Spring 2015 – First Half in Review

Time again at last. Episodes have passed, cartoons have risen and fallen, and the moment has arrived for us to once again slot stories into a reductive hierarchy that cheapens the very idea of media consumption. Does ranking shows inherently contribute to a system that commodifies art and undercuts the complexity of emotional engagement? Are we essentially belittling ourselves by implying that our relationship with the stories we choose to consume can be summed up through a simple “eh, at least it’s better than this other one?” Will any of the people whose attitudes I’m critiquing in this opening paragraph possibly not skip to the numbers themselves, rendering this sarcastic thought experiment totally pointless?

Maybe so. But goddamnit, we’re gonna do it anyway.

#1: Oregairu S2

It’d be hard to topple this one, and it’s a credit to this season that there are actually shows that give Oregairu a run for its money. But this second season has just been way too good. The light novel jokes have been cut, the focus has been tightened, and everything good about the original season has been amplified and interrogated. We’re almost getting the opposite of the classic light novel stasis here – with all the characters firmly established, season two has been stress-testing the relationships of all our principals. Hayama has stepped up from being a sideline counterpoint to Hachiman to more of a direct foil. Hikki himself is being forced to more directly and consistently grapple with the contradictions of his philosophy. And the production is elevating all the small character moments, giving the most thoughtful of high school dramas the execution it deserves. There’s just so much to unpack in every exchange here, and yet the dynamics still feel natural and emotionally resonant. Oregairu’s sequel is doing every damn thing right.


#2: Blood Blockade Battlefront

It’s basically just personal story-priority preference that sets Oregairu at the top for me, because I don’t really have any complaints about Blood Blockade Battlefront. It’s taking some the best aesthetic and storytelling cues from madcap style-fests like Baccano and Cowboy Bebop and refracting that through both an anime-superhero and Rie Matsumoto filter. Each episode is a self-contained adventure filled with flashy visual ideas and narrative gimmicks, but the consistently beautiful presentation almost conceals how well this show manages its fundamentals. There are lots of ostentatious shots, but the character work is anything but – a great deal of the scenes that really tie you into this world work simply because the dialogue is both efficient and natural, and the often distant shot framing keeps the viewer from being overloaded until an episode hits its big punches. BBB is polished enough to look effortless, and that is not an easy trick to pull off.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

#3: Sound! Euphonium

Rounding out this season’s largely bulletproof top tier, we have Kyoto Animation’s best show in years. Euphonium is a triumph of atmosphere, with each scene evoking an intimate and lived-in adolescent experience before ambling forward at the pace of Kumiko’s daily life. Only a couple of the characters have been deeply sketched so far, but that pretty much works for the angle this show is taking, and the tradeoff there results in a legitimate ensemble feel. And the show’s just marvelously composed – the visual storytelling here is certainly beautiful, but it’s also wickedly purposeful, with basically every cut and camera position conveying clear emotional information. Sound! Euphonium is a small, simple story told with profound clarity and grace.

Sound! Euphonium

#4: Ore Monogatari!!

Ore Monogatari!! is basically just comfy as all fuck. It’s not a perfect show (it’s repetitive and episodic in a way that doesn’t really help it, it can’t help indulging in some of the drawn-out drama baiting that’s so common in its genre, it’s not the most impressive to look at), but it sure is a pleasant one. Its three leads are deeply endearing people, it’s been consistently able to trip up key assumptions of shoujo romance, and it’s just so very nice to see a couple actually enjoying each other’s company for once. Keep doing what you’re doing, Ore Monogatari!!

Ore Monogatari!!

#5: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

The JoJos took a rocky road to Egypt, but their time in the capital has been a blast. Highlights like D’Arby and Pet Shop have managed to recapture most of what originally made JoJo so enjoyable, and there’s been a real sense of momentum as the JoJos finally begin to hone in on Dio’s lair. JoJo’s just a fun time, and though the visual tricks still aren’t as engaging as they were back in the first season, its execution has been very confident regardless.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

#6: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

Holy crap was this Caster arc a hot mess. Her kidnapping of Saber basically brought the whole show to a standstill, and her story never managed to rise above being a slight inconvenience on the road to greater battles. The dialogue felt like it actually got worse this season, and with so few engaging fights to break up the monologues, this second half has been a bit of a trial so far. The emotional peaks the show has been reaching for with characters like Ilya and Caster were just never earned, and the high drama affectation has been betrayed both by the bad dialogue and the ultimately underwhelming plotting. I really wish UBW had turned out to be a show worthy of the gravity of its first couple episodes, but it’s been tumbling in nonsense for half a season now.

The silver lining here is that the show is still very pretty and also that Caster’s finally out of the picture. Hopefully the second half will let it go out with a bang.

Unlimited Blade Works

#7: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

To the surprise of likely no-one, Nagato Yuki-chan has turned out to be a bunch of fluffy, cliche nonsense. I can’t really complain, since I’m also getting to write up two of this season’s three Great shows, but yeah, this is just a silly face repository filled with endless stale anime gags. Sorry, Nagato.

Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

15 thoughts on “Spring 2015 – First Half in Review

  1. Yeah, I actually decided to drop UBW after this weeks episode. First they set up the next fight by having Rin get kidnapped. And then Shinji showed up and was very gross, so I got a little angry. I then stepped back and decided to watch Steven Universe. And that show made me so happy and feel so many feelings that it made me wonder why I bothered watching something that clearly had no idea what it was doing. So yeah… It wasn’t until I watched SU that I actually decided, “You know what? I’m done with you UBW. You’re very pretty to look at, but I don’t need to always go into each episode with the same feelings SAO gave me.” This brings the total number of shows I’m watching this season to… one… and it’s Sound! so I’m pretty happy with that.

