Sunday, 7 April 2013

Spring 2013: part the first

It's the first week into the new anime season, and thus as usual necessitates my need to blog about how first episodes have panned out so far (excluding Railgun and Henneko which begin in a weeks time).

So far the season has got off to a fairly mediocre start with most of the shows seeming bland. Thankfully though, there are at least some shows that have entertained me on first viewing - of these my favourite so far is Date a Live which is a mecha bodysuit/harem/comedy. It's pretty hard to directly compare it to other series (it has some similarities with the Muv Luv visual novels and other similarities with Infinite Stratos, but these are only vague approximations) the main thing that matters is that it kept me laughing for the duration of the episode, and entertained with the mecha fights.

"Gouf". The name of a mobile suit. Also
the noise MC makes when kicked in the balls.
The plot is a little flimsy: genocidal spirits are invading Earth and the main character has the task of seducing them. There isn't anything wrong with that, and indeed if you must watch a harem this season this is a pretty safe bet. The manga is good too so I'll stake my bet for continued enjoyment on that, and pray that they don't choose to make an original ending.

Susei no Gargantua is another mecha series, and one which likewise really impressed me. It was scripted by Urobuchi Gen (Madoka etc), a writer whose work varies considerably in quality; it was great to see him hit the mark on the first episode of this.

Woop woop.
The programme follows the stylings of space-real-robot, beginning with a pilot who is participating in an all out war against intergalactic alien blobs. On his return through an intergalactic wormhole he gets thrown offcourse only to wake up six months later on an unknown planet; curious humans are inspecting his mech, and they appear to be quite disconnected from the space war at large. Rather than spoil the remainder of the episode, I implore the reader to view it for themselves and enjoy just what happens.

As a side note I really should mention the character designs for Gargantua, because these really are
fantastic. They somehow find this nice halfway point between cartoon and realistic proportions, and are very visually appealing for it.

Sadly pleasing character design eludes Majestic Prince - another mecha show - which sadly has some of the ugliest designs courtesy of Hirai Hisashi (Gundam SEED). This falls more into the realm of super-robot and hot blooded Reaganistic characters battling against alien blobs again. If that's more your kind of mecha show, maybe try that one.

Oreimo decided to continue where it left off 2 years ago with a reintroduction episode. It was OK I guess, but after a 2 year gap I've lost interest in the characters and find the continuing tsun-tsun of various characters rather grating for a first episode.

Muromi-san is an entertaining smutcom about a mermaid and a fisherman who deliver jokes through a manzai routine. It's amusing enough for 12 minutes once a week.

Character designs are nice and polished.
Yahari SNAFU is yet another "guy gets roped into working with a girl" show (I guess this is becoming a thing now) with a billy-no-mates MC whose rotten personality is to be melted by a prim
and proper lady. On paper this sounds terrible, but once you see it motion and get to enjoy the interaction of the characters it's pretty enjoyable. If you do pick Yahari SNAFU up, be sure to use FFF and not Commie.

Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge is a pretty weird show. I want to label it the weirdest show of the season, but it may well be dethroned from that title by other weird shows that are currently airing. Unfortunately the strangeness isn't helped by the pitifully poor pacing and total lack of character development: the main character appears at a girls window like a creepy stalker for no reason at all, she welcomes him in as if he were a best friend, he offers to cut her hair. Just watching it feels so wrong and shameful.

Red Data Girl is an unremarkable if nicely animated show by PA Works - a studio which I am keen to emphasize as one which repeatedly lets me down with bad direction and scripting. It's about a girl who breaks anything electrical when she touches it and a guy who is forced to protect her... it's something that should be so much better than it is.

Hataruku! Maou-sama is another weird show, albeit on this occasion actually good. The first 10 minutes offer a beautiful battle between the minions of hell and incoming crusaders, with the forces Satan being duly subdued by the invading army. Using the last of his magic the devil transports himself to a different realm: modern day Earth, and thus the tone of the show switches from Shakugan no Shana to that of Spongebob Squarepants. There's something strangely amusing but also incredibly tragic about seeing Satan working as a fry cook to make ends meet. I wonder just where the show will take itself and what sort of genre it'll choose to settle in...

