Summer 2014 Anime Season: First Impressions

Akame ga Kill 03     Aldnoah Zero 03     Ao Haru Ride 01    Barakamon 02     Free Eternal Summer 02     Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun 03    Glasslip 02     Sailor Moon Crystal 02     Sword Art Online II 01     Tokyo ESP 01     Tokyo Ghoul 03     Zankyou no Terror 03

The summer 2014 anime season has arrived, bringing with it a host of new series in a wide variety of genres, including horror, mecha, sci-fi, sports, romance, comedy, slice of life, and everything in between… There’s plenty to choose from, so here are 12 shows I’ve been checking out in the last few weeks, and my first impressions of them!

Overall, I’m finding this season quite varied and actually quite good, with a few shows that shine a little brighter than others. There were a lot over very strong first episodes that caught my attention quickly, but unfortunately, the majority of them have failed to match up to their brilliant starts.

Akame ga Kill!

Akame ga Kill 02Akame ga Kill 01

Predictable with a largely generic cast of characters and a questionable plot, Akame ga Kill! had a fairly good first episode before degrading into a “monster of the week” scenario, pairing a different member of the cast with the protagonist for a little backstory. There’s blood and gore, though it feels very forced and campy, as if it’s trying really hard to be a darker story than it really is. It’s almost like it wants to everything all at once, and is just going through a checklist of things that make a “dark” and gory shounen action harem comedy adventure. Well, that was a mouthful.

The characters are your standard walking tropes, and while the protagonist is actually fairly competent, it’s not really enough to hold my attention. I’m just not interested in any of their tragic back stories, whether it’s the gay ex-soldier, the twin-tailed tsun, or the cold assassin with a cute side. I think the premise is fun, but I wish it would explore more of the ethical implications of the vigilante justice meted out by the Night Raid.

Overall, Akame ga Kill! isn’t exactly outright terrible. It’s reasonably watchable, if you enjoy this type of exaggerated, campy anime. As for me, the comedy, characters, and story, have failed to click, so needless to say, I won’t be tuning into the adventures of the Night Raid any longer.

First impressions: Cheesy and predictable story structure with a cast of characters I care little for.
Verdict: Goodnight, Night Raid.

Aldnoah.Zero

Aldnoah Zero 02Aldnoah Zero 01

It took a while, but I am just starting to get on board with Aldnoah.Zero… It’s taken three episodes to even start to cement the characters, and I anticipate that the next episode will make or break my future interest, depending on the direction the show decides to go in. Of course, Gen Urobuchi’s name being attached to this series is helping to keep me interested, but beyond that, I don’t think the story or characters have really had a chance to shine quite yet.

Slaine is probably the most interesting of the cast, with his love for the princess, his divided heritage, and wavering loyalties, all tainted with a hint of darkness. Conversely, Inaho comes across as a smart but apathetic main character with no hint of a personality in sight. I’m fervently hoping more life is breathed into him, because without any sort of backstory or development he will remain an incredibly lackluster protagonist.

Storywise, I am looking forward to seeing how the Earth copes with the Martians and their advanced technology, but would prefer if the series continued on with the strategic planning seen in episode 3, rather than a story where some special weapon only the protagonist can use is what allows Earth to strike back. Aldnoah.Zero certainly has lots of potential to be great – let’s see if it’ s able to make full use of it.

First impressions: Slow but steady start with a cast of characters that desperately need some definition.
Verdict: The potential is there… I know it! (Please don’t be bad)

Ao Haru Ride

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A thwarted first love from middle school gets a second chance in high school in Ao Haru Ride, but with all the time that as passed since, will our fated pair be able to reconnect when they are no longer who they used to be? Sounds like your typical shoujo romance, but what sets this apart from others is the cast of characters and the oddly frank way they deal with their problems. Yes, there is actual talking about feelings happening here, actual progress being made, even after only 3 episodes.

I am loving the soft, pretty animation that looks lovely and bright, fitting this youthful story perfectly. I especially like how the flashbacks to middle school are done, with a watercolour-like filter and lots of gentle colours. The music is also very enjoyable as well, setting the mood nicely. Characters have also been great so far, with Futaba and Kou having lots of charm in their interactions. Both have already started to develop as characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go next.

