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[Featurama] Spring 2012 Final Thoughts

Art by 華尾ス太郎

You know, I always try to find slice of life pictures with the respective seasons for these posts but Spring is a tricky one. There are a lot of great pics but whenever I look at them I think “Summer” instead of spring. Winter is easy because all you really need is snow and Fall is surprisingly easy because dusk covered skies are always reminiscent of fall. I saw a lot of pictures I could have used but there were too many summer elements for me to properly put to use (Bright yellow sun, t-shirts, bathing suits, air conditioner, sundresses), so I chose this lovely pic. A bit too bright to be fall not lax enough to be summer. Oh well, I’ll try better next time.

This season was a pretty amazing season in which each of our writer’s have nothing but praise to sing over their respective titles so hit the jump and see what we have to say about Spring 2012.


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzClBNf2pI8[/youtube]

Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? of the DEAD

This was essentially a throw away season for the show. The only addition you need to know from this season is that an extremely powerful Mahou Shoujo is now out there somewhere ready to cause chaos for the quaint household of monsters. Ten episodes and that’s all we really got. Now wait patiently for season 3.

You probably want more than that, don’t you?

Fine. What this season focused on is expanding upon the relationships that the ensemble surrounding Ayumu has with each other. This season allowed the self centered Haruna to create a bond with the people that she was staying with. It gave emotion to the emotionless Eu. It weakened the bitchy resolve that Seraphim presents. It strengthened who the characters were together without having to rely solely on Ayumu.

Unfortunately this came at the cost of legitimate story progression, and you know what? That’s ok.

They didn’t lose much of the charm that the original season brought and offered some memorable things on top of it. Ayumu’s hands in the pants dance was funny. In fact just typing it out is simple fun in itself. Even as a throw away season, it was a good watch week in and week out.

I don’t know the context of this image…

Accel World

Unlike the rest of the anime on display here, Accel World isn’t close to being done yet. The show is really finishing the first story arc and so this could realistically be dragged out for another 12 or more episodes.

That being said, I figured I’d give a small impression on what the first arc has ended up as.

This is typical shonen “I need to get stronger” power up stuff. Arita is this loser of a man who takes solace in his second virtual life, until the school idol Kuroyukihime comes to him and welcomes him to the amazing Accel World. This game is essentially a fighting game, which is a fairly simple premise, but the twist for the game is that Accel World can grant users the ability to slow time in the real world.

It’s a great concept and Sunrise has crafted a fun little ensemble of characters. Unfortunately, games like this need rules and that’s ultimately where Accel World breaks down. The slow of time isn’t really utilized greatly with the focus on Arita’s chivalry taking precedent on everything. This somehow makes all the battles oddly anticlimactic.

All of Accel World’s rules seemingly change from battle to battle. They cut through almost all of the battles that would define the real rules of the world and hope you get it. Leveling is explained well, but the effect of the action is glossed over. Powers and abilities are clearly defined, but only used when the battle actually calls for it. Motivations are clearly defined, but the systems Arita and Kuroyukihime fight inside are mere footnotes to the story leaving nothing to rely on from episode to episode in a battle except for the interactions themselves.

Right now the arc is ending with Arita and friends battling with the first King in Kuroyukihime’s quest to reach the mysterious goal of Level 10. There are plenty of great battles left to go for the supposed 24 episode season, but right now it is a lack luster adventure. Until the battles start to define their rules, each move into the Accel World will be an exercise in action for the sake of action.

What Accel World has become is a good idea that plays itself on a whim and hopes you are following along.

So you better fix it...punk.

Tsuritama

If you watched this entire show and didn’t google “Enoshima,” what’s wrong with you?

I’m not sure if the director fell strangely in love with the Japanese Island and its culture, but Tsuritama is a supernatural fishing anime disguised as a blatant advertisement for the island hotspot. It is an exemplary accomplishment of endorsement as characters dance the local dance and shout out the local food name all while doing seemingly normal things like fishing. The cast even works at one point on a boat as fishing guides, highlighting the many events you can do on the island.

It is in this heavy endorsement that the underlying friendship of the four male protagonists kind of shines.

What we are given is a story of how the alien Haru brought a group of socially broken individuals together for a single life changing adventure. Each friend is ultimately crippled in their relationship. You can see this in the shy loner who scares away everyone while he is nervous, the secret agent who can never relax, or the angry prince of fishing who is caught unable to make his dreams come true. This bond they have together pushes them through the hard times and it is interesting to see the clash between the serene act of fishing and the drama that consumes them.

