SECOND THIRD THOUGHTS – WINTER 2015

Another month, another time to catch up on the season’s shows with Yata and Haru. I think we can confidently say that this winter has been one of the better winter anime seasons in a couple years, with plenty of worthy fall carry-overs and an above-average number of fantastic new shows, many of which people are severely underrating. You tell ’em, Nozomi.

Rolling Girls Header Pic

AKATSUKI NO YONA:

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Do what you want, cause a pirate is free…

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 20)
Yona is still the enjoyable consistently slightly above-average popcorn watch of my week. Jaeha is cool. The captain is cool. Yona is more self-reliant now and her quest’s purpose seems to be to make herself stronger in addition to gathering the four dragons. Little to discuss in-depth, just very much the show’s core strengths intensified by the setting of Awa and its troubles that fit well into the show’s hands. Yona at its best is still a goofy historical-but-not-really adventure, but it’s largely been at its best for a while now, and I don’t have any real complaints in that regard. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 20)
The reverse harem princess adventure keeps chugging along, as it has been for 20 episodes now.

Yeah, it was totally inevitable that we’d start getting these little romantic tidbits— hell, we’ve been getting teasers of it all throughout the show, but hey, I ain’t knocking it. We’re just at this point where it just seems like we’re in for a lot more of it, what with the Green Dragon being a total playboy and all. A little bit of seeming jealousy leads Hak to make a rather questionable advance on Yona while “tending” to her wounds from the cliff escapade. Also, what’s going on with Yun and Yona?

Oh yeah, all this was happening during the buildup to Team Yona joining up with the Awa pirates to confront the crime lord Kumji, whose organazation has been terrorizing on the people of Awa. With all the pieces in place it should be a fun battle to watch. Since this show is supposedly a 2-cour offering, I’m curious to see how it’ll wrap up. I mean, we still haven’t encountered the fourth dragon yet. I just hope the show doesn’t take some wacky deviation from its manga to make up for this time constraint.

Either way it goes, I’m here for the long haul.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching?: Yep.

ALDNOAH.ZERO SEASON 2:

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Inaho thinks he can see everything with his deus eye machina, but can he see why kids love the taste of Kataphrakt Toast Crunch?

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
But seriously, now that Inaho’s all-seeing eye has robbed his entire Terran crew of any and all point of existing, the only thing keeping Aldnoah.Zero going is Slaine’s rise to the top to reclaim Earth…and Asseylum’s love. At least as far as that’s concerned, it makes sense. With Slaine in a position where all Martians are under his rule now, he has to make sure he doesn’t go overboard with his scheming. The real Asseylum’s recovery has (somehow) been hidden to the rest of her empire so far, but now that the already emotionally volatile Lemrita has discovered her body missing and Mazuurek has returned to Vers with knowledge given to him by good ol’ fuckface Jesus Chrizuka, multiple wrenches seem like they’re about to be thrown into Slaine’s plans. Hell, Eddelrittuo doesn’t even know what to do. Loud-mouthed bitch gon’ get some karma.

And this is all entertaining, but it’s not as if Aldnoah.Zero is anywhere close to recovering any integrity as a sci-fi work or any integrity in general. The show is still shitty and filled to its brim with deus ex machinas and “IT HAPPENED FOR THE PLOT!” conveniences, and that’s probably how it well stay. For a while there I was worried, but A.Z did shed some of its filler earlier in this second season, so now we’re right back in the thick of its sloppy mess. I’m ready to watch it all topple down. Or skim past it toppling down. Maybe pluck out its eyes, if you catch my drift.
Current score: 4.5/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8)
If it wasn’t already before, this series is dead to me now.

Like seriously, this close-up shot and the accompanying sound effect were played out after the first time it happened. We get it, Ald’ohnoah writers, he’s got a fucking cybernetic eye. It’s getting really annoying seeing that every episode (sometimes several times)before Inaho and crew magically bail themselves out of another hopeless situation. Case in point: How they were able to survive the Landing Castle impact, then hold their own against three hyperpowered Aldnoah Mars-bots long enough for the sole Aldnoah powered Earth vessel to snatch them out of there, or after that when they lim the damaged ship away from the battle without any instrumentation, only for humanity’s last true hero Inaho all-seeing deus eye machina to be able to guide them to safety.

Don’t even get me started on Slaine, as his actions and thought process are just beyond incomprehensible other than the writers had to make him the big bad after he shot our glorious hero Inaho. With this whole thing attempting to turn into a space mecha drama from the half-decent military drama of the first season, I feel like even Gundam writers are shaking their heads at this.

The biggest risk the writers took on this show was seriously making Inaho and Asseylum both miraculously survive their bullets to the head, because they certainly ain’t risking losing them now. Stylistically, the show is still typical A-1 Pictures fare at this point. Pretty stuff to look at, except for the conspicuously bad CG used for the mechs. My sole reason for sticking with this as long as I have was in the hope of some catastrophic thing happen, like a character death or the Earth getting blown up. I have been let down thus far. Congrats to A-1 Pictures; it’s bad.
Current score: 4/10
Still watching?: Certified hate-watch at this point.

ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM

I don't think this is what Korosensei had in mind by

I don’t think this is what Koro-sensei had in mind by “cramming.”

