Fall 2014 – First Half in Review

It’s that time again! Forget earnest textual critique, emotional reflection, or thematic exploration, it’s time to PUT SHIT IN A LIST WOOOO. This season has offered us a ridiculous bounty of shows, and I’ve responded in kind by ruthlessly punishing anything that fails to continuously dazzle my senses. I dropped Garo, I dropped Grisaia, I dropped Inou Battle… at this point, it’s pretty likely I’m even dropping Psycho-Pass (I’ve stalled on watching the latest episode, so I left it off the list). In spite of that, this season continues to offer a hefty pile of top-tier shows, all of them jockeying for that storied number one spot. Who gets the spot? Why, it’s motherfuckin

#1: Shirobako

I’ve made no secret of my love of this show, but just in case you’ve been out of the loop, I love this goddamn show. It’s not the deep, sensual “this is a perfect show” love of something like Ping Pong or Uchouten Kazoku – it’s more a “I enjoy everything this show is doing and feel continuously happy watching it” kind of love. Shirobako has wonderfully energetic storytelling, a broad and engaging cast of characters, and an effortless way of integrating its drama with its real-world worldbuilding. Though there are occasional messages here and there, its thematic weight leans more on the naturalism of its world and conflicts than on any central point. It glorifies everyday drama – its very nature evokes a strong humanity that bubbles to the surface in small moments like an animation director sharing a conversation with his wife, or a twenty-something worrying that even the endless work they’re doing isn’t pushing them in a sustainable direction. Shirobako is real, and I like things that are real.


#2: Your Lie in April

Your Lie in April is definitely not a show for everyone. If Shirobako has its “naturalization of drama” dial set somewhere around a two or three, Your Lie in April is a seventeen – its characters talk in exuberant poetry, its music rushes to crescendos every episode, and its direction couldn’t be more ostentatious. It is adolescent drama framed as the end of the world, but if you can buy it on those terms, it has a tremendous amount to offer. Every episode is an embarrassment of visual riches, the setpieces like the episode four performance are transcendent, and the show’s use of music has been appropriately deft and empowering so far. Even the dialogue works – it’s certainly heightened as can be, but in the context of this show’s aesthetic tone, that’s actually appropriate. That said, I’m still not one hundred percent on this show – I feel like it’s coasted largely on beauty so far, but the jury’s still out on whether it matches that with emotional truth.


#3: Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

It’s Pirates of the Lost Ark: The Anime. Zombies fighting mermen, dragons fighting titans, demons fighting giant crabs. It takes all the jumbled variables of a classic fantasy adventure, shakes them together, and lays them out with the expert care of a Hollywood master. It’s basically bottled fun – the show couldn’t be flimsier when it comes to depth, but when the journey is this entertaining, that’s not a flaw at all.

Rage of Bahamut

#4: Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying this one. I was lukewarm on Fate/Zero and deeply unimpressed by what I played of the FSN visual novel, but ufotable is nailing this adaptation. There’s still obviously the classic Fate glut of exposition, but it’s scattered between some really gorgeous fight scenes, and the character work here is top-notch. Both Shirou and Rin feel like echoes of their parents and compelling, unique people at the same time, making FSN interesting both as a comment on Fate/Zero and a character story in its own right. This might actually be the show I look forward to most each week, even though it’s not the one I tend to most enjoy.

Fate Stay Night

#5: Parasyte

The only real problem with Parasyte is that it’s not one of the shows higher on this list. Well, that and the dubstep. But yeah, the main problem with Parasyte is that unlike the top shows, it doesn’t really distinguish itself – it’s just very consistent every week. It’s building up themes, establishing solid character dynamics, pulling off feats of commendable animation… it’s pretty much the whole package, it just lacks the distinguishing factors that really elevate my top choices. Fortunately for Parasyte, it’s clear that the work it’s doing now is foundation-building, and so I’m still very excited to see where its thoughts on human nature and the Shinichi-Migi relationship eventually go.


#6: Amagi Brilliant Park

Amagi isn’t a brilliant return to form for Kyoto Animation – it’s just a very solid show. The jokes generally land, the characters are likable, and the animation is excellent. As I said a couple weeks ago, it feels very much like an extremely competent team putting in an acceptable amount of labor – it’s never blowing me away, but it’s always entertaining, and it’s nice to see that at least one animation studio understands the fundamentals of comedic timing. I’m still waiting on a show that’ll make me fall in love with the studio again, but I can’t really complain about a production that makes comedy look this easy.

Amagi Brilliant Park

#7: Chaika -avenging battle-

Look, Chaika is Chaika. We’re halfway into the second season, it remains an endearing and consistent but unambitious D&D adventure, we all know what we’re getting here. You and I both know this paragraph is really just an excuse for more Chaika faces.




#8: Log Horizon II

Log Horizon II started off fairly slow, but it’s picked up steam these last two episodes. Playing Akatsuki and Lenessia off each other has enriched both characters, and the Akihabara narrative is finally starting to pay off dramatic dividends. It’s also actually been trying to be pretty for once, which is frankly something I never really saw in Log Horizon before – both episode five’s fight scenes and episode six’s Ash Lake sequence were compelling purely on their aesthetic merits. I’m guessing the show will slow down again once it’s run through this arc’s supply of setpieces, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if it stayed this engaging from here out.