Every line is like this. I'm not kidding.
Shingeki no Kyoujun, otherwise known as "Assault on Titan" was garbage. Absolute drivel. I haven't been so offended by mediocre writing in a long time, but this really was awful. Set 4000 years in the future it focuses on a world where giants the size of Godzilla roam the Earth and eat humans for breakfast - which for some reason people decide to battle against on horseback. Right off the bat we're introduced to a cast who all suffer from a chronic case of being Kevin the Teenager, angry with the world being against them and stopping them from staying up all night and feeling a need to grump and grouch at every turn. The whole thing stinks of teenage fanfic writing, something that isn't helped by the ridiculous melodrama it throws at every corner. Avoid it at all costs.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

OreShura / Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru

I previously mentioned this series in passing, not expecting it to exceed anything more than being average. I'm writing this post now because this programme has far exceeded my expectations to become a firm weekly favourite.

So what exactly makes Oreshura so good that it deserves a second post? First and foremost is that it's a great parody series, poking fun at the harem genre whilst also enjoying harem antics of its own. The writer is clearly aware of typical stylisms of the harem genre, which they lure the viewer into thinking will happen before slapping them in the face and doing the exact opposite.

One characters reaction to chuuni antics.
It's easy to think that Oreshura is a parody of Chuu2Koi (it isn't: the light novels predate Chuu2Koi by some time), but nevertheless the timeliness of parodying the "chuunibyou condition" right after Chuu2Koi makes this a pleasing pick up. Like Chuu2Koi, the main character of this series is a former chuunibyou embarrassed by his past behaviours and is also blackmailed by a wily woman - such is the similarity that Chuu2Koi was labelled as plagiaristic upon release (not that western viewers will be aware of this). Unlike Chuu2Koi though, this has never made any derivation into serious drama - there's always well placed humour to prevent that from ever happening, usually in the form of the one character going full chuunibyou.

Speaking of characters, those are the second great asset of the programme. I have few complaints to make about them (although a character whose personality matches Rikka from Chuu2Koi is rather pathetic), most of them are parodies of regular harem personalities: the childhood friend; the stalker; the dandere; the tsundere. The fact that none of them conform exactly to stereotypes contributes to OreShura avoid being just another seasonal harem. Even the MC isn’t a complete moron – unless if comedic effect requires him to be.

Lastly, it's probably worth noting that this series is full to the brim with JoJo references: central heroine Masuzu likes making a point of recreating scenes from that series (right down to the poses). Some understanding of what JoJo is all about will be required to fully appreciate that, in the same way that you'd need to have seen Initial D / etc to appreciate parts of Lucky Star (though OreShura is more explanatory and less obtuse).

It’s rare to find a series that gets better the more you watch it, but I seem to find myself laughing more with each passing week. It goes without saying that I strongly recommend this – though do note that the first episode takes a little while to get going, once the harem antics kick in the fun begins.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Winter 2012-13 anime

Time for another anime season. This being a much welcome one after the mediocre preceding one, with thankfully a variety of strong first episodes from numerous shows.

The show doesn't take itself too seriously
Maoyuu Mao Yuusha has so far been a great fantasy show about economics - which naturally brings comparisons to Spice & Wolf, though this has a good deal of overt romance from the get go. The heroine of the series is a demon queen who for reasons unknown, has been awaiting a human hero to arrive and ravage her castle (no pun intended, this is how it goes). She quickly presents herself as a romantic interest, which I'm hoping will mean the series can focus on an actual relationship in progress rather than the usual starting a relationship most series never go beyond.

Money is good.
But back to economics. It's interesting how the show draws inspiration from medieval agricultural economics and the political structures which existed (at least in Europe) at the time, and how war is a good way drawing out a population that cannot sustain itself.

