The Spring 2013 Anime Season comes to a close… so, what were my final impressions of the host of shows I actually managed to follow until the end? Which ones elevated genre and craft to new heights, and which ones failed to epic proportions?
I managed to follow six series until the end this season. There were certainly some series that were better than others, and there was a good mix of genres. I found the comedies excelled this season, with Hataraku Maou-Sama! and Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come was Machigatteiru being at the top of the six shows reviewed in this post.
Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge
Part mystery, part romcom, all fetishes all of the time… that would be Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge in a nutshell. And, even though I’m not totally sold on the whole hair fetish (not to mention fetishes for needles, strangulation, domination, etc.) of this show, I did end up enjoying myself. I thought that the series really picked up around episode 6 (the school camping trip episode) when the exposition about “Authors” and “Insteads” were out of the way, and Iwai finally broke out of her “damsel in distress” role, showing a lot more determination and strength.
Story-wise, it’s a simple concept, with everyone after Iwai, the “Hair Queen”, whose death will grant the killer one wish. Luckily, she has Kiri to protect her with his “Killing Goods”, the cursed scissors, Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge. The series had a major “monster of the week” feel to it, with most of the Authors encountered disappearing after one or two episodes. This isn’t my favourite type of show to watch, but there’s just enough added to the main storyline every few episodes to keep my attention. That said, it’s important to know that I watched the majority of this series in one go, so I was less affected by its slow “monster of the week” pacing.
The music and animation are both above average, and I especially liked the atmosphere of the series, which is some combination of gothic, horror, and mystery all wrapped up in one. Most of the characters were appealing and interesting enough to avoid being totally grating, though I found everyone, especially the protagonists, Iwai and Kiri, a bit too single-minded. Neither one goes through much development, with their motivations and actions remaining static throughout, which is really too bad since there are often hints of something much darker in the whole Authors/Insteads/insanity/murder/Gossip set up that’s not fully utilized in the plot.
There’s plenty of blood spilled in this anime, which is nice to see uncensored, though it’s really nothing explicit or gory. In contrast, there’s also quite a lot of fanservice, so much in fact that you may wonder why Iwai walks around her house naked so often and how come she is constantly taking a bath. Ultimately, logic isn’t the strong suit of this anime, and I often had to tell myself to just accept what just happened, whether it made sense or not. Because, when murderers and assassins are after your head, is it really prudent to go to a party hosted by the very organization that oversees the competition? Is it wise to walk around alone at night when you’re a defenceless girl and everyone is out to get you? Should you be taking a bath with the child assassin that just tried to kill you?
Clearly the end of Crime Edge is setting up for a season 2, so there’s no real conclusion to these first 13 episodes. It did have an action-packed final arc, which I enjoyed quite a bit, with the child killer, Emily, and Kiri finally seeing his original, Grayland. In all, I found this anime to be fun and reasonably enjoyable – as long as I didn’t think too much about the logistics of the plot or character motivations very deeply.
So, would I watch another season of this? Despite enjoying the series enough to watch every episode, I’m not sure if I would… At least not as it’s airing.
Final impressions: It’s not for everyone, but if you can get past the hair fetish and the lack of common sense….
Verdict: I never said it had to make sense.
Devil Survivor 2 The Animation
I know I said I was going to drop this one, but I couldn’t help but follow it to the end… If only because I just wanted to know what was going to happen, combined with the fact that it was a short series, and because I just kept hoping it would change for the better. Unfortunately, I felt this show was basically a waste of time, and I really shouldn’t have bothered sticking with it. Oh, the regret.
My impressions of this anime was that it was dark. And by dark, I mean it was literally difficult to see anything because there was so much shadow and the lighting was generally quite low. In terms of the story, your run-of-the-mill “students fight impending apocalypse” scenario, with all the necessary stock cast components, including: cold and lonely genius commander; mysterious white-haired enemy that questions his fate; loyal yet conflicted second in command; generic hero; comedic relief best friend; quiet/shy yet strong female romantic interest… I could go on, but you get the point.
I felt absolutely no emotional attachment to any of the characters, but not much was warranted, since no one really got much (if any) backstory before being killed off. There was never any doubt that Hibiki would survive in one piece, and even with the “dead face” clips showing impending doom were easily thwarted for the main cast. I found Hibiki repetitive and static, and the rest of the cast predictable and uninteresting.
The battles were somewhat entertaining, but consisted mostly of Hibiki (sometimes others) defeating the Septentrione in one fatal hit, without too much actual fighting. The final battle with Yamato was simply boring and laughable, with the sudden ability to merge demons and the miraculous appearance of Hibiki’s friend’s demons in his phone a total ass pull.
Basically, there was nothing particularly notable about Devil Survivor 2, with a generic cast, and a predictable and anti-climatic conclusion. The anime skips over so many details with regards to the plot and the characters that at one point I wondered if I had actually skipped an episode by accident… but no, it was just the storyline being completely incomprehensible.
