Spring 2014 – Week 3 in Review

It’s sink or swim time this week, and fortunately for my own sanity, a whole lot of shows are obligingly gurgling their way to the bottom. This tendency for the chaff to vote itself off the island is being nicely counterbalanced by solid episodes from all the shows I give a damn about, so right now I couldn’t be happier about this season. At this point, it’s looking like I’ll cut down to between six and eight shows that are all roughly as good or better than my top two from last season – last season was weak, but that’s still a fantastic place to be. Running them down…

No Game No Life 2: Well, I probably wasn’t going to watch this episode, but my twitter feed convinced me it was at least enjoyable trash with Steph’s amazing “WRYYYYYYYY.” And the episode confirmed it – Steph’s voice actress is doing awesome work, and all of her rants were a joy to listen to. The rest of the show? Awful. Pretty much the archetypal light novel adaptation – tons of fanservice, the same tired jokes, and the MC being a super badass who’s also a total nerd who totally relates to all your weird otaku hangups. It’s self-aware, but at this point, self-awareness almost seems like the standard mode for these shows – self-awareness is not self-reflection, and this show contains zero self-reflection. G’bye, No Game No Life.

No Game No Life

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 3: JoJo is just so goddamn hilarious you guys. Even when no real action is happening, every minute is just full of overwrought wonderfulness. Avodol’s hysterical recollection of meeting Dio, culminating in “HE WAS SO TERRIFYINGLY CHARMING… ALMOST LIKE A WOMAN!” Joseph Joestar being World’s Greatest Grandpa, wandering around in his pajamas shouting about his grandson’s pants. Avodol breathlessly expositing (Avodol does a lot of stuff breathlessly) how Holly can’t handle having a Stand because she’s a girl and this is a comic for boys. Joseph randomly headbutting his grandson in rage and despair (holy shit is he a great grandpa). Jotaro compassionately telling his mother “JUST SHUT UP AND GET BETTER SOON.”

JoJo just has this serene level of absurdity, and breaks so many rules of storytelling in such confident and ridiculous ways, that somehow it all becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. Nothing has happened yet, and yet the show is still a joy to watch. I don’t know how they do it.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

The World is Still Beautiful 3: This week’s episode opened with two “uwaaaa pervert!” jokes followed directly by a boob size joke. The rest of the episode wasn’t significantly better – even this show’s dramatic moments are pretty ham-fisted, and at this point it’s looking like the anime-original episode was actually handled by a much better writer than the person who wrote the source material. The banter between the two leads actually is occasionally solid… but it’s inconsistent, and more often than not the show is dragging out tired character beats that aren’t really elevated by the execution. I dunno. I’m on the fence – at its best moments, this show is a fairly reasonable version of a genre I really like, but those moments just don’t come often enough. I might just drop it for now and maybe save it for a rainy day.

The World is Still Beautiful

Captain Earth 3: It’s both weird and kinda thrilling to see little echoes of this writer (and larger team)’s past in various elements here. The Evangelion-style scifi trappings as pure vehicle for character and theme. The endless obsession with family and adolescence. The theatrical, Ikuhara-esque leanings. This stuff is basically synonymous in my mind with “good anime,” so I guess they know my weaknesses. And the ways this show doesn’t line up with those classics are well-chosen – I like that our protagonist here is a very proactive guy, and I also like that the “mysterious children” aren’t kept at arm’s length. They’re people too, and they’re getting the chance to be people. Other than that, this was largely a setup episode – it formally introduced our last protagonist, more directly established… pfff… “Salty Dog” as an antagonist, and introduced what seem to be the main crazy powers of our two Mysterious Children. It’s what happens after this that’s the hard part, so we’ll have to see where it goes.

