Brief impressions of the anime of the Spring 2013 season
As before this is my early impressions of the spring's crop of new shows, or at least the small number of them that I've bothered to watch. This time around I've been unusually selective about the shows that I've tried out, so I've rejected any number of things sight unseen based purely on premise descriptions and so on. This may have caused me to miss gems but I haven't really seen any sign of that so far.
(In particular there's a number of action and adventure series that I might normally have auditioned but that I'm actively skipping due to bad reports.)
Hits (so far):
- Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (2012): A well produced incarnation
of one of the classic stories of the genre. It's high time I watched
some version of this classic and this is by all accounts a good one.
I'm quite enjoying it after two episodes and I expect to keep on
(Yes, I know, episodes have been out on Blu-ray for some time. I'm counting it as part of this season because it starting to air now is a large part of what's prompted me to start watching it. I was hoping that one of the regular subtitling groups would take the airing as their cue to give it a go-over, but apparently not.)
- Suisei no Gargantia: The adventures of a castaway soldier and his
very powerful, nicely deadpan mecha in a somewhat silly world. I
don't have much to say about this besides that it's interesting and
amusing. The male protagonist is no Sagara Sousuke but he'll do.
- Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince: This is managing to be both goofy
and serious at the same time without fumbling things. The goofiness
predominates, which is one reason I find it fun to watch; the show
is frequently painting with a relatively broad brush. As takes on
the 'war is hell and so is what people do in it' genre go, I think
this approach is much more interesting than the grim Gundam one.
- To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S: My mixed feelings about the first
season of Railgun came roaring back when I saw the first episode of
this, but I remain determinedly optimistic. It'll probably be worthwhile
on the whole once the dust settles. Apart from that I don't really
have anything to say; it's Railgun. I did rather enjoy the second
episode and I kind of wish they'd started the show with it rather than
spend almost all of the first one reintroducing us to the important
characters (as if we could have forgotten them).
(See NovaJinx on the Railgun cycle, because he's right about it.)
- Valvrave the Liberator: After two episodes this is a glorious,
epic trainwreck that's utterly impossible to take seriously. Of
course it could be serious about itself and become boring, but
hope springs eternal.
(Now I kind of understand people's feelings for Code Geass, which was apparently also this kind of epic crazy trainwreck.)
On the edge:
- Hataraku Maou-sama!: The comedy doesn't work for me but the plot
that's developed at the end of the second episode is just holding my
interest for now. With that said this may not last long.
(I know, I'm an episode behind right now. This may be a bad sign.)
- Devil Survivor 2 The Animation: My first draft of these impressions
contained what was in retrospect a bunch of excuses for this show to
explain why I was still watching it. If I have to make excuses for a
show, it's not good and I should admit it to myself (even if I did
watch three episodes sort of in hope).
One of the several strikes against it is that it is trying too hard to have a steampunk Evangelion feel. The result is more bemusing than the creators probably intended.
Sadly a miss:
- Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san: This is probably a fine comedy but sadly
and as usual I didn't find it really funny. It makes me smile every so
often and it's watchable, but without laughs it's not really compelling.
For what it's worth it strikes me as well executed and well paced; if
its humour clicks with you, I suspect that you'll enjoy it a fair bit.
(I actually feel a bit frustrated that I'm not laughing at Muromi's rapid-fire humour. I'd like to be enjoying it.)
Not for me:
- Aku no Hana: I am completely and utterly uninterested in the story,
no matter how impressive or well executed it is.
- Shingeki no Kyojin: Everything I've heard says that it's bleak, bloody, grim, and so on. I've decided that I'm simply not interested in that sort of thing right now, regardless of how good it is or how much it might be my kind of thing with less blood and bleakness.
- Haiyore! Nyaruko-san W: I eventually found the first season to
be (boringly) ordinary so I'm not getting
sucked into the second season.
- Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Bride: Just no, because sometimes I'm smart enough to not get caught in the same trap twice.
Other shows probably fall into the 'I read bad things about them' category mentioned above.
(This specifically includes Karneval, Mushibugyou, Crime Edge, Red Data Girl, and Arata Kangatari. As always, I may wind up checking out some or all of them out later due to future good reports, boredom with the shows I'm watching, or both.)
Darktable versus Rawtherapee
When I wrote my entry on Linux RAW processors I said that Rawtherapee was a better choice than darktable. I have to take that back because it turns out my quick tests weren't a good representation of using either program for real.
I formed my initial views after test-processing just a couple of photos with each program. Now that I've used both to process batches of photos for real (and in one case I've run the same batch through both), I've had to change my opinion. It turns out that darktable is what you want to use, not Rawtherapee. For all of darktable's irritations, it works better. I summarized the main reasons why in a tweet:
Darktable drives me up the wall and I hate the experience of using it, but it delivers better results than Rawtherapee and does it faster.
