Winter 2014 Mid-Season Anime Status Update

[Underwater] Mikakunin de Shinkoukei - Engaged to the Unidentified - 06 (720p) [8560F530].mkv_snapshot_04.19_[2014.02.13_22.31.49]

Actually, if it wasn’t for the Olympics pushing a few shows back a week this would be more aptly called the 3/4 season report. :)

Well, the anime apocalypse that this winter season was supposed to bring turned out not nearly as bad as people feared. The sequels are holding their weight and the seasonal surprise hits arrived on time, like they always do, and there’s plenty of assorted goodness spread around the other shows to keep the wolves at bay. Anime is not dying yet. The placards and rhetoric can be put away for a future season.

That said, my attention is starting to drift towards spring. Dangle the promise of a series directed by Masaaki Yuasa  (Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy, Kick Heart) and you’d have to be an idiot not to get excited.

But let’s not get sidetracked.

Below the fold are my thoughts about each of the 21 anime series I watched that began airing this season. They are ranked from best to worst and grouped into six broad groups ranging from superior to poor. Before we start I wanted to quickly mention all the carryover series I’m watching and how they’re fairing: Hunter x Hunter > Kill La Kill > Nagi no Asukara > Space Brothers > Golden Time > Magi 2 > Tokyo Ravens > Samurai Flamenco. Oh Samurai Flamenco, how far you’ve fallen.

Superior

Noragami

7 episodes – 11.5/12 Near Perfect

noragami11463The other series from Bones this season – the lesser one which was not named Space Dandy – has become the surprise hit of this season using the classic formula of having an interesting story and characters, combined with solid writing and directing, and told in an efficient and pleasing manner. I say classic formula but it’s seems like only a handful of series a season can actually pull this off. Credit definitely go to first time director Koutarou Tamura, especially with Bones’ A Crew working on Space Dandy, for getting the most out of what was invested into the show. Two names attached to the production side of things should have told me that this was a series to look out for. The first, Taku Iwasaki is responsible for the music – known from Gurren Lagann, Ben-to, Katanagatari, Jormungand, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (second half), Gatchaman Crowds  – and the second, Deko Akao, is responsible for the writing – known from Arakawa Under the Bridge and Mysterious Girlfriend X. A real shame this is a single cour, hopefully Noragami will get a sequel.

Gin no Saji: Silver Spoon 2

6 episodes – 11/12 A+

[Commie] Silver Spoon 2 - 01 [2D6F045C].mkv_snapshot_21.35_[2014.02.25_03.44.05]The first season of Silver Spoon was one of the top anime series from 2013. It told a very good story full of heavy duty character development for the main character while remaining an entertaining watch with a relaxed sense of lightheartedness that made it the star of the Summer 2013 season. The second season has very high expectations to fill and it hasn’t quite met them. The director change to first timer Kotomi Deai would be the knee-jerk reason why but I don’t think that’s necessarily the reason. I think the first season was helped out by the overarching question of what the main character would do with Porkbowl when it came to slaughtering time plus the newness of the series for the viewer. This second season does not have either and, as a result, feels a bit more unfocused and content to coast along on the inertia built up from the first season. Don’t get me wrong, Silver Spoon is still a superior series and one I’d dearly like to see a sequel for.

Houzuki no Reitetsu

5 episodes – 11/12 A+

[FFF] Hoozuki no Reitetsu - 03 [2EAC7B0E].mkv_snapshot_07.14_[2014.01.29_20.42.19]Watching Houzuki no Reitetsu remains me of watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in that I know I’m missing some of the show’s entertainment value because I’m not a native Japanese viewer (and no matter how good the translator is, it can’t be translated in full) but there’s still many reasons to love the show. One is the level of polish applied to the animation, animation style, and character designs. Wit Studio’s second anime series suffers from none of the issues that plagued it’s first – Attack on Titan. Another reason is that it’s essentially an office series that just happens to take place in Japanese Hell which is a nice change of pace from all the series that take place in school and feature school kids as the main characters. A third reason is that it’s pretty funny and almost always is very entertaining to watch.

Very Good to Great

Sekai Seifuku ~ Bouryaku no Zvezda

6 episodes – 10.5/12 Strong A

[Cthuko] Sekai Seifuku Bouryaku no Zvezda - 01 [720p H264 AAC][A12A2CB1].mkv_snapshot_09.20_[2014.02.25_03.48.48]The ultimate fate of this anime will depend on if it keeps it’s focus on world conquest or will it settle into being a mere school life rom-com. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a school life rom-com but this anime has most impressed when it focuses on the world conquest aspect and, so far, it seems like it’s serious about following our band of “villains” bent on world domination while they accomplish this goal. I’m glad I gave this series a shot. I almost didn’t after reading the hubbub – which turned out to be completely exaggerated – surrounding the clothing choices of a couple of the characters.