Captain Earth

M3: Well, damn. This is pretty much the ur-scifi anime – typical in every single respect, with nothing about its characters, narrative, ideas, or execution inspiring any sort of motivation to continue. The visual effects of the Lightless Realm are kinda neat, but the actual concept is absurdly on-the-nose. Possibly the most interesting thing about this episode was that it kinda seemed to be archetype-ifying characters and fast-forwarding narrative to get to… something, but this episode didn’t give me the highest hopes that the “something” we’re moving towards is really worth racing to in the first place.

Honestly, the writing’s just bad – tired and contrived, with no real spark to anything, and it pretty much outright states its own themes. I had issues with Nagi no Asukara, but Okada at least seemed passionate about that show – I do not get that impression here.


One Week Friends 3: Could this show be any more relentlessly charming? It’s hard to imagine. These characters come off so naturally, and their interactions seem so earnest, that it’s tough not to fall in love with them. And the show is far from just empty niceness, either – all of this love of people is made much, much more real by the sharp edge of fear at the heart of this show. It’s kind of a funny comparison to make, but One Week Friends is pretty much all about the same things Eva was – the overwhelming fear and absolute necessity of human connection. How difficult it can be to trust. How well you can really know another person. And how your world opens up when you have someone to rely on.

Both the narrative and the direction express this with subtlety and grace. This episode featured a lack of trust from all three of its central characters, each expressed in a different way. Kiryuu was the most overt example here, but also the most understandable – he didn’t trust the girl telling this strange story, and he didn’t want his friend to get hurt. He questions why Fujimiya can’t speak for herself – which reveals her own lack of trust, an inability to open up and meet either of the others halfway. When she tries to make amends for this, it reveals Hase’s own lack of trust, when he attempts to keep her from worrying about things and take all the burden on himself. None of this is overstated – all of it is expressed through the natural patter of their conversation and the endless series of shots that see them stranded, alone in the huge, intimidating frames that surround them. When Fujimiya ultimately crosses into Kiryuu’s world, he reciprocates, reaching out his hand as well, and the resolution feels like one more tiny triumph in a show dedicated to revealing how enormous these moments can be.

One Week Friends has been pretty remarkable so far. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

One Week Friends

Hitsugi no Chaika 2: More confident, high-quality work from this week’s Chaika. The opening game of cat-and-mouse was well-designed and well-directed, keeping tension while also allowing the wizard’s taunts to naturally fill in a little exposition. I particularly liked the wizard’s desperate offer to buy back his treasure at the end – much better than a threat or a warning, this rant really ground in the ambiguity of whatever’s going on here. The following scene was also well-done – our siblings fighting the law just to save a cute girl might stretch credulity, but the show’s already established that Toru kinda hates being a mere mercenary, and so the turning point specifically played against his pride. And then we had another action sequence, again full of little weighted encounters with plenty of understandable back-and-forth… and then the final reveal gave us the context we’ve been lacking while also working perfectly with Toru’s character. Bam bam bam.

This show is just action-fantasy done right, and that’s kind of a rare thing. I’m not tremendously engaged in it (so far it’s felt more polished than distinctive), but I can see why you would be, if you like this sort of thing. And I’ll certainly keep watching.

Also Chaika a cute.

Hitsugi no Chaika

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei 3: I got exactly one minute and twenty-seven seconds into this episode. I am not being paid to watch these characters all talk jargon and fawn over how awesome this protagonist is, and so this is where I get off.


I didn’t even get close to this scene, but I read about it, and hell if I’m gonna let a less embarrassing moment represent my last stab at Mahouka

Knights of Sidonia 2: The CG is still regularly awful, but everything else about this show is pretty solid. The writing cleverly leans on the strengths of hard scifi to embellish its fantastical elements with some grounding, and the direction in the action scenes is phenomenal. The larger pillars of the plot are kinda standard, but it feels like some actual thought was put into all the little details, and that really helps give a sense of place to this story. I’m still grappling with the CG as I watch it (many scenes that would play as anime standards here just seem odd due to that extra degree of separation), but I get the feeling this show will reward that struggle in the end.

