Fall 2014 – Week 3 in Review

At the beginning of fall, this year was not really looking good. I had maybe five or six shows I’d be comfortable putting on a top shows list, and the fall season featured a lineup of ambiguous sequels and unknown originals. But holy shit has this season overperformed like crazy. This lineup is a goddamn bounty of riches – there’s at least four shows that would be comfortable top picks in any normal season (Shirobako, KimiUso, Parasyte, Rage of Bahamut), and the shows immediately below this aren’t even that far off – I could easily see Fate/stay night, Amagi, or Psycho-Pass 2 overperforming and vaulting over the competition at any time. Fall seasons tend to be fairly stacked in general, but this one in particular is one of the best seasons I’ve seen. It’s a good time to love cartoons!

Parasyte 2: So! I’ll actually be covering Parasyte on ANN starting, uh, later tonight, and that’ll include this episode, but yeah, this one was great. The show’s one awkward element remains the kind of hit-or-miss soundtrack, but the actual content is fantastic. I love the little horror vignettes they sprinkle into the show, I love how expressive the key animation is (this show doesn’t seem to use a crazy number of total frames, and instead just chooses its key frames really well), and I love the story we’re being told. Shinichi himself is a great character – this episode clearly laid out his strong ideals, which is probably the right call in a show that seems interested in challenging ideals. And I love how the classic adolescent tricks of a “my body is going crazy!” narrative combine strangely gracefully with the questions of the food chain, and of the selectiveness of empathy. Whole damn lot going on in this show.


Shirobako 2: This show is a goddamn miracle. Even the first five seconds are great – Aoi parsing the key animator’s collapse in terms of the silly anime she’s seen is both a great gag and actually really poignant. It’s true – we contextualize the drama of our lives in terms of the drama we’ve already internalized, even if that drama is just silly anime. It’s still real in an emotional sense!

I also love how Aoi’s positivity all throughout this episode isn’t necessarily a good thing. She keeps being optimistic, but you kind of can’t be this optimistic in this situation – she’s giving artsy types who need a tighter rein way too much rope to hang themselves with. Of course, you also can’t be totally cynical – the push-and-pull of artistic ambition and practicality was illustrated all throughout this episode’s conflicts. And applying that passion to shit like “Jiggly Jiggly Heaven” is just wonderful.

What else should I talk about. The detail of Aoi’s voice actress friend picking up a call while bussing tables at the second job she has to hold? The multiple arguments on the nature of moe, and what exact kind of cuteness the characters are supposed to exude? The director’s very sympathetic “we’re going to kidnap the viewers, not leave them behind”? Man, I can really relate to that one…

Yeah, Shirobako’s just great. I love basically everything this show does. What a wonderful surprise it’s been.


Fate/stay night 2: Welp, the infodump finally landed, complete with one of the Great Grail War Traditions. And it wasn’t actually that bad! For one thing, it’s legitimately pretty interesting seeing the world Kirei has very purposefully created – with his father’s legacy already destroyed, Kirei is essentially a man driven entirely by malice, and so it must give him great pleasure to see the children of two of his rivals being so easily coerced. His talk of “a hero of justice must have an evil to defeat” seems fairly prophetic, given that Kirei himself is a living demonstration of how low humankind can sink. That “hero of justice” stuff is also a little worrying, though – it seems like the first big indicator we’ve jumped from the Urobuchi thematic rails to the Nasu ones, and I’ve never found “good cannot exist without evil” to be a particularly engaging argument.

But anyway, yeah, this episode dumped the whole Grail War on our heads. It was better than Fate/Zero’s opening, fortunately, and it largely accomplished that by staging this conversation as an actual argument. Kirei clearly wants to tempt Shirou into joining the war, but he can’t be that direct about it, and he can’t talk about their actual relationship. So he gives away what information is useful, and even ends up using Kiritsugu as an example of what horrors the war could possibly inflict. It was a long conversation, but it was necessary, purposeful, and actually contained some internal drama. Once again, Fate/stay night has demonstrated clear improvement from the mistakes of its predecessor.

Fate Stay Night

Lord Marksman and Vanadis 3: This episode’s first half had possibly the least engaging battle-storytelling I’ve ever seen (troop rotations were narrated as big CG chess pieces moved around), which was enough of an excuse for me to drop this in pursuit of a saner show pile. Sorry Lord Marksman, this season is just too good for you to survive in.