Harubro: (episodes seen: 7)
Is the reason I’m enjoying this show is because I bought low on it and went in not really knowing much at all about this franchise?

Perhaps it is.

Despite Yata’s misgivings about this show being a tad juvenile, for the most part, I’m really enjoying it. Despite the (very exaggerated) oppressive moments between the main campus and the End Class, AssClass has been a pretty nice feel-good show at its core. It may have presented itself as the edgy show of the season at first, but this show has a heart of gold, much like its anti-hero, the be-tentacled Koro-sensei.

Isn’t it ironic that most people would kill to have a teacher like Koro-sensei? I certainly would. The comedic and sometimes heartwarming ways he builds his students’ confidence back up, albeit with some smack-talk peppered throughout, his diligence as a teacher (evidenced by the hilariously detailed Kyoto guidebook he produced for the class), prioritizing the kids’ education over his plan to destroy the world, and his overall silly personality all make him probably the most endearing almost-all-powerful character I’ve come across in a series. I add the “almost” into that phrase purely because of his quirky weaknesses, one of which being his poor taste in anime. I kid, that whole clone teaching scene in the lead-up to the exam was a shout-out to AssClass’ fellow Shounen Jump series past and current, which I can dig. In all actuality, this most recent episode with the class trip to Kyoto and the confrontation with the delinquent high schoolers was the first episode that I’d really call a stumble, but it still wasn’t all that bad. For some reason, I love how quickly and nonchalantly this show defuses its “edgy” moments, whether it was Koro-sensei “keeping up appearances” or his ridiculously huge travel guides actually coming in handy.

This show has been an entertaining late week pick-me-up for me this season, and while it’s far from perfect, this show is bound to have something you can resonate with. Whether it’s the affable cast of misfits from Class E, all with their own individual struggles, to the (usually tongue-in-cheek) antics of so-called “assassination” attempts, the haves vs. have-nots battle, or the sly wordplay of some of the dialogue (“Bitch-sensei” is eternal classic), there’s something in this show you’re bound to get a kick out of. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a fun popcorn show at heart.

Also of note, this was one of a handful of shows that Funimation has started dubbing work on, and the two episodes of English dub thus far were surprisingly well-casted and well-performed. I’ll be keeping tabs on this one for a while.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching?: Oh yeah.

DEATH PARADE:

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basically mfw I started watching the “Flyers” music video, but then I put my hands up.

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
Death Parade continues to straggle between macabre psychological horror, clumsy comedy, introspective commentary, and somber storytelling without ever really hitting any of them, but the show’s strength comes in its willingness to straggle in the first place. I don’t know if that sounds like it made a lot of sense, but to me it does. Death Parade as a whole so far has been characterized by a lot of variety, often independently, though sometimes within the same episode as well. It goes a long way to keep you invested knowing that the series likes to shift its mood around and can handle doing so smoothly, and for me, that’s a huge selling point in what I (and I assume a lot of other reviewers) feared would be an initially brilliant but ultimately monotonous regurgitation of a pessimistic outlook on humanity every week.

With the “commentary” bit I mentioned earlier, it’s also a pleasure to announce that the show has quickly questioned its own arbitration system. It’s sloppy and cruel and decided by people who don’t feel things the same way a human would, and yet that’s the way it is…just because? Though it questions it, it also doesn’t really offer any explanation of why it is the way it is, and that’s something I’d like to see addressed before the show wraps up. Baby steps though; Decim is shown to be an empathetic arbiter, which is certainly a start given how people could end up some place like Ginti’s bar instead. Onna’s presence, while upsetting to some of this world’s inhabitants, is aiding Decim by giving his decisions a little more humane balance, and man, she’s a wonderfully pulled off vague character in her own right now.

Speaking of this world’s inhabitants, the last few weeks have introduced some more colorful characters to the cast, and those little moments we see of the world outside Quindecim have made it clear that this whole world itself is a system with Decim merely an experimental cog in one of its many machines. The return to Quindecim games this week in what I assume will be the show’s first attempt at a non-episodic story shows that this is a formula Death Parade can succeed doing without getting trite, but the glimpses into the surroundings are just as important. While the last few weeks have been a little inconsistent, none of them have been particularly bad, though it also feels like Death Parade isn’t building to any grand conclusion. Will Onna remain a part of this world or move on? Will Decim keep his job? What exact significance does the Chavvot book play, or is it just symbolism? I fear the details of why this world operates aren’t likely to be addressed, just leaving us with a “take it is at it comes” attitude, and so while I wish Death Parade would ask about that more, I don’t blame it for keeping the questions it answers to the few that they can pull off with the time they have while also presenting us a cast of genuinely likable recurring leads and relatively fleshed out episodic characters. What it’s doing it is doing well.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8)
Well, this show went back to its niche, and what a heavy one at that.

Death Parade has always been good at keeping it cards close to the table. It’s been mostly unpredictable for the most part its run, and as a result, I never can tell what is about to happen. This show makes such good use of the suspense it builds with these games, especially with those moments of flashbacks the gamers are subject to as the game progresses. I’m glad these new guys get another episode, because this last one had me on the edge of my seat The bombshell the show drops at the end of episode 8 was one of the better cliffhangers we’ve had this season.