Knights of Sidonia

Mekakucity Actors 2: This second episode was a whole lot better than the first in a variety of ways. Both the writing and direction were much more purposeful – we actually got a solidly articulated character this time, and some of the visual flourishes were very well-chosen (I particularly liked the various inanimate objects representing everyone except the mother and protagonist). Honestly, I can’t say there was anything wrong with this episode – it was actually quite well done, but for some reason, this show just isn’t grabbing me. Part of it might be that I just don’t like the combination of Monogatari’s sterile world and this show’s flatter, rougher visual style – I’m just put off by the aesthetic in general. A more legitimate complaint might be that we’re still clearly establishing pieces, and those pieces seem dedicated more towards telling a story for a story’s sake than anything else, so I don’t have much to invest in. Either way, while I can’t point to anything that this episode did seriously wrong (unlike the first episode), I’m just not that compelled to continue. I guess we’ll see.

Mekakucity Actors

Ping Pong 2: And to absolutely no one’s surprise, the brilliant writing, direction, and sound design of Ping Pong’s first episode didn’t turn out to be a fluke. Nope, turns out this is just a great property being handled by a great team, and the second episode was even stronger than the first. There’s so much energy in this show! It builds towards these climactic moments with a great sense of naturalism, displays tremendous personality and humor along the way, and then lets loose in a flurry of gorgeous shots. It conveys the energy and excitement of these matches through direction alone – I may not be able to understand what actually makes someone great at Ping Pong, but these scenes make it ridiculously easy to follow the momentum and back-and-forth of these exchanges regardless. Coach stole the show this week (“NONSENSE! Who needs high school english?!?”), but we also revealed new shades of both Smile and Peco. Smile because this was clearly his episode (and the visual interpretation of his internal shell was fantastic), and Peco in that one key scene in the center, where, in spite of all his bluster and self-centeredness, he does his absolute best to cheer up his most important friend. There’s nothing I don’t love about this show – I’m really just happy it exists.

Ping PongMan, I can’t stop with one image from this show. Let’s get a few more!

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

39 thoughts on “Spring 2014 – Week 3 in Review

  1. For Still Beautiful, I’ve read a fair chunk of the manga just to see if it “gets better” and honestly it’s as middle of the road as you can get. If the writing and nuance was stronger then it could be good but instead everything just feels too flat for me, I’ve decided to drop it and to use that time instead to catch up on my backlog (and I’m now watching only half the shows I was in the winter, lord have mercy).

    • Yeah, that’s almost always the safe choice. I’m trying to get through backlog faster myself – I’m watching about as many shows as I was last season, but I’m demanding a higher bar from all of them.

  2. Dang, you sound legitimately spiteful when you’re talking about Mahouka. Not that I blame you.

    At this point it’s nothing more than a 24-minute joke for me every week. And people were laughing at me when I was pointing out the stunning similarities to winter’s Magical Warfare.

  3. I see you’ve fallen behind on Hunter x Hunter, so I’d like to say that now would be a really good time to marathon the show and catch up.

  4. Chaika? Chaika.

    Sidonia feels like the perfect show to go full 3D CGI with. It reinforces the uncanny, alien feel that the show is going for. And who knows, it might even reward you when the human drama starts kicking in. If you work hard to like these people irrespective of their looks, you might get involved in the drama more.
    (I don’t know what happens in the manga after the first chapter, btw, so no spoilers here.)

    • I am enjoying the show at this point, but I don’t feel like the faces feel “alien” in a meaningful way – they just look cheap. But hey, if the show can sell me anyway, this may help make me feel more comfortable with CG in the future.

    • I haven’t watched Sidonia, but to an extent this is why Arpeggio actually worked, mostly, as full CGI. Especially the scenes where it was just the Mental Models in their little teaparty-garden-communication space, it gave off the feel that these really /weren’t/ humans, no matter how much they almost looked human.

      Granted the actual humans looked the same, but they were the weakest part of that show by a huge stretch.

