It’s time at last. Time to run down all the highlights and lowlights, time to reflect on what was and what’s yet to come, time to talk about way too many god damn anime. As expected, this season’s new crop isn’t really able to measure up to the departing set – but when we’re losing Shirobako, Death Parade, Yurikuma, and Maria all at the same time, that’s probably to be expected. There are still new gems to enjoy, and new could-be heroes to watch with shining eyes as they rise only to incinerate in a cloud of their own wasted potential. The season’s beginning is always a fraught time, but don’t worry, I’ve got quick blurbs and links to all my friggin’ ANN reviews to guide you through it. Shows run from most loved to most reviled, with general categories of watchability marking each group as it arrives. And incidentally, the three I’ll be covering for ANN this season are going to be: SNAFU, Sound! Euphonium, and Nagato Yuki-chan. Alright, enough preamble, LET’S RUN DOWN SOME ANIME.
THE PREVIEW GUIDE HAS BEGUN. It’s still warming up at this point, so my sanity is more or less intact, but that will likely fade over the next couple days. I’m pretty sure there are eight new shows coming out today. EIGHT SHOWS. I’m trying to knock them down as fast as they appear, but I’m pretty sure momentum is on their side.
Here’s the preview guide, where I currently have reviews up for Is It Wrong to Try And Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? and Food Wars!, and SNAFU S2, with Seraph of the End soon to arrive. Quick ratings and individual links below!
And so 2013 comes to an end. This has been a big year for me in blogging, what with it being my first year in blogging, and so a lot of these shows hold a possibly unreasonable place in my heart. Nah, I don’t think that’s actually true. I think we’ve just had a great year, and that blogging really has done what I always wanted it to – force me to apply a more critical eye to my media, which, contrary to popular belief, has actually made me appreciate my favorites even more.
And there sure were plenty of favorites! As I said, this has been an excellent year in anime, with tons of genres, styles, and themes represented by stylish, confident productions. If this is your first time checking the blog, let me introduce myself by saying I’m a horribly biased shithead who wouldn’t know a good action show or comedy if it comically murdered me. I like people, and I like ideas, and my list reflects that (if you’re looking for Attack on Titan or Maou-sama, you can find my reviews of those here and here). I like to think I’m pretty good at telling good writing or direction from bad, but everyone has different things that appeal to them, and so you can consider the numbering here a mushy compromise between favorite and best, though the list overall encompasses both. I’m not gonna give you synopses here – if you’re interested, each title links to that show’s description, but that’s not what you’re not paying me for. These comments will cover why I loved these shows. I was aiming for a top ten, but when compiling the list, the shows that immediately bubbled to mind ended up numbering twelve, and instead of arbitrarily cutting two off I’ve decided to honor them all. Also, I’m only counting shows that ended in 2013 here, so no Kill la Kill or other half-finished two-parters. So here it is: my top twelve anime series of 2013!
It’s a common complaint about anime. Why are so many series obsessed with high school? Why do we only get young protagonists? Why aren’t there more stories I can still relate to, now that I’ve grown beyond that setting? And it’s an extremely valid one – anime does squander its infinite potential by adhering to such similar settings, and we really are deeply lacking in protagonists covering the range of mature human experience. The reasons for this trend (the age of the fandom, the high premium placed on nostalgia and escapism, the natural tendency to continue making what sells, the adherence to safe formulas, etc) are as understandable as they are disappointing. And the complaint doesn’t even take quality into account, which is another issue – many of these shows tread the same ground, they often deal in archetypal, empty characters, they often exist as pure escapism or viewer self-insert fantasies, their humor repeats, their drama repeats worse, they exist as commercial shells and have no greater human ambitions. Sometimes it can feel like we’re well and truly fucked when it comes to imbedding some creative spark and ambition in this sea of similar, empty productions.
To this jaded and completely reasonable perspective (one which you can probably tell I largely agree with), I would have to say: OreGairu.
Guys I don’t even know. Can I take this? Will tomorrow even be worth living through? I’ve suffered a lot in my life, but this, this…
OreGairu is ending, you guys. What am I gonna do.
I’m not gonna get all weepy now – I’ll save the histrionics for the review. I know the actual show is pretty much already over, and that this final episode is an anime-original. It’s almost like they knew I’d need one more nostalgic adventure with these characters. This episode also marks the original light novel writer’s first time collaborating on an anime (I think). This is a good thing, because I want him writing all of the shows from now on, and he has to start somewhere. Hopefully in a few years he will work at all the studios and write everything.