Lord Marksman and Vanadis

KimiUso 2: This was a goddamn episode! Everything about this episode’s first half was just beautiful – Kousei’s shifting emotions throughout the various recitals, the way they smartly depicted the variations between the performances, and then Kaori’s burn-it-all-down finale. It wasn’t really emphasized by the episode, but one thing I particularly appreciated was Tsubaki’s role in this episode. Her choices in actually getting Kousei to this performance really demonstrated how much she cares about him, and then her satisfaction at seeing him become truly invested in the performers was a great elaboration of why she’d fall for him in the first place. In the context of this episode, her “you were cooler when you played piano” last week feels much less selfish – it’s not the fact that he was great at piano that inspired it, it was more just seeing him invest himself in a passionate way. And none of this would work if the way Kousei was interacting with the performance (“he’s off time… but he can make it!”) weren’t actually made tangible by the production – this show is really selling the music.

Speaking of selling the music, goddamn, Kaori’s performance. Clearly the show didn’t expend all of its animation in that first episode – if the show stays this high-quality, it’ll be worth watching for sequences like that alone. And given how good everything else going on here is, at this point, KimiUso’s one of the many shows grappling for this season’s top spot.


Psycho-Pass 2 2: I liked this episode a great deal more than the first one, for a couple big reasons. First, I’m really loving what they’re doing with Akane’s character, and with her team overall. Given all the events of the first season, Akane has completely “earned” being a competent, intelligent detective – and in light of that, the show’s not screwing around and holding her back with departmental bureaucracy. Her calls are smart, her team is being used well, and the show is operating from “Sibyl will probably fuck up my expectation in a variety of ways” as a given. There’s no ambiguity about Sibyl anymore, but that doesn’t actually weaken the show – instead, Akane simply has to act under the assumption that Sibyl will be constantly making her life harder. We’re no longer waiting for an obvious “the government is evil” shoe to drop – the evil government is just a fact of life.

On top of that, the show is also just looking gorgeous this season. Great shot compositions, beautiful color palettes, great use of shadow – it overall feels like a strong visual upgrade from the first season. I was pretty worried that this season would seem somewhat “phoned in” or like a cash grab, but it seems like this team is actually doing their best to improve on the substance of the first season.


Swort Art Online II 15: This week, SAO II had its second-worst episode, meaning it was just incredibly goddamn boring. Nice going, SAO.

Log Horizon 2 3: Log Horizon handled explaining raids the same way it handled explaining everything else – by sitting the audience down and goddamn explaining raiding to them. It’s not pretty, but goddamnit it gets the job done.

Amagi Brilliant Park 3: I don’t really have that much to say about this episode. It was pretty funny, it was surprisingly full of fanservice, and it continued to elaborate on a set of characters I’m legitimately interested in following. It didn’t really have the pile of great ideas the first two episodes had, but it was… fine? I dunno. A slow week in the Brilliant Park.

Amagi Brilliant Park

Chaika -avenging battle- 2: Wasn’t the biggest fan of this episode. The actual resolution of Chaika’s fight with Claudia was fine, but too much time here was spent telling us stuff we already knew. That Claudia represented a positive alternative to the purpose-seeking trials of the show’s other characters was already pretty implicit in her nature – the show didn’t need to have her repeatedly state it herself. Wasn’t too much of a problem though, because the show also provided pretty much everything Chaika is intended to provide – fun fight scenes and Chaika acting adorable. I also liked the furthering of the “memories/emotions are magical fuel” line here with Claudia’s “a strong magical attack is most dependent on a wizard’s strong emotions.” That’s a conceit many fantasy-action shows take for granted without ever actually justifying, but here, it falls perfectly in line with the way the show’s already defined magical energy. I am all for coherent in-universe explanations of the Power of Love!


The Fruit of Grisaia 3: This show is trash and I am trash for watching it. It’s total harem nonsense and is perfectly reflective of every problem I had with the visual novel, but for some reason I am compelled to continue. Time to turn in my critic badge, I guess.


