, I just decided on a whim and ended up surprised. Instead of being a show with the same concept and ideas, Log Horizon outright goes in a different direction with death in the game not working like real death but a videogame's penalty for failure. With this one change, the entire structure and focus of the series was completely different; Instead of an action series, it's more of a political thriller and drama, and the most straight forward adventuring and action has a surprising amount of thought behind it. Log Horizon did something really cool that SAO completely forgot about and .Hack poorly handled; it remembered it was a show about videogames and used the rules and structure of a videogame to create the drama.



This is what I really love about Log Horizon. The writer of the series, Mamare Touno, has a history with MMORPGs like Everquest, and it shows. So, when he made a story about people trapped in a world with similar MMO rules, the game part of the equation was used in building the world beyond just everyone having hip points. Almost all combat is done with a team of characters using stat buffs and debuffs, along with moves that compliment each other's play style, in order to get the advantage on the enemy. It really feels like this world was an MMO, even down to how mundane things are done, requiring people with the proper subclass to cook or sing, among other things. The concept of the NPCs now being alive is equally fascinating, especially as they go by a different rule set than adventurers. The show is filled with clever ideas and plot turns, and they're all fully realized.



The cast is equally strong, from the support class main character to the silly members of the Crescent Moon Alliance. There's tons of memorable personalities in every scene, all backed by a strong plot based on the world building I mentioned before. The show lacks the flash and budget of something like SAO, but it more than makes up for it for the inspired concept and execution. The show is only held back by focusing on being an entertaining series with no other major themes to explore, but that's perfectly fine. As far purely entertaining series go, Log Horizon ranks among some of the best.



FINAL SCORE: 8/10



SAMURAI FLAMENCO



sam flam thank you mam



I don't think there was a single show this entire year that surprised me as much as Samurai Flamenco. Seriously, I don't think anyone watched this show without being surprised at some point. It's a deceptive and surprisingly clever love letter to the tokusatsu genre, and I love it more with each and every episode. If Gatchaman Crowds was the progressive version of the superhero, Samurai Flamenco is the complete deconstruction and reconstruction of the conservative and traditional one, and it is a thing of brilliance. While going through the season, I was convinced that my top five was cemented, with Valvrave trailing at the end. Then episode eleven of Samurai Flamenco happened, and I am incredibly excited for the madness coming in the future.



The concept for Samurai Flamenco starts out simple. In the regular world, one obsessed tokusatsu otaku turned male model named Hazama decided to become a superhero, as come up with by his grandfather. The plan is simple; take down petty crime (jaywalking, smoking in non-designated areas, putting out the garbage too early) and work his way up, improving society slowly in a domino effect. His police friend, Goto, thinks this is stupid ...but it actually works. And then episode seven happens and the show goes fucking insane. And then the episode eleven happens and the show goes further into fucking insanity and it is amazing and I love it. I would say more, but you really need to see this shit for yourself.



Samurai Flamenco loves to play with audience expectations. It doesn't care at all about being in one genre or the other, it has a larger goal of examining the idea of what it means to be a hero in terms of both the view of fans and how those silly superheroes have impacted our culture, along with a bit of meta commentary on the plot structure and tropes of the toku genre. To that end, it will do the most insane twists imaginable, completely out of nowhere, but if you can keep up with the ride, it will all be worth it. This was the perfect show to compliment the masterpiece of Gatchaman Crowds; I won't say it's as good, but it comes damn close and makes a very strong rebuttal in its various ramblings. And even if you don't really care about all that stuff, the show is plenty entertaining anyways, so you can enjoy it as whatever show it wants to be for that particular week. Kudos, Manglobe, you have made quite the ride, and I can't wait for the second half.



FINAL SCORE: 9/10



OUTBREAK COMPANY



Preach the gospel!



If it wasn't for Samurai Flamenco, Outbreak Company would have easily been the season's biggest shocker. It has a premise that is just begging for terrible harem shenanigans, and it even has a lot of harem moments sprinkled throughout, but it ended up being one of the best shows of the season, skyrocketing into the top five since the first episode. I really do adore this series, probably more than I should, because of that layer of self-awareness and its commentary on cultural imperialism. It's another one of those shows that tried having cake and eating it too that were so abundant this season, and it did it so effortlessly that I can't help but be impressed by it.



