Looking back at the Summer 2012 anime season
Shows that I actively watched (and finished where applicable), in descending order:
- Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita: My favorite show of the summer, which
I've written a chunk about.
- Eureka Seven AO: My second most enjoyable show of the summer, only
a little bit behind Jinrui. I don't have an overall opinion on the
series yet since we're still waiting for the last two episodes.
(I wrote some stuff about it at the end of here.)
- Moyashimon Returns: I take back my grumpyness from my midway
update. The best way I can put it is that the final plotline
of Returns shows the series growing up and maturing, shifting from
a bunch of ultimately lightweight stuff to something more nuanced. I
liked this tone shift but I understand not everyone did. Also, I
enjoyed a seiyuu overlap.
(It's not just that Returns got serious, although it did in a way. It's that things became more complex and nuanced and felt more real as a result. There were no easy answers or one-dimensional characters.)
- Campione!: I'm sure people are going to laugh at me, but I quite
enjoyed this all through. Part of this I can attribute simply to
its execution, but I argue that it's less recycled and cliched
than it might look on the surface. I mentioned Erica Blandelli
in my midway update and another example (per a tweet) is that
victory in fights was about gaining knowledge and solving mysteries,
not more power. All of this made it fun to watch, for all that it
doesn't particularly aspire to be deep.
(This sort of calls for an entire entry that I'll probably never have the time and energy to write.)
- Sword Art Online: My views turned out not to fit
in a paragraph, so I put them in an entry of their own.
Short version: I don't think it can really be called good but it was
clearly watchable because I did and do. I attribute this more to good
production values than anything else.
- Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon II: I wound up watching this all the
way through, purely for the absurd spectacle. The advantage of Horizon
as compared to, say, Aquarion EVOL is that the non-spectacle bits
made so little sense and I cared so little about them that it was easy
to tune them out. Also, there weren't that many of them since Horizon
packed most of its exposition into the first season.
If I'm a smart person, I will not watch any future seasons this gets.
- Dog Days': as I expected, nothing really happened in this season; it
never went anywhere. The show wasn't boring exactly
and it was idly enjoyable throughout, but I did wind up kind of
feeling that watching it was wasted time. Light entertainment is not
quite what I want out of my limited time. In retrospect I stuck with
this mostly out of nostalgia for the first season (and the inability
to let that nostalgia go).
The thought of another season doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.
- Oda Nobuna no Yabou: In the end most of this was merely ordinarily
entertaining and the show's complete inability to let Nobuna do
anything got rather irritating. In retrospect I should have skipped
it, but I got captured by my initial enthusiasm and it was never quite
bad enough to push me to stop watching it.
(It's not that this was bad; it was acceptably entertaining. It's just that I'm trying to do better than merely 'acceptably entertaining' these days.)
- Joshiraku: my views haven't changed: it's entertaining and amusing but I don't find it funny enough to watch very fast.
Declared as misses:
- Hagure Yuusha no Estetica: I dropped this right after I wrote my midway update, as I mused about in the update. I have no regrets, especially since apparently its ending is basically 'continued in the light novels'.
Overall there were four shows that I unapologetically enjoyed, one show that I found compulsively watchable but seriously flawed (SAO), one show that a smarter person might not have bothered with, and two shows that I probably should have dropped. Oh, and in retrospect I stuck with Hagure much longer than I should have; I could have bailed out in the second episode when it made its taste for excessive fanservice clear.
(In general I was, as usual, far too optimistic and willing to stick with shows.)
This season makes me happy in one specific way, after last season: my favorite show wasn't an action show. On the flipside, most of the rest are (I count Dog Days' as an action show, despite how little real action it had; it was more of an adventure show, but that's close enough).
(I could be happy that my third most favorite show is also not an action show, but not really; there's a big gap between my feelings for AO and my feelings for Return. Return was nice, AO was very good to great.)
My views on Sword Art Online
I have divided views on SAO. On the one hand, I don't think it's very good. On the other hand, I keep watching it anyways. There's at least two aspects to this.
The frustrating thing about SAO is that a great many of the small-scale details are nice, it's just that the large scale plot and characters are stupid, cliched in a bad way, and irritation-inducing. I like to fool myself that this is the sign of a good director being forced to closely follow not-great source material (presumably in order to appease the fans of the original light novels so that they buy the ever-important Blu-ray releases). These little things combined with the good production values are a large reason that I keep watching despite all the stupidity.
Another reason that the show is more interesting to me than you might expect is that SAO is very much about a game and it never loses sight of this. At the start of the show I expected that the 'trapped in a game' part of the premise would mostly be used to justify ye generic fantasy setting and you could just as well have transported all of the characters to some alternate dimension. This turns out to be not at all the case; that the characters are playing a game is a constant presence in the show and makes it far more interesting than yet another fantasy setting. I may grouse about the characters being stupid in how they approach SAO the game, but they're realistically stupid in that many of their behaviors feel like recognizable MMO gamer behaviors. I've seen plenty of fantasy shows, even plenty of shows about people from this world pulled into a fantasy world in various ways, but a show about a fantasy game is relatively novel.
(One of the frustrating things is that SAO shows flashes of having something interesting to say about the whole 'stuck in a game' premise but then generally drops or fumbles it immediately.)
Finally, it's clear by now that Sword Art Online is not a good adaptation. There are many nonsensical moments and when they happen it frequently turns out that the show has left out important information, dropped relevant scenes entirely, or made changes to a scene so it makes less sense (for example, see the comments on this summary of episode 19). At this point SAO is less a standalone adaptation and more of a highlights reel for fans of the original work, who have the context to fill in all of the missing pieces and make the characters less stupid. If you lack the context, the show remains comprehensible and watchable but it's periodically stupid and jarringly odd. This is clearly the fault of the studio and the core creative team for the anime.
(I'm sure that the SAO Blu-rays will sell like hotcakes anyways.)
Sidebar: on .hack
Speaking of shows about (fantasy) games: I know about the .hack franchise. I think I watched part of the first episode of .hack//Sign and stopped, and saw one episode of .hack//Roots and was very much not impressed (I actually just found my old capsule review of it, which is part of a personal historical artifact that I may revive someday). Maybe sometime I will take another run at the franchise but commentary about .hack//Sign being slow does not make me enthused.