When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace 3: So this show is pretty much failing as a comedy – it doesn’t have many actual jokes, and what jokes that are there generally aren’t that great. But interestingly enough, I don’t really mind that. At this point, it seems clear that the show is trying to be something more than a comedy, and all its best moments support that quite well. Just like last week’s final apology, this week’s ending conversation between Andou and Tomoyo was by far the highlight – their “Do you want to know?” “Do you want to share?” exchange contained more honesty and trust than most actual romantic dramas. And the framing of this scene was great, too – I really loved how the entire last segment of it was shot from Andou’s perspective, so we very cleary saw Tomoyo’s perspective on him while leaving his own emotions concealed.

The conversation leading up to that exchange was great, too – the show directly laid out the contradictory escapism and desire for acceptance of chuunibyou, making it seem very likely the show will earnestly pursue the emotional contexts of these characters’ lives. Having this show actually take itself serious, and successfully take itself seriously, was one of the last things I was expecting – but if the show wants to actually go somewhere, its steps in that direction have been impressive enough so far.

Inou Battle

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis 3: This was very easily my favorite episode yet of Bahamut. It didn’t match the non-stop action/animation rampage of the first episode, but it didn’t have to – its atmosphere was very different but equally good, and more importantly, it actually had some goddamn heart. The episode starts somewhat slow, as the show finally decides to actually tell us what the hell’s going on with the larger plot, but the important part of the episode was Kaisar’s B-turned-A-plot. Kaisar’s always been the most interesting and endearing member of the cast, and this episode was really his chance to shine. We finally heard the full story of his house’s downfall, which he in a very Kaisar move tried to turn into a lesson about family for Rita. It’s just hard not to root for the guy – he’s totally caught up in simplistic ideas of chivalry and knighthood, but in a way that make it clear he just fundamentally wants to do the right thing. And his heart is always 100% on his sleeve. Pairing him up with Sawashiro’s Necromancer Rita is a fantastic choice, and I look forward to seeing the two of them bounce off each other from here out – even though it’s an obvious trick, I was legitimately sad to see Rita “die,” and legitimately happy to see myself fooled. This episode demonstrated an economy of character-building that’s a real great gift to have.

I mentioned the atmosphere at the beginning, and that deserves a little more praise, too. We transitioned smoothly from upbeat adventure to somber horror story, but the show didn’t seem any less comfortable here – the episode wasn’t scary, but the mood was set well, and the backgrounds were beautiful in their decay. Plus the one big fight scene was great as always – not only was the animation itself very fluid and kinetic, but the direction also bounced from one character to the next with a very natural rhythm. Bahamut continues to thoroughly impress.

Rage of Bahamut

28 thoughts on “Fall 2014 – Week 3 in Review

  1. For what it’s worth, FSN’s themes lean closer to Zero’s than the “good cannot exist without evil” thing from this episode. It’s pretty much a direct sequel to Kiritsugu’s utilitarianism (or the other way around). I suspect Urobuchi wanted to write Zero precisely because FSN’s themes already lined up with his interests. Unfortunately adapting the visual novel one route at a time misses out on how they directly contrast with each other, which I always figured was the point of having multiple routes. So the story likely won’t be as thematically complete as a single work should be. Hopefully ufotable takes some liberties here.

    I also agree that Supernatural Battles pretty much fails as a comedy most of the time, but has enough earnestness to make me want to keep watching. Actually, when I was watching it I was reminded of your essay on Intimacy and Nisemonogatari.

    Shirobako is, so far, the anime of the season for me. The second episode was just… engaging.

    Log Horizon made me really nostalgic for my raiding days (not enough to actually resubscribe, of course), but I wonder if that explanation just boring or confusing to someone without context.

    • I agree that the contrast of FSN’s routes really made them pop, especially Heaven’s Feel. I also don’t really think that Shirou can really be fully explored in animated form, so I’m not holding my breath for that.

    • Yeah, Supernatural Battles is definitely a good example of what I was talking about in that essay. The framing of this show’s best scenes comes across as really earnest and personal.

  2. Yup, yup. The thing that impressed me most about Bahamut was the switch in tones. I haven’t actually watch Space Dandy, but from descriptions I’ve heard myself, I’d imagine this to be a Dandy-eqsue ability to tackle different vibes in different episodes with equal success. I like fun and wild adventure as much as anybody, but I honestly didn’t feel like I had been given a reason to care in the first two episodes. Now? Heck, yeah I do. For the moment, the Kaiser-Rita party is infinitely more interesting to me than the Farvaro-Amira party.

