Top Picks for the Summer 2012 Anime Season – Part 2 of 3: The Middle 8 Series

Let’s get some fan service out of the way first

If part 1 felt like winter, part 2 is going to feel like a spring where it comes in like a freak St. Patrick’s Day snow storm and leaves like a late May heat wave the wilts all the seedlings and recent plant transplants. (Local weather metaphors will vary.)

16 – Kokoro Connect

Provisional series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 7/12  B
Winner of the Biggest Opportunity Missed Award

There was a lot of stiff competition for a dubious award like Biggest Opportunity Missed this season but Kokoro Connect clawed it’s way to the bottom to win it. Let’s count all the ways it lost it’s chance to become a great series. There’s the story to Kokoro Connect, it kept promising it would delve into interesting, meaty questions like how much of a person’s personality and identity is tied to their physical body and then it would always pull up well short of delivering on these promises and just fluff the story along. Then there was the animation studio, Silverlink, which is made up of former Shaft employees. So far this animation studio has been a slavish imitator of the Shaftian style and Kokoro Connect could have been just the series to show that they’re ready for the big leagues but Kokoro Connect needed to be good for that happen. Then there’s the whole issue of how one of the executives on the Kokoro Connect production committee used this anime as a way to bully and humiliate a voice actor because the executive was jealous that his girlfriend was friends with the voice actor and pretty much financially sank Kokoro Connect once fans found out about this and canceled their DVD/BD orders. Good job everyone.

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15 – Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse

Seasonal rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 7/12  B
Runner-up Best Villain: The Soviet Communists
Runner-up Best OP

All the flaws of this anime series were on display pretty much from the beginning and there wasn’t a whole lot of positives to counterbalance those flaws. If it wasn’t for a really catchy opening song I almost assuredly would have dropped it early on. As the season went on, however, I found myself actually looking forward to the next episode of Muv Luv. The flaws were still there but the main character stopped being a pompous buffoon, the alien invasion storyline became more interesting, and the Soviet Communists were introduced as a secondary villain. I’m probably showing my age when I mention how seeing the Soviet Communists acting all Cold War-like was weirdly nostalgic but it was. If the second half of Muv Luv can continue the pace the recent episodes have settled into, this series will be ranked a lot higher in the fall season rankings.

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14 – Phi Brain S.2

Series rating for episodes 1 to 25 – 7/12  B

I’m vaguely embarrassed to own up to the fact that I’ve watched over 50 episodes of an anime that features, as a central tenet to the story, puzzle solving as the means to unlock god-like powers but it is what it is; I try to give each show a fair shake and the first season surprised me. The second season left me slightly disappointed because the plot re-treaded the first season a little too much and the storytelling wasn’t quite as focused as the first season. On the plus side several new interesting characters were introduced and the existing characters were fleshed out further, which made them more loveable and appealing. A third season has been announced to air in 2013 and I plan on being there, hopefully the break will allow Sunrise to improve upon their plotting and storytelling.

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13 – Tari Tari

Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 8/12  B+
Runner-up Best Supporting Character: Wien

The simplest way to describe Tari Tari is to say it’s the scrap odds’n’end that P.A. Works had left over from creating Hanasaku Iroha. Which is not necessarily a bad thing if Tari Tari could have stepped out of Hanasaku Iroha’s shadow but, outside of Wien, it really never did. It was still an enjoyable series; I particularly liked the vocal work done by the seiyuu.

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12 – Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

Series rating for episodes 1 to 12 – 8/12  B+
Winner Best Animation Style

Another series I found satisfactory, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, seemed to be supplying smart, saucy, stimulating stories saturated with sarcasm but supplemental scrutiny showed sketchy shortcomings. Sorry, I just got done watching an episode of JoJo as translated by gg. What I was trying to say is that the initial story arc appeared to be the starting point of a very good series but almost the entire rest of the series was spent explaining what happened before episode 1 to get us to the starting point of episode 1. I didn’t particularly care how we arrived at episode 1 after I finished watching episode 1; it struck me as if the original creator came up with a super good opening but then couldn’t figure out what to do next with it. That’s not to take away from the very nice animation style that AIC ASTA employed for the anime series. I always like to see an animation studio step outside of it’s comfort zone to try something new looking.

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11 – Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!