The animation for the show is pretty nice, though the backgrounds and occasional use of CG do occasionally jar a little - if that's something that may bother you, then maybe waiting for the BDs would be a good idea. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to watch it at some point!

The first show of the season was Nekomonogatari. It was a pretty short miniseries (4 episodes, and already over) which served as a prequel to Bakemonogatari. As someone who felt indifferent to Bakemonogatari (though I always liked the Neko arc) I found this to be pretty enjoyable, focusing on the better characters of the series to give some amusingly scripted puns; there were also some pretty decent battle scenes.

The only downside - as with many other SHAFT series - is that the animation is very sparse and unexpressive with most of the keyframes being spent on fanservice. Apparently SHAFT usually improve the visuals a lot for their BDs, I just can't help but still feel this series would benefit much more from actual motion and fluid character movement. Regardless, the series will be continuing this summer for a 24/26 episode series - hopefully it'll be similarly enjoyable to Neko.

The heroine of the series
Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru (or OreShura for short) utilizes a similar sort of humour to that of Bakemonogatari, though the premise of this is radically different: the protagonist is a guy whose parents have divorced, and as result of which he has decided to forgo any interest in romance whatsoever. This draws the attention of a girl who is fed up with the unwanted advances from other guys, and so seeks to have a sham relationship with the protagonist to keep the hounds at bay (so to speak).

It's pretty plain to see where the series will go, but all the same I'll stick with it since it seems to be pretty amusing so far - how enjoyable it will be depends upon how much drama they throw at the viewer (which I'm hoping will be none).

My poor heart
Speaking of drama, Kotoura-san began with an unexpectedly depressing first episode. The first 10 minutes were quite possibly the saddest and most heart wrenching thing I've seen on film - which for something billed as a comedy was not what I expected; you wouldn't think seeing a character get broken down in such a short time frame could be so affecting, but in this case it really was.

Thankfully the comedy does kick in mid way when the main character (Kotoura) is introduced to the carefree Manabe who quickly becomes something of a rock for her. The key plot device of the show is that Kotoura is able to read peoples minds (the root of much of her depression, since she is able to read the dark and unspoken thoughts of people), yet in Manabe she finds someone whose thoughts seldom get any worse than lewd imagery and likes her for who she is.

I do strongly recommend this, but do be prepared for manly tears if you watch it!

Kuro Usagi, the magical bunny girl
A nice pick-me-up after Kotoura was Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? which I'm not quite sure was about, but seemed to be about battling low tier gods / monsters for gambling or something. I'm not sure exactly, but it was great.

Thus far a group of characters with superpowers have been transported from Earth to a supernatural realm where they can battle gods / monsters in return for rewards given by a bunny girl. It's every bit as fantastic as it sounds, and since the bunny girl is a great character I'll be sticking around to see what shenanigans the cast get up to.

Another amusing show to watch is GJ-bu (Good Job) which does the usual club-room type thing, though it doesn't take itself at all seriously (perhaps making it somewhat similar to Seitokai no Ichizon). The result of this is that the characters begin mundane tasks that somehow get twisted into hilarious antics - there isn't any plot to speak of (yet), but for now a group of girls and one guy (see where this will go?) is pretty hilarious to watch.

Senran Kagura is a show that by rights shouldn't be as entertaining as it is: on the surface it appears to be a generic fanservice adaptation of a fighting game - but when you begin watching this you quickly find that it isn't just that. I'm not saying that this is a deep or meaningful show in any way, rather that it's an amusing parody of what you expect it to be.

In spite of it being a parody it also has some pretty nicely animated fight scenes: characters move fluidly whilst also delivering visual humour, backgrounds (dodgy CG boat aside) are mostly nicely detailed. And whilst it does parody fanservice, it does also deliver some in the form of yuri pairings. No complaints here - for now - it's a fun show to watch. /Edit/ I got bored with Senran Kagura, so disregard everything I said a while back.

I've run out of time here, but I also recommend that people check out Tamako Market, KyoAni's latest production. If you like surreal, slapstick and boke/tsukommi humour (see also: Gintama et al) then you should like this; it's quite unlike any of the other productions KyoAni have produced to date (though perhaps similar to Fumoffu) and makes a nice change from the usual moeblob.