Can I randomly mention that I adore the spectacle that this series puts on when a game is summoned up? Seriously, like there will never be a better entrance by an air hockey table (or any of the games) than their various entrances into Quindecim.

As I mentioned before, Death Parade’s flair for the dramatic and it’s affinity for building up tension each episode has been fun and all, but I’m curious to see how the show handles itself these last few episodes. We haven’t really seen what one would call an “arc” yet with this show, with it instead opting for these single episode bits with an occasional bit of overarching plot thrown our way in various little nibbles.

Take for example, the woman that Decim has taken up as a partner, as she had memories of being dead upon entering Quindecim. The show gave us a couple of clues to her origin with the seventh episode, and I imagine we’ll be seeing more of that in the future. I’m also hoping the show touches more on Oculus’ claim that arbiters such as Decim must lack human emotions despite the obviously contrary evidence.

This show hasn’t really missed a beat yet. It’s been very tactful with when it applies its light and its dark moments, and I’m obviously sticking around for its conclusion. Good stuff.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching?: Yep.

DRRR!!x2 SHOU:

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Shoudown incoming.

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
DRRR!! is as DRRR!! does. Still. More overlapping tales, more antichronological storytelling, more goofy gang badassery and more black market hitman schemes. Oh, and more gratuitous Russian. More…well, pretty much everything, and I love it, even though I’m admittedly a little lost in some parts. Haru will explain better than I can.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8)
It begiiiiiiiins.

We’ve already had some moments of fun with DRRRx2 so far, but now the real fun begins. One of my very favorite arcs from the novels is finally beginning with the Toramaru bike gang undertaking a retaliatory attack on the unsuspecting members of the Dollars after a rogue squad claiming to be the Dollars torches the gang’s bikes and puts a few of their members in the hospital.

The one responsible for igniting the mayhem? Who else but Mikado’s innocent little kouhai (and my favorite character of this series), Aoba Kuronuma, who outs himself as the true leader of the Blue Squares, who feuded with Masaomi’s Yellow Scarves in the events before and during the first season and attacked the bike gang as payback for ruining his tour of the town with Mikado and Anri. Who would’ve guessed it, huh? While I know his reasoning behind it, I’ll opt not to spoil you of his actual intentions behind this scheme. Also in the goings-on of Ikebukuro, a duo of Russian assassins make a few attempts on the Black Rider’s life, only to fail, and a series of unfortunate events befall our friend Shizuo, apparently orchestrated by non other than Izaya.

While the happenings thus far have unfolded as expected, it does seem as though Studio Shuka has had a couple hiccups with its animation quality as of around episode 7. It looks as though they didn’t get a lot of their in-between stuff in in time and they settled for coloring in key frames for a bunch of scenes, especially evident in the Russia flashback in episode 7 and Aoba’s meeting with Mikado in episode 8. It gets the story across fine, I suppose, but I can’t help but giggle a bit at some of the “quality” moments of the last couple of weeks. Blame Shirobako for me actually being a tad understanding of this issue, it’s quite an insightful show. If anything, the quality issues only stir up the nostalgic feeling I’m getting watching this, as the first season had its share of issues back in the day.

I can assure you guys that you’ll be in for quite a wild ride, but as long as they stick to the novel’s guns, this first season should be quite the way to herald Durrrrr’s return. I’m pretty pleased myself, it’s been fun watching this old favorite of mine return.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching?: Yes.

LOG HORIZON SEASON 2:

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ey b0ss, can I habe a date pls?

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 21)
Following the dull introduction to this “the kids learn on their own” arc, Tohya and his fellows arrived in Safil to gain…not gonna lie, I don’t remember and it doesn’t seem that important in the grand scheme of things. In fact, most of the face value plot events this month seemed to be less interesting than their implications. I think the main problem I’m having with Log Horizon’s second season is that it’s more focused on ideas than it is on actions. There’s not anything particularly wrong with that, though the show has proven it can tackle both at once and kick total ass while doing so, so this feels like a step down.

But anyway, there were some great bits in these last couple weeks. Isuzu’s growth accepting her status as Elder Tale’s first real musical pioneer despite her real-world relative inexperience was a point brought full circle that also gave us a neat look into how different the People of the Land’s culture is simply because it was just meant as a background culture for the game’s NPCs. The wyvern fight itself didn’t include a lot of interesting stuff, but the mid-fight confrontation between the understandably reckless Odyssey Knights and Tohya was a capstone on what I know I said I wanted more talk about but now regret wishing for. The Knights used their transportable Cathedral to assure respawns on the battlefield after death, and it makes sense that this organization, comprised of people more than eager to get back to the real world, would want the brief flashes of their old memories that death grants them. Tohya, as the show has told us before, was crippled in the real world, and thus while the Knights are limited by Elder Tale, this world offers him more mobility, and so the two refused to see eye to eye. This was a little overdramatized and with the shitty CG wyverns flying about reminded me a tad too much of SAO’s awkwardly paced “get back home” shenanigans (“Oh no, he mentioned SAO” oh, fucking sue me). This arc also contained Nyanta fighting a couple older factions we didn’t get to know as well as we should have, Nureha frolicking with the kids in disguise for reasons still unclear, and no further elaboration on Akihabara’s wealth gap. Also not sure what point there was in Roe 2 being here at all.