On the plus side, the animation was decent (ignoring the lack of lighting here), and the summoned monsters and Septentrione were interesting. Character design was decent, and the music wasn’t bad either. Unfortunately, Devil Survivor 2 really doesn’t have much substance other than a few pretty visuals. I haven’t played the game it was based off of, but from what I’ve heard, the anime does not do the game justice in its interpretation – and that’s hardly a surprise, since cramming 7 Septentrione battles and a large cast into 13 episodes is pretty much impossible if you’re aiming for anything more than animated Cliff’s notes.
Final impressions: Don’t bother unless you love repetition and ass pulls.
Verdict: Just go play the game.
Starting off the Spring 2013 anime season, Hataraku Maou-sama! was barely on my radar… I picked up the first episode as part of my sampling of opening episodes, not really knowing what to expect. And, I am very happy that I did! This was certainly my favourite show this season, with it’s consistent delivery of comedy, action, and hilarious facial expressions.
With snappy dialogue, great voice acting, and a nice mix of comedy and action, this anime was great fun to watch, if only because I could never be quite sure how things were going to play out. Serious moments were often punctuated by comedic ones, which prevented the show from venturing too far into the territory of melodrama. The main storyline about Enta Isla pops up just enough to make me want to see the next episode, but I came back to this series mostly for the comedic antics.
There were also many running gags that never got stale, such as Ashiya acting as a doting housewife and always running to get his cape before joining the battle, Chiho’s “well endowed” body and her love for Maou, Maou’s cluelessness at Chiho’s advances, Emiya’s constant tripping down stairs, Dullahan, katsu-doom…. and the list goes on!
I found each character interesting and fun to watch, and despite the large and ever-growing cast, it never seemed like anyone was left on the sidelines for very long. The large cast also helped to keep the humour and gags fresh, since they could always be brought into the fray to further complicate or one-up the situation. There was also a surprising amount of action for a series mostly about the devil king trying to make a living working in fast food to support his two lackeys.
Animation was mostly well done, though there were some short cuts visible in the background characters and the facial expressions that were some distance away. That said, the close ups were excellently executed, and I’ve never had so much fun looking at a character’s ever-changing expressions before. The ending is left open to a second season, which I really hope happens in the future!
Final impressions: Comedy, action, and hilarious facial expressions.
Verdict: Bring on season 2!
Red Data Girl
This was a series I really wanted to like and that I had high hopes for, but that ultimately fell flat. The story starts out clear enough (Izumiko is to be the new vessel for the Himegami, a mysterious and powerful goddess that could destroy the world, and Miyuki is her reluctant protector… together they must find a way to overcome their differences and figure out the mystery of the Himegami, etc.), but then descends into a mire of seemingly irrelevant side stories and confusing plot points involving clingy triplets, a sick horse, school festivals, student rankings, traditional dancing, and something called the “World Heritage”.
I found that the series had quite a lot of exposition – only it was all about things that were seemingly extraneous to the main story and often longwinded, such as the relationship between the triplets, or the reason why Mayura is so focused on beating Takayanagi. Episode 9 had the most informative exposition about the origins of the Himegami, but even so, there was really not enough action to really give substance to it all. With so little of the main plot is actually explained, and a lot of poor pacing, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
As for the characters, they felt mostly static the entire time, with the exception of Izumiko, who at least actually made some visible effort to change herself. Miyuki seems to have some development in his feelings towards Izumiko, especially in the last 3 episodes, with his growing concern about her, but he’s mostly petulant, and it’s not quite enough to get me to care at all. I can’t say that I felt much attachment to any one in this anime, which is disappointing since there was a lot of potential in the first 2 episodes.
The one area in which this anime shines, however, is in the visuals. The backgrounds are really lovely, and the dance sequences and depictions of Izumiko’s kimonos look beautiful. Character design was good but not outstanding. Unfortunately, visuals alone are not enough to carry a series.
In the end, the show does pick up just slightly around episode 9, but the ending is inconclusive and dissatisfying – probably a byproduct of having too much source material (6 novels!) and not enough episodes to really develop the world or the characters. The ending is left open and nothing is resolved, suggesting the possibility of a second season. I liked the premise, but this series really needed to have more than 12 episodes dedicated to telling the entire story in a cohesive and comprehensive way, instead of cramming everything into one season with hopes of resolving the confused narrative if a second season was green lit.
Final impressions: Started out with a lot of potential, mired by a host of side stories in the middle, and ends with its head just barely above water.
Verdict: Source-material syndrome combined with an ailment in pacing.
Suisei no Gargantia
As one of the most popular and anticipated shows this season, how did Suisei no Gargantia match up to the expectations? I would say it performed above average, but it’s not something I would ultimately classify as an instant classic or as an anime that breaks into my top 10 or even top 30 favourite anime. I think it had the potential to be even better, but that said, it was still a solid series.