Doing my best to stay objective here. Oh god. Here come the tears. Fuck it, roll the episode.
0:37 – “If everything is worth experiencing, then there’s little doubt that the feeling of not experiencing something is, in itself, worth experiencing.” -Sniff- I’m gonna miss you, buddy
0:52 – “The worst part is how convincing he is despite not being consistent at all.” So damn cute together. And once more the show outright says that Hikki’s philosophy is nonsense, something most of the criticism aimed at this show seems to miss entirely. The feeling of not experiencing something may be worth experiencing, but the feeling of not experiencing OreGairu seems like a pretty big loss for those guys
6:45 – It’s funny seeing an actual legitimately energetic person make Yui as weirded out as the misanthropes
8:10 – Also funny seeing how into this project Yui is getting. This is basically a fanservice episode, but fanservice in this show is just the characters being themselves around each other
10:50 – I say that, and then we actually get Yui in a Saber costume
11:47 – And Hayama takes the gold. I’d be perfectly happy if the rest of the episode were just a Hayama being awesome montage
12:57 – And then there’s nice callouts like remembering Silver’s weakness is fashion, or finally pairing the two otaku together for an episode
13:55 – “The starting shell has been blown!” This episode is completely insane
17:50 – “If it’s for you, I can handle way more than this!” My god this episode. That rallying speech was hilarious too. I didn’t think such a derp episode could be so satisfying
19:27 – “Did you really think I’d leave you unmarked?” Of course Hayama’s also totally buying into it. I think this probably all works for me because after the trials of the series, it’s just really satisfying to see these characters have fun together for once
21:23 – “You were watching too?” “I-I just happened to see it.” Thirteen episodes in, and we have finally arrived at the tsundere starting line. Life is tough
Well, that was surprisingly fun. I figured it’d be pretty much a write-off bonus episode, and it kinda was, but they ran with that and had the characters actually cut loose and be comfortably silly together. Definitely nice to see the brighter life they’ve earned through the course of this series.
Hey guys. OreGairu time! But before that, let’s talk about… romance.
In many of my rants, I’ll talk about how characters lack chemistry, or how they have an unequal relationship, or whatnot. This is honestly a pretty big problem in anime – if we’re not being told-not-shown characters are in love, we’re often getting those unequal, moerotic-based relationships between a man and a mental child .
OreGairu says Fuck That. We’ve seen Hikki and Yuki grow to respect each other through actively helping and supporting each other. Their banter has always been strong, and reveals the many places their philosophies match or compliment each other, as well as their clear status as intellectual equals . And the reasons they respect and even admire each other are perfectly clear – Hikki’s bluntness, insight, and ultimate loyalty, Yuki’s ambition, confidence, and refusal to back down. Romance doesn’t exist in a vacuum – you can’t just create two characters and add romance by saying they love each other . OreGairu knows this, and really couldn’t be handling it better.
That said, last episode definitely went a little too well for Hikki and Yuki, and I have a sinking suspicion this episode’s going to break my heart.
…fine. Let it be done!
0:41 – OreGairu once again writes the book on actual sibling dialogue. His sister’s deadpan ‘wow, so cool’ is pretty perfect
2:51 – I’m not the authority on OPs, but I really do love this one. Great wistful tone, perfectly appropriate lyrics
3:50 – “I’ll have you know I rate Sis quite highly. I wanted to be like her after all,” Well jeez, isn’t Yuki acting self-confident and honest all of a sudden. It’s almost like the last couple episodes have directly focused on strengthening her trust in Hikki and developing their relationship in a completely organic way or something
3:55 – “You’re fine as you are.” YES HIKKI GO
Sorry. You know I’ve always been a sucker for this show, and it hasn’t even focused on the romance before now, and good romance is actually my great weakness, so not just giggling and clapping here is gonna be pretty tough
5:07 – “Could you perform one more song?” Hayama’s a goddamn superhero. It’s funny that this show is accused of pandering to people who relate to Hikki, because Hikki and Yuki are the ones being regularly portrayed as immature, and Hayama’s the most realistically flattering portrait of a put-together popular guy I’ve seen
5:38 – “I’ll go look for her!” “That’s a terrible idea, and it won’t help anyway.” Nice little jab at the classic “oh jeez, we need to find them – let’s run around and search randomly!” anime trope. I’d call out a specific example, but I think this writeup’s already had enough Sakurasou-bashing
5:55 – “But you didn’t say it was impossible” while actually smiling. I told you, you guys. These two…
6:24 – They’re wrapping up a lot of character conflicts here – Yuki asking her sister for help is a big step (and her kinda dickish sister lets her know it)
7:10 – Aw man, God Knows-ing it up. Goddamn do I hope Hikki gets to see it
7:47 – Speaking of resolving character conflicts… “Yui, can I rely on you for vocals?” Ba-dum-psh.