Tonari no Seki-kun

8 episodes – 10.5/12 Strong A

tonari_no_sekikun07454An anime short series that’s actually good?! Yes, it appears that Tonari no Seki-kun is set to break the pattern that so many other anime short series fall in. Namely, it matches the amount of content to cover to it’s episode length, paces itself correctly to fit in it’s episode length, and it’s genuinely funny. And it really doesn’t hurt to have Kana Hanazawa play, essentially, the only speaking role in the show or that this character gives HanaKana enough material to show why she’s one of the top vocal actors in anime. I’m waiting to see if the ultimate joke of this series is that, even though Seki-kun screws around in every class, when it’s test time Seki-kun aces his tests.

Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha

6 episodes – 10/12 A

[Anime-Koi] Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha - 03 [h264-720p][4F8C6976].mkv_snapshot_11.54_[2014.01.30_03.03.16]Why, oh why, did this series only get 10 episodes? A slice-of-life series needs space to breathe and 10 episodes just isn’t long enough. I knew this going in but I hoped for the best. When I saw someone comment how the anime has been skipping chapters all willy-nilly that confirmed the impression I have of Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha so far; which is, it’s a strong slice-of-life series with solid characters and an interesting dynamic between these characters but the pacing feels a bit clipped, like it’s trying to reach a point in the story that will function as an “ending” for the series. Maybe it’ll get a sequel with a full 12/13 episode run, it definitely deserves one.

Good

Mikakunin de Shinkoukei

7 episodes – 10/12 A

Mikakunin_de_Shinkoukei10528Sometimes I think it’s a very good idea to have low expectations for an anime because it leads to a more honest assessment of said anime. If I went in thinking that Mikakunin de Shinkoukei was going to be a good, almost very good, series then I know I would have felt let down by it. Instead, my initial impression of “hey, this doesn’t suck” became “hey, this isn’t half bad but it’s going to lose steam very soon” which became “hey, why isn’t this show falling apart yet” to finally “well, it’s time to accept Mikakunin de Shinkoukei is a legitimately good series”. The reason for this anime’s success is three. The first is having enough arrows in it’s quiver to have the ability to keep the content of the episodes feeling fresh. The second is having a writer – Fumihiko Shimo who wrote Air, Kannon, Clannad (the good Key anime series) and the Full Metal Panic franchise – that can get the most damage from that quiver of arrows. The third is not relying on fan service as a crutch to prop up the series. Actually, that was one of the earliest things that told me this series is a cut above – not what it was doing right but what it wasn’t doing. There’s been no hot springs or beach episode, nor scenes of the boy accidentally tripping and falling face first into the main female character’s bosom, nor accidentally walking in while she’s changing, nor accidentally walking in while she’s bathing.

Chuuninbyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren

7 episodes – 9/12 A-

[FTW]_Chuunibyou_demo_Koi_ga_Shitai!_Ren_-_01_[720p][9172389F].mkv_snapshot_10.34_[2014.02.25_03.54.41]My sister summed up the issue facing this sequel to one of the best series of 2012, the main conflict of the series was resolved in the first season which leaves this season with nothing really to do. I have to agree with her assessment, though, I have a higher opinion of this slice-of-life second season then her. I like the characters so I’m happy just following their slice-of-life antics. (By the way, apparently in 2010 there really were a series of professional napping competitions in Spain.) With KyoAni’s best director, Tatsuya Ishihara, behind this series there’s still plenty of time for this second season to develop a meatier story which would propel this series upwards.

Witch Craft Works

7 episodes – 8/12 B+

[FFF] Witch Craft Works - 01 [BB1EA347].mkv_snapshot_09.18_[2014.02.25_03.56.12]The amount of flak JC Staff receives for it’s plethora of subpar series is most assuredly justified; however, when it does something right, it also deserves praise. Witch Craft Works is another series that has had plenty of time to show if it’ll drop off but still hasn’t. The biggest hindrance has been the two main characters; the boy is boring and useless and the girl has the personality and emotional range of a rock. What’s keeping this series afloat is the comedy, an absurd story that’s not afraid to go in crazy directions, and good supporting characters. I’m normally not a fan of CG animation but I’m glad to see JC Staff experimenting with overhauling it’s tired animation style that’s remained the same for over 8 years now.

