Winter 2014 – First Half in Review

So, looks like we’ve reached the season’s halfway point-ish, meaning it’s time for me to once again go against all my misgivings about turning art into some kind of reductive hierarchy and make a big ol’ ranking of my current titles. Keep in mind, I’m doing this not because it’s actually meaningful, but because lists are fun – if you disagree with my evaluation, you’re probably right. Opinions! They’re crazy.

Anyway. Overall, this season has been a little better than I’d expected, meaning it’s a good deal worse than average. While I’ve had a consistent shelf of shows I’m enjoying, there’s been nothing that really wowed me on the level of a Kyousogiga, Monogatari, or Uchouten Kazoku, and even the next tier down of “generally great” shows has been pretty barren. So yeah, sorry, this one might be kind of a bummer! Fortunately, a lot of shows have actually been steadily improving, and honestly, my own apathy towards some of my picks might just be because I’m watching Too Many Damn Shows, and no season is really that full of gems. But that’s enough preamble – let’s run down my picks.

#1: Sekai Seifuku

Seifuku’s most recent episode was a big stumble, but overall this show has been extremely funny, smart in a black-comedy-satire kinda way, and actually pretty damn endearing. It’s got a strong cast, a great way with dialogue, and excellent comedic timing, and outside of the most recent episode it’s shown an encouraging tendency to extrapolate on its premise in sharp, distinctive ways. Episode three was likely the highlight so far, largely because it accomplished something so clever and so different from most anime out there. Starting off with the premise of a little girl getting irrationally furious about smokers, it ended up telling an absurdist parable about the dangers of extremism and the ways we demonize those we disagree with. And it was really funny, and it made great use of the cast and premise, and it was sharp and dark and utterly lacking in a happy ending. Following up on this, episode four tipped in the complete opposite direction, telling a whimsical, endearing story about family, childhood, and what we choose to believe. That a show would change gears so completely is unusual – that it actually completely succeeds in doing so is remarkable. Sekai Seifuku is a weird show, but I have high hopes for it yet.

Sekai Seifuku

#2: Hunter x Hunter 2011

Honestly, HxH is almost certainly “better” than Sekai Seifuku in many ways, but it feels weird to put a show that’s been going on for three years at the top of a seasonal chart. But yeah, HxH is the best. Its direction is incredible – it’s only been covering between fifteen and forty-five seconds per episode for half a season now, and yet every episode is full of beauty, tension, and moments of actual fear. In fact, the show triumphs on pretty much every technical level – beautiful visual effects, wonderful sound design, excellent shot framing, and standout animation. And all this technical strength is working in service of one of the most ambitious and captivating battle-caper-spy-drama-identity stories I’ve ever seen. Hunter x Hunter is currently handling about six narratives at once, all of them are equally engaging for different reasons, and most of them all reflect back on this arc’s central questions of humanity and selfhood. It’s a remarkable show.

Hunter x Hunter

#3: Nagi no Asukara

Nagi no Asukara is a weird one to qualify. It’s good, certainly. Its characters are very human, its ideas are interesting enough, and it’s just friggin’ gorgeous. But it can be kinda hard to push through, all the same. It definitely has a problem with repetition – characters get stuck in stagnant drama loops, and tend to repeat the things we knew about them several episodes ago. And though nothing seems completely cuttable, I’ve also occasionally ended an episode wondering whether that episode even needed to happen.

But that said, it’s definitely a poignant, relatable character story. The ideas of change, and of disconnect both personal and societal, are smartly woven into the base nature of the narrative, and it’s hard not to care for the show’s varied and well-depicted cast of characters. And when it’s good, it’s really good – standout sequences like the flashbacks to Hikari’s childhood or the first half’s finale are tremendously impressive highlights. So even though it’s occasionally kind of a slog, I’d say it’s well worth the effort.