By transferring the focus out of Akihabara, we may have gained some neat knowledge, but there were not a lot of gripping events, which as I stated earlier, need to be around with the show’s worldbuilding to propel Log Horizon forward. Nearing the second season’s completion, I’m still hopeful about getting a third when there’s more source material, because in general this season has just been not up to par with its predecessor. A little more clarity and shifted attention would go a long way, but only with ample time to do it, and I’m not sure Log Horizon has that steam in it for one more month. As annoying as that sounds, it still remains endearing and pleasant to watch if nothing else. It’s just frustrating knowing it could do so much more.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 21)
You know, this second season is okay, but it just isn’t as good as the first.

How this arc with the kids dragged itself along with the same sort of wallowing feeling as the Akatsuki arc kind of confirmed that sentiment to me. That’s not to say that this is a bad show or that this arc wasn’t rooted in some decent ideas, but since the big raid arc, it’s just felt like this show hasn’t quite measured up to the bar set by that first season.

I certainly was hoping that the series would touch back on the issue of the adventurers contemplating on the issue of them being stuck in the Elder Tale and working towards some way to get back home, but I wasn’t expecting them to touch on it like this, with disgruntled adventurers attempting to ignite wars between the People of the Land and the Adventurers or between the Adventurers themselves. All over a pervading attitude of “I was taken here whether I wanted to or not, so I’m gonna do whatever I want.” Awesome logic there.

I was alright with this arc trying to flesh out the side characters, but as Yata mentioned, it just got a tad repetitive and long-winded, like how I felt about the Akatsuki arc. That especially hurts, considering even more antagonists are being introduced now, the Akihabara class conflict we were teased with earlier hasn’t been touched back on again, and we still don’t know where the hell Crusty is! There’s really been no suspense, nothing to look forward to with this season compared to the relatively epic first season, which is rather sad. However, this series has too much sentimental value for me, and dropping this has never been a consideration compared to some of the crap that aired this season. This just hurts any prospects of people staying interested in this series going further.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching?: Yes.

MARIA THE VIRGIN WITCH:

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Your spear is the spear that will pierce the virgins!

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
I feel like I went into Maria expecting a goofy fanservice show with only slight realistic undertones, and that sentiment persisted in my head far longer than it should have. Each week, I’d think back to the events of the prior episode and find a greater appreciation for it then than when I was watching it. That’s not to say Maria isn’t entertaining now – believe me, it is – but I guess its developments and themes weren’t as explicitly stated as I thought they would be, and when you’re not looking for those, sometimes you’ll miss them. I wouldn’t say that it’s an outstanding show, but to call it “pleasantly enjoyable” would for sure be an understatement now. Forgive my rambling as I play catch up.

First and foremost, Maria’s impressed me by how many well-addressed layers it’s added to its central conflict now. The primary event of the show thus far, kind of a mini-climax occurred a couple episodes back when the French forces, at the time fighting an assuredly winning battle, were interrupted by Maria, who stubborn as ever, refused to allow fighting near her home, despite the fact that forcing the sides into a stalemate in the manner she did only prolonged everyone’s problems. It was around this time that the Archangel (who’s kind of taken the backseat since) had enough, and used an unwilling Ezekiel to try and pierce Maria. Lucky for her, Dovey seemed to take a liking to living with the witch and her familiars and intentionally did her best to miss, which worked. Maria is now injured, but alive and still restless about the current state of things. It helps now that as far as everyone else is concerned, Maria is her own faction. She’s considerate and the people close to her are still trying to help, but her views on war are hypocritical and self-centered, and acting on them is a continued detriment to nearly everyone else.

And she’s not the only one. As predicted, Bernard has his own fair share of corruption and greedy ambition and has no problem using the Church as a means of gaining what he desires…so basically typical historical Catholic clergyman behavior. Using Maria’s disruption of the winning battle to his advantage, he’s been able to convince the local villagers that Maria’s medicines aren’t working and that any good coincidences that befall them are the miracles of God. He’s clearly the human antagonist of this story, but he also isn’t a bumbling cackling moronic archetype of a villain. His latest plan has been brought forth to Galfa, who after weeks of character development and unfortunate events has become something of a self-reliant powerhouse who also has his eyes set on glory and wealth. His time to shine or fall into the depths of evil comes now, tasked with ridding Maria of her virginity and stripping away her power once and for all. You know, for the Lord and shit.

And that’s the gist of Maria over the past month, but the show has steadily refined itself into a beautiful ride in all its other aspects too. I can’t think of a single character minus a couple of the battling troops that cross the line into poorly written. The setting continues to enhance the show’s plot with mostly realistic gender roles, class structure, and racial prejudice. Though the comedy’s been sidelined for the most part, it still gets plenty of moments to shine, particularly through the familiars and glorious glorious Viv. The animation quality really isn’t anything to laugh at either. It’s nice to correctly guess a good speculative pick each season, but it’s even nicer when that pick runs off full speed ahead and proves it knows what it’s doing.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 7)
Gosh, what can I even say about this show?