I’ve actually read a good chunk of the manga, so I won’t comment on the story much, but will say that while I am interested to see how it translates into anime form, Ao Haru Ride is honestly not my favourite by Io Sakisaka (I personally like Strobe Edge better, but maybe it’s just because it’s completed?). Anyways, Ao Haru Ride is still a great series, the story moves quickly, and the characters are surprisingly quick on the uptake. This one is staying firmly put on my watch list this season.

First impressions: A fresh take on a typical story, with great character interactions that keep things on the move.
Verdict: A shoujo romance that actually goes somewhere. Finally.

Barakamon

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Adorable, sweet, uplifting, and with a nice dose of comedy, the opening episode of Barakamon had me captured in an instance, with the adorable and childish Naru pairing wonderfully with the serious but equally childlike Handa, a calligrapher in self-imposed exile after punching a elderly calligrapher who critiqued his work. It’s a story about growing up, making mistakes, and getting to know yourself a little bit better, regardless of your age…

Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes have been slower and less focused than the first, and nothing has yet to match up to that brilliant first episode. That’s not to say it’s bad or anything, just that it simply hasn’t kept up the emotions or themes of self exploration and growth with the same focus, intensity, or pace as the before.

Perhaps my reservations about the series comes from my feelings for the extended cast, which includes some okay characters, but no one nearly as winning as Naru and Handa. It also doesn’t help that the comedy isn’t clicking with me as much as before, with particular note to the two high school girls that always seem to be hanging around.

Overall, Barakamon is still a sweet story with two great main characters. It’s certainly worth a watch, reminding me a lot of Usagi Drop in terms of themes and set up, though with considerably lower stakes and less drama. At the very least, the first episode is well worth a watch.

First impressions: Amazing first episode, great main characters,
Verdict: Watch the first episode. Then watch Usagi Drop.

Free!: Eternal Summer

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As promised by it’s final end card, Free! is back with a second summer season of pretty boys deepening their friendship by splashing around in the water. The vibes of the first season carry on into the second, and it’s just as fun to watch as before… maybe even more so, since the characters and their quirks are already established, making it all the easier for the show to poke fun at the entire cast.

This season it looks like the main conflict will revolve around team building, with the swim clubs from Iwatobi and Samezuka facing off, which is a welcome addition since it would have been pretty sad to see any of the 5 original boys left out. It’s also very nice to see Rin isn’t a total jerk anymore (Sousuke has sort of taken up that role, complete with his mini obsession with/sideway glances at Haru… with mixed results so far), and I like how he’s forming his own group of friends/swim team.

There’s already been several races, lots of silly comedy (I love the Mikoshiba brother’s fascination with Gou), and plenty of bromancing, making this season of Free! feel fresh while still making lots of references to the first season. It helps, of course, that Rin’s team is now a major focus, giving the viewer lots of new characters and material to explore. I’m also really liking the whole “after graduation” storyline going on, especially when it comes to Haru and his general ambivalence to everything not swimming. If you enjoyed Free! the first time around, Eternal Summer won’t disappoint.

First impressions: Continues on wonderfully from the first season with more of an emphasis on team building and Rin.
Verdict: It’s not summer without a little Free!

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun 02Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun 01

I went into this show not expecting too much of anything, and came out of the first episode simply loving how hilarious it was, making fun of every shoujo trope in the book while managing to be endearing and rather sweet. Every subsequent episode has been just as great as the first, something I can’t really say about some of the other series this season…

Without a doubt, this show is carried by Sakura, who is a wonderful character to watch. Her facial expressions and voice really makes the show tick (her “waah, I’m so happy I got your autograph… again…” at the end of the first episode was so good) especially when put next to the stone-faced, deadpan Nozaki. I love how she shifts between skeptical, embarrassed, and gung-ho when faced with Nozaki’s obliviousness and all the crazy people she meets.

I was worried that the anime would be repetitive in it’s gags (especially with Sakura’s attempts to confess to Nozaki), but so far it’s been pretty fresh. This is my unlikely favourite of the season, and I can’t wait to see what silly things happen to Sakura next!

First impressions: And, the title for best character this season goest to Sakura!
Verdict: A sweet comedy series with a ton of laughs.

