Birds are singing, flowers are blossoming, and we’re all hibernating indoors watching Japanese cartoons – that’s right, spring season is upon us! My dormant passion for anime has been stirred again, and I’m in the mood to put thoughts into words and words into the unheeded abyss that is my blog! So please enjoy my borderline sarcastic and marginally informative thoughts on the Spring o’ 2014 lineup!

Let’s be clear about what’s going to happen now, before I just go wild and leap into it: I’m going to briefly review and discuss every first episode of the season! But there’s a catch: I’m skipping second seasons that I have not seen and have not been forced to watch regardless by friends. Such exclusions include: Cardfight Vanguard, Date A Live, Dragon Ball Kai, Fairy Tale, etc. Actually, there’s another catch; I’m also going to skip series I can’t be bothered summoning the interest to even think about watching, such as Hero Bank, Kamigami no Asobi, Kiniro no Corda, Marvel Disk Wars, etc. Yep, as you might have guessed, I’m an anime badass with no time for shows for women and children.
Also, please note that these reviews are based on the first episode only! In many cases I have watched on, but I don’t have the time to revise all the reviews in this post or it would never be finished! Honestly, this took me a lot longer than I expected, which is why it’s only just seeing the light of day mid-season. On the upside, I definitely have my finger on the pulse more than usual this season after writing all this!

I would love to hear people’s feedback or differing opinions on any of this stuff, so comment away if you get an inkling!

Captain Earth

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/XWljDmULIb3gmveYejZxKZaHKnzGasYiLA77cOtr1rIUTZJFbT2W4Xk6XGf5z_3TaT3u1tRHH10UVmRVHDmLAKO9tvgPWFpXH6n9MDw_am-7xjX-jIG7NgnEHybmOCKJMw

Bones is juggling three anime this season, but Captain Earth is probably their flagship! This is their latest entry in their staple line of original mecha anime, which in recent years has been: Eureka 7 > Star Driver > Eureka 7 Ao. Actually, It’s more than just the next one in line, but really feels like an evolved amalgamation of these preceding works; it has the summery, colourful design aura of Eureka 7, the exotic locale of Eureka 7 Ao and its BGM exhibits the vocal harmony sound of Star Driver. More than just the dress code, it also seems to have picked story elements from these forbears – especially Eureka 7. The main character is in a similar place to Renton – disillusioned with school life and not having a whole heap of fun with the not having a dad thing. Combine this with a childhood complicated by mecha anime plotlines ala Eureka 7 Ao, and Captain Earth almost feels like a sequel.

On the upside, Captain Earth’s inheritance is a strong one – I loved Eureka 7, and it’s good that they’re building on their success. But, on the downside, I kind of hoped for something totally fresh from Bones, like Eureka 7 or Star Driver was at the time. Originality issues aside, Captain Earth is impeccably produced and easily entertaining. It’s handled by Studio C, which was founded on FMA:Brotherhood and which created Star Driver.

There is one caveat to the entertaining tag: it needs to get less sloppily confusing in later episodes. I’ve got to admit, I found the first episode a bit muddled and maybe too fast-paced for my liking. It reminded me of Rahxephon in that respect, but without Rahxephon’s atmosphere of mystery. Instead of being really intrigued I’ll nonchalantly just wait until it decides to start making sense.

But the time I spent not understanding the plot was spent admiring the pretty visuals. There was some nice mecha animation in the gattai scene near the end, but other than that it wasn’t especially animated, especially for a Bones anime. I wonder if Bones aren’t biting off more than they can chew here, or more than they should chew – before Noragami finished they were working on 6 shows (including preproduction for this season). And let’s remember that Space Dandy is a bit of a beast in terms of its production – I doubt we’ll see Yutaka Nakamura’s animation in Captain Earth at all. I DO expect Tanaka Hironori to show up a fair bit (he was already in this first episode, likely doing the end of the Gattai sequence). Bones should just employ this guy! Even if it does have less animation than usual for Bones, it will still be better than most anime out there, and there’s no doubting the fact that it is pretty – with fantastic background art and storyboarding.

Captain Earth is a solid, entertaining mecha anime without being ground-breaking in any way. Its rich render and sharp production values are a pleasure to watch! The story and script will need to improve in future episodes for it to be a worthwhile series all-round though.

  • Imamura Ryo’s animation featured this episode. If you don’t recognise the name – he has been one of SHAFT’s few stand-out animators, accounting for most of the well-animated scenes in their anime for some time. What is a SHAFT employee doing working on a Bones anime? It seems he might have gone freelance.
  • I have to state again how much I love the storyboard for this episode. It didn’t play out in typical anime fashion and found some new, more cinematic way to present things. It was done between Takuya Igarashi ( the series director) and Yasushi Muraki.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Seikoku no Dragonar

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/Yba2-KMiEYsGwJnG7_lDlkF9uUnL_wT-uGVlBb1MgxjVPy0gwJDf3ko_jcDHdC2P_95_CQTcfZ2zXQozUIjY_hOHmxSj2qiSC4sX7DcAGESjkDUIAHe7JiyRp-avr8COcw

The story follows the frustrating school life of an adolescent boy in a fantasy world where dragons are a part of everyday life. His frustration comes from the fact that the school is attended almost exclusively by fanatical gossip-mongering bullies who have labelled him ‘the school’s biggest problem-child’ because he gets angry when people insult him to his face (which always seemed like a reasonable reaction to me). Meanwhile he is regularly plagued by sinister nightmares in which a hideously hyper-breasted naked magical lady sneaks into his room and tortuously licks his body. Anyway, the school is devoted to riding and using dragons, and every student has magically summoned their own dragon except for our poor, inept protagonist. In other words, it’s basically a cross between Zero no Tsukaima and How to Train Your Dragon.

The premise could have been pretty interesting if executed right (who doesn’t love dragons right, or disrobed fantasy females for that matter!). But, at the end of the day, it all falls pretty flat and is more annoying than interesting. This anime is in the hands of studio C-Station. If you haven’t heard of them before it’s because this is the first anime they have produced themselves. Originally just a substudio of Bee Train doing outsourced key-animation work, they recently split off to go it alone. If this is anything to go by, they’re not going to be a game-changer in the industry! That said, the animation isn’t terrible, just average, and the other production values aren’t terrible either, just dull and uninspiring. This is a by-the-book light novel adaptation which does not have the kind of production qualities needed to make it stand out.

Within its mediocrity there are still a few things to like about Seikoku no Dragonar, such as the surprisingly sincere characterisation of the protagonist. He quite clearly has principals, empathy and a backbone to him, making him pretty likeable (unlike the foul behaviour of his schoolmates). I also like the fact that it is a fantasy, and there are a few cool designs here and there. I have a soft-spot for the ninja whose costume is a seasonally confused combination of a large scarf and a micro bikini, for example. On the whole though, I don’t think I could call it worth watching.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/1.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/try.jpg

Nanana’s Buried Treasure

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/o1nNWxQ6JwHiAgIRi02dvc1pxPIGBGp5MzVQTpIfRq2CAGD8T9olE2cfyCaARv-fain41sb7Y0vgGNb1TfbMrjcYVX1v4_Ro0YtHw8_sOa5WTjeNBVbzA1QnkqmsnWsmVQ

A-1 Pictures delivers a cute, vibrant treasure-hunting anime with a sense of adventure and an alluring moe vibe for the Noitamina timeslot this season. While this series is unusually otaku-oriented for the noitamina timeslot, it still makes an effort at universal appeal across a wider demographic – avoiding too much fanservice, featuring more earnest characters and leaning on themes of adventure. Where it does dabble in otaku enticement is the ‘awkward sexual tension of living with a beautiful supernatural girl’ situation, and the moe-fied character designs.