Space Dandy

8 episodes – 8/12 B+

space_dandy19937I am not going to write off Space Dandy yet. The first half of Shinichirou Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo was pretty forgettable, living off it’s funky great style, and was saved by an excellent second half. That’s not to say I wouldn’t prefer a Space Dandy that started strong and just got stronger. It’s hard to really get into this series with the story being a complete mess right now, the comedy is forced and unfunny, and the lack of a single interesting character; Dandy is an okay lead but the cat and robot bring nothing to the show. The animation has been great which really helps me continue giving this series the benefit of the doubt until – I hope – the real series starts.

Decent

Nobunaga the Fool

7 episodes – 7/12 B

nobunaga_the_fool15221Speaking of trying too hard, the first few episodes of Nobunaga the Fool were definitely trying way too hard to be over-the-top crazy and the result was over-the-top confusion. I love the idea of the series with it’s two planets, one for the Eastern civilization and the other being the Western civilization, and the mash-up of historical figures like Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, and Nobunaga but it was only in the last couple of episodes, when the series stopped focusing so much on the novel setting and started to focus on the story, that this series’ true potential started to appear. It’s still too early to see if this series will finish higher but, of the remaining series, it has the best chance of doing so.

D-Frag!

7 episodes – 7/12 B

[Vivid] D-Frag! - 01 [F0D3C74F].mkv_snapshot_14.24_[2014.02.25_03.59.50]There was a time when Brain’s Base was one of my favorite animation studios but it’s been many, many seasons since I’ve even finished one of their series. So, in that light, this decent comedy series is a big step forward for Brain’s Base. What has kept this series afloat is the quality of the voice acting being able to infuse the generic characters with enough vitality that the inconsistent comedy works as much as it does.

Nisekoi

5 episodes – 6/12 B-

[FFF] Nisekoi - 01v2 [8284823B].mkv_snapshot_13.54_[2014.02.25_04.01.11]Many years ago Shaft joined a small cabal of animation studios whose animation output will always be on my “to watch” and “will finish” list, even if otherwise I’d have no interest in the show. This is the only reason why I started watching Nisekoi and, if it wasn’t for Shaft’s involvement, I’d probably have dropped this already. It looked generic and boring going in and it’s turned out, surprise surprise, to be generic and boring. The central aspect of the series – the supposed fake relationship between a boy and girl who hate each other – is completely unrealistic; the girl is practically ready to jump the bones of the boy after only a few episodes. This leaves Nisekoi being a standard teenage school-life rom-com featuring three flimsy main characters who are instantly forgettable. Thankfully, for this show, Shaft was given a bigger budget to work with then they had for Bakemonogatari 2 which allows Shaft to include actual animation in their trademark style which keeps this series from falling into the mediocre category.

Mediocre

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

7 episodes – 6/12 B-

At the start of this season it seemed like there were going to be only a few anime series worth watching; and of those few, most were sequels or Space Dandy. So I was sure that Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta was going to be huge because it had all the parts of a potent, serious drama. After my initial highly positive first impressions, I’ve watched this anime sputter and strain as it struggles to reach the heights that it’s components suggest it can reach. I don’t know which is more to blame; the poor writing or the poor directing. Whichever it is, the distance this series is failing continues to increase with each episode. For example, why did the scout plane feel the need to continue to drop flares “to illuminate the sky ships” when the sky ship’s anti-aircraft barrage were illuminating themselves just fine?

Nobunagun

7 episodes – 5/12 C+

Speaking of anime series who continue to sink lower after an impressive start we move on to Nobunagun. With each passing episode the promising elements seen in episode 1 fall away so, at this point, the only reason left to watch this series is it’s visual style. Turns out there’s not a single interesting character, even when our band of heroes call forth their historical personas. The budget and/or talent is not there for compelling action scenes. And the final nail in the coffin is the poor execution of the idea of having an alien invasion threat that evolves with every encounter to become smarter and deadlier. (Figure 17 did a much better job handling this idea and is well worth watching, even with its slightly dated animation.)

Poor

Magical Warfare

7 episodes – 4/12 C

What does it feel like to work on an anime that’s complete garbage at an animation studio knowing that elsewhere at that animation studio people are working on one of best anime currently airing – Hunter x Hunter? Is there a more exquisite form of torture for people in the anime business? Probably not. The worse offense of Magical Warfare is that it’s just generic enough that there’s no unintentional humor that would make a lower quality anime more bearable. Or is the worse offense of Magical Warfare that it doesn’t realize for a story to be taken seriously it needs to earn it; one can’t just self-proclaim it. Either way, this anime isn’t worth further reflection.