Tsuritama is beautiful in this and the obvious ways. Sadly the drama, the quirky characters, the settings, they don’t have much punch to them. It is an interesting thing to see, but the relaxed presentation method makes it hard to carry you towards the conclusion. Especially when the first sighting of abnormal activity happens halfway through the season. It is like fishing itself. There is beauty in the art of the event, but when it comes down to it, all you want is for them to bag the fish. A bit of tension could have transformed this show into something more than a breezy summer fishing story.

Medaka Box

This is passable Gainax. To be fair, that sets it above plenty of studios, but it does nothing to break the status quo. Something Gainax is known for.

Originally I thought this was going to be a 4th wall breaking commentary on the status of the anime industry. While there is some sprinklings of that, ultimately it is a simple savior’s tale presented through an odd gathering of students. Medaka is essentially the Messiah of her school and that’s as deep as the show gets.

In effect, she shows up, gathers disciples and converts the school with her amazing acts as Student Council President. Everything stems from the simple idea that she will solve every problem that is presented to her through a suggestion box. She answers the prayers of those in need, even in unorthodox ways.

The season ultimately ends with her battle with the Anti-Medaka, a student who perverts the will of justice with violence and destruction. Revelations. The school is destroyed in the ensuing battle as her friends lay broken on the ground. Eventually, the war is ended with forgiveness and the student council left continuing the work she had started.

If you are a fan of Gainax and messianic motifs, you are set. For the rest of us, it was an ok season with plenty of manga left to burn through for a second and maybe third follow up.

😀

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Mysterious Girlfriend X is a show surrounded by sexual imagery, yet is mostly about a boy unraveling the complexity that is his girlfriend. It is interesting to watch as they don’t actually progress as a normal couple should. Despite their bizarre bond through swapping spit, it isn’t until the end of the season that she affords him the luxury of a hug. It is in fact this lack of true progression that makes the relationship compelling.

This show isn’t intriguing because of the sexual exploration that Urabe and Tsubaki enter into. It is in how Tsubaki finally figures out Urabe. Every progression he makes with his relationship is blocked by a barrier Urabe erects. She is his puzzle. Difficulty, complex and tricky to figure out while we watch them in amusement.

It is really only a simple romance, however it is captivating because of Urabe. They mystery of who she is actually does intrigue you. The only emotion she ever truly shows is from sexual contact. This makes the fan service more intriguing. The character interactions with both themselves and others are more intriguing.

It’s a show full of ecchi about a girl who will cut your throat if you even hug her. All brought to you by the former director of a lot of Doraemon cartoons. It wasn’t a show that stood out as my favorite due to the hesitance in bringing more interaction between the characters, as Urabe and Tsubaki never seem to interact outside of their designated walk home. The first time he visited her home was purely happenstance. Even still, Mysterious Girlfriend X should be considered one of the better shows this season.

Zombie Waifu Show

Sankarea

Now we get to the necrophiliac’s love triangle. Sankarea is a touching tale of a zombie enthusiast’s undying wish for an undead girlfriend and the girl who fulfilled said wish after her father killed her in a jealous rage. Truly the most unique show of the season and that’s something with a supernatural fishing show on the table.

The funny thing about Sankarea is that it is actually good. A scenario like this has a million different ways to truly destroy itself, but it doesn’t ever get to that point because of the way they approach the episodes. All of the episodes are character focus. It begins with our zombiephile cat boy Furuya working on bringing his dead cat back to life in an abandoned building. Enter the untouchable school princess Sanka Rea who is suffering from a bad case of the “My Dad forces me to take naked pictures.”

Story shifts to their relationship as friends and moves to her death, revival and escape from her father’s grasp. Enter nosy childhood friend and family as he tries to hide the body. Then it’s the mother and father’s story until finally resolution.

It is in this movement of perspective that the show remains fascinating. We aren’t left dwelling on Sanka Rea and Furuya’s complicated relationship, the story is constantly changing to accommodate the interesting characters. That’s where the show really begins to shine as a group of selfish people gather to tell their tales after an event that is the definition of abnormality.

It is a well presented and well focused show that sprung up as the highlight of the season for me.

I don't know the context for this image either. Just came up on Google.