Log Horizon

#9: Sword Art Online II

This third quarter of season two has featured almost nothing happening, but I don’t give one hot fuck. Six episodes to go. Six measly episodes. That’s essentially one afternoon of anime-watching – certainly longer if you include the six writeups I’ll have to accompany them with, but still. After forty-some long, long episodes, I am so, so close to free. Free at last. FREE AT LAST.

Sword Art Online

25 thoughts on “Fall 2014 – First Half in Review

  1. I know you’re waiting for the mood to strike you, but I’ll just echo that you will not be disappointed when you approach Mushishi again. The new epsiodes are as potent as any we’ve seen so far. (Well, there was one that I didn’t like much but everyone else says it was fantastic so you can probably ignore me there.)

  2. I’ve been rewatching FMP: Fumoffu this past week, and I think Amagi is a return to their form. Hyouka was an outlier, and I didn’t find Disappearance that compelling beyond its development of Itsuki, as Kyon’s arc was almost a retread of the S1 finale. (Also it liked to have Kyon state what was happening in the visuals entirely too much)
    KyoAni is best at solid comfort food shows that happen to have a zippy pace and good comedy. Chaika-type shows. (So yeah, Amagi and Chaika being right next to each other in the rankings is right.) It does give them one edge in anime in that so little of anime can nail comedy consistently along with hints of character, and they’re so good at it that I’ve never really wanted to watch the all-serious-all-the-time FMP 2nd raid, even as my rewatch of Fumoffu revealed that the characters remain static within it, thriving off of robust comedy alone. (With shallow emotional investment fairly easy, since enough of the comedy was rooted in character exploration or reinforcement.)
    As far as the best of the regular KyoAni aesthetic goes, I think Haruhi S1 best exemplifies their balance of comedy, fandom pleasing, and little but resonant character moments. The subtle developments of Haruhi and Yuki in S1 alone far outweigh the by-the-numbers Kyon arc. (The other way Disappearance annoyed me was in the way it ignored or even backtracked over the Haruhi development in S1, as shown in Live Alive.)
    I don’t think doing more than that is in KyoAni’s priorities, although I would not say no if they did decide to reach beyond that more often.

    (KyoAni is that type of fanfiction author that writes poignant little character drabbles, and sometimes longer “snapshot scene” one-shots, but never full-plot multi-chapters.)

    • (KyoAni is that type of fanfiction author that writes poignant little character drabbles, and sometimes longer “snapshot scene” one-shots, but never full-plot multi-chapters.)

      This is the most fitting description of KyoAni’s storytelling style I’ve seen. I recently watched the Tamako Market movie and it really did remind me of one of those poignant character vignette fics with pretty prose, drawn out to movie length.

    • Yeah, I think you’re probably right. Hyouka was definitely an outlier, and Amagi is always at its best when it’s acting exactly like Haruhi. I guess I should stop expecting them to be something they aren’t – what they’re good at is fine, too.

  3. I’m pretty much with you on Parasyte. I think it’s in part due to expectations. Can’t say anything about Shirobako and Your Lie in April (not watching them), but Bahamut came the fuck out of nowhere, and Fate/Stay Night is a giant case of, “Wait, why is this good? Why am I liking Shirou? Why am I getting excited every Saturday for an adaptation of a skeevy visual novel? This wasn’t supposed to happen, dammit!”

    On the other hand, Parasyte’s really just a successful adaptation (music aside) of a manga I really like. I watch it and go, “Yep, that sure is the awesome manga I read. Yep, still awesome in animation. Okay, time for lunch.” It’s basically the exact same reaction I have to Monster (an anime I never finished because, well, it’s 74 episodes, and I already read the manga).

    Anyways, on to the real question: Rin faces or Chaika faces?

  4. So I know you’re happy and all about finally being free from SAO in just a few more weeks, but does this mean you don’t intend to review any SAO at all after this season? According to the LN readers, and what little research I’ve done myself, the next season will cover the Alicization arc and it’s supposed to be really good. And I’d assume that by the time Reki started writing that arc he had finally learned how to write properly.

    • From what I understand, later novels of Accel World see Haru establishing a harem, so I doubt Reki ever learned “How to Write.”

      Alicization is basically Reki pulling his get out of jail free card through Deus Ex, which ironically, makes it better since we can ignore everything else up to that point.

      • Are you serious? The whole thing about Haru’s character was that he was the underdog, they even started to elaborate on why he was how he was in the 5th novel by talking about parental abandonment and divorce and all that. I don’t even know how his character would be able to handle a harem, unless maybe the disaster armor begins to slowly change his personality rather than just trying to posses him. And here I was excited for the light novels to get translated…

      • No, it’s just the usual light novel “I don’t know what to do with the plot, so I’ll just introduce a new girl every new novel that is interested in the main character because he is such an outstanding person that all the girls should swoon over.” IMO it all went downhill from Dusk Taker.