I found the beginning immensely entertaining and thought provoking, as Ledo gradually comes to terms with his new life on Gargantia and learns about life beyond the Galactic Alliance. As he explores his humanity and his past, learns Earth’s language, and begins to break out of his conditioning to find his own way of and reason for living.
The world of Suisei no Gargantia was well crafted and beautifully animated, with vivid depictions of the sky and sea populating many shots. The animation was smooth and well executed, while the music was appropriately epic or light depending on the mood. I loved seeing the inner workings of the ships, as well as the hints of the former human civilization hidden beneath the waves. Character design was well done, and it was refreshing to see so many healthily tanned bodies. The gradual tanning of Ledo throughout the series was also a very nice touch.
There was also a good mix of comedic elements and thought provoking questions throughout the first half of the series, with Ledo experiencing plenty of “culture shock” at eating meat, working with others, and earning money. Chamber was a constant source of simultaneously hilarious and introspective dialogue, which would often get right to the core of Ledo’s current problems, whether it was Chamber’s usefulness at working while Ledo idled on the sidelines, or Chamber’s final sacrifice for Ledo’s desire to live.
However, what stops this anime from being a masterpiece is some combination of erratic pacing and flat characters. I did like how the show switches from fast-paced action space war to introspective slice of life on Gargantia, but episodes 5 and 6 were the most disappointing and weakest of the series, with tons of unnecessary fanservice without much development in terms of characters or plot. Now, I don’t mind fanservice, but I do mind it when it takes over the show and displaces the main storyline in a series that is plot-driven.
Beyond Ledo and Chamber, I found the rest of the characters generally flat and static. It was as if everyone has their role to play in the series, and once their part was complete, they drifted neatly to the sidelines. Amy is a perfect example of this, as she is prominent in the first half of the series as she guides Ledo into life on Gargantia, but then she basically drops out of the show until making a brief appearance in the finale. She serves her purpose as the embodiment of what Ledo learned during his time on Gargantia about humanity and living, and never develops into anything more substantial.
Overall, I found Suisei no Gargantia entertaining and fun to watch. I would have liked the questions and themes it presented to be explored more deeply, and perhaps the show would have benefitted from a few additional episodes to really flesh out the characters and themes. The anime ultimately fails to produce that “special something” that makes a series an instant classic. Still, this was a fairly solid show to watch, and I do recommend it.
Final impressions: Bogged down by issues with pacing and flat characters, could have benefited from tighter storytelling.
Verdict: I’m sorry it’s not perfect, but it’s still a solid watch. Also, Chamber!!
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru
A lot of series this season asked the question “what does it mean to be human and live amongst others?”, and for a series with no devil kings or space soldiers anywhere in sight, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come was Machigatteiru was surprisingly introspective and poignant.
What drives this show is, of course, the well crafted characters, each with their own motivations and pasts, which in turn influence their actions throughout the anime. Hachiman shines in this series, and it was both sad and interesting to hear his inner monologue and thought process throughout. He was easy to relate to, with all his flaws, reservations, and feelings resonating with the viewer’s own.
And, it wasn’t just Hachiman that was relatable. All of the other characters had their own flaws and traits, from Yui’s desire to please others and inability to confront her “friends”, to Hayato’s preservation of the status quo and avoiding conflict by acting as the nice guy, while privately acknowledging Hachiman and Yukino’s methods and reasons.
I especially loved seeing the difference between Hachiman and Yukino and the ways that they interacted with others, with Hachiman tending to bring all of the hate, jealousy, and other unsavoury feelings focused upon himself in his attempts to solve a problem and clear the air. In contrast, Yukino was almost unflinchingly direct in pointing out the flaws, weaknesses, and faults in others, but her cold outer shell and creed that she “never tells a lie” isolates her from the feelings of her peers. Yui acts as a refreshing intermediate between the two, with her honest, heart-on-her-sleeve, emotional outbursts.
Plot wise, this series was more about the development of the characters and their daily lives than it was about any over-arching storyline. While it could have easily have fallen into the “monster of the week” trap, with each episode focusing on one problem at a time, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come was Machigatteiru managed to avoid this by having more than one episode devoted to a particular issue. The finale with the school festival was especially well done and, combined with the lower key last episode that showcased how much the cast had developed since the beginning of the series, was a perfect conclusion to the anime as a whole.
And, in case you’re getting the impression that this series was all about serious issues, there were plenty of well placed comedic elements throughout. I really enjoyed the running gag of Hachiman’s pure love for his male classmate, Saika…. Truly the OTP in this anime!
Animation-wise, this show had its good and not so good moments, and it was certainly not it’s strong point. Music must have been mostly unmemorable since I can’t recall anything notable about it – which is not necessarily a bad thing since it may just mean that it was integrated well.
Final impressions: Left open to a second season without compromising the integrity or overall narrative of the first.
Verdict: Surprisingly introspective and poignant, with excellent character development.