(I've since become more acclimatized (or numb) to darktable's interface issues.)
The first issue is that Rawtherapee turns out to be relatively terrible for sorting through a bunch of photos and figuring out which ones are worthwhile. I could do it, but it took too long and was a pain in the rear in all sorts of ways because Rawtherapee has fumbled multiple aspects of doing this efficiently. Darktable is not great at this but in practice I can go through a bunch of photos much quicker and more efficiently with it. Since this is a major part of my daily workflow, this matters a lot to me.
(For example, Rawtherapee has absolutely and utterly terrible downsizing of thumbnails in its directory overview, to the point where they are basically useless for telling you anything about the quality of the photos. Think of the most crude and jagged downsizing you've seen; that's Rawtherapee.)
The other part is that I get better processed photos with darktable, in that I like how they look and it's (much) easier to produce what I think of as good looking photos. Again, darktable is not perfect and there are some things that Rawtherapee unquestionably does better, but darktable wins overall for me. I find it very hard to argue with clearly better results, especially when I can get them surprisingly rapidly and easily.
Now I'm going to say something that may make people especially unhappy, because there's a third advantage to darktable. Namely, it's under much more active development than Rawtherapee (I track the source repositories for both and darktable sees multiple commits a day whereas Rawtherapee moves much slower). I know that development activity doesn't necessarily equal quality, but both programs are highly imperfect right now so the one that's under much more active development is much more likely to improve into something good (or at least have your favorite irritation fixed).
(Note that with either program you want to be using the latest version compiled from the project's source repository. Both are under active development and improvement and yes, it really makes a difference. Probably not as much a difference as in my initial tests (where the then-current release versions produced bad output), but you'll find that both are better experiences.)
(As before, you should pay attention to the publication date of this entry if you're coming here through a web search. It's quite possible that things will be different in a year or two. I certainly hope that Rawtherapee improves substantially over time and at least some of its issues should be relatively fixable.)
Sidebar: what happened to make me discover this
I didn't set out to try out both on a batch of real photos; instead, I set out to process a batch with Rawtherapee because I thought it was the program for me. After slogging through the whole process and getting a trio of processed photos that I wasn't really enthused with, I decided to re-run the same batch through darktable just to see. Much to my surprise I was able to do so much faster and I was uniformly much happier with the results, to the point where I immediately replaced all of the Rawtherapee versions I'd uploaded to Flickr with the darktable versions.
(The extra speed with darktable didn't come because I immediately zeroed in on the 'best' photos and only dealt with them. I reconsidered all of the batch from scratch in darktable, although I wasn't surprised to wind up with the same set of selects.)
Some words on Shin Sekai Yori's Squealer
It turns out that I have more to say about Shin Sekai Yori than I've already written. Today is some things about Squealer (aka Yakomaru).
(There are spoilers here for SSY's final arc.)
Looking back at the Winter 2013 anime season
It's time (and past time) for another look back at another season, following up on my early impressions and my midway views. In fact this is kind of a retrospective on two seasons, since so many of the Fall 2012 shows continued into this season; as such I'm splitting into two parts, one for a handful of this season's shows and the other for the big four heavyweights from last season.
For this season, in order:
- Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: This was the clear success of the season for
me, delivering entertainment and surprise turns right up to the final
episode. I quite enjoyed it, including all its references to Japanese
mythology and vague randomness.
- Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo: This delivered
exactly the popcorn entertainment that I wanted from it. I've got
nothing to say about it that I didn't cover in my midway views.
- Yama no Susume: What this show really is is another 'cute girls
doing cute things' show, just with a different framing premise and a
certain amount of geekery about mountaineering equipment. I misled
myself about its real nature based on the early episodes and then felt
let down by the later ones (which is not the show's fault). On the
whole it was okay but I'm left with no more than vague feelings of
affection for it.
(If I'd known at the start what I know now, I'm not certain that I'd have watched it at all. If you're going to, it's probably best watched all in one batch.)
- Vividred Operation: There are shows that are actively bad and then
there are shows that are just empty somehow. VO is the latter; it
goes through the motions but nothing ever really engaged. Despite
what I wrote in my midway views, I watched all
of it for no clear reason (perhaps partly stubbornness). For more,
see Evirus's lovely summary of the show in his season wrapup (he is more charitable than I am).
Given VO's excessive levels of fanservice and general emptiness, I think that people should give it a miss. If you want to watch something with this level of twitch-inducing fanservice, my understanding is that Strike Witches is actually much more interesting and emotionally involving. See also my early impressions.
In the end I tacitly dropped Hakkenden Touhou Hakken Ibun because I just felt no particular urge to watch any more. This is less a commentary on the show than a commentary on me; my understanding is that it was actually decently good, and it's getting a second season later on.