      • I’m pretty on the fence about No Game No Life myself, too. I did think episode 3 was a little bit more clever, and had me chuckling a bit in at least one or 2 scenes. But, it’s nothing other an a strict comedy, and has no merit as a serious show. I agree with you that Bob probably wouldn’t enjoy it as well.

    • Personally, I think NGNL episode 3 was worth watching because it was much, much worse than episode 2. Actually, I liked episode 1 and 2, especially the well played and well explained game of rock paper scissors.
      However I think I actually got dumber trying to comprehend everything about the ‘chess’ game in episode 3, from the rules themselves, some character motivations, and the thematics which seemed to unintentionally promote some awful messages, AND in a political context. (I mean seriously, directly saying ‘Win this battle and you can bang all the women you want’ is disgusting to me.) I think it completely and utterly misused it’s comedy during the chess game to a disgusting degree.

      Which is a shame because I like the premise, some of its earlier attempts at political satire, smart protagonists like Sora, funny shonen moments such as these, and I was surprised at how natural (or perhaps you could say, not Mahouka-like) and sweet the brother/sister relationship is.

      … But I’ll probably keep watching in hopes of something as amusing as the rock paper scissors game popping up again.
      … or finally watch Kaiji, I don’t know.

      • Just watch Kaiji. It is far superior in terms of game psychology and complexity. In No Game No Life, the Rock Paper Scissors game is a farcry from the concepts employed in Kaiji (it was too predictable that Sora would play Rock).

        As an actual chess player, I’m very offended that the show would try to portray Shirou as some sort of chess master or language genius when the actual events that occured were idiotic. Overpowered protagonists, unfortunately, make this show weaker, even though it knows its stupidity enough to benefit from it one way or another.

        That being said, the show is quite funny at times, but left a very bad impression on me, especially at times where the author attempted serious world building, such as with explaining the concept of the 16 races, origin of the world, etc. In addition, overpowered protagonists who are powerful in a completely human constraint (that is, without the interference of supernatural elements to allow characters to ‘realistically’ ascend past their human limitations) are incredibly weak. They restrict the author’s capacity for character development and decrease relatability. It’s fine for a character to be a master of games, but not to the point where they are able to somehow learn languages in seconds and play four MMORPG’s simultaneously with their hands and feet while being underleveled.

        That’s called bullshitting.

        And yes, the third episode was just stupidity in a can. I was looking forward to a game where cheating generated extra rules instead of a… I don’t even know.

        At least we got another funny JoJo parody.

    • I don’t think Bobduh would enjoy it much but it made me laugh like hell. Honestly, I didn’t even find episode 2 THAT offensive, for all the massive amounts of fanservice. The comedy was actually fun. I think this show has to be taken like a raunchier version of something like Hataraku Maou-Sama – a comedy show that happens to build upon the skeleton of a seemingly serious fantasy plot. Which is good for me since otherwise the setting would feel forced. But as it is, the show doesn’t take itself seriously and works. The MCs are supposed to be unbeatable, true, but they also are flawed separately and tend to panic a lot (this happened to both of them in episode 3) so I don’t see their being unbeatable as an expression of them being a Mary Sue pair, rather just a consequence of the light tone of the show that doesn’t want to deal with the potentially depressing consequences of defeat and uses victories in a row to keep the mood upbeat.

  5. There’s a lot of things I like in Chaika.
    The fight are always pretty weel-made.
    And the general ambiguity is interresting.
    There is no truly villain or heroes here.
    Gillet’s team isn’t presented more or less right than Toku, Chaika and Akari.

    However, the name kinda sucks. Gillet is still OK, but Arthur Gaze is a pretty lame name for a legendary dark lord…

    • Yeah, some of the elements of its overt world strike me as too silly – in particular, I really dislike the very ostentatiously anime outfits the villains wear. But hey, can’t have everything.

