As the last bits of summer gave way to the falling leaves, October saw the ending of the summer season of anime and the start of the fall season of anime. I intended to be a proper anime blogger this month; I was going to watch as many of the new shows as possible and write first impression posts of them. It’s been a long time since I last tried to watch more than a cherry-picked group of new shows at the start of a new season and I kinda missed that feeling one gets when realizing they’d stumbled upon a terrible new anime series. I was only partially successful, as the almost month long lack of posts can attest to. I did get to watch a large number of the new series – I’m currently watching 22 – but, the time to write about these series dried up this month as I discovered that rereading the first two books of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive was as engrossing as the first time I read them. I thought knowing what happens would have allowed this second time through to be a more relaxed reading experience but I was wrong. There were a long string of days that I lost 1 – 2 hours of sleep a night because I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Oh well, maybe next time.
So, this is my first chance to talk about the new season of anime and I have a lot of ground to cover.
Best Episode of the Month
It is becoming very difficult for a high school slice-of-life/romance series to be able to surprise me. I’ve watched dozens – if not hundreds – of this type of series. I thought I’d seen just about every possible permutation, so, as I began watching the first episode of Just Because, I was on auto-pilot. With the weight of so much repetition weighing my expectations down, I was mainly looking to see if Just Because could raise just slightly above average and be worth watching as a counterpoint to the darker series running this season. I certainly wasn’t hoping to see this series doing something novel like a Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun or taking the time and talent to be well-executed like a Toradora.
It didn’t take long for the first episode to grab my full attention and switch off my auto-pilot.
I’d read the synopsis of the show. Just Because is about the main character returning, at the end of the second trimester of his senior year, to the town he’d lived in four years ago and transferring into the high school where several of his old friends attend; but, the synopsis does a poor job capturing the appeal of this first episode. By choosing this point to start the story, Just Because throws out the standard script and expectations for a series like this and allows it to be a very different series. The time to create and experience a rose-colored high school experience is long past as is the time to decide what the cast of characters plan on doing once high school is finished. All that’s left for them is mark time until graduating and going onto the next chapter of their lives. In this period of listlessness, the return of the main character, after four years, will upset the delicate balance the cast of characters have constructed to coast through the end of the school year. Past regrets and past choices will be reexamined and the cast of characters will have to decide again if they should try to do something more or different in the little time they have left before moving into the adult world.
This first episode has set the tone for the series so far – near perfect execution of a unique take on the high school slice-of-life/romance genre. I hope the rumored problems with the production of this series will not ruin what is starting off as one of this year’s best series.
Best Anime of the Month
This was a very difficult choice to make since there wasn’t a series that was so obviously better than the competition. Instead, there were a number of good series grouped together and separating a single series out took some time. In the end I went with Welcome to the Ballroom because of the growth this series has shown during October. The addition of Chinatsu Hiyama as Tatara’s real dance partner was exactly what this series needed and, in hindsight, her absence in the first 11 episodes does a good job in explaining why the series felt like it was missing something. Watching this pair trying to become a partnership that can achieve the success that both characters want has been very interesting and has turned Welcome to the Ballroom into a weekly “must watch now” series. Personality-wise Chinatsu is a complete opposite of Tatara and this creates ample amounts of tension as each are asked to fit a role in competitive dancing that is not natural to them. Chinatsu is not an easy character to like, as Mako was, but the anime has been careful to show her as a real person and not just a plot device that Tatara needs to solve and that has made her a very compelling character. Last season, I often felt like I needed to find excuses to explain why I like this series when the glaring problems should have sunk the show. This month has finally shown Welcome to the Ballroom pushing past the point where I need the excuses and into the area of being a legitimately good, possibly great, show.
Most Improved Sequel
My enjoyment of the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront was hindered by how disjointed the story felt and how little time was spent developing the supporting cast into characters I cared about. This was much the same problem I had with the director’s, Rie Matsumoto, prior work Kyousougiga. It was only the desire to see some top-quality Bones animation that convinced me to give the second season a chance.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed that first episode, though it felt a bit “different”. I went searching if I could figure out why and found out that that Bones had swapped the director out for this sequel. The new director, Shigehito Takayanagi, was a name I was not familiar with but checking MAL reveals that I’ve seen a number of his series and graded 2 of them a 4/10 – Bad, 2 of them a 5/10 – Average, and 1 of them a 6/10 – Fine. I watched the following episodes with a more critical eye to decide if the first episode was a fluke or if this director has suddenly become better and each episode has reinforced the impressions I had after that first episode. Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond has lost some of it’s visually striking style that was the reason I kept watching the first season, but, there’s an increased focus on character development and it’s a bit less serious which seems to fit the show better and the crazy, disjointed storytelling has been toned down just enough that I think the show’s story has reached it’s sweet spot.
Screenshot of the Month
I choose this screenshot because it was such a beautiful example of the gorgeous animation style that the animation studio Shaft is using for this series. I was a little skeptical when it was announced that Shaft would be animating a manga from the same author of Honey and Clover, Chika Umino, but they’ve really hit a homerun here. The last time a new series from Shaft wowed me like the first season of 3-gatsu no Lion did was back during the Spring 2010 season with Arakawa Under the Bridge.
Disappointment of the Month
This was a title that I really wanted to like. Having just come off of finishing the first season of Macross, which had a real focus on the power of culture, I was interested to see what Urahara was going to do with a similar theme. I listened to a lot of country music growing up and it instilled in me a desire to see “the little man” prevail over the big money, so, I wanted to root for the three girls being successful with their shop. Also, I enjoy learning about Japan and was looking forward to getting to know more about the Harajuku district. These three elements appeared to be what Urahara wanted to focus on; but, four episodes in and I’m scratching my head at how poorly they have been incorporated into the show. Add a cast of characters who are bland and lifeless – being a cliché character type would be an improvement for them – and there’s very little reason to watch this show. I also find it odd that, for being about the Harajuku district, they didn’t get Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to sing either the OP or ED. I don’t pretend to know much about Japan but even I am familiar with her and how perfect of a fit she would have been for this show. Here’s a couple videos to prove my point.