Nagi no Asukara

#4: Kill la Kill

It’s been a strange, bumpy ride for Trigger’s first big outing. In my first review post halfway through Fall, I referred to Kill la Kill as a “war of extremes,” and that’s remained true ever since. In fact, I’d say it’s become even more a mixture of strange strengths and weaknesses. Kill la Kill raises a number of possible themes regarding representation, government, ambition, performance, and other assorted nonsense besides, but at this point it’d be ambitious to call any of those ideas more than seasoning – frankly, it actually kind of gets worse the more you try to dig. But that’s the kind of show Kill la Kill is – it does things because it wants to, it does things because it can, it does things because they’re there to be done. Ryuuko’s speech from the most recent episode might as well be the creators themselves speaking – “Somehow I got caught up in this weird war of ideals, but all I really want to do is hit things!”

Fortunately, Kill la Kill is extremely good at hitting things. There was a rough patch of drama-repetition right after the winter break, but for most of its run, Kill la Kill has been a dynamic, visually inspired, funny, fast-paced thrill ride. The fights are great, the drama is ridiculous, and Mako is love. It’s dumb fun, but in the school of dumb fun, Kill la Kill is at the top of the class.

Kill la Kill

#5: Samurai Flamenco

If you like grounded character drama, earnest super sentai shows, and quirky, absurdist satire mixed with grounded character drama, then you’re apparently the precise target audience for Samurai Flamenco. Anyone else is gonna have to take their pleasures where they find them – I recommend enjoying the show’s snappy sense of humor, because virtually nothing else survives all of this show’s varied, completely disparate arcs. Oh, sure, the characters stay relatively the same – but given the context of their shifting world, that’s almost harder to believe than them changing with the times. And yeah, that itself is kind of a reflection of the show’s core theme of our general complacency and tendency to trivialize tragedy – but that doesn’t really reveal itself until fifteen episodes in, after a seven-episode stint in sentai fantasy land. It’s a slice of life. It’s a sentai throwback. It’s a meditation on the powerful, dangerous nature of heroes and idols. It’s a weird show. Is it a good show? I think so? Maybe. It’s a weird show. That’s what I’m going with.

Samurai Flamenco

#6: Chuunibyou Ren

Honestly, this one’s only as high as it is because I’ve already fallen for this cast – if this were a new show, I probably wouldn’t be so forgiving. Chuunibyou Ren suffers from the exact problem it always threatened to: being completely unnecessary. Though the third episode introduced a New Challenger and offered the promise of status quo-shifting, the episodes both before and after have basically just been the Far Eastern Napping Society of Summer screwing around like they always have. Which is fine as far as being a feel-good comedy goes, but the first season was actually a solid drama, and even the early episodes all served a purpose. This is just fanservice – funny, endearing, and well-animated fanservice, but fanservice nonetheless. I’m enjoying it because it is all those good things, but it certainly doesn’t match the first season (in fact, it seems to have forgotten the first season even happened). Fortunately, this will undoubtedly change in the second half, so I’m content to enjoy KyoAni riffing on their reliable sense of humor until then.

Chuunibyou Ren

#7: Space Dandy

He’s a dandy guy in the space. As with most shows this season, there’s just not much to dig into here – it’s a nice showcase of various directors, its loose formatting allows for extremely varied vignettes, it has occasionally great visual sequences (the monster mash at the end of the first episode, the surfing finale of the most recent one), and it’s firmly, unapologetically not Cowboy Bebop.


I mean, I’m a drama guy. Comedy is great and all, but I like character stories. And the thing is, when Space Dandy wants to, it can pull a great Cowboy Bebop impression – episode 5 wouldn’t have been a highlight of Bebop, but it would have fit comfortably into that show. And to me, that’s just a higher caliber of entertainment than what Dandy’s doing.

But hey. Dandy is definitely good at what it does, so if you’re looking for a farcical comedy with great visuals and music that takes its cues equally from 50s-style hammy space drama and western cartoons, Space Dandy is the place to be. And I do enjoy it!

But it is what it is.

