My brief snapshot of the Winter 2011 anime season first episodes
This is just like last time. This season features an unusually large number of shows where I need to see more episodes to really make up my mind, which doesn't inspire me with confidence.
(Technically this is not just first episodes, I've seen a few second episodes too by now.)
Shows I've seen, more or less in the order seen:
- Infinite Stratos: the opening of the first episode shows us just
where this show is going. Since I expect the accumulation of the harem
to be a paint by numbers exercise, the show needs good mecha battles
to stay interesting.
(The characters certainly aren't doing it so far; they come straight from central casting.)
As a side note, the more the characters talk the less sense the setting makes. I'm trying not to think about it, since solid worldbuilding has never been a particular strength of anime.
I don't know how I feel about the mecha battle in the second episode. I liked the ending and the visuals were nice, but apart from the ending it felt as if it was taking fight cliches straight out of the shonen action show playbook.
Ultimately I suspect that I'm not going to enjoy this as much as I'd like to; I expect that it will have too much straightforward harem accumulation and too little interesting action.
- Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: parts of the first episode were very
interesting but other parts were completely irritating and
incomprehensible (apparently deliberately). I don't mind the overall
directing style, but other people are having violent reactions to it.
I don't know if we're supposed to take the setting seriously as reality, or assume that various crazy stylistic elements (like transparent classrooms and strikingly large houses) are just done for effect.
The second episode managed to get me to dislike the irritating artistic cutout-based animation somewhat less than I did in the first episode; I still can't say that I actually like it, but I guess I can put up with it in moderation. It helps that we get told what it represents.
- Yumekui Merry (aka Dream Eater Merry): in its first two episodes,
this seems to be going for 'atmospheric' but only achieving 'slow
moving'. It has just enough promise to keep me paying attention
(so far), mostly out of optimistic hope.
The more I think about the animation in the second episode, the cheaper it gets. Maybe I should stop reading Aroduc's commentary.
- Gosick: a promising start and I by and large like the characters
(crazy hair and all). I'm not taking seriously the too-easy solution
to the locked room murder mystery; it's clear that there's a lot more
going on behind the scenes.
(I've read enough murder mysteries that Victorique's solution was the first thing that popped into my mind. That it's such a cliche is one reason that I optimistically think that we're not supposed to take it seriously.)
- Dragon Crisis: squeaking 'Ryuuji' incessantly and throwing fire
around does not make you an interesting character. This has a
definite smell of cliches so far but I hold out some hope that it
will become interesting, especially given the crazed scientist at
the end of the first episode.
- Kore wa Zombie desu ka: more than funny enough to be enjoyable, but
I could have done without the random fanservice. Sadly I suspect that
the random fanservice is not going to go away.
- Freezing: the first episode was so bad it was almost unwatchable.
It was full of shopworn cliches, cheap dated animation, characters
clumsily expositing at the audience ('as you know, bob, <insert
something bob knows but we don't>'), and equally cheap random fanservice
that attempts to rival Najica Blitz Tactics. Where it wasn't boring
it was painful. I have not seen an anime with these production values
for quite a long time, and that is not praise.
(Aroduc has already commented on its lighting issues. My theory is that the alternating 'dim-o-vision' and 'glare-o-vision' styles are to hide just how bad the art and animation were, or perhaps just to let them be even cheaper than usual.)
- Fractale: the first episode is all setup, but it's enjoyable
and quite a promising beginning. I have high hopes for this, especially
since light hearted Miyazaki-like adventure is not something that
anime does a lot of.
(The last one I can think of was Allison and Lilia, which I found more successful in concept than in execution. Although it's tempting to go back to take another attempt at it to see if my view of it has changed over time.)
As a side note, Fractale totally shows how to do information dump exposition the right way, in drastic contrast to Freezing. Rather than have characters recite things to each other that everyone already knows, Fractale has the protagonist discover a data card that he hopes has music but that turns out to be an old history show, which he only finds out when he starts playing it to see what it is. It's still slightly awkward (the protagonist talks to himself a bit), but it's actually pleasant and gracefully done instead of offensively stupid.
(How bad is this in Freezing? Well, at one point one character in Freezing more or less literally says to another 'I know you know this already, but let's review it anyways'.)
Have not watched due to the description being unappetizing:
- Rio Rainbow Gate: aggressively stupid from all reports.