    • I’ve watched some of Space Dandy, the additional thing here is that there’s continuity and generally more engaging characters you can care about. If I had to compare this to a Watanabe show, I’d say Samurai Champloo rather than Dandy. There’s much more similarity in structure (the travel, the initial trio girl looking for help + straight honourable man + random unpredictable and rather asshole-ish rogue), and the tone shifts are less drastic than in Dandy. By the way, Champloo is my favourite Watanabe show too (yes, more than Bebop), so it’s definitely a good thing for me.

    • Hopefully the show actually balances the two parties, and doesn’t just use Kaisar’s side as the foils. Kaisar and Rita are definitely more engaging to me right now.

  3. You nailed the Bahamut part. Well done.

    Im waiting for Grisaia to turn 180 very soon. Last ep was the biggest amount of nonsense i have seen animated within 20minutes. But i believe. There is indeed something compelling about it all. The character’s are way too excentric… I think this is another Cross Channel, which was really interesting VN.

  4. Like you I’ve fond this season to be a big surprise. I was expecting very little from it, and right now 3 episodes in I’m still watching like 10 series which is unsustainable for me. Something will have to give. But by far the biggest surprise has been Bahamut. It’s an old school fantasy a la Lodoss War with a modern touch and humour. And a large budget I might add.

    Shirobako I have not seen. it might have to wait till next season.

  5. What I loved the most about the final fight in this week’s Bahamut was Kaisar’s swordplay. A lot of the fights before seemed very choreographed and graceful. But Kaisar’s swordplay in his fight against the zombies felt very angry, and somewhat more realistic.

    He was still “dancing” from ghoul to ghoul, but it seemed well within the limits of a well-trained knight like Kaisar (the fact that he stumbled a little added to the humanness of his fighting.) Grabbing ghoul and jamming his sword into it, then turning around and smacking another ghoul before slashing another one. A lot of anime show the sparks and the light flashes as a fighter uses his weapon (lookin’ at you FSN), but the fight direction seemed to relay Kaisar’s determination and anger by showing the follow-through with each zombie and getting a bit more…visceral? And you could see him getting more and more into it, right up until Rita stops him.

  6. “Speaking of selling the music, goddamn, Kaori’s performance. Clearly the show didn’t expend all of its animation in that first episode – if the show stays this high-quality, it’ll be worth watching for sequences like that alone.”

    I actually pretty much disagree your stance on the animation. As much as I really liked the second episode I felt like overall the animation wasn’t that great. They obviously focused the budget for the episode onto her performance (with how many still images there were otherwise, particularly during other performances) but even then that, while pretty great overall, didn’t seem as smooth as it could have been. The general animation of character movement/etc. during non-performance scenes was still solid, though.

  7. I don’t see the “hero of justice” thing really as “good cannot exist without evil” argument but a representation of Shirou’s warped worldview. Shirou’s ideal isn’t really to become a good person but a superhero saving people like he sees Kiritsugu. In episode 1 Shirou bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have a clue how to become a hero of justice. Kotomine Kirei is saying that wishing to become a superhero means that you are wishing for something terrible to happen which means that you are not a good person at all.

  8. That Grisaia screencap sent me straight to the vile Jason Derulo song.

    It sounds like Battles is going in a direction similar to C3bu, except possibly expanding on the entire main cast instead of developing only one character. Should be interesting to see how much Gainax and Trigger stil share in this type of storytelling.

    Is there any difference between Log Horizon’s exposition technique and Vanadis’s moving chesspieces? Or is Log Horizon’s ambitions for which it needs to explain enough to make it worth it? What makes one non-engaging, and the other “getting the job done?”

    Hesitant to pick up KimiUso, because odds are it’ll eventually get a live-action adaptation, and as a classical music geek myself, I’ve refused to watch the Nodame anime after loving the live-action version. Limited animation of playing with lots of visual shortcuts to avoid just doesn’t compare to inserts of actual musicians’ hands going at it, you know?

    • Is there any difference between Log Horizon’s exposition technique and Vanadis’s moving chesspieces?

      Bob, I was gonna ask the same thing. Surely you don’t see “panning and zooming picture slideshow” a categorically better way of visual storytelling than “chesspieces and arrows moving on an abstract plane”? I hope not, if only for the sake of your future enjoyment of watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which is chock-full of those 🙂

      Maybe you simply mean that Log Horizon has somewhat earned the right to demand its viewers’ patience with its exposition while Vanadis hasn’t?

