Summer 2015 – First Half in Review

The summer halfway point has arrived! As per long-hallowed tradition, the season halfway point is always celebrated with my first and only show ranking of the season, emphasizing the fundamental ridiculousness of lists through the double-stacked ridiculousness of listing shows that are only halfway over. This is perhaps (definitely) a meaningless exercise, but hey, it gives me a reasonably coherent topic to cover when shows are generally just sort of durdling around and gearing up for their final push. This season’s a bit unusual ranking-wise, in that as far as “actual real serious-business shows go,” it’s basically just Gatchaman Crowds insight versus an empty field. Classroom Crisis has its moments but is far too inconsistent to consider great, and everything else I’m watching falls somewhere into “enjoyable popcorn garbage.” Can you… rank… garbage?

Yeah, of course you can fucking rank garbage. I may be watching Prison School, but I’m certainly not watching Sky Wizards Academy, and there are damn good reasons for that. So let’s take a fine-tooth comb to this season’s pee jokes and snake-fucking and RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN.

#1: Gatchaman Crowds insight

But of course, before all that, there’s insight. God Damn insight. This season of Gatchaman is taking the idealistic, forward-thinking optimism of Crowds’ finale and slamming it into the pavement. Rui squaring belief in humanity’s potential with the power of CROWDS required putting faith in the hope that people can handle CROWDS – but Rui is very likely wrong. Or at least, that’s what this season is arguing, from perspectives as disparate as Rizumu, Tsubasa, Jou, and Gelsadra. If the first season ended on a note of “horizontal power and gamification present the possibility for humanity to grow beyond its worst instincts,” insight’s addition to that statement is “but c’mon, this is the human race we’re talking about.” And so the horizontal power Rui touted is now being used to demolish the idea of expertise in government, and the gamification that once channeled energy into positive works is now being represented through Millio’s ratings-obsessed game show. Gatchaman Crowds insight is expanding in scope, making use of its entire cast, and challenging everything that the first season wanted to believe. Nothing else this season comes close to touching it.

Gatchaman Crowds insight

#2: Prison School

Prison School is not the kind of show I generally put at #2 in a season, but a combination of a really weak season and a really strong crop of garbage means that, well, here we are. Of course, that explanation kind of sells Prison School short, because even if it’s totally trash, it is lovingly crafted, triumphantly energetic trash. It may be all about pee jokes and prison breakouts and boobs, but goddamnit, it is going to execute on those variables to the utter limit of its considerable ability. Prison School elevates its base raunch (which is basically never actually sexy – in fact, I’d generally describe Prison School’s fanservice as “queasy and repulsive”) through wonderfully stylized art, dynamic direction, and thunderous pacing. It initially rode entirely on its gross-out appeal and visual style (heavy on monochrome cuts making great use of negative space, full of disturbingly detailed faces and bizarre angles), but the “plot” has actually pulled together to the point where each new episode is powered by a steady diet of twists and cliffhangers. Prison School is a very good bad time.

Prison School

#3: Monster Musume

Clocking in at number three, we have the equally bizarre but tonally opposite harem ridiculousness-fest, Monster Musume. Monmusu and Prison School definitely share a few key features – they both ride on fast pacing, great expressions, and unexpectedly far-out twists on genre gags, and they both have fanservice that comes off as more ridiculous than slimey (Suu aside) due to its fundamental nature. But where Prison School is a story about untrustworthy assholes being terrible to each other, Monmusu’s cast is just having a great time all around. The straightforward positivity this show expresses both in its tone and characters really makes it much more enjoyable to watch – everyone’s having a good time, the main harem contenders (a snake and a horse?) have made no secret of actually wanting ever-suffering MC dude, and the gags are never slowed down through misguided attempts at making the audience care about this story in any way beyond “I like watching these people half-kill each other.” What I want from Monmusu is a continuous supply of absurd gags based around the idea of a harem that is also a zoo, and so far Monmusu has been happy to provide.