Fortunately, I like moe, so don’t look to me if you want complaints about that. As long as it doesn’t step on too many cliches going forward, or get stuck in a rut of going nowhere, I’ll stay happy. And the character designs are moefied in absolutely the best way – they were put in the hands of one of the prodigies in this field: Tetsuya Kawamaki. I talked about him briefly in my Robot Girls Z review, but he’s most famous for his character designs on OreImo and Sword Art Online. His aim with each project is to make his designs stand out from his previous works. He’s somewhat successful – anyone watching this anime can see the similarity to the designs of OreImo, yet these characters definitely have something fresh to their look. The colours in their eyes are so beautiful they really catch your gaze and absorb you! I could stare into Nanana forever.

The animation is also strong. It features some big-name animators, namely Yasunori Miyazawa, Tetsuya Takeuchi, and Tadashi Shida! There are several well-animated scenes throughout, and none that struck me as bad. Yasunori Miyazawa and Tetsuya Takeuchi would have handled the cave-scouring segment in the first part, since their names are seperated in the genga credits and the animation is in their style. I’d guess that this part is Takeuchi and this part is Miyazawa. It’s a really great sequence with a lot of energy. If every episode has a thrillingly animated Indiana Jones style treasure raiding scene this is going to be one fun series!

On the whole, this is a really attractive, inviting and potentially exciting anime. Its moe implementations don’t feel too rehashed and generic and actually injects a nice cute spirit to the series.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Soul Eater Not!

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/92h18lLY_gXJoILnMJGARHsiVskvwZpZH6VFwQ0nJunuvToVGxYmmtjiHBYWpq0U--TdjLLDvxT_fsCT-PZmHECjKmxOexSzZzsSeWuYXTM_XBm5zZRXGI7IDxVNAt3mZg

Before I go any further, let’s reach into my dark trove of shameful secrets and pull out the fact that I never watched the original Soul Eater! I’m sorry, please don’t leave! I did watch the first few episodes, and saw all the animation highlights in various sakuga MADs, but something about the series rubbed me the wrong way and I never got into it. But even the title of this anime has gone out of its way to convince me that this isn’t Soul Eater, so I’ll clean the slate and go into this as though it was a brand new anime.

That approach worked pretty well for me – while others were lamenting how Maka’s eyes have changed colour or how there never used to be an airport in Death City, I was sitting back and enjoying the comedy cum psuedo-slife-of-life ride! Soul Eater Not! is probably something that doesn’t need to exist – there are plenty of other anime out there that aren’t Soul Eater and are already doing a decent job at putting unrealistically cute 2D schoolgirls on TV and making us laugh. But BONES bit the bullet and went with it anyway, using their clout and production assets to barge past the competition into center stage. What I’m trying to say here is that while it’s not unique series, this anime still delivers on the entertainment value through well-timed jokes and competent production. I did laugh at the gags, and I did swoon over the girls, and I never felt the contrivances stack up to the point where I felt the compulsion to roll my eyes, or shake my head.

The production is handled by BONES Studio A, basically the Noragami crew from last season. That means we should get a few pricks of good animation scattered throughout the series but overall just a decent standard of quality. I also find the colours to be a bit muted and there’s something slightly off about the designs, but I can’t exactly put my finger on it. Still, the presentation is fine and Soul Eater Not! is simple, fun entertainment. It’s been good to watch with a group of friends so far.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg
No Game No Life

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/yjbwUdOf1IUUZKaWyWsJxZzHjexu6sp492RNTMO5XqqFx8lvJuqB9B2lUxulqZ97Ae9lWft9AoXWcvcKBoS-KCtL4m99nB9lk8woQPegl7FArXIoEr3yvpEwhUSdLrzcsw

The anime No Game No Life was born into a sad, seemingly inescapable fate as a trite light novel adaptation. Yuu kamiya is the man behind the original light novel of the same name. He was responsible for the quickly-forgotten Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi novel series, and he was sure to instill the same fluoro colour scheme and banal, gimmicky storytelling into No Game No Life. The premise of No Game No Life is that a pair of utterly home-bound siblings – a high-school aged boy and his cute, adoring, flat-chested little sister – are geniuses at any computer game they get their hands on and totally bored with the real world. They are unwittingly given the chance to escape their dull existence when they are dragged into another, more fantasy-styled world where, by some miracle of suspended disbelief, everything is decided by games. Of course, they thrive in this new setting and, of course, the world is teeming with moe, voluptuous life forms just waiting for a genius Earth-boy to impress them at games. It’s premise is such an obvious play for the attention (and wallets) of escapist hikki-types, and its sprinkled with panty-shots and other sexual tones to reel in the otaku.

So, its obviously cliche but, if pushed, I can happily put that aside and enjoy the show for base entertainment value. As for fanservice: absolutely no problems with it and, if I’m being honest, I kind of enjoy it. But the show could have fallen flat on its face if it weren’t for Madhouse’s deftly handled production. Despite its humble status of ‘light novel adaptation’, No Game no Life does have some significance to Madhouse. For those not aware, Madhouse has been endangered for the last while – since the leak of talent to the defect upstart studio MAPPA and the adjustment to Nippon Television buying it in 2011. There has been outsourcing of animation to other studios in the first episode, and I expect this to continue (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’ll probably keep it on schedule at least).

This anime is headed by director Atsuko Ishizuka – a relatively young female animator who has quickly become one of the major players at the studio. She has a background in graphic arts and music, and did some impressive music videos earlier in her career. On one hand, it’s a little sad to see someone who originally worked on quite interesting and unique projects now working on such a thoroughly commercial affair as No Game No Life. On the other hand, she has clearly struck a good career in anime – an impressive feat for a young female animator of her background, and filled a void since the departures from the company. The old Madhouse gave her that chance, but I fear the new Madhouse won’t be giving any others the same opportunity. She is clearly a competent director, because No Game No Life looks more polished than a lot of anime this season.

  • The character designer and chief animation director is Kouji Ooya, who also contributed genga in the first episode, suggesting he has a kind of ‘main animator’ role. This is his first stint in this kind of series role, following a trend this season of new faces in big credits. So far it looks like he’s doing an exceptional job.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Selector Infector Wixoss

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/gcliB8aoXh4ZzzlnbrIi7SjOnl9I4E1fdCPgcahq5cSy7saaWtb_qIqCLT-uoOAXU6Qs2KypS9eMcTUI3rlj_XxJ-OG9j9g3gZr-s0HTu_S260zkZNlvJnBHdC24yXet3g

Some months ago in Japan a group of maverick, cutting edge producers sat around and agreed that the thing Japanese nerds really need right now is yet another trading card game. And so, Selected Infector Wixoss was born! They were wrong of course – even if the soon-to-be-released game turns out to be good, it feels like there’s already plenty happening in the TCG space. On the upside, the people behind WIXOSS seemed to know that they had to really nail the anime and make it more than just about selling cards. Although I saw warning flags above this anime’s head at first, especially when I heard that J.C Staff were involved, this turned out to be one of the anime I enjoyed the most so far this season. It’s crisply produced, but still allows for enough expression and individuality in the animation and storyboard to avoid that bland and shallow feeling I get from most of JC’s by-the-books commercial ventures.