Sakamichi no Apollon

When I began Sakamichi no Apollon, I expected two things: Excellent music, and a lighthearted story of a friendship formed around a mutual appreciation of that music. Fortunately, I got plenty of the first. Unfortunately, I was left wanting for the latter. The main focus of Sakamichi no Apollon is not jazz, and friendship often gets pushed to the wayside. Instead, it is a show about an increasingly and needlessly convoluted love polygon, filled with angst and pettiness. It was enjoyable, but only the finale saved it from the disappointed review that I planned on giving to it.

I figure it will be best to air my grievances first. Sakamichi no Apollon is full of horrid storytelling techniques. It doesn’t just contain contrived chance encounters, it thrives upon them, using them as one of the main methods of driving the story forward. In one episode, I found myself laughing at a scene that contained three of these in rapid succession. In addition, the central conflict of most character arcs often boils down to “I am afraid to tell/of my feelings,” to the point where it can be unbearable. This show is incredibly heavy on emotions and introspection, so if that isn’t your thing, I advise you to stay away. Many times, I considered dropping the show because of these grievances, but I stuck with it because, despite all this, it has many things going for it, as well.

Sakamichi no Apollon’s setting in 1960’s Japan is fantastic, and through the show’s music and art, it comes alive. The best moments of the show, without doubt, are when angsty rich boy Kaoru and poor ruffian with a heart of gold Sentaro forget their differences and behave like two normal teenage friends should. These fantastic times include snowball fights, studying boot camps, and, best of all, jazz sessions. The show’s music lives up to the pedigree of legendary composer Yoko Kanno, and the animation during these sessions is superb. Jazz is the true heart of the show, so it’s a shame that the romances and bromances filled with strife, angst, and pettiness took up so much of the show.

Now, it is time to talk about the finale, admittedly one of the best and most heartwarming things I have seen in an anime. In the second half, time skips eight years forward. Kaoru is a doctor, and he hasn’t seen Sentaro since he ran away from home eight years prior. Through a few coincidences, he locates his long-lost friend, and they reunite not with questions, anger, or sadness, but music. After so long, they still remain perfectly in tune with each other, Sentaro on drums and Kaoru on the organ. This sequence is everything that I had wanted from the show- no drama, no unhappiness, just two friends bonding over music. The way that it was handled really says something. In the end, drama, fighting, and grudges aren’t what matter; they eventually fade away into the past. Friendship is what matters, and if it is real, it can and should last a lifetime.

Ah Mah Gherd

Shirokuma Cafe

I’ve had a roller coaster of impressions, but I can now safely say that Shirokuma Cafe is one of my favorite Slice of Life shows of all time, thanks to its fantastic cast of characters and unabashed sincerity.

The one thing that sets Shirokuma Cafe apart from other shows (aside from its mostly animal cast) is its slow and laid back pace. With this, it’s able to evoke feelings of a lazy day hanging out with friends almost perfectly, which is what much of the show is. Narcissistic Panda, socially awkward Penguin, and the alternatively benevolent and mischievous Polar Bear are the trio at the center of this show, and their personalities play off of each other marvelously. Very rarely does the show even contain a hint of spite or snarkiness. Even when it begins to become self-aware in its second half, subverting tropes such as Polar Bear’s puns and Penguin’s constant presence at the cafe, in addition to a fantastic scene where Penguin sing’s the show’s opening karaoke-style, it all comes across as genuine and light-hearted.

The one problem that the show holds is stagnation. Often, the show finds itself in a rut, but, especially in its latter half, it is able to rise above by injecting a larger ensemble cast, including the man’s man Grizzly, Panda’s lovelorn zookeeper Handa, and (my favorite) Rin-Rin, the panda-obsessed florist. These people inject new life, new possibilities, and new scenarios into the show, bringing along great laughs as well.

In the final few episodes, the show shifts its focus to Mr. Handa’s love life, and not just as a joke, such as with Penguin’s continually embarrassing pursuit of a girl named Penko. Instead, the show eventually plays it straight, which leads to the finale and one of the most beautiful and heartwarming shots I’ve seen this season, showing somewhat predictable yet still amazing character growth for Panda, as well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best part of Shirokuma Cafe is its honesty and sincerity. It’s a show full of positive emotions and sentiments, a perfect pick-me-up.

Don't fear the reaper.

Fate/Zero

For two seasons we’ve followed the Holy Grail War. A war where those who have desires fight for an all powerful grail which, with its help, all of their wishes would come true. And how it was all a lie.