8:37 – I mean, she’s gotta be on the roof, right? They’re always on the roof
9:00 – “Roof of the special wing.” Some things never change…
10:09 – And now Hikki’s doing his best to live up to the trust Yuki’s put in him. They grow up so fast…
11:02 – Oh my god, that’s fucking brilliant. Hikki can’t be someone other than himself (kinda neatly foreshadowed with Yuki’s ‘that’s who I’ve always been’ and Hikki agreeing with her earlier), but Hayama is the perfect man for the job
11:22 – “Everyone’s waiting! Don’t worry – they all did their best for you!” God, could you imagine Hikki trying to handle this role?
13:03 – Man Hikki, you are so damn mad . Normally he doesn’t care this much – is he just furious at what she put Yuki through? Or is this him actually trying to be his most true self, to match up to Yuki’s example
13:50 – “Why is that the only way you know how to do things?” YES. FUCK. YES. DROP THE FUCKIN’ AXE, HAYAMA. ‘Yeah, you may see the worst instincts in people – but you don’t have to fucking work that way. It doesn’t make you special or insightful – it just makes you alone. Grow the fuck up, Hikki.’ Hayama for president.
17:37 – “There are people who’d get hurt by watching you get hurt. You’d be wise to realize that soon.” You’d be wise to realize a lot of stuff soon, Hikki. You need to hang out with Hayama more often
18:16 – “You pickin’ a fight?” Pretty close to the first thing he said to her, right?
19:07 – “Great minds think alike, huh?” Oh man, these two are so adorable it’s almost insufferable. So much love
20:02 – “Nah, feel free to lie. I lie all the time.” And that concludes our last narrative thread, right? Oh god.
22:00 – “Even this pointless chapter is one I’ll someday lose.” Oh man, getting super-overt about the intended audience for this show
Oh GOD DAMNIT. The last one is gonna be some bonus episode one-off or something, isn’t it? You know, considering this episode resolved every single conflict perfectly and whatnot.
So yeah. Fantastic episode. Hikki sticks to his guns on his personality but directly expresses his admiration for Yuki, Yuki gets ridiculously overt in her flirting, and Hayama lays down the fucking law. The drama is resolved handily, we get resolution to Yuki’s conflicts with Hikki, Yui, her sister, and even kinda herself, all the characters seem much more comfortable being themselves, and it ties it back around perfectly with a return to the initial dynamic, even making callouts to their very first conversation. The main relationship progresses in a way that remains true to the original characters while reflecting both their growing maturity and clear mutual affection. Hikki gets one more absolutely brutal analysis takedown. There are more honest smiles than in the rest of the series put together.
In other words…
Oh my god you guys this show is so good. So, so good. That was perfect. Holy shit. So happy. Love these characters, love this writing, love these ideas, love this bulletproof narrative structure. The source material is obviously fantastic, and this series composition guy clearly outdid himself as well. Goddamn. So satisfied. Nice job anime you did it A+.
Well here we are boys and girls. The best part of the week. Working on these writeups is honestly kinda regularly stressful, but OreGairu definitely makes me appreciate the way 23 minutes can stretch to an hour. There are many shows that I love, but OreGairu is pretty close to the one I would actually want to make.
Okay, I’d actually emphasize the romance more, and there’d probably be an FLCL-esque fantastical metaphor for some of the underlying personal themes, and I’d let more scenes rise to cathartic release and not cut them off with harsh, realistic anticlimax. But still!
Many weeks ago, someone mentioned how the festival we’re now in the thick of would probably mark the halfway point of the light novels. Narrative-wise, that feels about right – Hikki still has a long way to go, and the character turn Yuki’s about to hit isn’t going to “fix” everything, or possibly anything. But it will certainly change things.
Both their viewpoints have always been naïve and hypocritical, but they’ve always managed to distance the contradictory elements of their philosophies and personalities from each other. Right now, Yuki’s caught deep in the lie of her need to be better than her sister – she can’t accept that she’s just a very different person with very different strengths. If things had gone normally, she’d probably be willing to rely on Hikki to help her at this point – he’s the one person who understands her well enough for her to act shields-down around. But right now, he’s also the person most representative of her hypocrisy. And so, with no escape route that doesn’t require giving up her pride, she’s fled from the situation.