- Wolverine: last season's Iron Man left me disinterested in a repeat
- Level E
- I Don't Like My Brother All, You Know!! aka
Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne: I've already
watched one quite good sex-based comedy in the past
12 months, I don't think I need what's likely to be an inferior one.
- Cardfight!! Vanguard: uh, no.
Have not watched due to being a sequel to something I didn't watch:
- Kimi ni Todoke 2: the first series looks great and I sort of enjoyed
the couple of episodes I watched, but it is not for me (and only partly
because of its ordinary life setting).
Apparently more or less pure shoujo is just not my thing.
- Mitsudomoe second season: I'll accept that the first series is funny, but from the commentary I saw it doesn't seem to be my sort of funny.
Continuing from last season:
- Star Driver: still rocking and now getting more complex.
- A Certain Magical Index II: people still talk to much. I've started to ignore them, but I'm too compulsive to ignore the show itself (and who knows, maybe the plot will get more interesting and less stupid).
The best N anime that I saw in 2010
This is my best N anime list, not other people's, and as traditional it is really a 'most enjoyable N anime' list except that that sounds much more wishy-washy. This covers things that I saw in calendar 2010, not necessarily things that were released then. It is definitely in order for the early entries, after which things get fuzzy.
- Haibane Renmei: I finally saw this. Everything they say about how
good it is is true. The climax of the last episode had me genuinely
tense and terrified, which is not common.
- Katanagatari: the nice thing about being a slow writer is that if
I wait long enough, someone else will
write what I want to say. So go read Don (via Author).
Well, almost; I have a little bit to say. The initial few episodes of Katanagatari are pretty normal; well done, interesting, but not stunning. Then comes episode four, where Katanagatari shows us that it isn't afraid to be completely unconventional in the pursuit of good story. So if you're interested but not impressed, keep watching at least until then.
(For those that have seen Katanagatari, the unconventional bit I'm thinking of is not the events of episode four but how the story was told. Katanagatari is not afraid to do unconventional storytelling, including that the whole show is deliberately framed as a story that we are being told, not reality that we are just seeing; the narrator tells us additional out-of-story information all the time.)
I'm not entirely sure what I feel about the ending. It's appropriate, but it's a more Japanese ending than I was really expecting.
- Star Driver: yes, I know, it's not done yet and
the remaining half could totally destroy the show. But even if so,
the 13 episodes I saw in 2010 would still earn it its place here.
(It is on crack, but it is good crack.)
- Sora no Woto: I would really like to praise this
unreservedly, but sadly it lost significant class points with what
is implied in the ending of episode 8. Apart from that one lapse,
I love it. Unlike some people, I like the ending and think it fits
well with the rest of the show, and the show has all sorts of little
touches that I enjoy.
The particular moment doesn't destroy the show for me personally (although it makes me wince, sigh, and roll my eyes at the anime industry and its occasional crass pandering), but it means that I can't recommend this to people I know without having to add caveats and cautions about a single moment in an otherwise great show. This makes me unusually grumpy because the rest of the show is so good and I would like people to see it.
(Possibly I am overreacting to that one bit, but it strikes me as crass pandering of a particularly noxious and unnecessary sort.)
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: in retrospect,
I think that one reason I enjoyed P&S so much is that I am kind of bored
with run of mill anime because I have seen so much of it. Even if P&S
is crass and sometimes not successful, I would rather watch a show that's
trying to do something different than, say, a competent but uninspiring
execution of something I've seen many times before like Otome Yokai
Zakuro. The latter is entertaining; the former is interesting.
(Mere art for art's sake doesn't work, though; there are a number of such shows this year that I bounced off of.)
I suspect that 13 episodes is about the right length for P&S. I certainly have no particular yearning for a second season.
Shows that I consider 'below the fold', things that were good but that I probably won't really remember in five years:
- Seitokai Yakuindomo: this is memorable partly
because I don't watch many comedies, especially comedies that are
actually funny and interesting. I was pleased to see that it made
no real move to develop any sort of romance subplot (well, not a
- Marie & Gali: this is sadly being fansubbed very, very slowly, but it
is totally worth your attention. See Steven Den Beste
for one discussion of it. I would love this more if I could see more
of it; as it is, I tend to neglect it even when new episodes come out.