Glasslip

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While the love polygons might be shaping up quickly in Glasslip, the main story is sure taking its time in coming to the forefront. So far we’ve got a group of friends with repressed romantic interests in each other, a too-cool-for-school new boy in town there to shake things up, and some vague plot point about being able to see the future.

Honestly, there’s not much to go by in terms of story, as it has yet to really get going, even after 3 episodes. And, with only 8 episodes left, I can’t help but wonder if this anime will ever be able to hit its stride or go anywhere in any meaningful way. So, the story is nothing to write home about, and unfortunately, neither are the characters, being generally flat so far with few real defining features. Also, I was seriously hoping for more glassblowing.

As we have come to expect of P.A. Works, the animation is lovely. But, while I like the bright colours, the intensity of the light, and the sun dappled scenery (perfect for a summer show), I am not loving the “sketchy” filter and hazy edges they’re using in some moving scenes and all of the still frames. I just find it more corny than anything else, and the over use of sketchy still scenes is not helping.

Anyways, my overall impression isn’t exactly glowing, but since it’s only an 11 episode series, it looks nice even if it’s so far generally dull, and I do want to give it a chance to actually reach the meat of it’s story, so I’ll probably continue on with it… when I have the time and the mood strikes me. Maybe.

First impressions: The most boring love polygon out there.
Verdict: For all the shiny, it’s been pretty dull so far.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal 01Sailor Moon 03

The nostalgia is strong with this one… Sailor Moon Crystal was certainly a title that I was greatly looking forward to in the summer season, if only because of the fact that it had been delayed so much before. I watched the original series, dubbed in English, with I was little, and recently I read the manga, so I was very interested in seeing how this updated version based more closely on the manga would pan out.

So far, I like it enough to continue, but have been overall disappointed in the quality of the animation (and it’s only the second episode!). Though the colours are vibrant, and the character designs retain the look of the original manga (though I think Usagi should look a bit younger), the CG transformation scenes are unattractive and clunky, and there are already inconsistencies in the faces making the characters take on a bit of a derpy look in some scenes. I’m also not a huge fan of Usagi’s voice (so piercing!), though I didn’t think it as irritating in the second episode. Maybe I’m getting used to it?

While it’s not perfect, I do think Sailor Moon Crystal is a nice reboot, and would be a good introduction to the franchise that set the gold standard for magical girls. I do wonder how much of the story they’ll get through in only 26 episodes, and I’m not thrilled with the release schedule being every two weeks, especially when you take into consideration the animation quality. If you’re still on the fence about Sailor Moon Crystal, but still want to get into the franchise, I highly recommend giving the manga a try!

First impressions: Not quite what I hoped for, especially in terms of animation, but still worth a watch.
Verdict: The nostalgia will carry me through.

Sword Art Online II

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If I can sum up my feelings for Sword Art Online II in one word, it would be: dull…. It’s not that it’s outright terrible, but I haven’t found anything interesting or fun to really hook me into the series yet. The first episode was almost painfully slow, with a ton of exposition and almost no action. And, compared to the beginning of SAO season 1, I find the second season lacks any sort of urgency, with the threat of Death Gun killing players feeling largely peripheral and currently quite unrelated to the story so far. Of course, it doesn’t help that Kirito has yet to even enter Gun Gale Online to start his investigation of Death Gun.

While I do have lower expectations for this series because of the first season, I have heard that SAOII gets better… but being cynical, I’ll believe it when I see it. Currently, the characters are about as bland as I remember them to be, with Kirito being our standard wish fulfillment protagonist, Asuna still acting as a passive soundboard for her boyfriend’s brilliance to bounce off of, and Sinon, the new girl with an appropriately tragic backstory, primed and ready to be saved by Kirito.

SAOII is still very much in the introductory stages of the story, and I do hope that it will pick up once Kirito finally enters the virtual world. So far, the story is pretty standard, and the action has been less than inspiring (I was honestly bored out of my mind watching the second episode, which was pretty much all fighting). Despite my reservations, I will be continuing on with SAOII, not necessarily because I like it, but rather because I feel like I should watch it for the sake of it being part of the SAO franchise. Maybe that’s not a good reason to check it out, but right now, it’s the only one I’ve got.

