As the seasons change from winter to spring, our first round of anime for 2014 draws to a close… so how did the winter 2014 anime season fare? Well, overall I found the season mostly mediocre, with plenty of ups and downs in the storytelling, with only a minority of standouts. Many anime were good, but not quite great, being enjoyable but without that special spark that makes you really love a show.
A decent, if predictable, mech series, Buddy Complex was certainly fun to watch despite not being the type of show where I just couldn’t wait for the next week’s episode. I can’t say there was really anything particularly memorable or noteworthy about it, though I did like the use of time travel. The connecting mechs idea wasn’t bad either and the battles were fun to watch, though the whole “proposal” part was a bit silly.
Characters were simple and straightforward with no real surprises, with the saving grace being that they managed to avoid being particularly annoying despite their one-mindedness. Transported to the future, Aoba could easily have acted like a petulant, moody child, but his upbeat, act-first-think-later, hero-type attitude helped make for a very light story. Similarly with Dio, who could have come off as a total killjoy, strict, soldier-type, ended up more like a best bro tsundere.
Like the characters, the story was straightforward, with any reasoning behind the war glossed over and left unmentioned. All you have to know is dark uniforms = bad; light uniforms = good. This anime might have had a shot at actually being good (rather than mostly mediocre) if the series had been of a longer length, giving the story and characters more time to develop and have more of a conclusion… But then again, maybe not, since the series still managed to waste time with episodes dedicated to shooting a PV, shopping in Hawaii, and dealing with daddy/sister/family issues (which are inexplicably and magically just solved over a meal and a video call).
With the open ending (I might have scoffed out loud at the cliffhanger…), it looks like there will indeed be a second season airing in the future… And, while I thought the series started and ended strongly enough, I’m not sure if I’ll stick around to see how it all goes – at least not while it’s airing. Maybe I’ll marathon the second season if I ever find the time.
Final Impressions: A promising start lapses into a slow middle section, but manages to end on a high note.
Verdict: Simple characters and story make for something that was not bad, but not exactly good either.
Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha
At a meagre 10 episodes, this cute and fluffy romantic comedy was the one series this season that I wish was either longer or more succinct. With a fair sized cast, few characters outside our core group really got much attention, which is both understandable and unfortunate considering the length of the anime. And, for a show that was marketed as a romance, I was surprised how few scenes of Inari’s romantic interest there were… I also could have done with much more Uka/Touka!
And, while I did enjoy Uka, our gentle otaku kami, I was more on the fence with Inari. She was certainly cute and innocent, but I really felt there could have been more explanation showing how dependent and protected she is by others – often without her realizing it. I thought this dependence, combined with her tendency to run away or avoid problems was really the central conflict of the show from which Inari’s problems (and subsequent transformations etc.) stemmed from. It was disappointing she only really addressed this in the final episode (head on, rather than just in her head), with the other episodes being mostly a rehash of Inari’s insecurities.
Comedy was a large component of the show, but I found it mostly hit or miss, especially with the portrayals of the gods (gangster dad, frumpy Amerterasu, etc.). It had some nice animation, with great temple scenes, colourful torii gates, and plenty of pretty skies… though I found the CG in the final episode really out of place. Music was also nicely paired with the animation, fitting well with the temple atmosphere of the series.
For the most part, I quite enjoyed the series, though the final episode was a strange letdown of emotion and energy compared with the penultimate episode. The anime happily managed to wrap up neatly giving some closure while leaving it open for another potential season (especially considering the manga source material). I think this series would benefit and improve with a second season, especially since Inari would be in a perfect position to have some real character development in the aftermath of the finale events.
Final Impressions: Cute and light, but a bit repetitive.
Verdict: I can only hope there is a second season just so Inari can actually have some meaningful character development. Also, more Uka and Touka, please.
Kill la Kill
It took me a quite a few episodes to get into Kill la Kill (about 7 or 8 episodes just to get into it, but almost 15 to actually be invested!) but once I did, I was pleasantly surprised by how this anime ended up being a pretty solid effort by the newly formed Studio Trigger. So, in the end, did Kill la Kill really manage to “save anime”?
Well, apart from the fact that I don’t think anime needs “saving”, Kill la Kill was suitably over the top and full of lots of action and silly comedy. None of the characters were particularly “deep”, but that’s okay, since it really wasn’t one of those contemplative type shows. Instead, Kill la Kill was all about just sitting back, turning off the brain, and enjoying the ride… or at least it should have been, except for the various half-formed suggestions about the role of clothing in relation to fashion and status, the “male gaze”, the sexualization of girls, systems of control, and so on. Unfortunately, these themes were not fully fleshed out, so while I had fun with this anime, I was never exactly sure what Kill la Kill wanted to be (social commentary? parody of anime/media elements such as fanservice? just a simple and fun action show?), and in the end, I’m not sure Trigger knew either.