- Durarara!!: my opinion is somewhat coloured by the fact that I can't
help comparing this to Baccano (it's the same author and the same kind
of storytelling), and this is no Baccano. It's still pretty good, just
not as interesting and complex. The change probably made Durarara!!
more accessible (you really needed to watch Baccano at least twice),
but it made it less interesting and striking and more ordinary. Also,
Durarara!! is simply a lot less crazy than Baccano.
- Cross Game: this is less about the sports than about the people, and Aoba totally deserves Evirus's best girl of the year award. If I normally went for this sort of show in general, I would rate Cross Game higher.
Honorable mentions from things that I saw in 2010:
- Invasion! Squid Girl (aka Shinryaku! Ika Musume): I can believe
the praise it's gotten and maybe I'll watch further episodes someday.
See my discussion in Fall2010Brief.
- Spice and Wolf II: not as good as the first series but still good,
and I totally should have seen some of those twists coming.
(I saw most of this in 2010 because I stalled out on watching it when it initially aired, for reasons that do not fit in the margins of this entry.)
- Denpa Teki na Kanojo: I watched this because of Wonderduck,
and it was totally worth my time. The second episode is not as strong
as the first, partly because it is a bit repetitive.
(I like how I still don't know if the heroine is deluded or not.)
- Cat Shit One: utter crack for military fans. If you like this sort of stuff, pay attention to the fine details; you will be rewarded. (There were all sorts of things that I only found out by reading detailed discussions after seeing it; see at least this, via Author.)
I saw other shows that were entertaining, but they don't go in this entry.
A bit on Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica's Homura
Initial reactions to Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica have mostly labeled Homura as Fate to Madoka's Nanoha, partly based on her confrontations with Madoka. However, Steven Den Beste speculates that Homura's remarks to Madoka are not a threat, but a sincere and well-meant warning. I agree with him; this is exactly how I read the first episode.
Unlike SDB I don't think we need to posit any peculiar unreality in the pleasant world that Madoka inhabits to explain this. One of the background themes of Nanoha was the costs that Nanoha paid for becoming a magical girl, both in social isolation from her friends and (to some degree) in how what she witnessed and did wound up affecting her. My belief is that Shinbo is returning to this theme in Magica.
Thus, I think that Homura is simply trying to tell Madoka that she should stay out of the magical girl stuff and stay herself for her own sake. If she takes Kyubei's offer, if she believes him, it will destroy her current life just as much as if she became a soldier in a combat zone (because if you look at it right, that's what magical girls are). I further theorize that Homura dislikes Kyubei because she feels he is preying on the innocent (and lying to them) as he does his recruiting.
You could criticize Homura for not coming out and saying this directly, but I expect that she has reasons. Besides, no young fool ever believes the veteran who says that war is hell; all they can see is the romance.
(Anime has an attraction to 'war is hell' shows in various genres; Gundam has done several, for example. Sometimes it's a side theme, sometimes it's front and center.)
PS: I'm assuming here that Homura also experienced the opening 'dream' sequence somehow and recognizes Madoka from it. It may even be why Homura has transferred into Madoka's school at this point.
Sidebar: on the unpleasantness of being a magical girl
If you look at it from a realist angle, being a magical girl is not a really pleasant thing. You're risking your life (and health) in secret combat, combat that may strike at any time and any place with little or no warning; you take on great stresses (from the combat) and vast social isolation (from the secrets that you can't tell anyone). You become a flake to your friends and a liar to your family; you smile to everyone in a false front no matter what you actually feel. And you know that your friends and family are probably in terrible danger that you can't tell them about.
This is not my original idea; I owe it to exposure to, among other things, fanfics like Sailor Nothing (I am linking as I do so that you can see the concise description).
Since it wants to be cheerful, almost all magical girl anime ignores this. Nanoha was unusual in that the issue appeared as a background issue and a side theme.
My view of Shukufuku no Campanella's Ritos
An episode before I jotted "sick of Ritos hazing Salza", but now they decided to outstrip my wildest expectations.
My impression was that Ritos didn't hate her sister Salsa, she just liked tormenting her. The whole thing struck me as a terribly exaggerated version of a certain sort of sibling dynamics.
(In fact I have vague memories that every so often, Ritos does something subtle to help out Salsa's dreams of romance.)
Update: oops, I have just demonstrated the perils of reading too fast, since Author wrote hazing, not hating. I agree that hazing seems to be a good description of what Ritos is doing.
(I also agree that it got a bit tiresome by the end of Campanella. It was really rather over the top, and over the top jokes generally work best when they are not repeated over and over.)