    • Alicization was actually so horrible that FOR ONCE the editors improved it rather than making it worse, as the trend was comparing the Web Novel to Light Novel.

      What made it so terrible? Well, remember the countless “rape threat” stuffs? Yeah? It happened again. And this time, the girls were really raped. And then Kirito and his friend kills the perpetrator.

      Even after being edited, it still has shits like Kirito beating an entire army using lolincarnate system. It also has Cardinal being turned into a girl. It’s trying to be philosophical by questioning “What is the difference between real and the unreal, when they are indistinguishable from each other?”, the morality of drone AIs, and the meaning of self-awareness, but its usual shortcomings made it fell hard.

      Personally, Mother’s Rosario is the best arc for me, and it’s interesting that that was an arc where Kirito only play a small role in the arc’s story. So, hey, at least you can look forward to less Kirito, there, Bob/Nick.

      • “Alicization was actually so horrible that FOR ONCE the editors improved it rather than making it worse, as the trend was comparing the Web Novel to Light Novel.” – There’s only be very few changes to Alicization though (dialog rewriting, changing the focus of scenes, toning down certain scenes, ect) with the exception of Volume 10 being new content that didn’t exist in the web novel. And only one of the changes was “consequential to the plot,” (talking about Eugeo’s seduction by Quinella. Unless you also want to count changing “tied up and raped,” to “tied up, molested and being a single thrust away from penetration” as a change that was “consequential to the plot”) and even that still lined up with the web novel after a chapter or two.

        “Even after being edited, it still has shits like Kirito beating an entire army using lolincarnate system” – Hasn’t happened in the Light Novel.

        “Cardinal being turned into a girl” – More like a girl turned into Cardinal, but ok.

        I’m going to assume you’re making these arguments based on stuff you heard from someone else.

    • As others have said, GGO was already the part where SAO was supposed to “get good,” and though it did get “better” than the first season, it’s still not a show I’d actually watch for myself. I’m very ready to part ways with SAO after Mother’s Rosario.

      • I won’t try to convince you to watch Alicization when it gets animated. I recall liking the GGO arc when I originally read it, but that was some 2 two years ago, and I’m actually not even sure what I remember from that arc. I do know that the anime did its usual thing and cut out “unneeded information,” that caused apparent plot holes, but at the same time I realize that GGO as a whole was exposition hell.
        But the best thing to come out of GGO was Sinon. And following that was Trap Kirito. Which shows that the majority of GGO was pretty senseless overall.

        However, I think you could probably gain some enjoyment (much more than during GGO anyways) from watching Season 3, when it arrives. Maybe give it 3-4 episodes, and see how you feel. Some say that Alicization could have just been its own stand-alone story, and i’ll leave that up to you to decide what that means. That being said, there are still some hints of Kawahara’s tendencies through parts of that arc, so I won’t really guarantee anything.

  5. I would’ve been able to agree with you on Shirobako after I saw episode four. I can’t after seeing episode five, which drove me nuts with how the conflict was being propelled by incompetance. The director I can deal with at times, but that yellow haired guy is basically ruining the show for me.

    Can’t agree at all on UBW. The recent episode highlighted why I hate Shirou and Rin. Fight scenes are pretty, sure, but I just can’t take Rin or Shirou having to shove through a farce of “We’re enemies- nvm, we’re allies now.”

    Parasyte is so consistent, and thus easily my favorite show of the season. Consistently good shows are better in my book than shows that have great highlights. I never have to worry about the next episode sucking, I can always look back fondly, and I can always enjoy the show throughly as I’m watching. With UBW, I just keep getting veteran flashbacks of Rin being tsundere.

    • I’d say Bobduh’s comments on Shirobako is even more valid after episode 5. We’ve all met that incompetent guy, who can’t do jack shit except ruin everything else.

      • That wasn’t fun to watch to me though. That’s just 20 minutes of cringe, which I’m not deriving any enjoyment out of. I especially don’t sympathize with our heroine not telling anyone about this. Giving me someone to hate doesn’t make me like the show more.

    • I don’t really have the issues with UBW that you do, but I think I’ve in general gotten pretty good at not letting show faults really bother me. I can certainly recognize them, and I’ll generally bring them up if I’m actually writing about something, but they don’t tend to harm my experience as much as they used to. It’s a good feeling!

  6. Nnno. You’re not really free yet. Because there’s Alicization arc out there. And six fucking volumies of it. I… I don’t know, I’ll send you something fluffy by the time they adapt this. Hang in there.

  7. Considering how bad this year had been overall and how good this season is, for this to be the one season I’m behind on everything is definitely unfortunate.

    • Yeah dude. And I know that “that just means you have a lot of great stuff to catch up on” isn’t any consolation, because that’s always true in some respect. But yeah, my top half dozen or so are probably all going to be on my end-of-year list.

  8. Ok..i like your list..An introduction, of sorts to Log and Bhanut..will be checlking them out..BUt HEY!?? You didnt even mention Akame ga Kill? Worthy animation. Heartbreaking lack of loyalty to main characters..but very exciting.. Enjoy!

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