I also found the pacing erratic, with the first parts pretty average “fight of the week” fare that lapsed into what I can really only call filler. The buildup to the finale was pretty excellent (post school raid arc), but felt a bit deflated by the final episode. Animation was stylish and bold, if a bit rough in some areas. I absolutely loved the music, which lent a lot of atmosphere and energy to the scenes. Overall, I liked Kill la Kill more and more as it went on, though a lot of the time it really felt like the show was flying by the seat of it’s pants.
Final Impressions: A fun ride that took a while to get going and had huge thematic issues, but somehow managed to end pretty well.
Verdict: A good effort by Trigger, but I know you guys can do a lot better.
And so, the series that is affectionately known as “not Sword Art Online” ends… Log Horizon‘s refreshing take on the “gamers trapped in a virtual game” was enjoyable, if a bit ambiguous in terms of any concrete plot. There’s little in the way of a real overarching plot (it might just be me, but I can’t help but wonder why no one really seems concerned about the fact that they are all trapped in a game. Anyways.), and without a sense of urgency, the series really acts more like a slice of life with a good dose of plotting politics, a dash of fighting, a touch of romance, and a nice use of game mechanics – even if sometimes the anime felt a bit heavy on the exposition.
Because of the ambiguous nature of the story, it took me a while to really get into this series and have a feel for where it was going… and even after 25 episodes, I’m not really sure what the endgame will be. Will they wake up from the game and return to the real world? Continue living in the virtual world that has, in Shiroe’s words, become their reality? Or, maybe it doesn’t matter, and it’s just about the journey, not the destination. Either way, this combination of genres comes off as simultaneously refreshing and frustrating in it’s lack of focus.
As for the characters, they had little development overall, I was never fully invested in anyone, and really could have done without much of the romance in the final episodes. Animation was good with some nice character designs, but suffered from inconsistencies throughout, and the use of CG for the monsters was pretty awkward. That said, I enjoyed Log Horizon quite a bit, but felt it could have used more of a concrete direction to keep me really engaged. A second season has been confirmed, and I do plan to check it out.
Final Impressions: A nice take on the “trapped in a game” scenario that feels more like a slice of life than an action/fantasy adventure.
Verdict: Enjoyable and good, but a lack of character depth and story direction leads to muddied waters.
Nagi no Asukara
This was one of my favourite picks when it aired last fall, with it’s beautiful animation, interesting cast of characters, and a love story set in middle school that felt like it would have some actual weight behind it. I loved the intriguing premise about the land people and sea people, and felt like the series would have a ton of room to grow. But, after 26 episodes, I’m not sure Nagi no Asukara fulfilled my expectations.
My main gripe with this series is that midway through, the story and characters stagnate almost to a crawl, with the story recycling, revisiting, and rehashing the same old problems, feelings, and even events as before. I recognize that this all plays into the theme of change, whether it be the changing of feelings and environments or of growing up physically or mentally… And, maybe that was the point of the way the story and characters played out and were presented, but that doesn’t mean it made for great storytelling.
Animation is as one would expect from PA Works: beautiful and lush imagery with some amazingly framed shots and a play of light and shadow that added volumes to the meaning of a scene. Music was also a huge highlight in this anime. Overall, I enjoyed Nagi no Asukara, loving the opening arc, but really felt like the second half of the series dragged. I also enjoyed the ending and how it all concluded even if the whole sea god story and suddenly ena for everyone felt rushed (and, my heart will always ship Tsumugu and Manaka, haha).
Final Impressions: Beautifully animated with a strong start, a slow middle section, and a fair ending.
Verdict: I know the English name for the show is “a lull in the sea”, but I honestly wasn’t expecting so much lulling.
If asked which series I thought I would enjoy the most at the beginning of the winter season, I’m certain I would not have chosen Nobunagun. It started off well enough, but I remember that by episode 3, I was finding it a bit predictable, with not quite enough fighting. But, in a strange turn of events, the show somehow managed to get better and better, becoming one of my top picks of the season.
Pure action with a good dose of silly comedy and a nice amount of strategy/plotting mixed in, this anime made for an entertaining ride that was all about sitting back and just enjoying the fun. Our main character, Sio, was a wonderful blend of shy, bumbling introvert and strong, confident badass,which was made all the more satisfying when she channeled the spirit of Nobunaga mid battle. Her growth throughout the series from a green novice afraid to voice her mind to a (semi) confident strategist was well done, especially since she still manages to remain her silly, shy self at her core.
Over the top and full of ridiculous situations, there wasn’t really anything very surprising about the direction of the plot, but I found it’s execution very satisfying. And, of course the ending was a nice touch too, wrapping up the series while leaving room for a potential sequel.