Hikki’s viewpoint is less complicated – he’s convinced he knows the rules and hates the game, so he refuses to play and tells himself it’s better that way. Last week proved he’s not so callous as all that – he deliberately made a fool of himself for the sake of Yuki’s pride. He tells himself he can’t forgive her, but I think he already has, and the only reason this charade is going on is because he’s too attached to his fraying viewpoint as well.
Honestly, it’s freaking poetry watching this house of cards crumble down. They could certainly take an easy route out here – since Yuki accepted Hikki’s rescue with relative grace, they could conceivably have Hikki continue to resolve this situation – but that’s pretty much the last thing I want to see. Yuki needs this more than Hikki does. Bring on the blood.
1:19 – Jeez Hikki, calling Yui? You are terrible at not caring about this situation
5:41 – Aw man, they’re being such good friends here. No defensiveness at all – “I won’t tell you some idealistic nonsense, but this can’t be the right way to handle this.” “What is the right way, then?” “I don’t know”
6:10 – Yesssss. “Not ‘someone,’ or ‘everyone,’ rely on us.” Yui ain’t playing games with their philosophical bullshit – this is about whether they can trust each other
6:11 – And of course Yuki can’t possibly respond to that
7:16 – Hikki’s signature move – leaving the room when the other two express an honest moment, uncomfortable and assuming he’s not meant to be a part of it, the way it’s always been
7:38 – “They say if you change yourself you can change the world, but that’s a complete lie.” God, he’s such a fuckin’ prick. He’s being offered the open door here, but he’s still determined to stick to his pride. That’s understandable, of course – he articulated his fear of getting betrayed during the Yui fight. Still sucks to see it, though
9:20 – “If you look at it closely, one side is just relaxing.” Goddamn, Hikki. I doubt Yuki wants this – this is all yourrage here
10:40 – Nope, she’s cool with it! I don’t think initial Yuki would have taken kindly to being supported this way – she may not be willing to rely on them, but she certainly won’t reject their support
11:09 – And it really did help – Hikki’s attack put Sagami incredibly off-balance, allowing Yuki to regain control of the meeting and the committee. Damn, Hikki!
11:34 – “You make excuses for the dumbest things, but you won’t do it when you actually need to, will you?” Looks like he’s more of your ideal person, then you thought, eh Yuki? NOW KISS
12:29 – Oh my god they’re adorable. Okay, so Yuki wasn’t actually forced to clear up the initial problem, and Hikki did in fact make a tremendous peace offering. So the conflict didn’t force the Yuki breakthrough I was hoping for, but either way they’re back to bantering again
15:53 – Man, how is Sagami gonna fuck everything up? They’ve spent an entire episode having her make vindictive pouty faces
16:52 – “Vice-Chairman… we can all hear you flirting with Hikki.”
17:42 – This might be the first time I’ve actually laughed at Trap, purely because Hayama hamming it up is just amazing. Hayama is so great
19:16 – They share a look yet again. This is actually worrying – this episode is pressing Hikki and Yuki’s relationship so positively and aggressively that it’s pretty much guaranteed something is going to go horribly wrong
19:41 – “So I haven’t heard anything about what you want to know.” Seriously. She’s not an idiot, Hikki
D’awww. All three of these characters are so adorable when they’re actually getting along. The resolution to Yuki getting cornered ended up requiring fewer concessions than I’d expected, but of course, this show is always more about subtle changes in perspective than groundbreaking paradigm shifts. And this episode certainly changed some perspectives – Yuki in particular was much more honest than before, and her confidence is beginning to come across as less brittle and more natural. There’s no edge in her humor any more – she and Hikki are perfectly comfortable with each other (so comfortable they were making everyone else uncomfortable, which was a nice gag), and Hikki’s “inability to forgive her” certainly has a strange way of expressing itself, what with his casting himself as the villain specifically to rescue her. Granted, that’s something that’s always come naturally to him, but as opposed to his work with the club, this time there was no possible pretense involved – he was just working hard to help a close friend.