    • Maybe I should do the same. I was thinking, I have a huge backlog with Game of Thrones, that when I used to watch I remember as a pretty tense show that would keep me on the edge. Then I found me yawning through the latest UBW episode as – are they done talking yet? I mean, F/Z was prone to this too but overall it made more sense. This is literally Shirou saying “I’ll save everyone”, then Archer saying “no you can’t” over and over again. Plus it’s not clear what Shinji’s point is. Or why didn’t anyone kill him yet. For a war to the death between mages and their powerful magical slaves, they surely pass on a lot of chances to off each other quickly and efficiently.

  2. Will any of the people whose attitudes I’m critiquing in this opening paragraph possibly not skip to the numbers themselves, rendering this sarcastic thought experiment totally pointless?

    What’s the sarcastic thought experiment, the opening paragraph? Because the listing itself isn’t? If it is, then it’s as “Sarcastic” as having “Fan-service, but sarcastically, Jiggle-jiggle

    Speaking of sarcasm, at least JoJo is better than Fate/Stay Night 😉

    More seriously, and much more sarcastically, it’s interesting to note what Snob’s school of critique would’ve said about your ranking, that the bottom 3 spots in the post are comprised of “cash-grabs”, of “just giving the fans what they want.” Then again, he’d also list Batman OreGairu S2 and KyoAni trying to re-do K-On! with Hibike! Euphonium (see, they even got the exclamation mark!) into that as well.

    You just can’t escape those money-grabs anymore. Sad stuff.

    Ok, finally a serious comment. The removal of Caster filled me with the same hope as you, but then Saber picked up those overblown lineitis as well. I do hope that they killed all of the non-characters while trying to elicit moments of sadness from us. If they kill Rin/Shirou right now, it should work, right? Though how the first half of the 2nd arc focused on things that didn’t stick might yet bite this show in the ass, as even the things that should feel impactful might not. I do hope we’ll get some pretty fights, at least…

      • That was a reference to:

        Are we essentially belittling ourselves by implying that our relationship with the stories we choose to consume can be summed up through a simple “eh, at least it’s better than this other one?”

      • I don’t think that was ever a matter for discussion. Fate S/N’s biggest sin is taking itself too seriously, and that’s something Jojo has never even come close to do.

  3. Perhaps i really should give BBB another try. I tried the first episode, but the story and characters really didn’t grab me, and i’m not a big enough fan of visuals and directing in general for that to be able to carry a show for me.

  4. In another season any one of those top three could have been the top by a fair margin. But i agree with the order of your top 2. Oregairu is doing what has rarely been done in anime. And only by great anime. It is trusting and challenging its audience. Trusting them to decipher the characters, and unspool their motives. And it has accentuated the cues, focused on the visual storytelling as much as the narrative arcs, to hint at their turmoil. Basically good writing coupled with good direction. This will be a tough season to follow.

  5. Urgh… really wanted to watch BBB and Euphonium for a while, but exam comes first. Then there’s how my re-encoder just seems to hate slice-of-life animes with how slow they are with OregaIru and Ore Monogatari (OregaIru in particular has been stuck in the third episode). But I think I more or less agree with this, though I’d put Nagato higher than UBW because UBW’s been feeling kind of… pretentious as of late, as well as putting DxD’s third season somewhere in there (note: I’m watching for that one for the plot and for laughs. Well, it’s basically my completionism at work, though I do am interested on how it’s trying to re-arrange a whole lots of books into one season and still made it felt natural).

    On the thought experiment, I think Yahtzee Crosshaw from Zero Punctuation had talked about something on a similar line, about how making a number-based review is stupid. He pretty much says that the best way to review is to gather data, give many spectrum and dimension to it (like “How much sadness it gave to you” or “How much you wanted to puke while looking at it”), give some reasoning and background for those reasoning. It’s meant to be applied to games actually, with the minimum player of each game being 5 people, to get an accurate judgement of the game, but basically, he’s saying that a numerical-based reviews aren’t very informative of a show unless there are many people to compare it with. Which is why I like your essay-formatted reviews, as it gives some insight on what sort of show it is, what’s the mindset you’d want when you watch it, and what it says. Summarizing them into numbers… makes a lot of things lost in the process.

  6. Presuming that you’re going into the end of Crusaders blind and without much knowledge of what happens in the manga, then you are going to be pretty amazed by what’s to come.

  7. I haven’t enjoyed a Kyo Ani show in years, but with all the positive press Euphonium is getting, I might give it a go.

    No disagreements about the top 2. BBB is the revelation of the season for me. What a great watch it has been so far.

  8. Where the fuck is Yamada-kun no 7nin no majo?? and Ansatsu? Seriously.

    Other than that, I agree with this list.

  9. Man I am SO excited to catch up with Oregairu. I just started the first season last week, so I’m only a few episodes in. (I’m juggling it with about 15 other older anime.)

    Kuroko’s Basketball has been the best anime on air for me this season, though I think Oregairu will probably transcend that from what I’m reading, and based on my initial impressions of it.

    Arslan and Plastic Memories have both been hit-more-than-miss shows that I have thought worthy of following. This is definitely a good season for me. 😀

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