  6. It’s very strange how for some shows our opinions are spot-on, but on other shows our opinions are so different. Whereas I share your praise for Isshukan no Tomodachi, Ping Pong the Animation, Captain Earth, and Sidonia no Kishi, I’m finding Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure 2’s form of comedy a complete turnoff with its aimless and whimsical flow, No Game, No Life to be an absolute joy to watch, with exciting and vibrant characters and among my list of most enjoyable shows of the season, and Hitsugi no Chaika to be a stumbling fantasy anime with no real depth and a story/characters that feel very cheap. Is it the “(overly) powerful main protagonist” that turns you off so much? Mahouka and NGNL seem to have this in common, and it’s the only connection I can see that explains why you seem so extremely against them. Care to expand on why you favor Hitsugi no Chaika over NGNL? (I hope I’m not coming off as being offended or critical of your opinions; apparently my writing comes off like that to many, but please understand I have no ill intent against you or your opinions. I simply wish to understand you and your opinions better.)

    • I think Chaika’s just a well-produced fantasy – I don’t think its characters are particularly deep, and its story hasn’t proven itself to really be about anything yet (though I have hope Toru’s thoughts on self-worth might lead somewhere), but it’s mainly just a fine adventure. It’s a reasonable thing executed reasonably well.

      As for No Game No Life… this is gonna sound harsh, but there’s basically nothing I like about that show. Its characters don’t seem vibrant at all to me – they seem like the classic pervy/competent light novel protagonist, the demure love interest who’s also his sister, and the tsundere love interest. And the content just seems to be a continuous run of all the same jokes I see in every anime comedy – slapstick, falling on boobs, calling out when your life mirrors an anime situation, etc. I don’t get anything out of it.

      • Huh. I guess it’s just different taste/preference, then.

        Can’t expect everyone to like the same things you do for the same reason… or dislike the same things you do for the same reason. 🙂

        At least we can enjoy Isshukan no Tomodachi, Ping Pong, etc. together! 🙂

  7. Your watching all the things that I’m finding great this season, but have already given up on most of the ones I’m still on the fence about. I have a question for you about Chaika though. I’ve been hearing really good things about it, but I was avoiding it because it was based on an ongoing novel series, and I have been burned many times in the past with shows that have no closure and no translated source. Typically I wait until a show gets renewed for a second season before watching it in these cases (I did this with Log Horizon) since that improves the odds of a full adaptation, or at least fan translations of the novels. However what little I’ve been hearing about the show really peaks my interest. Do you think it’s worth the risk of watching it now and then being disappointed with the lack of resolution?

    • So far Chaika’s been sort of a rambling adventure, so I think it’d probably be safe to check it out. Even if it doesn’t entirely conclude, it’s already gotten through one mini-arc, and doesn’t seem designed to be seriously baiting a sequel it’s not necessarily going to earn.

  8. The voice of the sister in No Game No Life puts me off. That kind of half-whisper monotone voice that’s usually given to emotionless girl archetypes always puts me off. Partially because I hate how it sounds, partially because I think it’s pointlessly inexpressive, and partly because for most people it’s not good for the voice to talk like that. Vocal chords are made for talking at a normal volume, not having air forced through them in a way that doesn’t produce their natural sound. Maybe the voice actors for this show are among the people for whom whispering is easier on their voice. I hope so, anyway.

    And the third episode of No Game No Life pretty much took out any real connection to gaming. The ones they tried to make near the end of the episode were tenuous at best. And if I’ve learned anything from watching Archer, it’s that you can have a funny show about awful people, depending on how you frame the jokes. You can get people to laugh at other character’s reactions to their awfulness or you can laugh at them for how oblivious they are of their own shortcomings. Basically it’s never portrayed as a good thing that Archer is a cruel, narcissistic, alcoholic, even if he gets things done.

    I’m really not getting either of those things from this. Maybe it’ll go that way later on but so far I haven’t seen anything to make me think it would.

    • Yeah, there are a whole lot of anime about gross people the shows apparently expect you to sympathize with. It’s, uh… interesting.