Series rating for episodes 1 to 12 – 8/12  B+
Runner-up Most Unexpectantly Good Show

Better known as Who is Imouto?, this anime series once again proves that a well thought-out silly, stupid anime is a better bet then so many other “better”, classier anime series. The storyline – male high school student heir to a very large fortune and chairmanship of a giant company has to transfer to a certain school and find a bride from the girls there while making sure the girl he picks isn’t his younger sister (who doesn’t officially exist) – is so absurd and unhinged from reality that I’m not bothered by it. I loved the number of twists the storyline took before we actually learned who is his younger sister; just when it looked liked they painted themselves into a corner, some ridiculous turn-of-events would occur and we’re back to wondering who is the younger sister.

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10 – Accel World

Series rating for episodes 1 to 26 – 9/12  A-
Runner-up Best Science Fiction
Runner-up Most Interesting Setting

From the same author behind Sword Art Online, the two series share many similarities but Accel World feels like the more thought-out, better plotted of the two (at least in their anime incarnations). I normally have little love for the wimpy male lead character type that runs so rampant in anime but here I found myself warming to Haruyuki. It took awhile but Yuuki Kaji does a great job voicing the main character and Haruyuki does slowly grow enough of a backbone that by the end he falls more into the underdog category and I’ve always liked the underdog. The extrapolated science underpinning this series is probably a bit dodgy, at best, but it fits together nicely and feels possible as a result. I really hope to see this series get a sequel because the main plot of the series – beating the game – has a way to go and I want to see what happens next.

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9 – Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate

Series rating for episodes 1 to 12 – 9/12  A-
Winner Most Unexpectantly Good Show

In a normal season Imouto would have handedly won the award for Most Unexpectantly Good Show but Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate was just so much better. What became apparent during the series was the original creator obviously enjoys politics; the series was not about a group of high school kids that just happened to running a campaign to get the main character elected student council president but a series about how to play the politics to win a sophisticated campaign that just happened to feature high school students. That alone made this anime a pretty unique experience and the rest of the series was pretty good as well. Another high point to the series was a shocking refusal after a confession of love, (the type of confession that always gets a yes but I don’t want to spoil it anymore) which just isn’t seen that often in anime. The biggest negative to this series is that it needed another 2-3 episodes to make the pacing not feel a bit rushed at the very end. Another small negative was the inclusion of a couple of scenes of fan service in the first 2 episodes that where then heavily censored in a bid to up DVD/BD sales – I hate then animation companies do this because it’s so blatant.

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Part 3 will be along in a few days, the elections have pretty much made doing anything else impossible.

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5 thoughts on “Top Picks for the Summer 2012 Anime Season – Part 2 of 3: The Middle 8 Series”

  1. I liked how the MLTE fighting scenes gave a more fluid picture of how TSFs moved, before they were upgraded by the future savior of humanity(unrelated to this story line). Some of the experimental weapons were also used in the future, but which I didn’t get much info about. I believe the plan was to include that Electro EM cannon on the Project(tm), but while the weapon was there, there was no time to fit it.

    I liked how MLTE gave more time to showing some of the seedier, non cooperative elements of humanity’s fight for survival. MLA tended to give the view that everyone was a happy family, up until the half part of the story at least. MLU 99% tended to give the view that everyone was in it together against the BETA.

    What I didn’t like was the animation quality downgrade when it came to MLA’s military uniforms. Horrible shape and size scaling. Strangely enough, the uniforms of MLA looked both military and aesthetically appealing on females. Probably an offshoot of Japan’s uniform and variform female uniforms developed from sailor outfits (somehow), with the males utilizing mainland China’s one piece form fits or the West’s suit, tie, and/or jacket outfits.

    I also didn’t like how the main female heroine was portrayed in terms of facial animations. Something seemed very off there, and not just because of the girlishness. What little of the VN I’ve read, she had a lot more gravitas, so to speak. Then again, the anime has about the gravitas of a rock, whereas the VN usually has the gravitas of a star, in terms of serious emotional scaling. That’s not to say the anime didn’t do the scenes justice, just that there’s a scale of difference when it comes to emotional drama/gravitas for the characters, when comparing the original to the anime.

    I remember that there was some controversy behind MLU and MLA, its sequel, when it came to portraying the serious nature of military and racial survival. Much of MLU and MLA was not really about the female characters, but about the protagonist’s self seeking quest, actually.

