Brief not really early impressions of the Winter 2015 anime season
It's time for my usual early impressions post for this season (as before), which has been delayed mostly because I foolishly decided I'd write my best N in 2014 entry first and then didn't do that very fast. But hey, I've also been distracted by how strong this season is and how many shows I'm still watching.
- Durarara!! X2: The first episode was bland, with too much
reintroduction of characters and too little plot happening, but since
then things have woken up and we're back to the good old Durarara
that I have fond memories of.
- The Rolling Girls: Let's go for 'colourful' as the concise
description of the show. The setting is colourful, the action is
colourful, the actual look is colourful, and so on. It's got a real
verve to it and I've been really enjoying watching. The third episode
slowed down from the breakneck pace and verve of the first two
episodes but I still enjoyed it.
Also, the show's got a good sense of how to be funny, and better yet
it lets funny things just be there and speak for themselves instead of
hammering on you to get the point home.
(I hope we get more Best fights because the first two episodes were really entertaining there. But I'm willing to believe that the show will do interesting things from now onwards, partly because the show's dropped plenty of hints about a real, serious plot going on underneath all of the shenanigans.)
- Yatterman Night: I don't know how to concisely describe this. It has a weird dystopian future setting, a bunch of heart and sentimentality, a good sense of humour, a periodic injection of black comedy and bleak reality, and a bunch of things going on. I'm enjoying it quite a bit even if I have no real idea where it's going to wind up. This is the show that I can most easily believe might become a really powerful and affecting show by the time it ends.
Things I'm enthused by:
- Yurikuma Arashi: This is Ikuhara so I'm predisposed to like it, but
most of the episodes so far have been so stylized, dense with symbolism
and mythology, and so devoid of actual characters for me to relate to
that I'm mostly watching it passively and intellectually instead of
getting emotionally involved. Episode four changed the pattern and was
In short, it's fun to watch this and speculate about what everything means but I can't say I actually care about anyone in it (yet).
Entertaining, at least so far:
- Aldnoah.Zero: What is going on makes me roll my eyes and laugh a
bunch, but so far the show is actually delivering episodes that I
like watching. As I put it, the
show knows how to throw a fun time. Slaine is the best character
because he does interesting things. I may
be shaking my head at AZ, but I'm smiling while I do it. Oh,
and this show has good production values, which helps for good
It really surprises me to say this, but I can see myself putting an AZ episode on my APR votes some time this season.
(The charm may well wear off at some point.)
- Maria the Virgin Witch: This is a pretty decent show with a real
grasp of action (the fight sequence in the second episode was
genuinely well staged) and a good sense of humour that is only
occasionally mean spirited and cringe inducing. In many ways it
has the most interesting plot and conflicts of this season (and
they're very thoroughly grounded ones; Maria may be a witch with
magic, but what she cares about is very human). I say this as
real praise: this show is plain well made.
People who care about historical and theological accuracy in their anime may want to give this one a miss. I'm pretty sure that the author is using the medieval Catholic church (and medieval times in general) mostly as a convenient punching bag, with relatively little care for deep accuracy and sympathy.
- Dog Days'' aka S3: The first three episodes of this third season have been much more like the action oriented first season than the slice of life amblings of the second season. Since I liked the first season but found there to be nothing there for me in the second season, I like this and I expect to continue watching until this changes.
On the edge:
- Soukyuu no Fafner Dead Aggressor - Exodus: The first two episodes
were pretty interesting (and the
beginning of the first episode was very Fafner). The
third and fourth episodes got rid of that in favour of a lot of not
particularly interesting drama. The drama might be more involving
if I remembered who all the original Fafner characters were and what
happened in the original show. The whole decision to throw us in at
the deep end in this continuation really puzzles me, seeing as the
first season was ten years ago and even the movie (which I haven't
seen) came out in 2010.
(I'm probably dropping this.)
- Kantai Collection: The characters are cardboard cutouts and the
first episode gave me no reason to care about seeing any more of it.
- Military!: As comedy this was short but flat.
Not for me:
- Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love!: This is a comedy show and like
almost all of them, it doesn't work for me; I smiled a bit during the
first episode but not enough to be interested in watching any more.
- Death Parade: Everything I've read has made me believe that this show falls under my Hell Girl clause. I love the OP but I think I would throw the actual show through the nearest window if I watched it.
This season I made the smart decision to skip all of the LN action harem shows entirely, instead of letting myself be tempted to watch the first episodes of the most promising sounding ones. By all accounts this was the right decision and this season features an unusually dire crop of them. I've also consciously skipped Assassination Classroom because the reactions I've read have been too lukewarm to leave me enthused in a very busy season.