      Hell, even shows like Archer I don’t really enjoy that much, though I think Archer itself is a fine show. I just prefer shows where I can actually invest in the protagonists.

  9. I was surprised, and then delighted that they introduced a character like the main character’s friend in One Week Friends. He brought a harsh dosage of reality that really helped the anime. And the anime was already fantastic.
    I agree with the others. It’s imperative that you catch up to Hunter X Hunter now.
    I also think that Black Bullet has been on the upswing after a questionable first episode.
    And how far are you through Mushishi? haha

    • I’m really glad Bobduh introduced me to One Week Friends. And Shougo is pretty great. I’m glad it has more importance.

      Black Bullet’s writing is still pretty horrendous. It gets slightly better each episode, but it went form absolutely awfull, to just… generally bad.
      The main villain is quite great, but that’s about it.
      If you have ton watch a fantasy show, Chaika is better in almost every way.

      • I love Chaika. I prefer it over Black Bullet as well. Black Bullet is a bit appealing to me because it’s soundtrack is pretty exhilirating and think it’s one of the better settings this season. I do agree the writing is bad. It’s full of pointless monologues that break character immersion solely to fill the audience in with information. There’s enough there to make me continue it as a popcorn anime, with a very small amount of hope that it becomes something a bit more intelligent.

    • Yeah, Hase’s friend definitely helped ground the show. I’m excited to see what sort of dynamic the next addition will add, as well.

      Five episodes of the original Mushishi left now! I’ll hopefully be starting work on my post for that next week, and then I can maybe catch up on season two…

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  11. I gotta agree on Chaika. The show pretty much nails everything it needs to make every scene worthwhile and interesting to watch. It’s definitely something I’m going to look forward to for the next several weeks.

    As someone who just doesn’t like Bakemonogatari, I’m actually finding Mekaku City Actors to be surprisingly enjoyable. In my eyes, Bakemonogatari was filled with bizarre characters and strange visuals that tried to be subtle while also being blatantly obvious. That combined with lots of overused visual tropes didn’t help my opinion of it. However, I’m finding Mekaku City Actors to just be weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals. And considering that I found every opening in Bakemonogatari to be enjoyable, I’m totally down for that.

    Also, I’m curious Bobduh; are you considering watching Nanana’s Buried Treasure? I found the first two episodes to be very entertaining (if certainly a bit trope-filled) and the show appears primed to get better.

    • I watched the first episode of Nanana, and while it was fine, it didn’t really grab me. It’s one I’m sort of keeping an eye on, though – if people start raving about it, I’ll pick it up.

  12. To start off, great posts. I love it when someone actively reviews the thematic value of a show.

    And to continue, I never believed in Mahouka from the beginning. I tried reading the first chapter of its manga and didn’t even get halfway (stopped when the protagonist and his sister were the talk of the school for being the best in theorhetical and practical magic courses or whatever it was).

    Another two things NOT to watch this season: Black Bullet and Seikoku no Dragonar, which both suffer from a complete lack of character development altogether (the authors expect you to care because he said “This character relationship is a thing. Believe it-dattebayo!”)

    Something I think is worth watching: Gokukoku no Brynhildr, whose short comings include a psuedo-harem set-up (although this is mostly irrelevant as the show does not treat itself as such) and a weak start but has a dark, compelling premise and interesting conflict to boot. I reccommend giving it a shot.

    Broken Blade is something else I recommend giving a shot.

    Kaiji is an extremely well written anime with smart psychology that aired in 2007-08 and recieved a second season in 2011 that I feel definitely warrants a watch. It’s premise revolves around gambling. I’ll leave it at that, since the show’s emotional strength speaks for itself.

    • Kaiji is on my plan-to-watch list, actually. I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, but it’s there!

      Brynhildr I’m extremely skeptical on because it’s by the same author as Elfen Lied – I also haven’t been hearing the best things elsewhere, so I’m gonna wait for the dust to settle a bit on that one either way.

      And yeah, Black Bullet/Dragonar both look pretty bad.

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