Between this and Yurikuma, I’m at sort of a loss of words for these shows for different reasons, respectively. Maybe it’s because of Maria’s rather novel setting during the Hundred Years’ War. Maybe it’s the vignettes of “what is just and unjust”, the commentary on the church’s sacrosanct attitude regarding the war, Maria’s intervention in the battles and her assistance of the regular folk. Even just the bits of the soldiers having to loot the opposing enemies for anything just to get by for themselves. This show is actually much deeper than it looks. It’s begun to eschew the sex jokes a tad in favor of getting just a bit more serious. The show does its job in depicting how savage these battles are, whether its the combat, the take-no-prisoners ruthlessness of the armies.

Maria shows that war, especially as it was then, is nothing to be glorified. Hence, I understand why Maria goes out of her way to attempt to end the hostilities, albeit risking (and nearly losing) her life in the process. How she almost immaturely refuses to accept war, despite that there could be any slight economic benefit to the villagers she assists is quite the interesting point to me. Meanwhile, Joseph made a friend… temporarily, that is. Those sort of scenes are always fun, huh? The bit with Maria and Ezekiel was a really nice moment after how heavy that battle was.While it seems like the church was attempting to manipulate Maria at first, now it seems that they’ve taken a full turn against her, enlisting the help of Galfa, who has sworn revenge against Maria after losing his arm in a battle after the latter’s intervention.

This show is staying fresh, and I’m along for the rest of the ride. Should be fun.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching?: Yes.

PARASYTE -THE MAXIM-:

Parasyte – The Maxim(um potential of this show will never be reached) –

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 20)
Even though Parasyte’s been on a steady downward slope since…well, a couple weeks after it started, the last month has offered some of the show’s better moments in its second half. The parasites themselves have been thrust back into the spotlight and Shinichi – for the most part – cast to the sidelines. It seems like a weird move, and maybe I’m exaggerating that, but his presence has been undoubtedly narrowed to the key scenes he’s needed. Parasyte has finally drilled into its head that it has more potential beyond Shinichi’s romantic troubles and cat and mouse games with a parasite here or there.

However, the show’s spent this time developing an arc where the police (finally) start taking action against the parasites’ threat to humanity and that action is…not always great. They kill Tamiya Ryouko after a cathartic couple of scenes that question the humaneness of humanity in relation to her race, bring in a serial killer named Uragami who can identify parasites by watching their behavior (in between making not-so-subtle retorts to his overseers), and stage a raid in the parasite’s civil office. The execution of all these moments are not equally graceful, with the Tamiya Ryouko episodes being some of the show’s best and the raid episodes some of the show’s most unintentionally hilarious, but they’re at least tackling (or trying to tackle) Parasyte’s bigger questions, which are obviously the most interesting aspects of the show. What does human nature really amount to? What role do parental figures (and particularly mothers, which Parasyte has constructed from episode one as important figures) play in developing life? And most of all, how with brains and not brawn can humanity hope to eliminate their enemies given the rate they’re adapting to avoid society’s suspicion? With plans going predictably awry, what will the bloody massacre both sides have commenced on bring forth?

Parasyte doesn’t have the spark to be as philosophical as it wants to be anymore, but it’s in a much better place trying to regain it and failing while still being laughably entertaining than it is wasting its time with frivolous matters. With only four more episodes to go, there’s no reason to back out now.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching? Yes.

SAEKANO: HOW TO RAISE A BORING GIRLFRIEND:

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Started from the bottom now we…back at the bottom.

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 7)
As I feared was more or less inevitable, Saekano’s neat visual tricks and slight self-consciousness can’t keep its inherently poor plot as an otaku-pandering show about otaku aloft any longer. The last four efforts have boiled down to girl-of-the-week episodes to try and build or expand upon the girls’ personalities, and none of them really told us much we didn’t already know. I don’t know if I’m just getting tired of Saekano’s gimmicks now or if they’ve actually gotten poorer – and they sure feel like they’ve gotten poorer – but either way, the show’s become vapid and pointless, and the way it frequently objectifies its female characters is not only uncomfortable but also unnecessary and tasteless. This latest episode was Saekano at its cringiest, with a doting little sister type thrown into Tomoya’s shitty wannabe harem and a pathetically pretentious fight of words with some new rival guy over who will claim the girls’ creative talents as their own. I was able to suspend disbelief with its characters jobs and roles despite their ages before, but it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t care about their implausible lives anymore. Obviously I enjoy works that reflect at least some bit of reality, and beneath all its surface shit, Saekano started by making very real, universal critiques about creativity, procrastination, and half-assing your life. Now that those are gone, I feel like Saekano has instead become about how to lower a boring standard, and thus, I have no reason to continue it.
Final score: 4/10
Still watching? No.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8, counting ep. 0)
With that, I’m glad Yata’s finally had it with this show.

Aside from having the A-1 Pictures hallmark of looking pretty, this show just never clicked with me. Maybe it was the otaku glorification, or the relentless fanservice, perhaps. I mean, was this scene really necessary, or the sex-tease scene when Kasumigaoka was writing the manuscript for the game? Mind you, I admittedly got a laugh out of the one-night-stand joke text at the end of that episode with Kasumigaoka and Tomoya at the hotel, but maybe that is because it was mostly at Tomoya’s expense. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka did a pretty good job selling his role as Aki, especially with Aki’s freak-out moments during the girls’ various advances, which is probably how this show got a laugh out of me. This is about all the praise I can dish out for this series, because there’s a lot more I disliked with this show. One of the many examples I can cite being how Tomoya berates Kato for simply doing up her hair in a ponytail. Like jeez, chill the fuck out, dude.