In continuing shows, Shirobako is still excellent, Log Horizon is going on as it is or has actually improved a bit, and I'm growing increasingly disenchanted with Garo. I'm disappointed by this disenchantment, but more and more Garo makes me wince, sigh at the lack of animation, and not want to watch the latest episode.
(Having written this and made my feelings clearer, I may actually drop Garo entirely.)
I'm currently following eleven shows (or nine if I drop Fafner and Garo right now), which I think means that something is going to start giving soon. Or maybe this just be one of my busiest seasons for a while. I'd honestly like it if everything stayed awesome and interesting, even if it means I spent an awful lot of time watching anime.
The best N anime that I saw in 2014
This is much like last year's best N, namely what I consider to be the best or most enjoyable N anime that I saw in calendar 2014 (regardless of when they were made or released). This year my ordering is biased towards how enjoyable the show is instead of how good I think it is in some absolute measure of quality. As in the past two years, my rule of thumb is that only shows that have actually ended count because you never know what unsatisfying or terrible things an unfinished show will do over the rest of its run. Overall 2014 was not the exceptional year that 2013 was, but it was pretty good.
More or less in order of my affections, except that the top two or three are very close to a tie:
- KILL la KILL: I'm an anime fan and in the end this is a glorious work
of fanservice to everything that I like about a certain sort of anime.
It's fun and exciting and loud and overflows with a sheer exuberant
joy (and spectacle), even if it's not particularly deep or coherent
or thematic. Episode 22 contains the single most spectacular moment
of fanservice of the entire year.
(By 'fanservice' I do not particular mean 'nearly naked people'; I mean 'giving the audience the spectacle it wants to see'. KLK's fanservice is all about giving us just what will make us cheer loudly.)
- Ping Pong: I didn't expect to love this anywhere near as much as I
did and its twists and turns genuinely surprised me (although
other people found it more predictable). For me it's a great story
with great characters and full to bursting with little moments and
gestures. The Christmas episode is a thing of beauty; it may well be
the best single episode I watched all year. Don't let the animation
style put you off; it really works well with the material and the
This is both a drama that involves sports and a sports story, one that makes the sport itself interesting and compelling. And oh so physical as well; these people sweat and strain and push themselves to their physical limits, and Ping Pong's beautiful directing and animation makes that very visceral.
- Ghost in the Shell ARISE: When I first saw the second episode
of ARISE I was rather down on it, but I rewatched
both the first and second episodes at the end of the
year and wound up with an improved impression of it
(and the first is still great). As a
whole the ARISE series is great and a fine GitS work. I'll probably
always be fondest of the first episode because I think it's the best
distillation of the essence of GitS (and anime cyberpunk in general)
in a single piece that I've seen, but the other episodes are good
in their own ways.
(You should totally ignore anyone who gripes that ARISE is not exactly like GitS: Stand Alone Complex. That it's different is one of the things that makes it great, and frankly the second season of SAC showed us some of the hazards of trying to retrace SAC too closely.)
I enjoyed all of these three in different ways, so this year I'm going to wave my hands about their exact ordering. I think that Ping Pong is a more powerful show than the other two, but KILL la KILL is the most whoop it up show and ARISE is in many ways the most fascinating and interesting one (and it's certainly the best-made visually). Their current order is my feelings today, but next week I might change my mind. And in a year or three, who knows.
- Mushishi second season: The individual episodes are as excellent
as in the first season, continuing to give us a whole string of quietly
beautiful, poignant, and touching encounters with people. I just don't
find it as engaging or powerful as the first season for reasons that
deserve a separate entry. But it's
still a great show that's well worth anyone's attention.
(Some people will consider me a heretic for only ranking this #4 this year. For the record, had I first seen the original season this year I think it would easily be at the top of this list. Yeah, I'm a lot less fired up about this season.)
- Hanamonogatari: There's a lot about the Monogatari franchise that's
not to like, but every so often it winds up and hits one out of the
park. This is one of those times, partly because the show keeps most
of its usual excesses under control. The core story is simple but
the characters and their interplay carry the show and oh, the ending
sequence. What could have been in another and perhaps better world.
(Several of the best Monogatari stories break your heart. This is one of them.)
- Knights of Sidonia: The show has two strong things going for it.
The first is that it nails a certain sense of claustrophobic
atmosphere and ambivalence about what's happening; this is war and the
future not as a pleasant thing. The second is that it's a gorgeously
SF show in a way that's hard to put into words. See also my spring
retrospective, where I wave my hands more.
Far from detracting from the experience I think that the all-CGI
nature generally added to it, although opinions differ a lot there.
- Shingeki no Bahamut - Genesis: In the end it was somewhat flawed, but
for a while it was amazing and even afterwards it was pretty excellent
with its Hollywood-style heroic action and collection of great
moments. It was a lot of fun to watch in a way that's quite uncommon
and I loved almost all of the characters (I just wish that Amira
had stayed Amira). I waved my hands more in my fall retrospective.