For example, the animation in Ruuko’s mysterious nightmare world has a raw, violent feel to it that creates and eerie contrast to the softer and more moeblob art in the real world. Adding to this, the sound design in that nightmare world, and in the virtual card game arena is really excellent (although I didn’t really notice until I rewatched those scenes with headphones in). It’s this visceral, eschewed digital noise that creates an engrossing mood in these scenes. I’m a bit surprised by this given the sound director (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=979) and series musician (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=57014). Perhaps the director pushed for an attention to atmospheric sound, since it seems music is his main hobby and passion (and music like Sigur Ros, no less).

The production as a whole stands up well, with strong animation and art. Interestingly, the character designer Kyuuta Sakai only did the character designs for this series. Normally the character designer is also the chief animation director (the person responsible to oversee the animation across all episodes to improve overall consistency with his/her designs). However, this anime has a different chief animation director each episode. This isn’t unheard of, but the first anime that springs to mind with a similar set-up is Noein, which had an intentionally free production and varying character designs per episode. I doubt that’s what they’re aiming for here, especially since they even have assistant chief animators for the episodes as well. I note also that episode 3 has 6 animation directors. Perhaps this anime just has the money to splash out on animation directors to keep this a high-quality, on-schedule production, but I do wonder about why they didn’t go for having a series chief animation director role!

But we have to trust the director, Takuya Satou, who is probably best known for Steins;Gate (for which Kyuuta Sakai was also character designer). I expect this anime to stay entertaining and well-made to the very end! The story also grabbed me pretty well, it didn’t have Captain Earth’s problem of being overly convoluted, but it’s not overly simple either. It features genuine, likeable characters and just enough of a sinister, foreboding vein through it to make sure we know it’s not just about cute girls playing cards.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Black Bullet

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/tiIXLMZilQM0knC4VARIiuJg7nExWsfz-1OQigwUHTTVVLXioybiYees8iQtrHkhvFMqzdYnfWhsHZaOFQW_QQGp2eIWrUDpP66U0TXeNXAm-5M95KT64CROjoS68SnLSQ

Here we have yet another seinen Light Novel series adaptation. Black Bullet retreads the fighting supernatural detective path with the usual LN-sourced layer of otaku appeal, this time in the form of utterly adorable battle lolis. Like countless anime before it, Black Bullet’s story is basically an elaborate excuse for having an expansive cast of underage girls fighting monsters.  If you are allergic to unnaturally cute little girls being moe and kicking ass, then this this might not be the show for you. Otherwise prepare to be tickled by the sweet and awkwardly fanservicey Enju. Enju is super cute … and the action was actually pretty cool when she and her male MC accomplice leapt into battle. But I can’t think of much else positive to say about this one. It’s really quite generic; with the exception of Enju, the aesthetics are rather bland, and I feel that it lacks heart at the centre of its story. It doesn’t have a creatively interesting story or much emotional gravitas, so I guess what I mean to say is – why should we care? And since it takes itself seriously, it doesn’t fit nicely in the brainless entertainment bin either.

The studio behind this is Kinema Citrus, another fledgling studio, founded in 2008 by Ogasawara Muneki, an ex-BONES producer, in cohort with some people from Production I.G and Bee Train. Initially, they were affiliated with BONES, but quickly became a studio standing on its own feet. The one work that Kinema Citrus has done that makes me respect them a lot is .Hack//Quantum. Unfortunately, due to its mostly flaccid design and production, Black Bullet diminishes the promise of this new studio. But don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t look horrible, just pretty average. I guess that really sums up the show.

  • The character designer, and one of the main animators (AD episode 2, Prop Design ep 2) , is 海島千本. This is an odd one because I can find very little information on him. I feel like its a new psuedonym (or just starting to use his actual name), but I can’t find what he would have used previously. But I did manage to find his pixiv, http://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=18362, twitter https://twitter.com/Kaisen_Tobiuo  , and blog http://kaisendon.exblog.jp/ .
  • This series has 5 ‘main animator’ credits, so these guys will be doing a large portion of the work on the series: Kuroda Yuka (黒田結花), Nonoka Masayuki (野中正幸), Moromeki Tetsuro (諸貫哲朗), Toda Mai (戸田麻衣), and (竹内由香里) whose reading I can’t be sure of.
  • Yoshinari Kou was easily the most famous animator involved in this first episode, but didn’t really do anything remarkable by the looks of it.

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Mushishi

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/UFFNPVSoSNokoxHb6-RmGe5nmcZxoBFkKDBDrdxvBMJOBjLkjQaL-wFNJKDe9RcAfjH6vYTubpL4aH-Sm-TVBhmRzMCuh4lMf0mXMzieqCuoS7pu65SUR43elsmrzB348g

Director Nagahami Hiroshi continues his hallowed reign over the franchise, returning as series director, and bringing in tow the same core staff as the first season: Toshio Masuda (music), Yoshihiko Umakoshi (Character designer/chief AD), Takeshi Waki (Art Director), et cetera. As anyone who’s already a fan of the first season will tell you, this is very good news, because it means more of the same lusciously realised, and creatively charged storytelling as before. Yoshihiko Umakoshi is celebrated as a designer and animator, and it’s always nice to see his skills being put to use on something that isn’t Precure. Hiroshi Nagahami meanwhile, has recently pushed himself to the head of the pack as being one of the best directors working in anime right now since his eye-opening adaptation of Aku no Hana last year. He challenged conventions with that work, giving everyone a rare reminder that there’s more than one way to make an anime, and avoiding the trap of being arty-weird to make that point. Mushishi is more familiar ground, but it is still unique as an anime, with a pace, atmosphere and style that is tailored to the manga it is based on, breathing life into it in the best way possible.

I guess I don’t have a lot to convey about this second season, other than to say it has not faltered at all since its first entry – it’s the same Mushishi I remember, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For those of you who haven’t experienced Mushishi yet, – it’s a wandering, pondering exploration of a culture and its people living in a world veined with unseen mysticism, seen through the eyes of a nomadic, solitary doctor who treats people who unwittingly come into contact with this supernatural force. The thing I love about the series, and it’s something that the author is clearly passionate about, is that the supernatural elements seem both entirely fictional yet also have a worldly, natural realism to them. And these life forms also have a spiritualism to them in their connection with human beings, and the story really uses them to ultimately engage in very human stories.

Mushishi is one of those A-grade anime with universal appeal, an uncompromised creative vision and a superb production behind it. Check it out!

