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.
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.