The fall shows, in order:
- Shin Sekai Yori: I wrote about it at some length but the short version is that I love it and think
it's a great show. It is the best show from both this season and last
season and it had the best ending. See also my Fall 2012
- Girls und Panzer: The delayed last two episodes totally delivered
on the promise of the first ten episodes. They were a satisfying and
exciting sports action capstone on an
excellent and fun show. All I can possibly really say is PANZER VOR!
- Psycho-Pass: The show is far from perfect (for a start, it's far too
much in love with violence to women) but after a terrible start it
managed to turn itself into a pretty good show by dint of trying hard
and having Akane. I've already written a bunch of words on Sibyl and on the ending so I don't
have anything else to say here.
- Zetsuen no Tempest: This was an excellent show pretty much from start
to end, almost without a fumble or a misstep (the bait and switch at
the end of the second last episode costs it style points). It lacks the
power (and the brutality) of Psycho-Pass, which is why I'm reluctantly
ranking it below PP; I suspect that people will remember and talk about
PP much longer than they will ZnT.
(One problem for ZnT is that Aika is clearly the best character and she's dead for the entire show. Not that the other characters are bad, several of them are great, but they can't measure up to Aika.)
If I look only at the Winter 2013 shows, this was a good but not great season. If I throw in the four powerhouses that started in the fall, this is a stunningly excellent season, one that I have no complaints about at all.
Some words on Shin Sekai Yori
My overall summary of Shin Sekai Yori is that it's an ambitious show of an ambitious story that succeeded at delivering on both (although as an ambitious show and story there are bits that people feel didn't work). As a whole the show is a powerful, affecting work with a wide emotional range and a lot of things to think about. My personal view is that the show is very well directed and animated and that its periodic experiments don't take away from that, but I'm not a stickler for traditional animation.
(Shin Sekai Yori also had a great ending episode, one of the best that I've seen. It was surprising, powerful, and well directed all throughout, with pieces that people were quoting and alluding to from the moment it aired.)
I can summarize my overall views this way: if Shin Sekai Yori is not at the top of my 'best N in 2013' list, I'll be very happy because I'll have seen something even better than it in the rest of this year.
Liked: very much.
Rewatch: Possibly. This is one of the rare shows where I can imagine myself enjoying it a second time around.
(There are spoilers from now on.)
One of the things that the show excelled at was taking people doing horrible things and showing us why they had to do them. Pretty much everyone in the show is trapped in situations with no easy or good answers. The result is that, as I wrote on Twitter (spoilers in that conversation), a lot of people in SSY deserve death to some degree and don't to some degree. There are no shining heroes, just people doing the best that they can in a terrible situation. To me this made the characters feel more like people than, well, the protagonists of an anime. Call it a feeling of realism.
One part of this realism is that Saki and Satoru never particularly overcame the fundamental prejudices of their society, even when they were slapped in the face about them. Here I'm thinking particularly about their attitudes towards the bakenezumi (aka the queerats). Even Saki never really treats them as equals or fully people; to me this is particularly striking in what she unhesitatingly and more or less casually asks of Kiromaru in the last episode. Although other people may read the situation differently, to me Saki acted as if she was entitled to Kiromaru's sacrifice.
(I tweeted a version of this thought: 1, 2, 3.)
One of the things I believe about the setting is that Cantus users are dying out over the long term because of what they're doing to their own population level (this may be good news). While their raw birthrate is probably at or above their replacement rate, the problem is that they kill a significant number of their children in childhood. There's no sign that they make up for this with either unusually large families or unusually long lives; if anything, things seem to tilt the other way. I can't remember many mentions of (surviving) siblings in the whole show and the primary cast all seem to be single children.
(In Saki's case it's a plot point that her older sister didn't surive and that this put a great deal of stress on her parents; they didn't seem inclined to have a third child under pretty much any circumstances. My best evidence for people's lives not being unusually long is that Saki initially guessed that the elderly-looking Tomiko was 62.)
Other people have said more about Shin Sekai Yori and done it more coherently than I. See, for example, shibireru darou on episodes 24 and 25 and their roundup. The Cart Driver has a somewhat different take because Inushinde sees more flaws in the show than I do (the flaws may be there, but if so they didn't bother me next to everything else the show was doing).
(I've written less about Shin Sekai Yori than I have about Psycho-Pass because SSY is a better and clearer show.)
Update: I wound up with some more things to say about Squealer, which I put in ShinSekaiYoriSquealer.
Some rambling thoughts on Psycho-Pass and its ending
Almost from the start Psycho-Pass was clearly a show where the ending was pretty crucial and a bad ending would be a real problem for the show as a whole. Did Psycho-Pass come through in the end? My view is yes, although there are people who disagree. On the whole I consider the last episode a good ending although not a great one; to put it one way it was a well done and periodically exciting presentation of the last act of a play that we had all seen coming. There were no big surprises, no last minute shocks, simply well delivered story beats that we had already been (mostly) expecting.