Saikin, Imouto no Yousu ga Chotto Okaishiin Da Ga

8 episodes – 3/12 D

You know that feeling one has to gawk while driving past a car accident? That feeling is why I started and continue to watch this anime. At least I know there’s no redeeming qualities to this anime. If I tried to stick up for this anime, then I’d have to start worrying that anime has really started to warp me.

Maken-Ki Two

5 episodes – 3/12 D

As anime blogging has pushed me to widen what anime I watch, the decision to drop an anime has evolved such that if an anime can succeed in not doing one of a handful of things then it won’t get dropped. Maken-Ki Two has somehow continued to dodge the pit traps strewn all around it, which is a pity because I’d like to drop it.

Sakura Trick

3 episodes – 3/12 D (Dropped)

How long can you watch two girls kissing? This season I have found the answer to this deep philosophical question – about three episodes. That’s all Sakura Trick sets out to be, a series of changing scenes to allow the various girls to kiss each other. The fact that I lasted 3 episodes was helped by the novelty of having actual kissing in an anime.

Pupa

2 episodes – 2/12 F (Dropped)

Pupa is (probably) a victim of it’s circumstances. I say probably because I didn’t stick around long enough to make a definitive judgment about the show’s content. The decision to drop Pupa came from it’s episode length – less then 5 minutes – and it’s pacing (like it’s episode length was actually a half an hour long). With this disparity it would be impossible to actually tell a good story; after an entire season of shows it would have covered as much territory as the full length anime series covered in two episodes.

Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil

1 episode – 2/12 F (Dropped)

If I wanted to play it safe I’d say that I’m dropping this anime because of the hideous character designs, the mess of elements that were shoehorned into the show, the utter disregard of getting these elements to work together, and how badly the legal system was depicted in a show that’s supposed to be about lawyers. These are all problems with this anime and would have gotten me to drop the series by themselves. The reason I dropped this as quickly as I did stems from my dislike of the main character. I disdain lawyers who represent obviously guilty individuals because these lawyers are working to see justice is not done and in the first episode we saw the main character offer to represent a berserking wizard even as he was assaulting her.

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6 thoughts on “Winter 2014 Mid-Season Anime Status Update”

  1. I’m completely with you on putting Noragami and the second season of Gin no Saji in the top pile. I’d probably put Space Dandy there too, though – its stylishness appeals to me too much to not do so. Both Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta and Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha are now in my average pile – the former because it’s declined in quality over the most recent episodes but still has me curious, and the latter because it’s sweet but really does nothing to distinguish itself as anything more. I dropped Sakura Trick and Wake Up, Girls! after the first episode or so (no surprises there), but made it through a whole 6 episodes of Pupa before finally giving up (which I put mainly down to sheer stubbornness).

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  2. @Artemis: After watching Kamichu! all those years ago and falling in love with it, I’ve got a soft spot for similar flavored series like Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha, even if they’re not quite as good.

    I’m probably being a bit tough on Space Dandy but I really think there’s plenty of untapped potential to the series. It’s feels like the myriad of writers Space Dandy has are only interested in the lowest of the low hanging fruit and have no desire to work for anything deeper.

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  3. Gin no Saiji gave me a belated education on farm work. Which is pretty good, if you ask me. The Japanese produces not only entertainment, but also artistic expression of the soul as well as education for the commons. It has a different value to it than what is expected of Western entertainment.

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  4. Noragami is hard to categorize. I’ve noticed often that your number 1 and number 2-4 are switched for me. Your 1 is my 4. Your 2-4 is often my number 1. Which means I find Silver Spoon 1/2 higher than Noragami. Although that’s not a complete assessment given Noragami hasn’t even finished yet.

    Benmashi’s first episode wasn’t very strong. As for what you mentioned, I consider that just a way to get the crim to surrender themselves to the police, rather than fighting them directly. The latter episodes were far more interesting, though, in that it starts dealing with how the law is applied fairly or unfairly. Also a lot of the conflict is from a Japanese perspective. The social conditioning against idol clothes in court rooms is probably very intense. Far more intense than what is shown in the episodes themselves, because it assumes the viewers are Japanese and thus “get it”.

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  5. is completely unrealistic; the girl is practically ready to jump the bones of the boy after only a few episodes.

    Deredere

    Come on, you’re going to show up on the foreign gaijin radar any moment now.

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