Lastly, I'll just say that people should avoid Sasami-san. It's bad. Really bad. Sadly SHAFT really half-assed the adaptation leaving a hollow shell of creepy fanservice and unfunny lolrandom "jokes". I'm sad to say this should be avoided like the plague, which is a shame since I feel any other studio could have done a much better job of it.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Autumn 2012 anime

It's that time again when a new season has started, so beginning my process of sorting the wheat from the chaff in the lineup of shows.  So far I have to say this has been a pretty solid start, a hell of a lot better than summer (which, even at the beginning mostly only held shows of moderate interest to boring).

Gotta love that artstyle.
Getting straight to it then, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is one of my favourite start ups so far. Ostensibly it's a shoujo anime - a label which normally causes me to steer well clear of a show, but I'm glad I gave this a chance because within minutes of watching I was in hysterics.  This show really nails that key all important aspect of comedy: timing.  What's more it keeps things coming at a blistering rate, I don't think I've laughed so much at something in years. YEARS.  The fact that Japan doesn't tip-toe around certain taboos (for example, violence towards women) makes it all the more outrageous from a western perspective.

Despite the largely realistic approach of the show, the violence is fairly slapstick and usually brushed off in a manner that an average western cartoon would do - there isn't much lingering on it and bizarrely it often leads to more humourous situations.  Speaking of realism, the show makes a very welcome use of semi-realistic character designs with more realistic proportions and profile shapes than the average anime; noses are shaped like noses instead of vague triangles.  Why is this not done more frequently Japan?

FeMC and Aspie-kun.
I've just realized that I've rambled for two whole paragraphs without describing the background to the show: it's about a girl and her acquaintance with an aspergic delinquent.  From there on stuff happens.

Apparently the manga which this is based upon does decline in quality, so bear that in mind when starting watching it.  That said, for the time being this is a solid show and certainly worth watching.

Chuunibyou is another series which I've really liked the first episode of.  Personally I had no idea there were actually people who design and dress themselves up as some self-invented character (I had long imagined the infamous Darks to be a one off), so I found it pretty hilarious... whereas a lot of other people seem to have found it embarrassing.  This quadruples the amusement for me.

Rikka, the "chuunibyou".
Being a Kyoani show the animation was extremely nice, with some of their best work to date expended on fantasy scenarios imagined by various characters.  I have no idea where the plot for this show is going, it's still too early to say but regardless, I love the central characters of Rikka and Yuuta.  The latter of the two is embarrassed by the fact that he used to play dress up and put on a fake persona (a "chuunibyou").  Whilst he would like to forget that past, Rikka quickly cottons onto it and introduces herself as someone who likes to be a chuunibyou - and has no qualms or embarrassment about it - much to Yuuta's chagrin.

So far so good, I shall be watching it weekly for my dose of moe and further humour.

Segwaying from Kyoani, Little Busters also started this past week... but with JC Staff in charge of animation.  It wasn't a bad start (certainly nowhere near as bad as it could be given JC Staff) though the animation is quite rough, it is more or less typical of JC Staff's animation quality in general.  The character designs are certainly quite an improvement from the typical Key artwork, as usual JC Staff have employed a skilled character designer - so there's no kawaii~uguu looking characters (thank god).

Useless cat, I choose you!
They seem to be following the VN quite literally, so it should be hard for them to screw it up... hopefully. There have been far worse VN adaptations produced to date (see for example, the Key movies), hopefully they'll follow or combine the best aspects of the various routes in the game.

I was entertained for the duration of the episode, the characters were amusing and the pacing was mostly fine. My only complaint is that the central character (a guy) is voiced by a girl, which is all the more obvious when contrasted with the manly voices of the surrounding male characters.  I'll sit back and see how it pans out over the duration of its broadcast.