What makes Fate/Zero so amazing I wonder? Is it the story? Seven mages partnering up with seven historical legends to fight for a holy grail? Is it the action? Having Sir Lancelot fighting Gilgamesh using a demonized fighter jet? Or maybe it’s the tragic storyline? Seeing these characters fight, and fight, and fight, only to lose it all at the hands of fate in an example so schaudenfreude that my incorrect use of that word grammatically can be forgiven when all the characters are lying in a gutter of their own blood and tears andcanyoutellI’mexcited?!??!?!

Ahem….Sorry, I got a bit carried away.

Fate/Zero stands as an antithesis to many of those shows that tout ideas about justice, even more so than the original Fate/Stay Night‘s Archer storyline. A story with a world filled with both evil and love and can play with both sides equally. It’s not about creating a depressing universe when there is so much hope, and at the same time isn’t about creating a world that’s purely optimistic considering the fate of its characters. It’s more of a study of tragedy and a play on classic tragedies and why suffering is such a fascinating subject.

Fate/Zero has a complex, mature story, great characters that are cool, relatable, and sympathetic, great music, beautifully animated sequences, and all around quality in nearly every department. I can’t find a single bad thing to say about the show really in that it had pretty much everything I ever want in an anime

Well actually there is one thing… Have you seen the price for the US import? They’re trying to charge me couple hundred dollars for a single season?!? Frankly that’s bullshit.

Her name is Koko, she is loco.

Jormungand

The second coming of Black Lagoon has come in the form of Jormungand, and what a second coming it is.

Though I keep writing of its similarities it’s hard to avoid it. Hard-boiled action stories about those who work professionally in the underground business of crime, wealth, and ammo? There’s a lot of similarities. There was even a crossover manga in one of the official art books somewhere. Still whether you like Black Lagoon or not I can still recommend to you Jormungand because despite sharing narrative elements that’s about it. If you want a tense anime straight out of Ridley Scott’s playbook of gritty high pulse action and long tense narrative sequences then look no further! The World Serpent has all your bases covered…Is it bases or basis? No matter.

The best way I can describe my experiences with the series is if I stick with the Ridley Scott metaphor in comparison to Black Lagoon’s Quentin Tarantino. The setting, although nondescript, is much more about the politics of the situation than it is about the “cool”. A lot of the more intense moments were when two characters were facing off verbally than any of the gunfights that resulted (though those were cool too). I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a thinking man’s action anime (because it’s not) but it’s a grittier, high octane sort of anime with lots of dialogue, lots of action, and a lot of blood.

Jormungand is a great series for you action junkies with a taste for a story told by the villains in a world full of monsters.

 

;_;

Tasogare Otome x Amnesia

Oh my poor heart is still recovering from that finale.

The love story between a boy and a ghost and the mystery surrounding her death. That was the premise. Though the show didn’t stick to a single method of presentation, the staff (already known for its creativity) used every method at their disposal to present a show that looked as pretty as its lead. Seriously, an aspiring director could learn a thing or two from the design choices made in this show.

I guess I should begin with how pretty the show is. I discussed in my mid-season thoughts all of the beautiful animation work that went into the series but it just kept getting better and better. Lots of creative sequences that, rather than distracting from story, actually enhance it. Sometimes when a show floods the material with all of the “Look at all the cool stuff we can do!” sort of mentality, things get lost in translation. Luckily the staff was wise enough to know just what to use at the right time so that the moment is heightened rather than diminished.

As for the story, it has a similar problem with the manga in that it transitions from fluff to serious a bit too roughly. One moment we get serious mystery corner the next ghostly fanservice. I don’t mind, it’s just the shifts are a bit too drastic for my tastes.

In the end the show delivered everything I wanted it to and then some. There was the gothic horror themes that I was hoping for but more than that there was a love story I absolutely enjoyed. The ending alone made me absolutely feel for the main character as everything about it was really bitter-sweet. A romance that transcended death despite the knowledge that it could never be more than it already is. Of how death can’t be cheated forever and a closure of how to live your life after experiencing such ephemeral yet permanent love.

Dusk Maiden was a gorgeously presented anime from the very beginning but it ended its supernatural narrative on a very live and human note.

: /

Well that’s it for us this season. We missed a few shows like Hyouka and…um…Queen’s Blade but we’re only three people and we only have so much time. Join us soon as we discuss Summer 2012!

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