Space Dandy

#8: Log Horizon

Log Horizon actually kinda suffers from being the second half of a 2-cour – judged on its own, this recent half would be right around Nagi no Asukara. With all the various pieces established, this show has finally settled into doing what this author does best – using politics and public theater to tell stories of humanity’s better and worse nature at the same time. The political games have been fast-paced and compelling, the characters have grown into reasonably well-rounded people, and the show’s unapologetic “you have to deceive a few publics to win a war” morality is both refreshing and well-executed. Log Horizon starts at “the ends justify the means,” and from there explores exactly what nasty, cynical means might get us to those necessary ends. Its aesthetics are only serviceable and its pacing could use some work, but three-quarters of the way through, Log Horizon is finally demonstrating the full strength of both this author and this premise.

Log Horizon

#9: The Pilot’s Love Song

I feel bad putting Pilot’s Love Song at the bottom of my list, because it isn’t a bad show – I’m just not watching any bad shows, and this one happens to be the worst of the okay ones. I like the world, a couple of its episodes have been quite strong (the last couple flashbacks in particular were efficient and evocative), and the characters are reasonable enough – but it just doesn’t really distinguish itself. The writing is really just “serviceable,” the narrative is predictable, and the show’s aesthetics are frankly poor. I can see what they’re doing, and I actually like the base concept of contrasting the children they are with the soldiers they’re forced to be, but the execution just isn’t there. Not an actively bad show, not a good show – it just kind of is.

The Pilot's Love Song

#10: Witch Craft Works

Wait, nevermind, I change my mind – I feel bad about putting this show at the bottom. Because frankly, in sheer enjoyment, it’s actually right near the top – but there’s no denying this is a dumb frickin’ show. The narrative is nonsense and the characters are basically nonexistent, but in spite of that, every week I find myself eagerly awaiting the next episode. It’s funny, for one thing – the show actually has a solid sense of humor, and the director’s sense of comedic timing is a real highlight. It also looks nice – it’s got a perky visual aesthetic, some solid animation, and the direction extends to some really well-shot action sequences. And the fact that it’s a reverse shoujo is kinda interesting, too, though it doesn’t seem like the show is actually interested in exploring that. But really, this is my comfort food. It’s dumb, it’s silly, it’s incredibly endearing. Don’t judge me!

Witch Craft Works

…actually, you know what? Fuck that.

#3: Witch Craft Works

At least Witch Craft Works succeeds in being a dumb, endearing comedy – everything below this point, I have actual problems with. It’s not ambitious, but it doesn’t have to be – it’s fun to watch and I look forward to it and I like it. Take that, cynical criticism! And have some more tower witches.

Witch Craft Works


Witch Craft Works


Witch Craft Works


34 thoughts on “Winter 2014 – First Half in Review

  1. Episodes 4-5 of Chuunibyou are the fillers. It makes sense they’re here. First three episodes showed us the current situation, then introduced the twist. Now we push all the fillers in, and then we’ll get back to the plot. People remember what happens later on more anyway, so they know that sticking these fillers in between “high-plot” episodes would’ve had people rioting, so they’re giving all of them to us now, so theycould move on.

    About Log Horizon, but after I kept saying “Episodes 1-4 are great, 5-12 sorta meh,” I realized what show it is like, at least in regards to pacing issues – Shingeki no Kyojin.

    • Yeah, I’m not surprised by what Chuunibyou’s doing, it’s just a little disappointing in light of the first season – that one made every episode (outside of maybe the Ishiiki haircut one) legitimately purposeful. But things should start speeding along soon enough.

      And yeah, Log Horizon does seem to have a case Titanitis. I’m not a LN person, but they really do seem like the way to go here – its not like the anime’s direction or visual aesthetic are particularly interesting.

  2. I thik it was a great coincidence you decided to post your essay about critics the seasons Witch Craft Works was running.