First impressions: This is so boring.
Verdict: Obliged to watch it, but only because I feel like I should, not because I necessarily want to.

Tokyo ESP

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Honestly, the first episode didn’t make much of an impression, being poorly executed, lackluster, and generally dull. The second episode didn’t make too much headway into my good graces, though it was a lot better in terms of setting up the main characters and plot. While Rinka is cute and all, I’m not really finding a lot to like about Tokyo ESP. The action is not particularly exciting and I’m finding the pacing to be off, but I would say it’s not outright terrible, so much as solidly mediocre.

Characters are not particularly interesting so far, with little to no explanation as to their motivations or decisions. I also find their facial expressions pretty bland overall, which makes it even harder to really get into the characters and their interactions. There’s an overuse of coincidence that makes the flow of the show rather stilted. In the end, I honestly don’t have much to say about Tokyo ESP, mostly because I find it uninspiring despite its potential to be better.

First impressions: Poorly executed, lackluster, generally dull.
Verdict: I understand it’s based on a manga, so maybe I’ll go read that instead.

Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul 01Tokyo Ghoul 02

What attracted me to Tokyo Ghoul was the wonderfully creepy first episode that made my pulse race in anticipation and kept my eyes glued to the screen as Ken realized his sudden transformation into a ghoul… The second episode was a clear step down, losing much of the horror aspects I loved about the first episode, and instead ending up pretty predictable and sadly dull. Since then, the series has continued on much the same, lacking in much of the spark of the opening.

Characters are mostly just fine, though Ken can be frustratingly naive at times, and Touka generally comes off as needlessly angry and standoffish. I can’t say I really like either of our mains very much. The setting is also a bit questionable, especially in terms of the humans and their lack of concern regarding the ghouls… I mean, people are being eaten alive (some in broad daylight!) and the general populace isn’t freaking out?

Most of the time, Tokyo Ghoul feels like it’s trying very hard to be “dark and edgy”, with excessively bloody gore designed to shock. It’s not particularly as grotesque, creepy, or stylish as I would like it to be, with a lot of the situations feeling more comic than horror oriented in a bizarre, over the top way. I want to like this a lot more, but there’s such a disconnect between what it is and what it wants to be that I simply can’t take it seriously.

First impressions: Creepy horror vibes overturned for bloody gore that feels more comic than it really should.
Verdict: Maybe it’s just trying too hard.

Zankyou no Terror

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Zankyou no Terror definitely feels like the most polished series of this season, with some beautiful animation and music (love the OP) that are practically of movie quality, and an intriguing story that promises a wild ride. The cast of characters all feel rather human, with an array of different pasts and personalities that pull the story forward. Our terrorists, Nine and Twelve, are cold and calculating, while displaying plenty of vulnerabilities related to their mysterious pasts, while the bullied and submissive Lisa becomes the wildcard in their plans.

There are lots of interesting themes playing out in this series, from isolation, generational divides, responsibility, and moral obligation (such as Shibasaki’s uncovering of a potential conspiracy regarding the the death of politician). I like the references to real historical events (such as 9/11, and the bombing of Hiroshima), and how the show has not been afraid of addressing them. The extensive use of myths and the inevitably fate are also fascinating (though, I want to say that I found the riddle in the second episode really silly), adding yet another layer to the show.

I hope that Zankyou no Terror can keep up the pace, though I honestly didn’t think episodes 2 and 3 were nearly as good as the first episode. I really hope that the story doesn’t descend into Lisa clouding Nine and Twelve’s terror plan by way of romance and morals. I also kinda dread the distinct possibility that Nine and Twelve are going to be portrayed as “noble terrorists”… I guess it will depend how it all pans out, so until then, I will continue tuning in to Zankyou no Terror with great anticipation.

First impressions: Brilliant first episode with plenty of interesting themes and a wealth of potential.
Verdict: Yes, you should be watching this.

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9 thoughts on “Summer 2014 Anime Season: First Impressions

  1. Wow – it’s not often that I completely agree with every one of someone else’s first impressions on a new anime season! 🙂 Though incidentally, I think SAO II does get a lot better after that disappointingly slow and exposition-filled first episode. Sinon has become a genuinely interesting character for me, and so far at least, she seems the self-reliant/self-rescuing type.