    • Not only is Log Horizon just talking about more interesting stuff (the fight with the dungeon boss actually kinda works on its own), it’s also teaching the audience things that will be useful – it’s not replacing the drama entirely, it’s laying the groundwork for future conflicts. In contrast, Vanadis isn’t teaching us anything – it’s just using a shortcut instead of actually portraying drama. Neither are the most engaging, but Log Horizon’s paying something forward.

  9. I really, really hope you catch up on Mushishi soon. The first episode of this season was easily my favorite of the entire show.

  10. I’m hoping Kirei said all that “hero of justice” stuff just because that would be the sorta thing that Shirou would buy in to

  11. So I picked up Shirobako after reading you raving about it, and I really enjoy it. I noticed from your MAL that you have read Bakuman (which I just recently finished watching the anime adaptation of), and I can’t help but compare the two. Shirobako goes at a breakneck pace to cram everything in and make you really feel their deadlines. Bakuman has a bit slower pace to it, and as a result you get a much better understanding of the process, but you can still feel the tension. Another notable difference is the fact that Shirobako never takes the time to introduce you to the characters. The characters were Bakuman’s real strong suit, and I hope that eventually we will get to know Shirobaku’s characters as well. Right now I can basically just group them by competent/incompetent, and passionate/pragmatic.

    The area that both shows do well is employing all the techniques that they talk about. This episode had the discussion of moe and what type of character they wanted to make, and the MC brought up the point of just knowing someone’s taste in food let you understand them better, which of course they revealed as early as the first scene of the first episode what her favorite food was. Bakuman pulled this trick constantly, as it employed nearly every one of the shounen tropes it discussed in subtle or not so subtle ways (didn’t have any panty shots though, which is a good thing). The gag manga artist’s life was a gag manga. The manga artists all had heated rivalries filled with youthful vigor, and “battled” over their rankings. They constantly talked about making unconventional battle manga, but that is in a way what Bakuman was itself.

    Anyway I have ranted a bit, but I’m enjoying the hell out of the show, and I hope it continues to be good. I don’t necessarily expect it to be as good as Bakuman, but hopefully it will continue to improve while also teaching the viewers about the animation process.

    • I actually have kind of mixed feelings about Bakuman – I feel like that manga kind of overplayed the significance of every single detail, using them kind of like shounen powerups, which fit for its genre but didn’t leave me the most engaged. I definitely prefer Shirobako’s rushing pace, and honestly prefer its characters too – I’m not really a fan of that author’s style of character writing.

  12. This show is a goddamn miracle.

    ISN’T IT? Shirobako is easily my favorite show this season—not even a competition. I’m still having trouble keeping tabs on who’s who with all those characters (so glad it’s 24 episodes so it’ll have time to explore them), and the third episode wasn’t as great as the first two, but still, when at the end of a long and intricate discussion around that table Aoi proclaimed “Arupin is here!” and Arupin and her two friends showed up in that purple light, it felt like Shirobako itself was materializing on my table; it was truly magical. I may appreciate Parasyte or Bahamut for numerous reasons, but I doubt they’ll make my heart swell like that at any point—and that trumps any other criterion I might judge tv shows with.

    Coherent in-universe explanations of the Power of Love!

    This should be your blog’s subtitle.

    • I actually really liked the third episode of Shirobako! I felt like I was getting a much better feel for many characters’ personalities, there were lots of nice little character details, and the ending felt like a wonderfully earned victory.

  13. I don’t see how Aoi’s positivity is displayed as a bad thing: I know she allowed the director to redo the scene despite it hurting their schedule, but I don’t see how that particular element of her character was why she did that, and her positivity was actually what drove the team to come to agreement and try and complete said redo. In fact, I’d say that Shirobako’s view of the occupations of it’s characters is that passion and positivity is the only thing that gets them through it, as shown in that scene and various other details. I could just be missing something however.

    Also, at the second episode (and about to being the first), I’m agreed on the show’s quality: Aoi’s a fine character and some of the rest of the cast have lots of potential to match her, it’s view on the industry is mostly realistic yet it still has an obvious passion for it, and lots of moments are pretty endearing. Definitely something I have good hopes for.

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