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/3.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/4.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/pickedup.jpg

Hitsugi no Chaika

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/51qdhvqfWAA64EpYjOHrORSbVZJZ34TJ92q7uvPrAfM8_DbfDEmGRQ2XXZy4wXVAEVVEbgLUbtMTeAHVMfkPPWxDoi1vHlpGJyvAEQqNvRxZgJruEGvlSRcrP7WmamXiCA

A fantasy anime adapted from a light novel from the same author as Scrapped Princess. Who else remembers Scrapped Princess? Funnily enough that was one of the few anime I have every marathoned in a single sitting (I was sick at the time). It was a simple but pretty effective fantasy series, and an awkward mix of equal parts cliche and interesting story ideas. I can see Hitsugi no Chaika falling into the same boat, with the wow-factor of an aggressive, carnal unicorn being shot into two gory slabs of intestines by a magical sniper bullet being immediately followed by a comical smash-up-the-eating-establishment stoush between bickering siblings. There’s a lot of contrivance and cliche, but it does somehow entertain without being too annoying.

The production is handled by Bones, Studio D – to my mind, the least interesting department of Bones. The producers’ saw fit to resuscitate the Director and Chief AD of Scrapped Princess for this anime as well; Soichi  Masui is back in the director’s seat, while Takahiro Komori is now working as his his assistant Director. The character designer/ chief AD here is Nobuhiro Arai and, as far as I can see, it’s his first time with his name to this credit (another this season!). I do have to question his design wisdom when it comes to the decision to grace the lead heroine with oversized, thick black eyebrows. While it’s nice that designers don’t have to stick to conventional moe style, I don’t think eye-brow size inflation is the best avenue for that. She looks like the unfortunate result of someone messing around with the character customisation in their second play through of an RPG.

The animation itself can only be described as passable, with no stand-out moments to speak of. I can’t see Bones putting the talent into this to make it memorable from an animation stand-point, so let’s not get our hopes up for mind-blowing fantasy action. Basically, everything points to mediocre right now, and even if it does have a faint entertainment buzz,

The anime’s only hope to get ahead is if the story evolves into something interesting. Of course, that is actually possible with the author of Scrapped Princess… but can I sacrifice another 20 minutes of my week on that chance?

Animation:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Story:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Music:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg
Art/Design:
https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/2.jpg

https://washiblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/try.jpg

Akuma no Riddle

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/3wKO9ajQRJe0uDD86QHZZWgXDzlCrcRp50-5z5KWH6pC-AvAfwFrEXWsiG_Nzj-wEtUJ9aNadMs1ZyKTFTa6hoy6cMhP1waL-gOWXr97I_ytejgms6Uld7E519aAKtV2-w

It seems like yuri might be coming back in fashion in the otaku world, with the success of the Sakura Trick adaptation, and now this action thriller which is clearly marketed as a yuri show. I have a feeling that Akuma no Riddle might do comfortably well out of this, as it’s still all too rare to see a yuri series with more to its premise than two girls being intimate. In the sense that it does feature girl love (albeit more blatantly) and also action/thriller set up, this series harkens back to Bee Train’s old works such as Noir. And from what I’ve seen of the first episode, it will do the yuri aspect rather the well: they’ve struck an appealing dynamic between the cold, cool and badass Tokaku and the honest, cute and caring Haru. But even if they tick this box, Akuma no Riddle is weighed down by a teenage-fancfiction style of presentation and storytelling.

The dialogue lacks any nuance and is always very obvious in the way it is advancing the plot or characterisation. The same goes for the characters themselves, whose complete personalities are almost instantly established in the first episode. I say it feels like fanfiction because it plays out in this dot-point manner, leaving no room for the story to breathe. Some may prefer this direct approach to writing, but it feels amateurish and simple to me. The look of the show follows the same principle – every scene is framed and lit in a very overt way to tell us whether its supposed to be menacing, happy or whatever else. But even if this approach stops me from feeling involved in the story, I can admit that the show does have a personality with its visuals and blunt script. It’s not bland, nor is it annoyingly derivative like I find SHAFT anime. And the animation was largely faultless, even if it didn’t exactly impress.

The CD/Chief AD is Ide Naomi, who was the same for Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo, which I really enjoyed the animation and designs on. I think he has also done a good job here making the designs look fresh and attractive. The director has a long history of working on successful anime, so I’m sure he knows what he’s doing with Akuma no Riddle. Perhaps it’s just the source material, but I didn’t find myself getting into this one at all.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Ping Pong

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/iCGlHP9_UM3ePr1eJ1U4A224iciaGlCmliRmnUkz88he5fZnLxscKtvaWce9-U1l3F255vuzKH6ZX4DUiJYTtZTrQ1lR_G6WgTTotr4nOVefifMeL3GntJ6rGWTTMgQWzw

My friends have almost unilaterally whacked the ‘boring’ stamp on Ping Pong, but I’m happy to stand alone in saying that I really enjoyed the first episode.  I can see where they are coming from though; Ping Pong isn’t exactly the most thrilling sport on the planet – it lacks the heat, thuggish competitiveness, the passionate drama and the raw physical athleticism of other games. And this anime makes no attempt to glorify it. It trades in having a booming narrator, over-the-top special effects or wedged-in sex appeal for a dose of everyday human drama and a realistic treatment of the sport. Still sounding boring to you? Well, Ping Pong may not deliver in thrills, but it does deliver in style.

In the adroit hands of Masaaki Yuasa, even mundane scenes like riding the train and talking about brands of bubble gum seem somehow purposeful and captivating. He also brings his usual disciples to the table for Ping Pong – most notably Nobutake Ito as chief AD/CD. This closely-tied duo have bought us Kaiba, Kemonozume and Tatami Galaxy in the past. Other notable staff he’ll bring on board are: Yasunori Miyazawa and Eunyoung Choi. Normally we’d expect to see Michio Mihara involved as well, but there’s a theory that he had a falling out with them (or just Choi) at some point, but hopefully that’s overblown. The studio behind this one is Tatsunoko, which has a long and industrious history behind it going back to the 60s. Modern Tatsunoko has proven to be a residence of strong talent.  But at the end of the day, Yuasa himself has the biggest influence over the show’s look and went to the unusual length of storyboarding and writing every episode himself (apparently pumping out an episode storyboard an impressive once every ten days!).

The end result is that Ping Pong has a dishevelled look about it, with rough, sketchy lines and at times an almost warped, angular presentation. Movement is either minimal or unexpectedly dramatic, and the storyboard includes some shots that are not usually seen anime – such as the multiple triangular cutaway shots. Ping Pong’s whole production has this refreshing spontaneous energy to it, but in a laidback way that doesn’t detract from the story or feel attention-seeking. There’s no doubt in my mind that if this anime had been storyboarded in the conventional manner, the show wouldn’t hold my interest at all. Another contributor to the visual flare of the show is the excellent background art, which is seamlessly fashioned with the same rough wobbliness as the animation.

Ping Pong looks good, but if you give it the chance, it also does have a story and interesting characters. The Chinese player, Wenga is fascinatingly competitive and demotivated at the same time, while the passiveness of the apparent protagonist hints at his own masked skill. The absence of unnecessary drama, and the stoic, even dry portrayal of some characters may deter a lot of viewers, but I admire the aesthetic expression and the lack of cheap thrills. Perhaps it’s comparable to Mushishi in that respect.