- PuPiPo!: This is a little near-gem (it's a bit too short and
thus simple to be a true gem) that's well worth your attention; it's
quietly beautiful and touching while also being a rollicking adventure
with quite a few really fun characters. The short runtime forces it
to fiercely concentrate its focus and the result delivers a great run
that covers an amazing amount of story and plot with some serious twists
thrown in. Not many shows would have the ambition to even attempt some
of the things it does, never mind execute them well (which it does).
Look, just watch it, okay? The whole thing is no more than an hour long (and you can stop sooner than that if it turns you off, since each episode is about four minutes).
(I owe my exposure to PuPiPo! to Author's praise of it. Thank you, Author, for getting me to watch this overlooked beauty.)
Special merit award for a show that normally would not qualify because it hasn't finished yet but I don't care, it's my best N and I can do what I want:
- Shirobako: The show's first half forms a strong arc that ends in a great conclusion, so I'm letting it sneak in here on a technicality. Contrary to what I expected when I started watching it, that it's about anime production is the least of its appeal. I started watching for a view into the industry; now I stay for the characters, for the humour, and for the painful moments of reality. And to hate Tarou, who is a great character. See also.
Shows that I consider good but not necessarily memorable over the long term:
- Witch Craft Works: Brilliantly entertaining through a parade of
diversions and distractions, WCW never took itself seriously and
that was a good thing. Everything great about the show is the things
that made you laugh and smile, from Tanpopo's antics through Kagari's
deadpan craziness; the plot served mostly to keep everything moving
- Sekai Seifuku - Bouryaku no Zvezda: This had heart, soul,
intelligence, and plenty of charm but also ambitions that it couldn't
quite deliver on. It tried hard and while it fell somewhat short
(which was inevitably a bit disappointing), it fetched up pretty high
anyways. The smoking episode may be the second greatest episode of
the year. See also. I reserve my right
to retrospectively increase my opinion of this in a few years, which
- Log Horizon first season: Since the second season is ongoing, I
can conveniently ignore it. The first season is both a great and
thoughtful exploration of 'people translated into an MMO world'
and full of really fun plotting, exploration, and characters.
Watching Shiroe scheme was great, although Lenessia stole the
show. In an odd way this is a very SF show, in that it's very
concerned with logical extrapolations from its MMO starting point;
what it means for MMO things to be actually real is repeatedly an
important issue (and the answers are both interesting and feel
right). It also really understands its characters, periodically
surprising me with moments that were just
- Seitokai Yakuindomo second season: It reliably made me laugh,
which is rare. The show is as the show was before, with all of the
strengths and (for some people) weaknesses that that implies.
- Hitsugi no Chaika: While it went downhill over the course of its run, it was still a quite good adventure show of an old-fashioned sort that gave me plenty of fond memories. In retrospect the pacing was off in a number of places and maybe it would have been improved by being even shorter than the 22 episodes it was.
Special mention for the memories:
- Star Driver The Movie: The Star Driver movie is almost entirely
a condensed version of the show. Since it has to leave plenty of things
out it's not as good as the show, but what's left is a high power
concentrate that hits plenty of right spots. Most importantly, it
brought back a bunch of my fond memories of the show itself. Star
Driver is one of the shows that have only gone up in my estimation
since they finished (I would now give it a place above the fold in
my best N of 2011), so it's great to return to it
even in condensed form. See also my Twitter ramblings.
(And I really liked the 'and life goes on' framing bits from the movie, because the ending of the series always felt a little bit ambivalent. The movie removes that ambivalence and I'm fannishly happy about that.)
- Majokko Shimai no Yoyo to Nene: I didn't watch many movies this year, but this one was fun. It's fairly much a kid's movie but it still has plenty of excitement and interesting stuff, and I liked how it played against expectations and pulled off surprises several times. Don't expect tragedy; this is not that sort of movie.
Praised for good reasons but that I didn't or haven't watched (all of):
- Barakamon and Sabagebu: See here.
I theoretically want to watch more of both and I think they'd rate
in this entry if I had. But in the mean time you don't have to be a
slacker like me.
- Space Dandy: In the end this turned out to be not for me; pure artistry in a show isn't enough for me. Lots of people love it and it did have plenty of amazing animation and even what are probably great episodes, even if they never really engaged me.
In the end I completed 24 shows, OVAs, and movies this year, more or less (there's some hand-waving around split season shows here); this is down from last year. In part that was because the summer season was pretty dire for me. I saw only three movies this year, none of them major ones, which means i have a number queued up to watch sometime (including the big one of Madoka: Rebellion).