(I'm now about to get into spoiler territory.)
The surface story of Psycho-Pass is the hunt for Makishima; apart from the first episode (which mostly serves as an introduction to the setting and the characters) the entire storyline is driven by his actions and revolves around them. But that's not really what the show's about and I think that how people feel about the ending (and thus the show) will depend on what they think the real story of Psycho-Pass is and that in turn depends on one's view of Sibyl. One view is that Sibyl is an inherently evil system and that the show should be about overthrowing it; this makes the ending at least a depressing one since the system survives and indeed co-opts Akane despite her knowing its terrible secrets. But I don't feel that way about Sibyl. Instead I've come around to seeing Psycho-Pass as fundamentally Akane's character arc, the story of Akane really growing up, maturing, and making her own decisions. This view makes the ending a powerful conclusion to the series because we see Akane come full circle to be a competent character and confident leader.
(I'll be honest; I'm biased towards this view partly because it makes the ending make sense.)
Having said that I don't know what the show really feels about Sibyl by the end. Is it evil but necessary? Flawed but necessary? There's certainly a lot of argument (tacit and explicit) in the latter parts of the show that Sibyl is now a necessity and society will fall apart without it. Also, part of my confusion is that the show and I clearly have rather different opinions on how horrifying the truth of Sibyl's deep secret is.
(This is serious spoiler territory now; I'm about to be explicit.)
My view of Psycho-Pass's Sibyl System
(There are spoilers here.)
The Sibyl System is at the heart of Psycho-Pass and so I think that how people view it will be at the heart of how they react to the ending of the show. Because of this I want to write up my thoughts.
There is no question that the Sibyl System is flawed; the show goes out of its way to show us that in the first episode. Nor is there any question that it's tacitly oppressive; again, the show makes that clear with things like pervasive surveillance, mandatory treatment if your psycho-pass becomes cloudy, and potential imprisonment if the (flawed) system thinks that you've become merely potentially dangerous. One character has lived his entire life from childhood onwards as what is basically a non-person prisoner simply because the Sibyl System thought he was too much of a latent criminal.
But this brings us to the big question: is the Sibyl System an actively evil thing, something built and operated with malign intent or as a conscious tool for oppression? My view is that it is not.
I feel that Sibyl is fundamentally benevolent and well intentioned. Its flaws are not the result of active evil but (mostly) from being built with imperfect and limited technology; these make it both simplistic and overly rigid and thus inherently flawed. While the system is dishonest about how well Sibyl works and its limitations (and exactly how it works), this stems from good intentions. And generally Sibyl actually works. For the most part it delivers on what it claims to and does so without abuse, and as a result it's welcomed by people. You can argue about whether or not this is wise of them, but to the extent that Sibyl reduces people's free will it's not because Sibyl takes free will from people but because people voluntarily relinquish their free will to something that will do their thinking for them.
(You can argue that some of Sibyl's goals are inherently bad, eg that even if it had certainty that someone would commit crimes in the future they should not be imprisoned now.)
We never see Sibyl make a clear false positive diagnosis of (dangerous) criminality; its bad judgements of that (starting in the first episode) are always rational and driven by clearly limited and rigid views (eg 'too much stress makes people dangerous'). I maintain that we also never see strong evidence that Sibyl is corrupt and is being used to enrich and empower particular people.
(Yes, Sibyl covertly holds important and powerful positions. But there is no evidence that these positions are being abused for personal or group gain; instead, they are simply being used as part of making the whole Sibyl system work.)
To me this makes Psycho-Pass a much more interesting show than if Sibyl was a clear tool for evil and oppression. As it is you can have a real disagreement over whether Sibyl is a good thing and whether its benefits are worth its drawbacks.
(It also gives the show a different perspective, less about outside oppression and more about what people voluntarily do to themselves both individually and as a society.)
Link: A fascinating series of articles on Machiavelli
The historian Ex Urbe wrote a fascinating series of articles about Machiavelli and why he is such an important person in history. I found them eye-opening and very interesting; I commend them to your attention if things like medieval attitudes on morality and the birth of modern political science (and ethics) sounds at all interesting.
- Machiavelli I – S.P.Q.F.
- Machiavelli I (addendum): thoughts on this style of presenting history
- Machiavelli II: The Three Branches of Ethics
- Machilavelli III: Rise of the Borgias
- Machiavelli IV: Julius II, the Warrior Pope
- and the last one, Why We Keep Asking “Was Machiavelli an Atheist?”
(via James Nicoll, who linked to one of these and thereby got me so hooked on the whole series that I started following Ex Urbe so I could make sure not to miss any.)