  • The ED is solo animated by Yuasa regular,  Eunyoung Choi, and it’s quite pretty! Of course, it’s all rotoscoped though.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Kanojo wa Flag wo Oraretara

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/yoJal7BbzlhQxmD_iT3O0Dr_HJNcqPbiT4EsZjz-R_EcxH_BRostA768gyyLM29_SWlNYlK2m5hvMShkEQaAEozCHz-cfTn7FKXbjpZOUS27ki-eoSInhIZbQn-Gc9Jgbg

If you were feeling as lazy as I am right now, this anime could be summed up as a comedy with an interesting gimmick at its premise and featuring a horde of moe characters who will rapidly fall into a harem around the main character. Any self-respecting season of anime these days should have something in this format! So we know this show isn’t going to be a ground-breaking emotional journey, or a thinking man’s exploration into the human psyche – this anime has signed itself up for the role of mediocre entertainer. The question then becomes, is it good in that role? It’s essential for an anime with moe appeal to have cute characters, and it’s a fundamental law that a comedy anime should be funny. I’ve seen better attempts, but Kanojo has a good crack at both of these basic criterion.

The girls, only a couple of which I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to so far, are appealing in that comforting otaku-targeted kind of way. They’re sweet, lovingly abrasive, permanently blushing, and physically attractive with big, sparkling eyes and cute, childish school uniforms. I actually adore their skirts so much, with their impractical tangent from the thighs and the pastel pink decorations. The original character design is by CUTEG who also designed the very fetching girls of Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imōto ga Iru!. The comedy is based around the MC being able to see prophetic flags above peoples heads, such as friendship flags, love, flags, and even death flags. Think visual novels. The show makes reasonable use of this for gags, but mostly reverts to the standard repertoire of awkward youthful love jokes and such. It’s not without laughs, but you’d have to take my best friend hostage if you wanted me to say that it was a good comedy.

The animation isn’t really an important factor in this series, beyond the fact that it gets the job done. Hoods Entertainment are the studio behind it, and they’re basically known for doing anime like this, so they can probably be trusted to pull it off fine.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Blade & Soul

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/ZIXNlkdVdoNTj02YXep3GVHZv0EkV3lVV09quXXt--asXxVfDEq2pNbvHQa4KjEOsguTcwxG0-qdCd77QUeGb5Oa7XeMlIIDWp_09M_H5ypMD4X4ss98lCfZoc31TKjTXA

Blade & Soul is the kind of over-the-top ninja fantasy that a sexually frustrated DnD playing teenager might think up. Now, there’s nothing wrong with playing DnD, or being sexually frustrated, but the result of this fantasy is not something I have any interest in seeing. As it turns out, this is an adaptation of a Korean MMORPG. I don’t know if the original game is any better, but I can tell that the staff behind this anime have taken the simplest and least inventive route to converting it to an anime. Every beat of the story plays out in the most predictable, droll way possible. I don’t think you could make it more cliche if you tried. But the issue doesn’t end with there- after years of controlled dosages via anime, I can stomach quite the hit of cliche. Blade & Soul takes it further by also being consistently stupid and poorly written. Interactions between characters seem forced and no one in the show is believable as a person to any degree. Their motivations are all trite I’ve heard a hundred times before, and their dialogue is very clunky. Blade & Soul is witless and comprehensively unoriginal. Its writer, Tomioka Atsuhiro has offended yet again.

But what about its production values? GONZO is in charge of the animation production. Or should I say neo-Gonzo? Gonzo’s revival continues to disappoint, having only gone downhill since the new Last Exile. Apparently Range Murata recently said that the company seems to be going broke (again). Blade & Soul has a couple of moments of good animation in it (mainly just this bit), and these stand out all the more against the overall cheap feel of the series. Flat, lifeless layouts, jittery framerates, even some poor drawings marred the episode throughout. But this might have been palatable if the designs were pretty. They weren’t; while the main characters verge on okay, some of the minor characters are downright ugly and ridiculous-looking. Following the trend this season, this is Eri Nagata’s first shot at being CD/chief AD. It’s sad that it didn’t work out so well in this case, although I will say that at least the way they draw female eyes is pretty appealing.  The storyboard was also boring, so I’m really struggling to find a redeeming factor here. Actually I give up: In my view, Blade & Soul is worthless trash!

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/eYYRrWyrJimyiONVgum27_-OMpeR1Mq6fydVmo_Q0YhAzrPuINRTDkXjTo4h0AWZi1y0U3fidwAvaUAZfvsz_cOnz9zXKe0RltzswoQnLzCbPZC7aaDPCbysRwHBZgAp6Q

The best description of this anime that I’ve heard is ‘comfy’. It’s almost completely innocent and devoid of all tension or melodrama. Instead, Goshuumon wa Usagi desu ka invites you to watch the pleasant and friendly goings on at a tucked-away, quaint little cafe staffed by little moe anime girls. It just wants you to sink into its warm and fluffy atmosphere. There is some light fanservice, but only enough to enjoy it if you’re looking for it but not distract you if you’re not. For example, the bath scene with the two girls this episode was cute and drawn superbly by Masafumi Tamura, but wasn’t really played up for the sexyness factor. The girls are very cute, which is the essential ingredient for a moe anime like this to work – they have to be cute enough themselves to carry the entire show. Essentially, without them you would have a plotless, uneventful, and only vaguely funny slice of life series.

One other thing I do appreciate about this series is that the production seems pretty close knit and spirited feel to it. Hashimoto Hiroyuki is directing here and its his first foray into series direction that I can see. It looks like quite a career step for him given his few episode direction credits. Here’s his twitter (https://twitter.com/lainnet01/) . He also storyboarded and directed this first episode. There is one ‘main animator’ credit, which goes to 武藤信宏, who was a major animator/AD for Maou-sama. Sure enough, he’s been at the top of the genga list for the first two episodes. Interestingly, there is no CAD role, instead the character designer has taken a very hands-on role by working as the AD for each episode (so far at least, and probably for every ep to come). To help him with this monumental charge there are multiple assistant AD roles. White Fox is the studio and they do competent job here by and large, but you can tell it’s not a big budget outing. Even though the animation is quiet and understated, it has its moments of awkwardness. But given how heavily involved some of the main animators are, I think that some of the staff are pretty passionate about adapting this one.

I’m going to call this kind of anime ‘snug anime’. It doesn’t really motivate me to tune in every week, but it’s the kind of thing I’d watch over a winters day if I was home sick. I think the the staff should be commended for capturing the radiant cuteness of the manga and doing it with a touch of class.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Isshuukan Friends

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/JT90Y5bvWlHPm5Z8zkq5WEJnyEvAkQQavMtw6JzZURJfzuCbyjr5vQa_kOYuU1vjeM0mzsn-jBBlvLdNCeD1Jv7qOS7pZbaz40CCIhm0x-Po5dkIhpVbETuTyaCHN8b5sg

Isshuukan friends was a delight to watch. Probably the biggest thing for me was the visual work on the show. The backgrounds are faded with an almost dream-like pastel palette, which brings attention to the characters and their interactions. The characters themselves are also softly envisioned, with a lot of detail in their uniform, and precise strands in their hair, but avoiding any bold lines or striking features. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel unique and grabbing – character designer, chief AD and regular episode AD Eri Yamazaki has breathed life, individuality and mundane beauty into these characters. Her hands-on approach through episodic AD work shows how much this show is the realisation of her vision. It’s impressive work given that this is her first major CD role that I can see. With the drawing power of Brains Base behind her, Ishuukan Friends is a pleasure to lay eyes on, elegant to the nth degree. But this is even more of an impressive feat given that this is only the second series director credit Tarou Iwasaki has had (the first being the little known Ryuko’s Case File). Fingers crossed that the quality of the first episode can be maintained.