If Saekano focused more on the process of the group making the dating game, rather than the game just being a background thought to just another crappy harem somehow centered on an inexplicably popular otaku, I might have dug it more. But, it isn’t. I had my hopes up after some pretty okay showings in the first 3-4 “actual” episodes, but it’s lost any momentum gained by those episodes. This show’s been pretty forthcoming with its fanservice, not so much with actual meaningful plot. The characters are still pretty cut-and-paste, yadayadayada. Do you want me to rant any more? I kind of want to save my writing for a better show. Crap harem was crap harem.
Final score: 4/10
Still watching?: Nope, I can only stand to hate-watch one series a season.

SHIROBAKO:

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“if it doesn’t matter who writes these reviews, get FGJ to do-” YOU CALLED?

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 20)
Shirobako continues to be the one of the best damn shows airing this season for the same reasons it’s always been. Events of note since last month include Honda losing a fuckton of weight, Aoi stressing out more than ever, Yano coming back in full force, that shy girl being consistently adorkable, a flashback to Marukawa and Sugie in their young days at Musashino, Hiraoka continuing to be an (understandably) total asshole and a fight nearly breaking out in what has to be both Tarou and Okitsu’s shining moments so far.

Minus the fairly self-contained confidence booster of episode 19 which judging by internet buzz seems to be regarded as one of the show’s best episodes and one of the whole season’s as well, Shirobako has largely remained steadily building its stress for The Third Aerial Girls Squad in much the same way it built stress for Exodus, but with Aoi at the production desk, there’s much less overall control. Work was assigned to shady studios with lazy artists, Musashino’s new recruits for episode work are mostly washed up animators with a grudge against either the current state of the industry or their past selves, and the in-show audience doesn’t seem to be buying into their new anime’s hype as much as MusaAni thought they would. Add the uncooperative original writer and his even more incompetent editor into the mix and the studio seems to be on a set course towards Jiggly Jiggly Heaven II.

And no matter what way Shirobako ends, it’s been such a wonderful ride that it will without fail earn no lower than a nine out of ten from me. I’m eager to bust out the prestigious ten considering the only scenes in this whole show I haven’t enjoyed that much are the ones with Aoi’s dolls narrating and those scenes are so few and far between and never really offensive or off-putting or poor anyway, but my general policy is to not 10 anything until it’s over. When it comes to workplace shows, look no further. Shirobako has been, is now, and will likely remain, essentially perfect.
Current score: 9.75 or something/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 20)
Surely you must be tiring of us being amongst the throngs of critics continuing to gush over Shirobako. Well, tough, because Shirobako is just that good, and incredibly but yet unsurprisingly, it’s still improving!

The moment in episode 19 where MusaAni’s president takes Miyamori to the shuttered Musashino Pictures building, where we got a taste of the old-school ways of anime production through the old material in storage and (my personal favorite moment of this series thus far) the flashback to when the studio was operating in the 70’s was just amazing. Seeing a lot of MusaAni’s old guys as youngsters was a treat of treats from this series. The future MusaAni president had some wild hair back in the glory days. I also loved the bits seeing Yasuhara take one for the team with the sour treats in order to nail a certain character’s expression down, that was a yet another nice touch. P.A. Works has done their homework and then some.

Then episode 20 rolls along, and we see our resident jerkass Hiraoka really begin to come into his own here. This show has done a brilliant job of depicting stress in the workplace all throughout, and with this episode we got probably the most explosive manifestation of stress we’ve seen yet. The rather violent argument between him and Madoka was another highlight of the series, mainly because of the amazing buildup (especially the music and shots) to the bit where Tarou airheadedly enters the conversation only to be threatened by flying debris that is promptly and badassly deflected away by the company VP Okitsu. Hiraoka might’ve been out the door after this, if not for a little conversation between him and the company President. He promptly apologizes to Madoka, and hopefully it’s all water under the bridge. The bits from the anime-in-the-anime were fun, too.

I’m wondering what surprises the show has left in store for us. This show is almost assuredly keeping the 10 I’ve already assigned it no matter what happens. This show’s just done too much right for me not to. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Shirobako is just an absolute joy to watch.
Current score: 10/10
Of course I’m still watching this. Duh.

THE ROLLING GIRLS:

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The best solo you’ll hear all year, right here.

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
There is something seriously wrong with the otaku community when Root A is considered the best thing airing this season and almost nobody is watching Rolling Girls. This beauty is still eye candy to look at, endearing to watch, and increasingly flawless. Any minor fumbles the first two arcs made just because they were introductory arcs and had slightly less interesting settings, these last two arcs fixed. The Aichi-Mie/Mie-Aichi dispute was sublime, an outstanding example of how to nail proper side characters and make them feel real in a mere two episode span. And man, that geisha vs. punk rockers vs. random mountain gang thugs arc? That was nothing short of a downright joy to witness. Rolling Girls has stuck with the two-episode “build the setting first, then have everything explode after” format for 2/3 of its runtime now, and not only does it work, it constantly one-ups itself with every new arc.