Next up is Ixion Saga, which is sort of like a cross between Gintama and Slayers.  The Gintama connection is worth mentioning, since it features the same director and voice actors (see also: Binbougami).  It's a moderately amusing comedy/fantasy/shounen, nothing ground breaking so far but I'll be sticking with it to see where it goes. Speaking of Gintama, a new series started last week, which was welcome; as was the new series of Hayate which also got off to a good start.  Hopefully I won't get burned out by 3 shows doing much the same thing.

Lastly there's a variety of shows which I have little to no interest in:
Zetsuen no Tempest was a terrible abomination, a fantasy show about a wimpy guy who lets himself get beaten up bullies (he even hands over his wallet, believing this to be badass) and some witches and blah blah blah.  It was terrible and should be avoided at all costs.
Project [K] always had that look of fujoshi pandering to it, so I guess it was no surprise that it turned out to be just that.  It's just disappointing considering how nicely animated the show is, I'll keep watching it for a little while longer to see if it picks up - though this is probably a vain hope.
Shinsekai Yori is an abstract show which focuses too much on building up the abstract elements of its world.  Abstract is fine if kept to the background, but making it a central feature is not terribly interesting.  Hopefully this will improve and shift the focus towards the characters, but right now it's one of my least favoured shows.  The ED is very nice though.

That's all for now, there are more shows that have yet to air... I guess I can talk about them in due course or retrospectively when the season ends.  We'll see.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Bad Subs

Recently I bought a copy of one of my favourite anime series Sora no Woto, a series I consider to be a classic and worthy of a permanent place on the shelf. Or rather would be if the DVD release hadn't been so damned terrible - I could list the various problems (bad encoding, naff opening sequence) but chief amongst the problems has been the subtitles. I wish I could say this is the only time I've encountered bad subtitles but it isn't, and given that there are scant reviews of UK subtitle releases it's always a gamble as to whether or not you're buying something decent.

Which is what brings me to the topic of this blog: if I'm given the option of a badly subtitled DVD which barely makes sense; or a fansub which makes perfect sense, has wonderfully formatted fonts and perfect timing - then there is no real choice at all. By this point you may as well not bother with the DVD purchase because it'll only be a deadweight on the shelf with no benefit to the viewer. Historically you could show your appreciation for a show by importing it (either from Japan for the extreme fan, or the US) but with UK customs this is increasingly impossible.

That in mind, I'm wondering why there isn't an honesty box or something like that which viewers of fansubs can throw money into and see flow back to the producers in Japan - it's a fair deal, and one which would give them more money than some hokey release in a backwater market like the UK. Sure there are streaming sites like Crunchyroll which you could throw money at if you were really inclined, but I'd take more satisfaction in seeing money flow straight back to the producers to reward them for perceived good work than to have it syphoned through a middleman who takes a cut for himself.

But all the same, I'd still like to own a good copy of a good show with a decent set of subtitles. Is that too much to ask for? As a consumer you at least expect some quality, not something which is hastily thrown together without bothering to check the quality. Whatever the case, I can at least take some satisfaction in the distributor or SNW going broke - bad business practice is not a sustainable one.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Mub Rub Total Eclipse

I feel compelled to post right now about Muv Luv Total Eclipse, the last episode left me feeling pretty psyched and therefore in the need to blog about stuff. Considering this show started out as total rubbish it really has come a long way - though it still is visually pretty ugly looking, the delivery of the story has improved a great deal.

Just to recap the background of the show, the story centres around a group of pilots working in a test facility that develops experimental mecha. Most of the show revolves around the relationships between characters and what they do in their time between missions / test flights, the Mecha sections (when they appear) are generally quite fleeting. The reason for Mecha being necessary is that the earth has been invaded by a formidable alien race (or races?) known as BETA, which are pretty good at destroying tanks and aircraft, so something more maneuverable than either of those is pretty handy - but like the Mechs, the BETA are mostly only an aspect of the backstory.