    Though it lacked one thing : Fancy Crisis

  3. The season of “eh, it’s fine”

    I agree with a lot of these right now except I’m currently running on a HxH high so the first three spots would probably all but HxH. I caught up this past weekend and I gotta say that going from watching nearly an entire arc in the span of a few days to having to wait a week just for one episode is brutal.I don’t know how the people who have been watching since the beginning do it.

    I’ve been really enjoying Space Dandy and I do think the show has consistently gotten better with each episode but I’m with you on the it’s not completely wowing me at the moment. I’m hoping that we get some overarching plot of something sometime around the second half or so, at least starting hinting at it like Bebop did. Episode 5 proved that they can do a solid drama episode and that Dandy can be a pretty awesome character, so let’s do something with that. The comedy is great but for this to be a truly memorable show I’m gonna need a little more.
    Although that zombie episode was spectacular.

    • Yeah, the zombie episode was great. And the highlight sequences are that good, too – something I maybe should have touched on is that the show really understands a certain sense of wonder that more space-exploration shows should capitalize on. Space is a beautiful place!

  4. Agree with you completely on Kill la Kill and Space Dandy. And sticking with Pilot’s Love Song despite the most recent two episodes, which were unfortunately terrible. It’s understandably far from the most popular show of the season, but something about those first couple of episodes just grabbed at me, despite all the cliches and whatnot. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by the latest material, which to me reeks of lazy storytelling and wasted potential, but I genuinely want to see things pick up again. What can I say, I must be a sap at heart.

    • Yeah, the last couple episodes of Pilot’s Love Song have been reaaal bad – even though it’s pretty predictable as a romance/drama, I vastly prefer that to generic school shenanigans. But it’s certainly going to get more dramatic from now on, at least.

  5. I’m almost up to date with HxH. My main grip with the show remain. Why does it takes so much time to explain even the most simple of things. They even dare repeat information trough various methods. Still the animation work is very impressive, the narrative is interesting enough and the feeling of tension is back on (also needs more Hisoka). FMA:B to me is still a much better show where no time is loss and it keeps the tension and add bonus mysteries. Both shows can be a bit childish towards their themes though.

    Witch Craft Work being at the bottom makes me question your ranking. Do you classify shows using a pseudo-objective scale? (and then get confused when something doesn’t classify in this system) To me enjoyment should be all that matter. (of course I know that there is different kinds of ways to enjoy something ) And like you said the show succeed to do exactly what it sets out to do.

    • HxH versus FMA

      I’ll have to watch FMA at some point. It’s on the list, but I’m not eager to watch something huge again so soon after Utena.

      Ranking system

      It’s always a combination of two metrics – how much I personally enjoy something and how impressed I am by it as an artistic work. Which is obviously a wishy-washy compromise, and one of the many reasons I find scales/ranking systems not particularly meaningful. I’ve talked briefly about my evaluation system before, mainly here:

      • Utena is the heaviest anime ive seen. Way too much stuff going on all the time. Loved it though. Essay when?

        FMA:B reminded me a lot of last airbender with its adventurous feel and its pacing. Though the conflict is more satisfying. Haven’t seen FMA yet.

  6. I have the same reaction you do to Witch Craft Works. I do kind of wonder what the original manga was like because all the good things you mentioned seem to be Mizushima Tsutomu’s greatest strengths as a director. I get the feeling that this is a thoroughly mediocre manga that Mizushima is squeezing every last possible ounce of entertainment value out of, kind of like Girls und Panzer but not as good.

    • I guess I’ll have to check out his other works, because I am really impressed with how well they’re elevating this material. This is the same director as Girls und Panzer?

      • Yup. same guy. In addition to Girls und Panzer I really like what he did with Ika Musume. Stay away from Another and Blood-C though, his skills don’t work as well with a pure horror premise.

        • Man, no wonder this works, Girls und Panzer’s direction was fantastic. Although I agree about Another – that was mainly just unintentionally funny.

  7. Has your opinion on Pilot’s Love Song changed as of episode 7? Cause although I could see it coming, it still hurt a lot.

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