I’m just as impressed with how Rolling Girls has honed in its comical side. Some people are complaining that the main girls are stereotypical helpless female anime leads that just wander around and don’t actually save the day at all. That’s the fucking point. They’re clumsy, heavily idealized, and don’t have any real authority wherever they venture. In their critical times of “hey, this is our chance for us to do something!”, they trip over themselves, or fall asleep, or press buttons that fire missiles into large swathes of people on accident, or…you get the point. It’s borderline satirical, but to serve a greater purpose; their wandering offers us a chance to see the world in which they inhabit now while also allowing time for their overarching personalities to mesh and grow. For the last time, this is not a cute girls doing cute things show, although it has its moments of it. This is, I reiterate from my last review, a show about newly independent places and newly independent people, a look into how they function, and the severed ties they mend along the way. The Rolling Girls is all heart and passion in all the right ways, the kind of show that’s sure to put a smile on your face and inspire you to get out there and do something in the world.

…even if you’re destined to be a mob.

Lack of a conclusion aside, I don’t envision this show stumbling in any major way during the next month that would prevent it from being the show of the season. If you’ve held out on it, you’ve made a major mistake. Fix that now. Ganba-fuckin’-re.
Current score: 9.8765432/10
Still watching? Watching, I still am.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8)
Oh look, another show with 10 potential that’s living up to it at the moment.
I already liked the 2-episode-arc flow that this show had, and I thought it was gonna be hard to top the Shachihoko/Mie Motors arc, but the Kyoto arc was just another brilliantly done piece. This show has done such a great job with building the world, the individual cities, and the groups that occupy them. Aside from our main group, people may only stick around for a couple episodes, but the characterization with this show is so good, I still find myself getting attached to them. The dynamic between the Bests of Kyoto, Doji Shuten, Mamechiyo and Misa was a tense one, yet a joy to watch develop. We get treated to a FLCL-esque battle between Misa and Doji Shuten in episode 7 that was one of my favorite battles in a series in the last few years.

Yata does a wonderful job explaining the deeper significance of this show’s plot elements for me, so I’ll spare you my comparatively lackluster job, but I will explain one thing. How are we buying into this show that on the surface looks like just another “cute girls, cute stuff” show? On top of the god-tier art, worldbuilding and characterization Yata mentioned, one reason I love this show so much is the thought process that Wit Studio had going about making this show. I will forever adore how they used their gobs of money from helping make Attack on Titan and decided to take a risk and make something bold, daring – something fresh and truly ambitious. The Rolling Girls really is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnating medium, and this last arc truly confirmed that to me. Seeing this group of girls come into their own whilst watching all these various caricatures of life take shape and bounce off of each other, this is coming-of-age done right. I also love that each episode’s title is a nod to the Japanese punk band Blue Hearts. Their stuff is pure gold, check it out. I’ll have my eye on Wit Studio for a long time to come because of this show.

I also love the deftly quiet buildup of Momiyama going on in the background, with him seemingly having a role in the years prior to many of the goings-on of the world, with his actions in episode 8 showing that on top of a manga author, he’s also an ex-member of the Momiage Hammers, helping to kick off their performance at the rock festival going on in Kyoto. Man, normally I kind of dislike concerts in shows, but this performance headlined by amazing performances (musical or not) by the different Bests in Kyoto was just another nice flourish for this show.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching?: GANBARE~!

YOUR LIE IN APRIL:

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[insert awkward backstage sandwich feast here]

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 19)
I was nervous about the little Aiza playing into the unnecessary lolicon/little sister trope too much to be effective as a character in her own right. Was that worry justified?

Yes, as unfortunately April has run for a month on a stretch of some of its weakest episodes yet. That those episodes are still pretty damn good is a testament to how strong this show really is, because I still think Nagi is a poorly developed character, as well as her older brother, as their developments take the backseat in shorter performance monologues. If there’s one thing I want to give April extra credit for, it’s that its performances have not only always been visually, musically, and directorially stunning, but they seem to one-up each other successfully as the show goes on. April’s characters move in small steps, and their epiphanies about this seem to come about during their mid-performance thoughts. A lot of shows wouldn’t be able to present scenes like this as often as they do as well as they do, so I’m glad April is getting the most attention from A-1 this season.

Meanwhile, Kaori’s health continues to rapidly deteriorate and her doctors have hinted that she probably doesn’t have a lot of time left. I’m a little annoyed the show hasn’t directly stated what conditions she’s having, because some anemia (the only thing the show has specifically said Kaori has, as far as I know) normally isn’t enough to be deadly or this crippling. If there’s anything the Nagi plot contributed to April’s greater story, it showed that Kousei has fully transformed from the weakling to the mentor, and one so good that it even lifted Kaori’s spirits. Her will to go through rehab and live just even a little longer in hopes of playing her violin on stage again are by no means exaggerated. If I or most musicians were in her shoes, we would all crave that  emotional outlet again. It’s just part of you, and to have it sucked away by chronic fatigue and serious illness is as much a torture mentally as it is physically. Those jaw-dropping cliffhanger lines “Will you commit double suicide with me?” were a reference to a book Kaori was reading and that conversation was quickly snapped out of, but it’s a glimpse like that into the mind of the deprived sick that makes April so damn human, despite its hit-or-miss gags and its stereotypically teenage view on relationships. Not to mention the production quality is still gorgeous.