Looking back at last year and comparing it to this year, I think that last year had better top shows but this year is more even (ie, the later ranked shows here mostly leave me more enthused than last year's later ranked shows). Don't ask me to be definite here, I'll just wave my hands. Ordered rankings are hard and my opinions keep changing.
(If you're wondering about JoJo's, I wound up dropping it because it didn't really work for me.)
PS: for an amusingly different take on my opinions, my year end APR vote. The moral here is that I change my mind on a regular basis.
Looking back at the Fall 2014 anime season
Once again it's time (and past time) for my usual retrospective look back at the season to see how shows wound up, following on my early impressions and my more solid midway views. The short summary is that fall was a good season (at least for me). As I sometimes do, I'm ranking shows a bit more by how much I enjoyed them than by how good I think they are.
- Shirobako: This has become the surprise hit of the season and in
some ways of the year for me. The show has deftly mixed several levels
of comedy with drama, tension, heartache, and in the end a deeply
heart-warming climax for the first half. This show has heart and
affection for all of its characters (yes, even Tarou) and it shows,
even if the show is not perfect.
(Some of the ways that the show is not perfect are probably authentic to the work environment it's portraying. By which I mean a certain amount of casual background sexism.)
- Mushishi second season: Mushishi is as good as it ever is, which
is both excellent and in many ways on a
completely different level than other shows; it
continued to give us a whole string of quietly beautiful, poignant,
and touching episodes. While it's probably objectively better than
Shirobako (and it certainly has less flaws), I've come to see it as cool
observation to Shirobako's warm passion and right now I simply
connect with that passion better than with the observation.
(One reason that Mushishi is so much observation instead of passion is that Ginko only rarely reacts to the situation; most often he's less a character and more an oracle. Sometimes this actively robs the show of impact, for example when it skips having Ginko react to the effects of his actions in episode 17.)
Good but falls a bit short:
- Shingeki no Bahamut - Genesis: This finished quite well, with lots
of excitement and good moments, but in the end it couldn't quite
live up to the promise of its first four or five episodes. Part of it
is that things slowed down once the show got into the main plot and
part of it is that the explanation of various events didn't entirely
make sense. However, for me the show's largest eventual flaw is
that it demoted Amira from an interesting active character who did
interesting things down to a standard do-nothing damsel in distress.
Losing what was the first or second most interesting character
in the show made the show much more ordinary, even if it was still a
well done adventure show.
With that said, I had a lot of fun watching almost all episodes and there's plenty to like about it, including things most 'action' shows don't actually do well. It's an atypical show and I quite liked that. It just didn't wind up being amazing, which is what it could have been if it sustained the first few episodes all the way through.
- Garo - The Animation: In the end this season of Garo was frustratingly erratic. I've come around to the view that the show's writing is almost always standard but sometimes it can execute those stock scenarios in ways that are very powerful. When it doesn't manage that the episodes often come across as quite pedestrian and boring, even if the developments and themes in the episode are important in the long run. But the high points are very high and the show can be inventive. The other problem with the show is that often it just doesn't have the animation budget it needs and then it compounds the problem by deliberately filming fights very dark to cover up the problem.
- Hitsugi no Chaika - Avenging Battle: In the end it ended decently
but not excellently. In
some ways the ending was surprisingly abrupt
(although not in any way that would be easy to fix); in other
ways I think the largest difference was just that the show didn't draw
out things that other shows would have, although it didn't have anywhere
near Bahamut's flare for the dramatic. While the show was decent it
never entirely lived up to the promise of the very first few episodes.
- Log Horizon: The show is trucking along more or less as it always has
been this season. Unfortunately this is not up to the relatively
exciting standards of the first season (which was wall to wall with
interesting developments and evil plots) and it has a noticeable flaw or two that keep irritating me. I've also wound
up with the impression that the pacing has slowed down so it's drawing
things out too much; I keep wanting it to do something and do it faster.
- Fate/Stay Night - Unlimited Blade Works: It looks pretty, the fights
are generally good, it's nice to watch Rin and Archer bounce off each
other, and the show is doing yeoman work to make things with Shirou be
reasonably interesting. But after the dust settles it's still F/SN,
which is why it's at the bottom of my list.
(It did pick a much better moment to stop for three months than Fate/Zero did; it's a cliffhanger but it's not in the middle of the action.)
On the whole I think the season was somewhere between quite good and excellent for me, with plenty of stuff that I enjoyed on a week to week basis and the slow climb of Shirobako to amaze me.
(I say that Shirobako may be the surprise hit of the year for me over Ping Pong because the latter had Yuasa going for it from the start. Shirobako really came out of nowhere from my perspective and yes, I know the director has a track record. With a few extremely talked about exceptions, I don't pay much attention to directors because they in no way guarantee that something will be excellent or interesting.)