And yeah, “close friend.” This episode had Yuki regularly smiling, openly admitting her friendship with Hikki through that “see you tomorrow,” and pretty much overtly flirting with him. Meanwhile, Hikki makes an incredibly obvious pass at seeing how she feels about him, and gets encouraged to admit his feelings for himself. With two episodes to go, a traditional ending would dictate a final act of desperation from Sagami that throws everything in jeopardy, a temporary break in Yuki and Hikki’s current trust, and an ultimate reconciliation that wraps up all the loose ends. But this isn’t a traditional show, and it’s an adaptation of an ongoing series anyway. I’d personally be perfectly happy with Live Alive Redux followed by a full episode of smooches, but something tells me it’s not gonna be quite that simple.
Welp, time to not watch more OreGairu for seven days…
Last week set up the ideal conflict for our There’s-no-way-I’d-fall-in-lovebirds. Concealing her previous run-in (lul) with Hikki pretty much puts the lie to Yuki’s entire philosophy – if she’s not above lying about that, her bluntly honest persona and declarations of moral superiority are dust. The acknowledgment of both how artificial her standards are and her own inability to match them would be quite the blow to her – ostracized by her own lack of social grace and living in the shadow of her sister, she doesn’t have a whole lot else to lean on.
Meanwhile, Hikki’s doing his best to revert back to his callous and well-defended initial self, but his own respect and feelings for Yuki are definitely going to make that difficult. In spite of his own “better” judgment, he values their time together – but forgiving her and accepting her lie would mean breaking with his own angry and self-satisfied view of human interactions, and the power balance between them has always relied on each of them maintaining their own brittle confidence anyway. Forgiving and forgetting would involve a lot of honesty and trust that I don’t think either of them are really ready for.
Fortunately, we have Yui there to break the ice and trample headlong through their silly little psychological games.
This one’s gonna be good.
0:40 – Just sitting in silence at opposite ends of the table. Yeah, seriously, you two are super mature
4:28 – Hikki’s certainly much more negative than he was at the start – he’s taking things much more personally. I also like Yui’s jerk friend still sticking up for her
5:30 – “You’re Haru’s sister, right? Her festival was amazing” Man, this episode is laying on the wound-salt like crazy
6:56 – God, their interactions are just painful to watch. If neither of them actually cared that much, there wouldn’t be any problem – but they’re both so proud, and they really do value each other’s respect, and the power structure of their banter is just way too fragile. FIX THIS OREGAIRU
7:32 – “I’ve decided to suspend the club.” Nooo! NOOOO! This is how it happens! Not with a big cathartic fight – you just let that waiting argument simmer, but you never address it, so you avoid interaction altogether and the relationship just fades away
8:19 – “Working together is a part of growing as well.” Yuki sits, staring downward, hand on her chin. She keeps her thoughts to herself
10:15 – Man, it is just painful to see Yuki’s confidence this damaged. From her perspective, taking this job is great, though – she can avoid coming clean with Hikki by avoiding the situation entirely and recovering her ego elsewhere – by directly competing with her sister’s legacy
14:21 – OH GOD HIT THE BREAKS WHAT IS HARU DOING HERE
14:30 – “She put on a concert. It was amazing!” ”I. Know.”
15:57 – What’s Haru’s game here? Is she really just that cruel?
16:29 – Or is she trying to make it impossible for Yuki to run from the situation?
17:20 – Nope, pretty cruel!
18:40 – “You should rely on others before it gets to that point.” They’re really emphasizing that theme this episode, which makes sense for this conflict, and hopefully is the reason Haru chose to isolate Yuki – she wants to force her to approach people from a position of mutual support and some degree of trust, not just leadership/superiority. And of course that kind of admitting your own fallibility would certainly resolve this Hikki situation quickly, too
It’s certainly not out of character for Hikki to remain on the sideline through all this, but it’s still kind of sad to watch. Not that Yuki would be interested in anything she could construe as pity from him right now
20:33 – Aw man, and just as I say that, he decides he can’t take it any more
Well, that was painful. They’re setting the tension as high as possible for this last act, and even introduced a character basically just to make life horrible for Yuki. The show itself is being pretty damn merciless here – she was already trapped in a lie regarding her philosophy, and now the festival is making her defend that philosophy in the face of basically everyone around her, with no support from Yui or Hikki. Well, until the end there, when Hikki’s empathy and obviously still-present respect for Yuki made him finally speak out and take the fall for what she really wanted to say. I think this is the longest the show has ever ridden some particular emotional status quo, but it’s not wasting time – it’s building tension towards some (likely horrible) breaking point. I’ve kept saying I want more Yuki development, and we’re certainly getting that – vicious, paradigm-breaking, Shinji Ikari-style Yuki development.
Fortunately, that happens to be my favorite kind.