Looking at both halves of this countdown/first impressions list I noticed two interesting features that I hope become trends. The first is that there’s only a very small handful of sequels this season. Which is a good thing since a high level of sequels can signal timidness (and an aversion to risk) by those that pay to create anime and the truly great anime are the first victim of overly timid producers. Having a low amount of sequels also allows viewers to watch a greater number of series and it also quiets – a bit – those that whine about “the end of anime”. (Sorry zzeroparticle, Kaiji happens to be one series that I missed the first time around and didn’t watch this season.)
The second feature is the high number of oddball series this season. Oddball probably isn’t the best term because they aren’t actually strange but seem to signal either the further diversification of what anime “is” or the decision to attract non-traditional viewers of anime to anime. If this continues, this is bad news for those people (including R1 anime executives) that like to watch and license the same shows year-in and year-out; but, for everyone else, it’s great news. I’m ready to welcome the oddness be it tea-sipping feudal lords, pizza-eating aliens, management book-reading baseball managers or pantsu-less ice princesses.
(15) – X-Men
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 6/12 B-
The adaptation of X-Men by Madhouse marks the third time in three seasons that they’re working on an anime version of an American comic franchise. I didn’t watch the first one because the reviews of Iron Man were just too brutal but I decided to give the second series, Wolverine, a shot. I reasoned that it’s exceedingly difficult to muddle a show built around someone uncomplicated like Wolverine and it turned out that I was basically right. The animation quality was on the very low-end for what Madhouse can do but it was a decent anime overall. So, for X-Men, I hoped Madhouse could, at a minimum, repeat. Four episodes in and I’m glad to see a much better effort with the animation but I’m not quite won over with the story (and plotting) yet. On the plus side the Japanese mutant that is introduced in this series appears to already be a character in the “X-Men universe” so there’s a better chance she won’t get killed off in the end like what happened in Wolverine but, on the negative side, the show’s been a little too talky and not enough actiony. There’s still plenty of time for this anime to get even better and I’m definitely going to keep watching.
(14) – Fireball Charming
Rating for episodes 1 to 3 – 6/12 B-
A micro-series from Disney (!!, seriously it’s from Disney) about a robotic princess and her adventures as a princess; Fireball Charming is a fun little series that I wish would run longer than it’s 2 minutes episodes. In fact, really the only reason it’s ranked so low is because it’s format makes it problematic to accurately rank and grade it.
(13) – A Channel
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 6/12 B-
A Channel is like the made-for-TV version of a blockbuster movie that gets made after the fact with about a tenth of the budget, a tenth of the acting, a tenth of the writing, and a tenth of the quality. On paper the two might be very similar but no one will actually remember the made-for-TV version a couple of years later and the blockbuster movie becomes everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure for years-and-years to come. The only thing that saves A Channel from falling any further into complete mediocrity is Aoi Yuuki’s excellent vocal work (much like how she makes watching Gosick worth it).
(12) – Tiger and Bunny
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 7/12 B
Initially, I was very impressed with Tiger and Bunny. I like how the main character, Tiger, is an over-the-hill superhero that still actually believes in what he does even though it’s so cynically commercialized. I like the idea about how superheroes are being manipulated for commercial reasons. I like how the show seems to take place in an alternative Manhattan. I initially liked what Sunrise was doing with the story but with a few more episodes watched I’m no longer that keen on what they’re doing. It’s pretty much a given that a show like Tiger and Bunny will see Tiger and Bunny overcome their differences, become an awesome hero duo and both of them will get what they most need or want: Tiger gets the admiration of his daughter/the respect of the public and Bunny finds a family to belong to/learns the meaning of friendship. This type of story has been done to death so the execution needs to be stellar to make the show great and it hasn’t. Which is what separates it from That Really Long-titled Flower Anime. Everyone knows how that’s going to end but everyone is still enchanted by it.
(11) – Maria+Holic Alive
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 7/12 B
Maria+Holic is one of the weaker Shaft/Shinbou anime offerings and one of most disappointing series that they’ve done. (The set-up was perfect for Shaft/Shinbou; it should have been a home run but it was a big miss.) So, while, I’d prefer one of their better series like Arakawa Under the Bridge or Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, that are in more of a need of a sequel, to be getting a sequel now; I am willing to try any anime from the joyfully demented minds at Shaft. So far, I am pleasantly surprised with Maria+Holic Alive. In the two years since the first season of Maria+Holic, it’s apparent that Shaft/Shinbou has become better at making anime. The show’s biggest liability – Kanako, the main character – has significantly less screen time in the sequel and the two best characters – Maria, the abrasive cross-dressing boy who attends an all-girl school, and Maria’s maid get a corresponding boost in screen time. It’s still far from perfect but it’s now a pretty decent anime.
(10) – Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 7/12 B
Brains Base takes the animation quality and polish of a modern anime and applies it to a 40 year-old manga in Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera. The result was about what I expected; it looked good but the content felt completely different then everything else that I’ve watched in recent memory. I imagine what I felt was akin to an anime fan that’s only watched Naruto or Bleach before, watching Bakemonogatari for the first time. I wasn’t scared off, partially because I like and respect Brains Base; but, before the fourth episode I wasn’t sure what to really think about this anime. Then episode 4 arrived and suddenly something clicked in my brain and Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera became a fun series to watch. It’s got this energetic vibe to it that leaves little time for character development so far but that’s okay. Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera has been too busy with demon attacks, absurd situations, fan service and making the viewers laugh to explain the sad back-story (because it always has to be sad) of the kappa that helps capture demons or fleshed out the talking, flying hat beyond him/it being a bit lecherous. I see this anime getting stronger as time passes and getting included among the top series of the season. Next I demand a modern reboot of the Lupin the Third franchise.