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    • Haha, crazy how your impressions of this season line up with my own! As for SAOII, I agree that Sinon seems pretty strong, but then again, I had the same impression of Asuna in the first half of season 1. I really do hope that she doesn’t become a damsel in distress that has to be rescued by Kirito… but, if this season is anything like the last, she inevitably will. :/

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      • Yeah, that’s true – Asuna was depicted as pretty tough, and then suddenly the series hit about halfway and bam, instant damsel in distress. Still, I’d like to think SAO II won’t follow the exact same route – surely even they know it’d be too repetitive. Well, I guess for now I’ll just try not to pre-judge.

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  2. Hi again! I’m also watching a lot more this season and I think there are a bunch of strong titles. As you said, many of the premieres wowed me but the subsequent episodes haven’t. On the other hand, some first episodes had me disillusioned but the subsequent ones changed my opinion.

    This season I’m watching all the titles you are and concur with your opinions about most of them. Some thoughts I have on a few of them: I was really impressed by the first episode of Barakamon – not just the sakuga style animation but the characters and themes. The healing theme I think will be a constant, but the content difference starting episode 2 was a little disappointing, switching from city guy in a rural setting to gags about fetishes and shonen manga! Hope it stays with the ‘healing’ content and drops the pandering.

    Couldn’t agree more about Free!, the boys’ humorous antics have only increased in charm. The only thing I thought could’ve been added was more original content as some of the ideas in the recent episodes were similar to last season’s. Nonetheless it’s still very worth the watch.

    Ao Haru Ride had me wondering at first; initially it seemed ordinary for the genre and not much romance was conveyed. That changed in subsequent episodes. I agree that it’s got great character interactions dealing with genuine issues and an atmosphere which is something I’ve come to enjoy in shoujo pieces. (keen to give Strobe Edge a try)

    Despite a less than desirable premiere, I’m quite enjoying SAO II from the 2nd ep. I’m intrigued by the world of GGO, as well as the new character Sinon and how she’ll fit into the larger plot. Still, I can see your point about a lot of its generic factors, and I also think the pacing of the first few episodes should have been done differently.

    Yes! Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun- the surprise of the season! The jokes about shoujo manga, its topics and the way the characters play them is done soooo well done! One to look forward to every week!

    As always, your article is my most anticipated at this time each cour. I wish you’d do a middle of the season review as well! 😀

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    • Yes! There are so many shows I’m checking out this season… more than usual!

      I thought the most recent episode of Barakamon was good, returning to a more “healing” (as you nicely put it) theme. Nothing has beat the first episode though!

      I hope you check out Strobe Edge some time! Like Ao Haru Ride, it moves pretty quickly, the characters actually talk to each other, and real progress is made both in terms of character development and relationships. I would love to hear your thoughts on it…

      Haha, I’m not sure if I have time to write mid-season impressions too… I’m slow at writing so I bet the season would be over before I even finished with a mid-season write-up! 😛

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  3. Hey I saw that you have a fair number of animes and was wondering if it would be okay to ask for a couple of your suggestions! I finished watching Clannad, and was wondering if you had any suggestions for a show that kind of held the same element. One that has a romance aspect but one that will have you grabbing a tissue box at the end. If you could think of anything that somewhat resembles this, please let me know as my little heart is quite dead after Clannad haha!

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    • I suppose the obvious answer would be Kanon (2006 version) since both are based off of visual novels by Key, are animated by Kyoto Animation, have a similar harem setup, and are heavy on the romance and drama. Personally, I like Kanon better, but that’s just me! 😛

      Other titles similar to Clannad include Angel Beats! (I think you’ve seen this one already?), and AnoHana (full title: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai).

      For a smaller harem and more comedy, I recommend ToraDora!, Little Busters! (also based on a visual novel by Key), and Full Moon wo Sagashite.

      For a smaller harem, less comedy, and a bit more realism (but still heavy on the romance and drama), check out True Tears, White Album 2 (no need to watch the first season), and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien.

      Hope you find something worth watching, and sorry for being late on replying to you! 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Fall 2014 Anime Season: Final Impressions | Itadakimasu Anime!

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