Monster Musume

#4: Classroom Crisis

I feel kinda sorry for Classroom Crisis, getting stuck down here below the two ridiculous raunch comedies. This one definitely wants to be a traditionally “good” show, at least some of the time. But if Prison School and Monster Musume are both “good bad shows,” then Classroom Crisis is a textbook “bad good show.” There are compelling ideas and occasionally engaging characters, but the execution is lukewarm and marred by clashing, poorly implemented anime tropes. Not only is it bloated with bad anime comedy and a contrived premise, it’s also not as sharp as it could be either in contrasting Nagisa and Kaito’s attitudes or elevating its characters beyond their types. But the clash of attitudes here still is compelling, and the characters still are pretty good, so I have hope it’ll come together in the end. Classroom Crisis could rise in its second half, but right now it’s just not either smart or enjoyable enough to compete with this season’s more consistent (if ridiculous) shows.

Classroom Crisis

#5: Overlord

And holding up the rear, we’ve got Overlord, the Littlest MMO Light Novel. Overlord is hovering on the borderline, surviving because I’ve got nothing else to watch this season, but it can’t really compete against its older siblings. It lacks the nuanced worldbuilding and likable characters of Log Horizon, the interesting philosophy and aesthetics of .hack, and the production quality or unintentional comedy appeal of Sword Art Online. It has merits, but they’re small ones. I was planning on turning this paragraph around with some nice words in its favor, but I’ve already grown tired of talking about it.

…in fact, I wrote that paragraph before watching this week’s episode, and yeah, it’s dropped. Here, enjoy some crappy CG goblins.


And so! That covers all the airing shows I’m watching, which is an admittedly motley crew, so what else did I get to this week?

Well, the second half of Saekano, I guess, but nothing that happened there really changed my first impressions. It still had some wit and occasionally Genshiken-esque moments, but these moments were still buried in treacly self-awareness, tired tropes, and fanservice that undercut everything the show was trying to do emotionally. The show overall was just monumentally frustrating to watch, and it almost felt like it must have been frustrating to write, too. There were a couple moments when it felt like the characters were literally rallying against their own show – Aki briefly demanding “something real” when talking to Utaha, Eriri skewering Aki for “never giving him one straight answer.” These complaints rang true to how these characters act – they live in make-believe references and emotional pillowcases, refusing to engage with each other like actual human beings. But the show was too in love with all the things holding these characters back to actually approach them honestly. And it’s not like this is an impossible needle to thread – Genshiken does this all the time, depicting both the fragility and earnest nature of fandom with empathy and insight. But Saekano pulls its punches, and the result is a mess.


Well, that’s all the anime I’ve been watching, but that’s still kind of a paltry and depressing list. So let’s go ahead and throw in Rick and Morty, which I marathoned the first eight episodes of to catch up for season two. I’d seen a bunch of these episodes before, but it was nice to revisit them, and Dan Harmon just has a really great, rapid-fire comedic voice. I talked about my experiences so far on yesterday, where I described it as a “successfully mean show,” but rewatching Rixty Minutes (just an incredible episode of television in general) kinda reminded me that this show does actually have some humanity in it – it’s just well-hidden. Which is good, because no matter how clever a show is (and Rick and Morty is very clever, piling references upon original ideas upon character quirks upon offhand wit to offer a constant barrage of immediate jokes and conceptual humor), I’ll generally tire of it if I find it emotionally hollow eventually.

But even though Rick and Morty lacks Community’s heart-on-sleeve attitude, it still treats its characters as people. Rick’s awful and selfish and petty, but he’s clearly lonely as well. Morty is the stooge, and his parents think he has “some kind of disorder or something,” but why would he be doing well in school? He goes home to parents who are staying together out of obligation, and his only friend is a relative who constantly abuses his trust. His sense of self has been shaped by a broken home and scifi insanity, and so when he needs to comfort his sister, his words of encouragement are “nobody exists on purpose, no one belongs anywhere, we’re all going to die, come watch TV.” And that’s a really touching, heartfelt moment for them!