I’m nervous for April’s end, but I don’t think it will blow up in our faces. At least, I think I trust it not to, and with merely three episodes remaining, that’s a good place to be.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 19)
For how much I nitpicked and outright disliked this show when it first began, April has taken some pretty huge strides as of late. The last few episodes have been brilliant. Arima’s duet performance with Aizato was fun to watch, as was the whole lead up to it. I’ve loved watching Arima blossom into a confident musician and a competent (perhaps too competent) tutor. Of course, it seems that Arima’s renaissance has come with a toll of having to watch another person in his life wither away. As much as I disliked her naggy bits, it’s still tough seeing Kaori deteriorate the way she has.

On a happier note, I finally got the “warm and friendly moment with the rivals” I’ve been waiting for from this show since these characters were introduced a while back. Between that, and Arima’s friends kind of mellowing out a bit, this series has become much more fun for me to watch. The characters’ performances are top-notch as they’ve always been, but this being a proper music series, of course the music was going to be its strength. Takeshi’s performance in the most recent episode, though it wasn’t the flourish that was Arima’s performance in episode 13, is probably my favorite performance yet in this show. It’s definitely fun watching these kids motivate each other.

It does look as though this show is taking a grim turn as of late, so it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens from here on.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching?: Yes.

YURIKUMA ARASHI:

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We hated you from the beginning, but we loved you fr- oh fuck it, has anyone scored Ikuhara Bingo yet? We’re still coming up short.

Yatahaze: (episodes seen: 8)
I’m fretting writing for this now as much as I thought I would be four weeks ago, but for totally different reasons. Instead of bullshitting my way though an interpretation of Yurikuma’s symbolism again, the show has been quite to the point this month. Revelation after revelation after revelation has occurred, and now I have to do my best to clear all that up for you folks. Contrary to my proclamation last time, I’ve been more in tune with its plot developments than I have its symbolism, so if some of it has changed, well, I don’t know what to tell you, but let’s run down what I can.

Jumping off episode 4 and Lulu’s backstory extravaganza, most of Yurikuma’s time since then has been spent developing Ginko and by extension bearkind, as well as what specifically happened to Reia. Ginko and Lulu crossed over the Wall of Severance to be with Kureha, the former of whom Reia had encouraged to be friends with Kureha when they were younger. Reia wrote a storybook (typical Ikuhara) about their friendship, but didn’t get to finish it because Yuriika killed her out of jealousy and disappointment that her own friendship with Reia had been tainted due to Kureha’s birth (and presumably Reia’s then-heterosexual relationship, considering she had a kid). Ginko wouldn’t be at fault for any of this if not for the fact that she presumably killed Sumika to be with Kureha. With all this relationship envy going on, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lulu, now eager to go back to the bear side of the wall, kills somebody in order to get Ginko focused on her again. Gao fucking gao and all that.

Alright, that’s a month’s worth of Yurikuma condensed into one paragraph, and it’s grown to be solidly one of my favorite shows of the season alongside the untouchable Shirobako and Rolling Girls. I’m glad I didn’t doubt Ikuhara’s ability, because though limited with one short cour, Yurikuma is already one of his most digestible stories without sacrificing any of his auteurist longwinded and symbolism-stuffed charm. A lot of its digestibility has to do with its humor this past month being much more on point and outright silly. The kind of lovable dorkiness that filled episode 4 has been constantly present, especially in any scene with the bears in bear form, which, let me just say, are the most adorable little fuckers ever. Ginko’s daydreaming episode might have got a bit repetitive, but aside from that, Yurikuma’s balance of comedy and drama have not slipped up at all since our last post. In fact, it’s only gotten sharper. The kuma-isms never fail to produce a chuckle from me and episode 7 (Ginko’s early backstory) contained a pinpoint example of how to nail a poignant event and make it goofy without losing sight of its intended purpose. The worldbuilding is through the roof, the characters all have fully fleshed out personalities now, and man, this latest episode too, my god, what a cliffhanger to end on. Even when the comedy is out the window, the crew working on this builds the story’s events so well. I can’t wait for more.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching? Yes.

Harubro: (episodes seen: 8)
Alright, I managed to coax some words out of my mind for Maria, now it’s Lesbears’ turn.

Ikuhara sure loves his curveballs, doesn’t he? I may not grasp all the symbolism he’s throwing at me with Yurikuma, and I may be a little confounded and slightly off-put by the frequent nudity and admittedly plot-important sexual themes, but I can sure appreciate these plot twists that come in bunches with this show. I’m at the point where I’m left wondering who aside from Kureha isn’t a bear, you know? That, and with the major cliffhanger we’ve been left on with episode 8. Between Ginko trying her hardest to earn Kureha’s affection, to Yuriika taking out her spurned affection for Kureha’s mother on her, to the showdown on the school rooftop and that nice little cliffhanger, this show is taking some really big turns for the dramatic. I’m also rather curious if the Judgemen’s role in the big picture gets explained any further, since it seems that they are behind, or at least have foreknowledge of the events unfolding before us.

It may creep me out and outright confuse me at times, but this show is pretty golden at its core. Sign me up for more.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching?: Shaba-da-doo.

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