    Perhaps the story was picked up because of the harem elements, so to speak, although MLU and MLA also had similar story line elements due to the same writer being the progenitor. Overall, it was good to get a view of the other people fighting the war against the BETA and what they were doing in the lead up to Operation Sakura Blossom. Generally speaking, the Shiranui turned out to be pretty useful in future operations. Although the savior of humanity ended up being able to take out 27 Fort class BETA, when surrounded by hundreds of Tank and Grappling class BETA. That was in the latest 2nd generation Shiranui, utilizing more maneuverability and less armor than the Gekishin (the ones modeled after the F-4 Phantom and used in the opening battle of the first anime episode), whereas the 3rd generation Shiranui the Alaska base is working on models itself more on the F-22 Raptor in terms of maneuverability and control. The Takemikazuchi is a third generation, developed originally from Japanese reverse engineering American 2nd generation TSFs, without a third gen base to work from. Very high spec, but also requires a lot of piloting ability. In terms of relative strength, a third generation is about 5-10 times more effective than a second generation, and a second generation is about 2-5 times more effective than a first. But a lot depends on pilot ability.

    When comparing a single TSF taking out 27 Fort class BETA while surrounded and with no support, 1 single Fort class can usually take out several Gekishin by itself, with the opening anime scenes showing that a squad of damaged rookies were sent flying, disabled or destroyed, by one Fort class. The main character of the MLTE anime showed that he could take out several Tank and Grappler class BETA by himself, including his superior marksmanship and control abilities, even in a damaged incomplete third gen Shiranui. But he took damage whenever any BETA got close, because that TSF had yet to receive the benefits of the upgrade that will be developed at the end of the year, 2001. Generally speaking, this gave me a more accurate consideration for MLA’s TSF capabilities, that weren’t quite spelled out in the story itself.

    Of course, I know exactly what the Soviets are doing, some of the reasons why, and what their secret experimentations are all about. This has given me a better feel for the Russian girl with similar abilities on the Project in MLA, although she had abilities 10-100 times stronger than the two Russian elites on Alaska Base Yukon (occupied mostly by Soviet refugees actually). MLA’s history diverges from regular history in the sense that the Cold War was never allowed to end, instead the BETA showed up and started killing off everyone’s enemies, to the point where everyone had to fight for their own survival. Even if that meant cooperating with former enemies. They want the best for their country, so will try to steal secrets and technology, even though everyone should be happily cooperating in the UN. At first I thought the UN sounded a little bit too idealistic and unrealistic given how it was portrayed in MLU. A little bit sickening given I knew the true nature of the UN in our world. But as time went on, the political disagreements actually made me feel comfortable with the UN military as represented in MLU/A/TE. All the evil, corruption, and sickening greed present in this world’s UN is still in MLA’s UN, just hidden. There was no need for cognitive dissonance there.

    The key to defeating the BETA will come from developing superior weapons, upgrading the TSFs to the point where one pilot can equal 100 normal TSFs, thus freeing up manpower in light of the extreme casualties (50-90% casualties are NORMAL for battles against the BETA, when 10-30% is enough to break a normal human vs human army), and most important of all, whether humans can develop their own mutual communication powers. Currently, the human anti-BETA tactics and weapons are a mixture of tanks, air power, naval ships, and TSFs. The amount of logistics and manpower required to fuel such a combined force, when a single component can be taken out by just the laser class BETA, is wearing humanity down to the point where no major successful takeover of a BETA Hive has yet to occur. There are currently over 10 BETA hives on Earth alone. Yukon base in Alaska is more important than it appears, when all you see is the interpersonal issues amongst the people of that base.

    Normally, I don’t think the anime series would interest me much, given what I’ve seen so far, since it mostly focuses on the inter personal struggles, although leaving out a lot of the substance and details. But I’m still interested because the more of I see of that world, the more nostalgic it feels for me. MLA’s world building is just that addictive.

  2. @ymarsakar: Thanks for the comment.

    I can tell when I watch Total Eclipse that it’s part of a much bigger and richer story. I hope good sales of this anime series entices them to make more series. I do wish Total Eclipse had more of the political stuff thrown in. Like, the countries that are completely overrun by Beta, I’m assuming have governments in exile but where are they? Are they in New York City to be new the UN building or what?

    It often bothers me how the UN is portrayed in anime. I realize they oftentimes need an entity that can actually go to war but showing the UN as an actual effective organization is such a laughably fantasy that it’ll always pull me out of the watching experience and ruins the mood.