Summarize a Show in One Screenshot
Even after four episodes (including the prequel episode 00) I still have no clue what this show is about. In it’s favor, I think the quasi-Nazis they introduced in episode 00 are the show’s bad guys and not the good guys that episode 00 seemed to make them.
The second half of this show has gotten interesting as the main character, Mahmut Tuğrul, has returned to the position of power he lost at the start of the series and this allows him to find unconventional means to block the Empire from starting their desired war with the Türkiye Stratocracy. I enjoy the focus on the use of politics and diplomacy to attempt to stop a war before it begins but the speed in which Mahmut accomplishes his goals, often in a single episode when it should be taking 5 – 7 episodes, leaves the series feeling a bit half-baked.
Head to Head
With October starting a new season of anime there are a whole new crop of series to choose from for this head-to-head section. Since we are still in the early stages of the season, and there are people still deciding on what they should pick up, I’m using this month’s match up to profile two of lesser watched darker works of the season.
Characters – winner: Juuni Taisen. I genuinely like Big McLargeHuge, the main character of Garo, and Sophie is a lot less annoying than I thought she would be; however, NisioisiN knows how to create interesting characters and this is on full display in Juuni Taisen.
Story – winner: Garo: Vanishing Line. It’s quite possible that Juuni Taisen is hiding a surprise twist or two before the end, but, at this point, the death match format is not quite as interesting as the story this season of Garo is building up.
Animation – winner: Garo: Vanishing Line. Both series have featured impressive action sequences which makes this category a close one. It’s probably really more of a matter of taste that I prefer the animation found in Garo.
Enjoyment – winner: Juuni Taisen. The levity found in Garo because of the goofy main character, Brick HardMeat, only marginally counterbalances the often sad stories of the people who fall victim to the Horrors. It’s much easier to be entertained by the over-the-top nature of Juuni Taisen.
Incidentals – winner: Garo: Vanishing Line. This was another tough category. The two items that really stick out in my mind are that Juuni Taisen has a better set of OP/ED and Garo has eye catches that change each episode and I have always loved a show that takes the time to include eye catches. I might have left this category a tie but I can’t overlook the linework in Juuni Taisen. To put it bluntly the linework makes my head hurt with how annoying I find it. It’s slightly less grating here than in the last anime I watched that featured Yoshihiro Sekiya’s “distinct” style of linework – Occultic;Nine – which I almost dropped solely based on it’s linework.
So which is the better series?
I think both series are worth watching. So far Garo: Vanishing Line feels like it’ll turn out closer to the first season of Garo and the 2 cour length of this season should allow the time to construct an interesting story. But, I’m going to name Juuni Taisen as the winner of this month’s head-to-head. Watching the interesting characters play off each other and not knowing how the series is meant to unfold gives this series the slight edge.
Tales From the Backlog
Trinity Seven was the winning choice from last month and I was hoping that it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it probably would be. I didn’t have much hope for this, though, because as a Fall 2014 season anime I already passed it over once and watched 24 other series from that season. Nor was it’s pedigree all that enticing. To quote myself from last time: “This is directed by Hiroshi Nishikiori who directed Azumanga Daioh and that means this has to be the one I should watch. I mean it’s not like he directed Futari wa Milky Holmes and completely ruined the series or directed the incomprehensibly bizarre The Melody of Oblivion or did such a good job with Toaru Majutsu no Index that we all forgot the clearly inferior Railgun spinoff.”
Somehow Trinity Seven was even worse than I feared. Generic was a level of quality this show could not even dream of reaching. The main character is somehow both overpowered and useless at the same time. The magic system is overly complex and never actually really explained. The fan service is tedious and is certainly not a reason to watch this series as there are plenty of other series that do a better job providing fan service content. The story is overly convoluted and only becomes more incomprehensible as the show reveals more of what’s going on. The characters are poorly developed and completely forgettable. In short, this series was a complete waste of time.
Final Score – 3/12 D , MyAnimeList Score – 3/10 Very Bad
I have finished 19 TV series that I gave a MAL score of 3/10 and Hiroshi Nishikiori has now directed three of these 19 shows – Melody of Oblivion, Toaru Majutsu no Index 2, and now Trinity Seven.
And with that I’ll be putting this section on hold for a couple of months. My Secret Santa recommendations should be coming very soon and I plan to use the time I’d spend on Tales of the Backlog watching at least one of the picks (and hopefully more) during November and December.
Looking Forward to Next Month
For November, I’m really looking forward to seeing what my Secret Santa recommendations are and which of the new Fall series pull away from the pack and become the great, must-watch series of the season. On the non-anime front, I’m really, really, really excited for the release of Book Three of the Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson. At over 1200 pages, a huge chunk of my spare time this month will be devoted to reading it as it will probably be as impossible to put down as the first two books in this series. Also this month, I’m looking forward to the turkey that will be served at my family’s Thanksgiving meal. My one sister bought a farm last year and this year she raised a small flock of turkeys and gave each family household a turkey as our Christmas present. I’ve only ever had commercially grown Butterball or Honeysuckle turkey; I’ve never had the chance to taste what a pastured turkey tastes like. If it’s anywhere near the improvement I tasted between store bought pork and the pork she raised, then, it’ll be a real treat.