The MC has no problems being alpha.
It's pleasing that the main character in the show is a total badass and isn't entirely dense, though he does harbour an irrational dislike of the Japanese (despite being half-caste himself). Along with the MC are various other pilots, engineers, officers, Soviets (yes, really) and so forth; the most important of these other characters is Yui, veteran of a failed campaign in Japan that is now overseeing R&D for experimental prototypes.

All this brings me to the last episode, where experimental equipment is finally brought by the test pilots to make use of on front lines. IT WAS AWESOME. Despite the fact that the anime does use badly constructed Zbrush monstrosities, it still kicked ass; and at this point I must restrain myself so as not to give away any spoilers. All you need to know is that it was awesome to see characters organizing themselves in the field (because mission plans went derp) and seeing them extract themselves from a colossal mess.

The main characters wind each other
up when there's nothing else to do.
As I have said various times before I'm not a fan of mecha, but I do enjoy how this presents a semi-realistic portrayal of characters in military situations. Just don't mind that they're all wearing body-tight suits. Oh yeah, and be sure to start watching from Episode 3 - the first two episodes are garbage.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I'm quite late to the party here, but for the last week I've been marathoning SMUGFACES: THE ANIMATION Hyouka.

Look at that smug.
I'd been put off watching for a long while after many people reacting negatively to the first few episodes, so it's a pleasant surprise that picking it up now I find it to be a good show - nay, not just good: excellent. Outstanding. It's one of those series which showcases just what KyoAni can do with animation when they put their mind to something - whilst most of their shows feature fluid animation, this really really needs to be seen in motion to fully appreciate just how visually interesting it is. Remember how beautifully animated and abstract the Gosick OP was? Well, this is like that but fused with the fluidity and framework of KyoAni: abstract set pieces and surrealist imagery are employed to punctuate the show and re-engage the viewer, it's quite possibly the most visually interesting thing KyoAni have done to date; it's also (so far) one of their best series.

Did I mention smug?
Thematically, Hyouka is a mystery series; yet one which takes an unusual approach to the genre by applying a detective character to explain or coax everyday occurrences. "Why is that guy reluctant to let us look in his room for our book?", "How should this incomplete movie end?" - neither of which sound terribly interesting on paper, yet the challenge to solve the mysteries is particularly gripping. For a show which centres on low-key problems it presents a highly credible method of detective methodology: never are there any asspull solutions, potential scenarios are all discussed until a final theory is deliberated and acted upon thus allowing the viewer to figure things out with the characters. As I said before, this style of realism places this at odds with the "whodunnit" style of mystery (one episode even has the characters attempting to solve a whodunnit mystery with a realistic approach), it has more in common with (for instance) Law & Order but without the death or gore.

Since the approach to solving mysteries is realistic, it makes sense that the characters are too: they often have disjointed discussions which get interrupted or follow a non-linear route. I can't think of any books, films or television shows which have presented characters so realistically; nearly always a writer will present a clean and linear pathway for characters, with interruptions occurring at the least convenient time (often predictably so too). It helps a great deal that the characters themselves are interesting, humourous and (at least in the case of some female characters) endearingly sweet.

Chitanda is moe. Even when drunk.
The centremost character of Hyouka is Houtarou Oreki: an unenergetic and average student who goes out of his way to avoid doing things, and therefore finds a club where he can goof off and not do any work. Believing this club will be empty and devoid of other members, he is quickly disappointed to discover that it has another member - the highly energetic and inquisitive Eru Chitanda. Chitanda's persistent character quickly irritates Oreki, who begrudgingly decides that it's better to satiate her curiosity than to endure her incessant prattling. Thirdly we're introduced to Oreki's friend Satoshi, who serves to further irritate Oreki to the point of action (though Satoshi is more deliberate in this regard), his lighter and more outgoing personality also offering a nice counter-balance to Oreki's own slothness. There are a whole host of other characters too who pop up and disappear from time to time, but to elaborate further on these would be to spoil plot points and character development.

Considering I had low expectations for this series prior to watching, this has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. In fact it's a series I love so much that I don't want it to end, and it's been a long time since I've felt that quite so strongly when watching a series. Be sure to check it out!