  3. Japan’s relationship in that world to the US is like Vietnam’s relationship to the US. They don’t want our help and if we offered our help, it would be considered either ridiculous or some kind of disgusting, contemptuous scheme of ours.

    The nations in which the hives landed, were more or less over run. Middle East is probably completely wiped out, including the government. Africa too, since that place has a lot of bio mass for the BETA to eat up and use to produce more BETA, and Africa never had a sufficient tech level to do much militarily, for the last 1000 years or so. The refugees, so to speak, escaped to America mostly or Western Europe. The Japanese mainland was invaded, Sadogashima the island was taken over, and those refugees left for America or other parts. Which is where the main character of TE comes in, actually. America offers citizenship to all those who serve in the armed forces, so a lot of refugees enlisted and became TSF pilots and other combatants, either for the US’s UN contribution or the US’s own military.

    Two original hives landed on Earth. The one in North America and the one near China. I presume the humans overrun in Asia ended up in the Phillippines and Australia, for their base of operations although I haven’t come across the specific data. The original hive in NA was taken out by nukes. The one near China , they tried to take out with nukes, didn’t work. The original hive near China then started mass breeding and taking over territory. North America and South America are the only continents free of the BETA, plus Australia. Japan is the leading edge of the Eastern defense line. Europe is the leading edge of the Western front.

    Strangely enough, the more the UN turned out to be corrupt and filled with issues, the more the protagonists start looking better. For example, if everyone was fighting for humanity’s survival and what not, irrespective of national origins and politics, then there would be nothing exceptional about those that discard their national loyalties to join the UN military.

  4. Btw, the reason for that is that in that world’s Japan, the US left breaking their treaty obligations for Japan’s common defense, in order to prioritize defending Europe. The BETA tried to surge Westward, then Eastward, so technically America’s decision was strategically valid. But the Japanese didn’t see it that way. So unlike this world which enjoyed 50+ years of Japan+US alliance and mutual good will, that world had something different happen.

  5. Some additional information I got out of Rebirth, the short story released in Muv Luv Alternative Chronicles 3 (fan disc), was very interesting.

    Project Prominence is an international work group designed expressly to advance the next level development of 3rd gen TSFs to replace 2nd generation fighters. The bulk of the national military power in the BETA infested world consists of 1st gen and 2nd gen TSFs, including Japan’s military. Which is why a unit composed of 3rd gen TSFs is a mark of distinction, skill, or social status. But Prominence involves significant portions of the nations which lost territory to the BETA, including China and Russia. Russia was able to “lease” part of Alaska from the US, since the US absolutely refused to resell Alaska back. China, currently based somewhere in the Philippines I would guess, is also participating in Prominence. The political reason these particular factions want to make Prominence work is precisely because the only (acceptable) hope of taking back their land is through TSF dominance. There are other weapons available, such as what the US is working on, but those are orientated around a scorch earth policy that utilizes long range destruction tactics, without infiltrating hives or fighting the BETA at close range. The nations which fight the BETA in contested territory, often favor more close range tactics, such as melee, because to retake back the Earth, they must take over or destroy the BETA bases. Which requires them to get face to face with countless number of BETA. Whereas the US mainland is currently free of the BETA invasion and thus a long ranged tactical doctrine that uses ammunition to preserve pilot lives, is preferred. This makes sense since that has been the US doctrine since at least World War I.

    So in the BETA world, there are various factions at work, often times directly at odds with each other. All have their own ideas and plans to save what they value from the BETA, but because their methods and beliefs differ, they don’t agree on things often times. Which is why for those that saw TE, certain things happened as they did.

    MLA focused a little bit more on the Japan vs US politics. Whereas TE focuses more on China vs Russia vs Europe vs US. The US, even though they don’t necessarily plan on taking over a hive, still need certain resources that only a BETA hive produces. Thus they still need infiltration capable TSFs and even if they didn’t deem it very important, having superior TSFs in the post-BETA world would be a military advantage for the US, which may be why you saw a certain someone zipping around canyons a lot, since that mimicked some of the tunnel like nature of BETA hives. Going in, and getting out quickly with BETA resources, is vital to various R and D plans currently in the works for all nations. The stronger each nation becomes, the better their anti-BETA counter measures, but they’ll also be better at countering competitor nations as well. Humanity may unite in common defense against the BETA, but that still doesn’t get rid of human emotions and problems. That’s not to mention the various factions inside each particular nation, which may or may not agree with that nation’s orthodox political stance on anti-BETA measures.

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