(9) – Moshidora
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 8/12 B+
I realize at this point that most of Moshidora has aired due to it’s unique release schedule but I wanted to include it here so I stopped watching it after the fourth episode until I finish writing this post. The rest of the long-winded title of Moshidora encapsulates the premise of the show; namely, what would happen if a baseball manager read one of the classic books about business management theory and applied it to baseball. I’m not much of a fan for sports anime when the focus is on the sport itself but when anime, like Bamboo Blade and Cross Game, make the sport secondary – I’m willing to give the show a chance. Moshidora turns out to be, much like Bamboo Blade and Cross Game, not really about the sport. Now, it’s not quite as good as either Bamboo Blade or Cross Game (both anime I highly recommend) but it’s still pretty good and better than a good portion of the anime this season. Definitely worth a look for people looking for something slightly different.
(8) – The World God Only Knows II
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 8/12 B+
I have to credit Manglobe for doing their absolute best with TWGOK2. The result has been better than the first season and an all-around pretty entertaining show. I still don’t think it’s ever going to compete for a spot among the best anime of the season; though, the introduction of a second spirit-catching demon seems to signal that the show will begin moving away from merely focusing on the main characters capturing spirits and developing a deeper story. So, maybe it’s still possible.
(7) – Steins;Gate
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 8/12 B+
After the ending to Chaos;Head burned me a couple of years ago, I approached Steins;Gate (from the same people) with a fair amount of trepidation. I didn’t want to get burned again. The first episode was really cool; cool enough that I started thinking maybe this time will be different. Then episodes 2-4 aired, and it started feeling like the show was going to just wander around and not make good on it’s promises. I gave Steins;Gate one more episode to re-interest me and, wouldn’t you know-it, episode 5 got me hooked again. So, that’s where it stands; I love conspiracies, time-travel, people with secrets and shadow organizations and when this anime delivers that, it’s wonderful. Depending on how the ending, this could still make it’s way further up the list or it could crash-and-burn. Time will tell.
(6) – Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 9/12 A-
I’m not a fan of 15 minute shows when it crimps the overall quality of the show and that’s the case with Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san. From Production I.G., the story revolves around a young woman who has become the assistant to a private detective that makes pacts with devils to accomplish tasks that clients need done like stopping a cheating husband from cheating or stopping a stalker of an idol. The third and fourth episodes really showcase how well-done and funny Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san is. It got bonus points for casting Yuu Kobayashi as a mermaid demon that personifies jealousy and uses this jealousy to drive her magic. She’s fabulously perfect for the role and it’s nice to see someone other than Shinbou/Shaft understanding how to use her (her special talents were completely wasted playing Clain in Fractale).
(5) – Hyouge Mono
Rating for episodes 1 to 3 – 9/12 A-
The lack of buzz around this anime is truly criminal. Set in Japan’s Warring States era (think Sengoku Basara), the main character is a feudal lord under Oda Nobunaga (yeah, that guy though not quite as cool here) and lives his life pursuing the beautiful things of the world which includes tea and tea ceremonies. It’s not a comedy, per say, but more like a historical drama with a healthy dose of comedy, mainly centered around the main character’s lack of restraint around all things tea. Perspective viewers should note that Hyouge Mono is set to run 39 episodes so the pacing is a bit slower than a typical one season series. This is definitely one of this season’s gems and I hope more people will give Hyouge Mono a chance.
(4) – Hanasaku Iroha
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 9/12 A-
I’ve already wrote a first impressions post for this and I don’t really have that much to add now.
(3) – Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 10.5/12 Strong A
The second Shinbou/Shaft series of the season and the best way to sum Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko up is by saying it’s a typical Shinbou/Shaft anime. There’s the head tilts, the strange girl claiming something fanciful which might be true but probably is just covering over a tragic past, the clueless guy that falls for the strange girl, the awesome backgrounds and the best done night sky scenes, the dialoguing that fills so much of the episode up yet still is so insanely interesting and the little things that tell the viewer that once again Shinbou/Shaft is trying to do too much with too little time. In short, another winner for Shaft/Shinbou. The most notable thing about this anime, in comparison to past Shaft works, is the character designs are probably the most visually appealing of any Shaft series that I can remember. After last season, I’m glad I can get my Shinbou/Shaft fix and not have to worry about the heat death of the universe.
(2) – Nichijou
Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 11/12 A+
Between it’s placement and it’s rating, I, obviously, happen to really like Kyoto Animation’s latest series – Nichijou. Truthfully, I’m scratching my head after reading the vast majority of other posts about this show. I think it’s great that people are forming their own opinions about this anime but I’ve started wondering if I’m watching the same show as everyone else. Episode 5 made me laugh so hard that I was like an asthmatic fish flopping around at the bottom of a fishing boat trying to breathe after watching it. Nichijou is just so effortlessly funny and well put together all-the-while having this season’s best animation quality. Luckily for my sanity, I’m watching this with my younger sister and she’s loving Nichijou as much as I am so my chance of just being insane falls significantly.
(1) – Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Whereas, I’m almost assured not to catch any flak over picking this as the early top anime of the season. Nor, are there many people who have not heard of this anime at this point. After making Railgun vastly superior to Index, I’ve been wondering and impatiently waiting for when Tatsuyuki Nagai would show up again. I’m glad the wait is over but I’m surprised it’s not with another J.C. Staff series. Having him helm this anime and the resulting awesomeness goes a long way to proving, in my mind, the idea that A-1 Pictures is really only as good as the director is. (Which is why their last great work was the second season of Birdy the Mighty Encode.)
Wow, that was way more writing then what I was planning to do. I hope you enjoyed this double post.