The gentle aesthetics match the delicate unfolding of the story, which is about a girl who loses her memory every week, making it impossible to form friendships, let alone friendship. But our MC is up for the challenge, even after learning of her ailment he cannot be deterred, reforming their friendship every week with the hope that one day she won’t forget. I like the fact that this seems primarily about friendship rather than a standard highschool crush, and the main character has a unique determined bent to him, a dichotomy of apathy and passion that makes him a much more interesting and nuanced male MC than anime usually delivers.

I think the washed, understated style of Ishhuukan Friends is a barrier to being really taken in by it from the first episode, so, while it was sweet and lovely to watch, I’m not really excited to see the next episode. I guess I like my anime with a bit more punch, but I’m aware that that’s just a personal thing, and I can see that this is objectively a good show. I also think this show could have problems staying interesting after the interesting idea of weekly amnesia has been fully introduced? Where can it go?

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Mahouka

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/1TKvx2Y7JpCzyTMsn5roxRikqbgvXwbnhK4CkluDkA5TGWLo63z5QnYL8OlEiqDfBIZYkrTgndvrP_Lhio7x7BUxQx9QXjoC_YIBfRixb0nXaz638agSdCiqldkfjYXqOw

Mahouka is a frustrating anime to watch. Why? Because its bad but I really want to enjoy it. I’m motivated to like it because it has some really interesting elements to it that aren’t straight out of the ‘how to make a mediocre anime’ handbook, and its bad because the rest of it is exactly the boring, well-trodden crap you’d find in that handbook. The opening few minutes is a perfect example of this – right off the bat, the anime quickly establishes an intriguing, post-WWII world for its society and magic users but then instantly dives into a typical high-school setting and surrounds its make MC with beautiful moe girls who are so sweet someone’s gotta be paying them. Oh, and we can’t forget the MC’s pure-maiden younger sister, who is blushingly obsessed with him in a confusingly romantic way.

But then I began to realise there was something more to this still – the main character is actually so brokenly perfect as man and a hero that it’s kind of impressive seeing how he deals with the banal highschool bullshit thrown at him. He’s a strong warrior, keenly intelligent and analytical, diligent to the point where he doesn’t even need leisure time, humble, honourable, fearless, pragmatic, and unwaveringly principled. His flawlessness probably comes from the authors wish-fulfillment, but even still it’s oddly interesting to see a male character with this brand of mature heroism. Most anime heroes are portrayed with an adolescent’s view of manliness – muscled, and comically bad-ass, but Tatsuya’s strength comes from more genuine, mature traits such as patience, hard work and a cynical kind of smarts. It’s just so sad that he’s misplaced in this pointless magic-high school situation!

With Saki and Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere Director at the helm, this is Madhouse’s other show this season. As with No Game No Life, the animation quality holds up well. There was a pretty cool hand-to-hand fight sequence at the temple, which was handled by experienced and accomplished action animator Takashi Tomioka. He has done some very memorable action scenes for BONES (just check out this MAD). Since he was also credited with Action AD, he would have had total control on that sequence’s animation. It was a fast, frenetic and entertainingly choreographed fight! Unfortunately, the design work doesn’t work quite so well. The school uniforms look ridiculous, and the pervading turquoise colour scheme of the anime makes it feel dull. I  don’t find any of the character designs to be particularly appealing either. The music by Taku Iwasaki (this guy never stops) is disappointing in the sense that it always feels jarring and misplaced.

There’s a chance I’ll watch a bit more, purely for the main character, but otherwise Mahouka is nothing special.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/4GEcLJHvM8_fk3uWN0J4-_PspAIZCh6DySRKNk-CO0BHLCYe2wUVv9B6vGIBaJgBRJu3INsOGMNTU6C5mN65POgGJFdczX288oBaBT0aowTmcuuLER3ri9yC7VGZbW61FA

I have to admit that I have no idea what to expect when getting into this new Jojo’s bizarre adventure. My previous experience with this franchise boils down to getting it confused with First of North Star. I tend to keep the macho hyper-shounen anime genre at an arms length, but this season I’d pledged to watch (almost) everything! Going into the show, I didn’t know what I was in for, and now that I’ve seen the first episode, I still have no idea what it’s all about. The plot itself was relatively straightforward, and I had friends filling in my many knowledge gaps, like who Dio is. But I still somehow don’t really know how to describe what I just watched. Frankly, I think I just don’t get it. There’s fire, magical goings on, lots of big muscley men being surly toward each other, ingrained sexism, shouting, and.. actually I think that’s about it. What’s the appeal?

Well I did pick up on the fact that it’s self-parodying and takes things to a comical extreme. But while I noticed it, I didn’t really find it funny. It seems that there’s not much for me in this anime. But I can see that is is very well put together and will probably fall into the open arms of this genre’s fans. There was a lot of animation throughout, and some beats where it was of noticeable quality – particularly impressive given the level of detail packed into the designs and the complexity of the fighting moves which feature swirling flames and supernatural beasts. The designs are detailed and styled enough that they could have come right off the manga pages. Unfortunately, its lost on me since I have no interest in said style. The designer/CAD is Komino Masahiko, which is his first time in the role, so he is to be commended for his efforts. He also did key animation this episode. I suspect that there is a fair amount of cash thrown at this series though, so hopefully the studio David Productions won’t have any trouble keeping up this standard.

Edit: I have actually watched on with this and I think I’m beginning to understand the appeal after all!

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/2kR4skIIy_utX3BRYtfg-KRjbwtQTrCOuoEGPoyvYwoNrtO55INQ0sB6ojIRJAwZtkEKk3NNfgfXU4WlYlOIl5xS0Gusk13pTEGanE_qxLolkgorMZRKQWB4HIi4koeTGA

A story about an obscure, down-to-earth princess moving to another kingdom to marry a powerful king, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii is an anime adaptation of a popular shoujo manga. It has a selling point that most shoujo manga doesn’t – trading the well-trodden highschool romance setting in for a kind of cynical fairytale scenario. It’s fairytale because it’s about a spirited princess betrothed to a glamorous king, and it’s cynical because the princess, and the anime in general refuses to play cleanly play the part. She is tomboyish and a little rough around the edges, and the anime has the audacity to even break the fourth wall. In line with this, the anime is refreshingly earnest about things: the bad guys are your cliche dopey street thugs, the ‘good people’ she meets are a hard-working family who seem to live to be kind and generous to strangers, and the protagonist herself is good to the bone, even if she doesn’t carry herself in an entirely regal manner.