So yeah, Rick and Morty is very funny, but it’s also fortunately retained the “I love these broken people” appeal of Community. I’m looking forward to the second season.

Rick and Morty

22 thoughts on “Summer 2015 – First Half in Review

  1. Indeed, Saekano constantly self-commentating on its failings is what really made me drop it – being aware of all of your failings, saying so, and still going about them came off not just as smug, but it was so tired, and tiring. It pulled shit, and then told us, “You should be angry with us for pulling this shit off,” but not “us” the characters, but “us the show writers,” and if we’re angry/frustrated with you (and I was), then I’m not inclined to keep on watching >.>

    Self-referential nature should be used for something, being its own goal can be fine sometimes, but being mockingly self-referential but then pulling the same thing along? Why, that’s Fate/Kaleid territory– you don’t really want to mock the thing, you just want to give us more of it, and it was never good to begin with.

    • Also, speaking of Prison School’s “queasy and repulsive fanservice,” I saw the uncensored BD content on reddit, and it was not at all alluring. Not one bit of it :<

    • Yeah, it’s really one of the most aggravating things for me to see in a show. And Saekano actually compounded that with occasional glimpses of a potentially better show, making me feel like this was a writer intentionally writing drastically down to his audience. Frustrating stuff.

  2. I actually quite thankful for the lack of good shows this season, since I’m busy as hell this year. Still, it’s depressing that Gate, one of the better written and animated shows of the entire first half of 2015, is so full of right wing extreme nationalism. Unlike Mahouka, which is bad on every level, Gate is extremely well written for an anime. Too bad the author use his writing skill for propaganda so creepy that the Soviet gov would shake their head in disbelief.

    • I’m not so sure that the JSDF and the Japanese gov’t are going to be glorified in the end. There are some dark tones swirling around in the background there.

      • From what I understand the original web novels were extremely blatant in their nationalist stance, and it just got mitigated in successive adaptation, probably to make it a bit more palatable to the wider public. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the intent is straightforward, from the fame that surrounds the franchise in general.

        • Well, hopefully they do something better with this adaptation. I’ve gotten the impression so far that the Japanese government is only interested in exploiting the resources on the other side of the gate and that at some point Itami will have to make some hard choices. If it turns out to just be a JSDF recruiting show, I will be very disappointed.

          • But deviations from the source material are usually rather frown upon, and the main objective is selling BRs, so… it feels unlikely, imho.

          • I’m hoping that, on some level, GATE turns out to be a trope-filled anime version of GENERATION KILL, HBO’s excellent miniseries about the First Recon Marines who were first over the border in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

            While the show wasn’t anti-military, it wasn’t pro either; it got you to root for and understand individual soldiers (some more than others), while despairing at the infrastructure and politics that put them there.

            I don’t know enough about the Japanese public’s relationship and reaction to the JSDF generally to know if GATE will go down a similar path, but I hope they do. There’s been little politicking so far, but a couple of “back on earth” scenes make me think the anime’s heart is in a similar place.

  3. I haven’t gotten around to the second season of Saekano, but I enjoy how it gets people fired up. I think they are actively trying to annoy a certain type of anime fan.

    Curious as to why you aren’t giving Gate a try. The lead and his crew give me a similar vibe to Patlabor and Captain Goto. It’s the only thing that I am finding time to watch this season.

  4. I don’t know why I’m still kinda enjoying Overlord. By all accounts, it’s an underwhelming show with little meaningful characterization and mediocre worldbuilding (especially if compared to Log Horizon). I think it’s mostly because I’m curious seeing how the titular Overlord walk the line between a good guy and a bad guy. Or maybe it’s just my kind of power fantasy popcorn entertainment (overpowered MC like in No Game No Life or Mahouka annoys me to death, but the MC in this one gets away with it because how uncomfortable he is with his power).