Outbreak Company's trick is knowing that everything is about context. With every generic harem moment or comedic gag, there's usually a subversion or a layer of awareness present. For example, Shinichi accidentally hitting Brooke could have easily been some forgotten slapstick, only for it to be used to reveal just how bad non-human races have it in the kingdom with both Brooke and Myusel having little resistance to the idea of being physically punished. That's very clever, and there's a lot of moments like that mixed in. Where the show really shines is when this is done for the sake of humor, such as a sequence where a council is trying to decide on a swimsuit for Petralka, all trying to avoid the actual answer due to its cultural significance. Any anime tropes that are done are done with all the characters aware that they're tropes, usually as a way to break the ice or brought up as something to avoid or use in some odd fashion, like Elbia copying a martial arts move she saw from a manga.



The real impressive part of the show is when it brings up cultural impact. The running theme of the show is the power of culture, similar to Gatchaman Crowds, with the difference being showing how culture can not only be a weapon of change but a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. There's a lot of talk of invasion and the such, and it carries weight. Shinichi and the Japanese are changing the kingdom of Eldant, and why we may argue that this is a good thing, there's a few moments as the series goes on where you begin to wonder if that's really a good thing in some cases. I won't spoil how the series ends, but it's a very well done bit of commentary on real life Japanese politics going on right now. Outbreak Company is a harem series that has absolutely no right to be as smart or as funny as it is. It bucks the expectations of its genre and does something incredible.



FINAL SCORE: 10/10



KYOUSOUGIGA



"That's what you get for messing with the wu-tang"



Kyousougiga was something I wanted to watch at season start, but had to wait for Crunchyroll to pick it up late. It was worth the wait, as the position here would tell you. Kyousougiga is a creative delight, something you'd never expect from Toei, but also very simple to understand. Sure, there's a lot of talk of gods and fate and blah blah, but the real focus of the show is dirt simple; family. It's a show about an odd, but ultimately relatable, family that just happens to be really important to the structure of reality itself. You know, the anime usual. The trick that the show brings is how it has structured its story and the bizarre art style an animation in uses. Ascetically, Kyousougiga stands out completely from any other work, like a more structured version of a Shaft work. But from a narrative standpoint, the show keeps things pretty simple and really relatable.



The major conflict doesn't appear until the final few episodes, so most of the show is just exploring the cast, from both their past and present. Each episode is divided in chapters, and each chapter either continues the current set of events in the present, or takes place in the past and shows how the present cast came to where they are now. There's a lot of backstory, but it's well used, even if there's the occasional use of long exposition. What makes said exposition forgivable is that the show is really good at using such talks to get the audience guard down and surprise them with something unexpected, made all the easier with the great flow of the editing. Every line of dialog has purpose, as does every visual, no matter how odd or abstract. The show is bursting with symbolism at every turn, constantly relaying information on the characters and events by connecting them to old tales. There's a bit of a cultural barrier for those unfamiliar with Shinto and Buddhist basics, but the show itself is still easy to follow.



When you get down to it, what makes Kyousougiga work is the cast. Everyone, even the smallest character, is interesting in some way, or just a joy to watch. Koto in particular is a barrel of fun, causing trouble everywhere she goes. Kurama being the only truly sane man is clever, as it appears to be Myoe at first, until we learn more about him and see how easily he loses his temper. Yase just liven things up whenever she appears, and Lady Koto is an amusingly silly character, despite her initial appearance. The Looking Glass city is filled with strange inhabitants, like the otaku Shoko and Yase's unspeaking demonic friends. Everyone has some sort of creative charm to them, and the relationships between everyone really make the story work. I've been rambling because the show has so much good about it, but at the end of the day, it's a story about family; the fights, the misunderstands, and the moments of togetherness, both the good and the bad. It's the most universal thing, even if not related by blood, and it's capable of affecting us all in amazing ways. Kyousougiga does a fantastic job of showing that in the most manic and enjoyable way, all while showing off how much it knows how to use its medium. Absolutely amazing series and a must for any anime fan.



FINAL SCORE: 10/10



NAGI NO ASUKARA



ALRIGHT FREE WEED DAY



Hey, do you like it when entertainment makes you feel things? Then you definitely want to watch Nagi no Asukara, because god damn, there is a lot of feelings to be found here. I was blind-sided by this one completely, not really having any idea what it actually was, and it just worked its magic. I once compared this, Kill la Kill and Outbreak Company, citing OC as clever, KlK as the smart one, and this one as the beautiful show, and that comparison still stands. Each represents a different type of entertainment, with the other two sort of tricking you with what they actually were. Nagi no Asukara doesn't play around with what it is at all, and that makes me respect it all the more. It's downright amazing and a real emotional roller coaster.