There’s no layer of mystery, no hidden, ulterior motives and no hints of a sinister force at work, it’s pleasantly straightforward storytelling. But what’s really interesting is that the cliches its built upon are not really anime cliches at all. Family values? Incompetent villain duos? It’s more at home in a Disney movie than anime or manga. Perhaps that is the appeal to the Japanese audience, but for me it’s just as familiar. This all adds up to pretty decent entertainment, albeit too straightforward to really garner much interest from me. Its minor quirks aside, I don’t see this anime going anywhere challenging or totally unconventional, and I don’t think the comedy facet of the series can summon enough laughter to justify me watching it.

The production qualities aren’t anything to rave about either. Studio Pierrot does an acceptable job making things move and look reasonable, but it’s far from eye-opening. Yet again the CAD/character designer is new to this job but has significant animation experience. I actually think he has done a pretty fine job of converting the manga designs to animation. The main character in particular is full of life and feels memorable as a female character. This is helped by the strong voice work of her seiyuu, Maeda Rena, whose only other major role up until now has been in Hunter X Hunter. She portrays Nike (Just Do It!) with the perfect comprise between playfulness and mature confidence. My thoughts are that the director doesn’t have a lot to throw at this, and it will be an under-the radar mediocre production that will please fans of the manga, but not achieve much else.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Gokukoku no Brynhildr

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/lO4jrj7LMPQ2kPoOP5Epc_8zJ0RpBNYsCDg769MclAzXsyYcWYCO4IOhRYNt0cqUOqU5oPiP6fUIicrSobJKIT-Z9NY9ra-D5ILbH4qUdcklOJ0qWOClc8NOZxqSNKXrQw

A girl who can see the future and stop a giant falling boulder with surgery-and-drug based founded magic meets a highschool protagonist whose regret over the death of his beloved childhood friend has turned into a lifelong obsession with her and astronomy. It’s not exactly your on par with your usual anime set-up. Studio ARMS, known for their shitty ecchi anime productions, brings us this seinen manga adaptation with a bit of a unique kick to it. The elements of this story, when carved out from the consummate whole, ring ‘been-done Light Novel/manga’; You’ve got your magic, your plot gimmick (girl can see the future), your high-school setting, your boy-meets-girl romance, et cetera. But somehow Gokukoku no Brynhildr mixes it all together and creates something surprisingly exhilarating. For example, the MC’s inability to move past the lost of his precious Kuroneko felt genuinely soul-crushing instead of just being an arbitrary plot hurdle, and they actually wrung some tension out of Kuroha’s ability to foresee people’s deaths: I was getting very close to being at the edge of my seat for a moment or two. The reason Gokuhoku is more than the some of its parts? Good storytelling.

I can’t say how much we should be thanking the original author, or the anime staff, but at the very least series director Imaizumi Kenichi (Katekyo Hitman Reborn) has not stuffed it up. He also supplied the pace-perfect storyboard for this first episode. The animation carried its weight but never verged on being even slightly flashy. Karasu Irohaki (Maouyuu Maou Yuusha) is CAD/Character Designer and seems to be capable enough.

So I can’t fault the production, but what I can fault is the way that, from time to time, the episode blunders awkwardly into adolescent moe tones and tropes. Its as though the surgeons behind the super-powered Kuroha also embedded this ‘switch’ in her brain which can abruptly switch her from cool and collected to flustered and flirty. And I’m not talking the kind of flirt fluster a normal girl might succumb to – I’m talking forced moe along the lines of uncalled for sexual tension, shouts of  ‘urusai urusai urusai!’ and uncontrollable embarrassment. Dengeki called and wants their tropes back. I can handle moe, and sometimes I love handling it, but I don’t like seeing it wedged into an otherwise interesting story. Read the mood!

Despite this, I think there’s enough of a real story here for me to give it another couple of episodes.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Mekaku City Actors

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/KyBn2uagg8UCfuNpDtt5Dok4k94XDPIfzHJMWRCRgz_0xU98VDF8oEXYUO5riCQLrO3ZcG7MufTMianTB4PP2rU7pfcWfe8VbVChA9T37D7EKRZI06c9a8jNqJE2FhMqOQ

I was was fully prepared to hate Mekaku City Actors. My SHAFT dartboard is full of holes and I’ve got a pile of flashcards with preemptively prepared criticisms over a meter high crowding my desk. But then something happened: I actually watched Mekaku City Actors. Around about 1 minute into this new anime I realised I couldn’t stifle a smile any longer! The interactions between the bottom-of-the-barrel shut-in main character and his inexplicable and inexplicably adorable AI computer system, Ene are just impossible to resist. Their endearing relationship, which swings between Ene sweetly encouraging and supporting our ignoble MC, to Ene bluntly insulting him and reminding him of his many faults. Ene, voiced to perfection by Kana Asumi, is playful and has an irrepressible personality, while her master makes his mark this episode as a pathetic hikkikomori with a redeeming quality – what I can only describe as backbone. His first day outside, spurred by the urgency of needing a new keyboard, ends with him having to stand up to a group of heavily armed terrorists. All of the characters leave a strong impression and the dynamic between the MC and Ene in particular has a good comedic spark to it.

This anime is based on a light novel series, which, in turn, is based on a series of vocaloid songs called Kagerou Project. This is the last thing I thought I’d be saying about this anime, but I feel like its presentation as handled by SHAFT with Akiyuki Shinbo in his directors chair has elevated Mekaku City actors above its origins (the LN series anyway). I will say that my fears were realised: it was littered with SHAFT-isms like head-tilts, flat, 2-dimensional layouts, pointless close-up cutaways and detail-free background art. It’s nice that Shinbo has freed himself from the shackles of having to be original! At the end of the day, the reason this stuff gets to me is that Shinbo and ‘his’ studio have created a visual brand that all their anime are bent into – regardless of the intent of the source material it will just end up being a ‘SHAFT anime’. Not only is it lazy, but it also reeks of arrogant self-indulgence. But they got lucky with Mekaku City actors because the end result works well enough for me to look past that.

And I will admit that they have at least animated it well – the first episode had a lot of animation and one of it bad. But, like most things this season, nothing struck me with any sense of awe. One of SHAFT’s prime animators, Genichirou Abe, is character designer but, interestingly, is not CAD. Instead there are three CAD staff. Abe has not contributed any key animation, and there is no sign of Imamura Ryo either, perhaps another hint that he has left the studio. If this anime does feature SHAFTs usual spontaneous doses of standout animation it will either be Abe in later episodes or through a talented freelancer. Maybe SHAFT should consider hiring some more star animator talent. The director credits are the usual story – Shinbo as series director/overall director, giving him executive oversight without the hard work of being the actual director – that honour goes to the Hidamari Sketch director, Yase Yuki.

Depending on whether it keeps going forward or stagnates, this has the potential to be one of the best SHAFT anime. For now at least, its surprisingly snappy and entertaining.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Bokura Minna Kawaisou

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Bokura Minna Kawaisou is an anime adaptation of a seinen comedy manga constructed by the eminent studio Brains Base. The basic premise is that a highschool student moves into a shared living dorm which he quickly realises is a lively, strange and perhaps even dangerous cohabitation with an exquisite girl he swoons over in his spare time and a pack of extreme and unsavoury individuals. The unsavoury individuals include a determinedly odd pervert, and a gratingly drunk woman with bad taste in men. It sounds like hell to live in, but it’s a ripe setting for a comedy anime. The jokes basically revolve around the extreme personalities of the other tenants and the predictable difficulties the main character has in realising his romance with his crush. I actually found the characters a bit too annoying for the gags to tickle my funny bone, or the jokes too predictable. I don’t think I laughed out loud in this episode. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the likes of Teekyu recently, but this anime only makes a lukewarm impression as a comedy and doesn’t really try to be much else.