    • I think the thing is it’s got a really interesting concept. Sure, it’s not executing it in an especially meaningful way, but it hasn’t made any major blunders either. It just coasts along and if you don’t have anything better to watch it just keeps bringing you back. Which is funnily something that differs a lot from the season’s best show, Gangsta, that I enjoy when I watch but I don’t really look forward to. Gangsta is definitely very good, but is hardly FUN – in fact, it tends to be a gut punch more often than not.

  5. I’m personally loving Classroom☆Crisis a whole lot. It is a shame it’s never as sharp as it could be, and yeah, the anime humour (mostly relating to Angelina) is often more annoying than funny. But I really do love the show it’s trying to be, and Mizuki may be my favourite character this season, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.

    If you are finding yourself wanting for airing shows to watch, I’d recommend giving Akagami no Shirayuuki-hime another shot. I was very mild on the first episode (the leads being vanilla and vanillette), lukewarm on the second, and totally fell for it by the third. I’m not quite sure whether the cast actively became more interesting, or if I just needed time to grow to like them, but become more interesting they have and it’s one of my top shows of the season now. I don’t know if it’d work the same for you, but I’d say it’s worth a go. It also has very pretty backgrounds

    • Classroom Crisis is for me the most endearing show this season (at least to me).
      It may not be as good as it could be, but watching those characters every week is still a real pleasure that I didn’t felt from quite some time.
      Actually, even if they couldn’t be more different, my experience with it is similar to the one I had with Haikyu!! with a few of Silver Spoon thrown in.

      Also, a fun fact : Angelina’s VA (Yuu Kobayashi) is playing the near exact same role in Gintama (Sarutobi Ayame).
      Talk about typecast (Anglina is still far morr bearable.)

  6. I watch Classroom Crisis on crunchyroll with French subs to improve my French.
    Unfortunately, my Japanese isn’t that great either.

  7. Posting my ranking list for the heck of it:

    Gatchaman Crowds insight
    Not much to say. It’s the Gatchaman Crowds you showed me and that I came to love. Phenomenal episode every time this season. One of the only three anime-originals I’m watching.
    Food Wars
    J.C. Staff’s not my favorite studio animation-wise, but I like food. The ecchi is a bit misplaced, but I’ve come to really like and sympathize with the characters. I guess that’s the whole sports-anime appeal.
    Prison School
    And here we have J.C. Staff making an absolutely beautiful show. Probably the best art I’ve seen from them, and it’s a show that nails what it does.
    Yu-Gi-Oh Arc V
    I’ve been watching this show for a while now, and I suppose like Food Wars I’m getting a sport-show thrill out of it. The second year is shaping up to be better than the first, in its consistency and characterizations. If you’re not a fan of the card game, stay away, but it’s a good addition to the franchise.
    Yes I’m actually watching this. Typical high school rom-com beats plus ecchi aesthetic and implied political message. For a bit, I was enjoying it as a straight-up comedy, but it’s starting to devolve. Badly.
    Now we’re getting into the mystery stuff. I’ve kind of lost engagement, but now I want to get back into it.
    Dragon Ball Super
    Stuff might actually happen now!
    Feels so unfocused, but maybe it’s just me. Like with Rokka, I’m gonna pay more attention next time to see if it’s worth my while.
    I don’t want to put the show down, actually. It does what it does, and I think I’m seeing this through.

  8. No Gangsta in the List, that is pretty saddening. Easily the best show this season. After Rick and Morty 🙂

    Thumbs up for R&M. Oh and Bojack Horseman.

  9. Sounds like Gatchaman continues to be a show that is intelligent with many interesting ideas, and simultaneously presents itself in a way that I find absolutely unbearable to watch.

  10. You know while i have also found this season not to amazing Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace has actually been very enjoyable it manages to be completely fucked up and totally hilarious at the same time
    School live is interesting just make sure you watch the entire first episode because it ends in quite the suprise

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