The series premise is simple. The people of the land and people of the sea have had strained relations for awhile now, and four kids from the sea have to go to school on the surface due to theirs closing down. Much of the series explores the problems of prejudice and how it affects everyone surprisingly well, never rubbing the point in your face and having a lot of complex characters moving one another's arcs. Eventually, the gears shift and the more mystical elements start to become more important, with the cast and their complicated relationships becoming the center of the drama. Episodes and twelve and thirteen in particular just rip out your heart completely in some truly beautiful sequences, backed by absolutely stunning visuals and colors. The show looks as beautiful as it's written.



This is a really difficult thing to pull off, but that's exactly what happened. All the characters, even the most minor, are memorable and you just want to see them pull through the challenges they're forced to face. The show really builds a living, breathing setting, both the sea village and city on the surface, and works in just about every character into the drama. Everyone has a role to play, and you never feel like you've confused some for another. The family drama results in some absolutely amazing and heartbreaking moments, even reaching a point in episode twelve where one of the background characters tears up. I was right there with him. The show has lots of sad, but a lot of everything else as well. I also wanted to pump my fist in the air during Hikari's apology to a classmate, and I laughed at the same time. This show has absolutely fantastic writing, design and music. There isn't a flaw I can find besides plot related issues that almost don't matter at all. This is beautiful, and I can't wait for the second half. This almost got my number one spot, but it was a bit too traditional to be a real head turner. Yes, I think you all know what the best show of the Fall ended up being for me.



FINAL SCORE: 10/10



KILL LA KILL



I'M STANDING HERE

I REEEEEEALIZE

THAT YOU WERE JUST LIKE ME

TRYING TO MAKE HISTORY

BUT WHO'S TO JUDGE

THE RIGHT FROM WRONG

WHEN YOUR GUARD IS DOWN

I THINK WE'LL BOTH AGREE

THAT VIIIIIIIIOLENCE BREEDS VIIIIIIIIOLENCE

BUT IN THE END

IT HAS TO BE THIS WAYYYYYYY



From the makers of Gurren Lagann and INFERNO COP, the greatest anime ever made, comes a show that is basically both of those things smooched together with a ton of themes based around feminine viewpoints and commentary. Yes, the show with boob suspenders could be considered feminist in some circles. I am aware how fucking crazy that sounds. Kill la Kill was Trigger proving that you could take the dumbest concept and style possible, and somehow create something with a surprising amount of intelligence to it, allowing them to flash all the skin they want with narrative purpose that rarely distracts from what's currently happening by just making everything ridiculous almost the entire time. This is the perfect sister series to Gurren Lagann, because it's equally overblown and enjoyable, and with far more insight than you'd initially think.



Where a lot of Kill la Kill's strength comes from how well developed the cast are, both male and female. The villains are incredibly human and relatable, and they're more a product of a terrible system than anything else. The power plays between Satsuki and her mother are interesting, especially with how subtle the hints at the bigger picture are. Ryoku is a likable, flawed punk with a great revenge arc going on, with little touches like her seeing her father's killer more as Satsuki as time goes on. Mako is simply the most amazing thing ever since Hajime from Crowds and I would pay all the money to have them meet one day. The Go Nagaified subject matter is well handled with Trigger's cheap animation shortcuts, brought to a hilarious mastery in the budgetless forth episode, all while having a colorful and explosive art style. The gender equality in how everyone and anyone can get striped down and beaten horribly is refreshing, raising the stakes and robbing most everyone of plot armor, along with offering a lot of great slapstick no other studio would ever think of trying. And need I even mention the soundtrack? It's a thing of beauty.



People have been talking about Kill la Kill near endlessly, and there's not much I can add besides what I already wrote elsewhere. All I can say that it really is that fantastic, even if it dives into a bunch of familiar action anime tropes with no shame whatsoever. But that may be part of the point. Kill la Kill is a show all about having no shame; be proud of who you are, and even if others will label or see you as something else entirely, don't let them define you. Be what you want to be, have your dignity in even the most undignified situation, and you'll get respect for that in the end. Sometimes all you need is a bit of confidence in yourself to be something amazing, like the main cast of this show and even the show itself. It's shameless in how much it loves the work of Go Nagai and how much the animators like their attractive ladies and dudes, and that's okay, because it's just so well done. Kill la Kill isn't just fun, it's damn near one of the best anime in recent memory and I adore it.



FINAL SCORE: 10/10
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