One thing I will say though is that Brains Base did a tremendous job pitching the gags with timing and visual humour. The anime has a real flare, and at times the characters’ expressions or movements are almost a punchline themselves. The style of the anime is also unusual and interesting, once you get used to it. There’s a weird shine to everything and the colours seem off at first, but in the end I saw it as lusciously and charmingly drawn. There are 4 character designers in total (two credited for major characters and 2 for minor) and it looks like the two major designers will be rotating chief animator roles per episode (with different ADs below them of course). It will be interesting to see if we can spot any differences in the way they draw certain characters in their episodes.The first episode had them both directly involved as ADs so they must have really nailed the look they were going for. Overall, it looks like the show is well-staffed and set for a steady schedule.

With all said and done, my overriding feeling towards this show is ‘ambivalence’. Its execution is great, but the jokes it has to work with just aren’t funny enough to me.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Atelier Escha & Logy

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I’m one of those many out there who are aware of the Atelier franchise but never actually got my feet wet and dipped in to it. I’ve seen the transcendently adorable artwork for the games floating around the internet, and I even have a borrowed copy of the one of the games sitting on my shelf staring down at me scornfully. I’m sorry, I want to play you, I just don’t have the time for a 5000 hour JRPG – I’m not ready for that kind of commitment. When I first heard that there was going to be an anime version I thought ‘here’s an easy way to get my foot into the franchise’s door’. Then I saw the promotional artwork and saw the magic of mediocre anime illustrators at work – taking a beautiful piece of artwork and turning it into a pallid, lifeless cast of its former self. The poor designs raised a warning flag above Atelier’s head, and I couldn’t destroy it in time because my worst fears came true in this first episode.

Atelier Escha & Logy is an ugly, cheap-looking waste of time for anyone but the most hardcore fan of the game. The story so far is pretty dull – a man, Logy arrives in an idyllic  village on assignment and is teamed up with local cutey Escha as a crack alchemist duo for whom no task is too menial or dull. The entire village lives off apples from a handful of trees in a nearby orchid, so when the windmill breaks down Escha & Logy are sent in to resolve the shocking crisis. To make matters worse, the village doesn’t have the foresight to keep any spare parts for the windmill in case of such a critical failure so the only solution is to use alchemy! This apparently means reading a recipe book, killing a wild animal and then putting things in a pot. I had a problem with the killing a wild animal part of this show, not because I’m a PETA member or anything like that, but because all of a sudden these two characters went from eating apple tart, greeting the old ladies on the street and going for long strolls to having an intense showdown with a magical beast almost as big as them. Whats worse is that it just flashed by momentarily as part of the montage. The only excitement and conflict of the episode was over in the blink of an eye with no explanation whatsoever. Why were they fighting it, why do they have combat experience, was it a tough battle? You would only know if you played the games, so it’s a bad-writing infringement!

Everything else is a bad writing infringement too. Bad characterisation, forced romance elements (love isn’t alchemy, you can’t just get a man and a woman and leave them together for a day to get a couple), and stupid plot abound. Case in point:  the flashbacks to the earlier apple scenes when Logy is shown the orchid and realises apples come from apple trees. It was treated like he figured out the overarching story of Lost or something. And as for everything else – infringements everywhere. I want to issue a fine to Gokumi for this one – my, how they have fallen from grace since A-channel. Gokumi was a promising jump-ship studio from Gonzo back then, now it’s a sinking ship itself. The animation is so cheap it borders on the offensive – jittery, off-model, moving unnaturally, you name it. The exception is the OP, which is actually really awesome and only serves to underscore the failing of the rest of the show. Nakano Keiya is to be blamed for the poor anime character designs, which is all the more unforgivable given how lovely their originals are.

 

I’ve talked about this one too much already – it’s bad, don’t watch it unless you have an irrational over-attachment to the games. 0/10 would drop again.

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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Dai Shogun – Great Revolution

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/phYK0JBKzjSRAm2CG7v1n4QevZa80D6IT5j1wPa9yM60JRXWz-VrqPojhOy-2psAQ79o6Ip2vUSxOiVKs9O4mbfPZSmduhcQbJiZBx04rOBl55YxKsGFRRVFhyGuGQIIcw

I’m actually stunned, lost for words. Was that really a commercially-produced anime I just watched, something that people would actually consider putting on TV? Scratch that, this isn’t even good enough to belong on the internet. Gonzo should be sending director Watanabe Takashi and the staff at A.C.G.T a thank you letter for taking the heat off Blade & Soul for the worst anime of the season award. How did Dai Shogun wrestle that title of dishonour from Blade & Soul? Well, the biggest failing point of this anime is the animation, or lack thereof. It’s actually legitimately impressive just how far these staff were willing and able to go to avoid animating anything – almost every single cut features some kind of animation shortcut and I think they pulled out every trick in the book here. You’ve got static characters with moving mouths, a wobbling effect on drawings to imitate movement, shaky-cam to cover up the fact that nothing is happening, pivoting and sliding cels across the scene in lieu of animation (this is a technique I wholly blame Trigger for). I can deal with some cheats, but this is taken to a level that no anime fan should accept. You could probably actually count the number of drawings used in this episode. How did they have two animation directors!!

And to make matters worse, the story and script doesn’t even begin to make amends for the under production. The best jokes of the show are juvenile and moronic and rely on every character being remarkably stupid to work. And that’s if it’s a comedy – it certainly can’t be action and there doesn’t seem to be a story beyond the main character wanting to fight everyone he sees (such a shame he’s physically debilitated by his framerate!). Unfunny, pointless, drivel – all of these words fit Dai Shogun quite nicely. The one positive is that the art and design work isn’t absolutely atrocious – if you just looked at screencaps you might think it looked pretty decent. IT’S NOT.

I can’t work out how this travesty occurred; Watanabe Takashi  is an experienced director who has overseen competent anime in the past, and the animation production is shared by J.C Staff and A.C.G.T, both with a proven track record of at least not being absolute trash. And yet the end result is absolute trash. But the biggest mystery is how Dai Satou got involved in all this. Dai Satou has been one of the better writers for original anime over the years and has always seemed to want to maintain his creative integrity. I actually didn’t believe he was working as series composition on this anime until I actually went and double checked it on the official website. He doesn’t seem to have had any positive influence over it. I don’t think anyone had a positive influence over this annoying and horribly produced anime. I couldn’t even make it right to the end of the episode (although I got close).

Please, don’t let them get away with this! Switch off to Dai Shogun!

Animation:
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Story:
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Music:
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Art/Design:
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3 thoughts on “Spring Season 2014

  1. Great Article!Took a long time to read but totally worth it thanks for giving us such an informative and analytical intro of this season.

  2. I haven’t been watching much this season, but Jojo is the one show I’ve been making sure to keep up with every week. It’s a lot of fun and the manga is also great. I’ll probably watch Ping Pong and Isshuukan Friends once they finish airing.

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