Final Impressions: A fun, simple anime with plenty of action. Just don’t expecting any life-altering moments, though.
Verdict: Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Yet another strong starter anime with a lagging middle section and a good but far from great ending, Noragami was an enjoyable anime that just missed the mark for me. My main complaint is that the Yukine arc was too long and drawn out for my tastes since there is really only so long that I can stand watching a petulant child and his unresponsive guardian. Yukine’s complete turn around in the space of one episode was as baffling as Yato’s unwillingness to just sit down with the kid and help in through his issues in a a mature way.
That said, I did like a lot of the comedic aspects of the anime, with Yato’s delusions of grandeur and Kofuku’s happy-go-lucky demeanour adding colour to the show. I also loved Nora and her voice acting was wonderful to listen to, being a delicious mix of manipulative and childlike innocence. I didn’t feel that any character, other than Yukine, had much development, which didn’t make me particularly attached or invested in anyone
Animation was a treat to look at, and I really loved the music, which lent the anime a wonderful traditional meets modern vibe. In all, Noragami was enjoyable but not very engaging, having a wonderful beginning, a frustrating middle section, and a strangely lacklustre finale. I really wanted to like this a lot more, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder what the point of it all was.
Final Impressions: It’s unfortunate that the Yukine arc was so frustrating to watch that it coloured my entire experience of this anime.
Verdict: A good effort that sadly misses it’s mark.
Who knew that what started out as a simple comedy about a hero wannabe and his deadpan cop friend would turn into such a zany adventure overturning every superhero trope in the book? From the beginning, this show had me hooked with it’s funny yet strangely poignant themes on the meaning of justice, being a hero, and the realization of childhood dreams.
Perhaps what I liked best about Samurai Flamenco was how it mixed parody with serious moments involving everything from physical torture and mental anguish to depression and self-loathing and doubt, making the show continually unpredictable in it’s predictability as the plot continually escalated, until literally transcending time and space. I found that as soon as I began to feel bored by a particular arc, the show would introduce something new to keep me hooked, whether it was additional teammates, a mysterious twin brother, a cop-killing gorilla, or full on torture. I also enjoyed a lot of the comedic aspects of the show, especially the exchanges between Hazama and Goto.
Characters were a fun mix, with much of the main cast having their own quirks and moments of development. Animation sadly left a lot to be desired… The final arc was a nice way to wind down the series after all the supernatural, sci-fi events of the penultimate arc. Goto’s backstory and Hazama’s naked idiocy had me flipping back and forth between tears and laughter throughout, and Hazama returning to his superhero roots as just a man with his strong sense of justice bookended the series wonderfully.
Definitely one of my top picks for this season, Samurai Flamenco was a wonderfully wacky ride that pays homage to every superhero trope in the book. It was playful and silly, while managing to have some pretty powerful and often dark moments throughout.
Final Impressions: Comedic parody and serious melodrama mix in a predictably unpredictable way.
Verdict: A zany adventure that tests the bounds of the superhero genre.
Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta
Mediocre at best, I’m still not entirely sure why I stuck with this to the end. It wasn’t completely terrible, but by no stretch was this anime good. Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta starts off interestingly enough, with our hero with a typically tragic past, Kal-el, leaving the mainland to embark on a journey to find “the end of the sky” on a floating island. There, he meets the usual cast of characters, trains as a pilot, and falls in love… And, while this synopsis doesn’t sound so bad, the execution left so much to be desired.
Characters were bland and flat, with some very boring stereotypes. The worst offenders were the female characters, widely portrayed as limp, quivering, and weak at the worst possible times. Similarly, the male characters filled their roles as the strong, go-to-war types, fighting and dying for their girls. I felt little to nothing for the plights of the characters (especially the extended cast, who had little more than a brief introduction), and found myself simply shrugging at the various tear jerker scenes. The faceless nature of their enemy and the purpose of their journey also contributed to my apathy towards the entire series, since it was hard to feel anything without knowing what they were even fighting and dying for.
My main gripe with the storytelling was that there were a lot of instances where the anime simply told the viewer something rather than showing it, which led to information dumps, usually in the form of a prolonged flashback that would magically explain everything about a character. The story was also all over the place, acting like a teary melodrama, a romantic school comedy, a simple slice of life, and an action/adventure all in the space of an episode. Poorly written with so many inconsistencies in plot, pacing, and characters, it was all together too conveniently written, especially at the end of the series. Animation was questionable at times, but it was really the least of it’s problems.
Final Impressions: Mediocre in every way at the best of times.
Verdict: Sexist, boring, predictable, and wrapped in the most impenetrable plot armour at the worst of times.