Summer 2014 Anime Season: Final Impressions

Aldnoah Zero 01    Ao Haru Ride 04    Barakamon 02    Captain Earth 03    Free Eternal Summer 01    Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki kun 01    Glasslip 02    Tokyo Ghoul 03    Zankyou no Terror 04

The beginning of the summer 2014 anime season gave me lots to look forward to, with plenty of high profile series and funny little gems just waiting to be discovered. But, now that it’s all over and done with, how did all my picks pan out?

All in all, this season was full of characters I generally cared nothing for, and series with stellar first and last episodes bookending a more mediocre and dull middle section. While some series were better than others, there really wasn’t anything that blew me away, grabbing my attention and making me wish for the next episode to hurry up and air already.

Aldnoah.Zero

Aldnoah Zero 03Aldnoah Zero 02

While Aldnoah.Zero started off with quite the bang, bringing with it a ton of potential for a gritty, dark, mecha series, I found this first season to be good, but not particularly great in any real way. I’m not really sure what to say about this series… It was kind of just there, not bad, but not especially good, a little dull with the repetitive storylines (travel a bit; Inaho defeats a super powered mech; Slaine gets served; insert a little backstory; rinse and repeat), and right in the middle of the pack in terms of the rest of the series this season.

And, though I think the story was generally fine, my main complaint is how little I felt about the characters, particularly Inaho and Asseylum. I honestly did not care about any of the characters, and am pretty ambivalent about the fates of Inaho and Asseylum on an emotional level… on a narrative level, however, I am less ambivalent, if only because we now face the second season with no one in sight to fill the protagonist void, except for maybe Slaine. Anyone else they choose to fill the places of Inaho and Asseylum will have to be built up from the ground up again, and with it, any emotional attachment as well.

That said, the final moments of the last episode were great to watch (loved Inaho pointing the gun at Slaine in his only emotional, rash decision of the series) and I’ll definitely be watching the second season (at least the first episode), if only to find out what they do with the protagonist situation.

Final Impressions: My ambivalence towards the characters stops what could have been a dramatic ending from being even remotely emotional.
Verdict: But… now what?

Ao Haru Ride

Ao Haru Ride 03Ao Haru Ride 02

Despite being mostly enthusiastic after the first three episodes, my interest and excitement for this classically styled shoujo romance dulled significantly when I remembered the events of the manga the story is based on. In all honesty, I semi-dropped this anime about halfway through because I was so put off by the story and characters… most likely, this is due to my knowing what direction the story eventually moves in, and being largely dissatisfied by it.

That said, looking at the anime as a standalone, Ao Haru Ride isn’t a bad shoujo romance. I think it does a decent job at keeping the story moving (despite pacing issues in the middle sections), and I definitely appreciate how the characters were willing to confront their personal and romantic issues head on. Maybe Futaba cries a little too much for my liking, Kou tends to be overly moody and grabby with his constant wrist pulling, and I find Yuuri’s voice really grating, but overall, they weren’t terrible characters, even if most of their development (except Kou) feels like it happens mostly in the first half of the series. Unfortunately I only had a mild interest in the cast with very little invested in their various plights, which really kills the drama when the drama is primarily character driven.

I will say that the opening episode and the final two episodes were great to watch, however I found much of the middle section generally slow and tedious. Animation captured the art of the source material well, and the I really liked the OP and a lot of the background music… All in all, Ao Haru Ride was not a full on terrible series as it did have a few good moments, however, I can’t give this a glowing recommendation, if only for the pacing and my rather lukewarm feelings towards the characters.

Final Impressions: Great ending that lacked a lot of emotional punch due to my ambivalence towards the cast.
Verdict: It was a nice place for the anime to stop… Now, let us not go any further.

Barakamon

Barakamon 03Barakamon 01

The silly antics of a group of kids from the countryside clash with the refined calligraphy of a Tokyo-born city dweller in Barakamon…. Silly, light, and sometimes unexpectedly insightful, I enjoyed watching this series. The main characters of Handa (our city boy) and Naru (an adorable little girl with a whole lot of spunk) really made the show, with particular love for Naru who was incredibly endearing with her country accent and open heart.

Barakamon had it’s ups and downs, with only about half the comedy striking me as even somewhat funny. It also took a while for me to really warm up to the show as a whole, as I initially found some characters annoying and the storylines a bit tedious. That said, the series grew on me significantly as it went along, developing into a nice series with even some small moments of brilliance. I thought the first and second to last episodes were the best, with the final episode being a bit lackluster for a finale. All in all, a decent series that delivers some sweet moments and a dose of rather silly/stupid comedy.

Final Impressions: Took a while to warm up to this anime, but Handa and Naru carry the series.
Verdict: Heartwarming, silly, and sometimes unexpectedly insightful.

Captain Earth

Captain Earth 04Captain Earth 02

It’s been a long haul, but Captain Earth has at last come to a conclusion… Overall, this anime had an okay premise bogged down by Shakespearean technobabble (?), a cast of colourful (I refer more to their hair, than their personalities) characters, and some pretty dull battles despite all the flash and drama.

My main complaint is that I feel like this series could have easily been half the length, if only the story had been more tightly written. Instead, we got 25 episodes of rambling story populated by characters that were generic one dimensional cutouts with any character development mostly just glossed over or forgotten… A lot of the time, episodes and story arcs also felt repetitive, with a fight-of-the-week format that quickly grew tired and overused.

In the end, I had little feeling towards any of the characters (okay, I did like Akari… though I’m still a little miffed she didn’t end up getting a Livlaster!), and a lot of the time plot points felt like they were coming out of left field. Though sufficiently action-packed, the final episodes felt rushed and random, leaving lots of story threads unexplained or untouched. Overall, there just isn’t anything very special about this mecha anime to really recommend it, because there are plenty of other series that do a better job with better characters and a better story.

Final Impressions: A waste of potential that was mediocre at best.
Verdict: Would have been better served had it been half the length.

Free!: Eternal Summer

Free Eternal Summer 03Free Eternal Summer 02

Yes, there are shirtless, muscled, nippleless teenagers frolicking in the water, but don’t let that deter you from the heartwarming anime that is the Free! franchise…. because Free!: Eternal Summer continues on wonderfully from the first season, with the same humour, a little more emphasis on the extended cast, and plenty of great drama. It builds on the developments of the previous season, with some much needed character development for some neglected characters – namely Haru and Nagisa.

My only qualms (besides there not being a confirmed season 3!) is that the ending had a lot less emotional impact than the first season, feeling simultaneously rushed, uneventful, and with a distinct lack of urgency (though that little montage of everyone after graduation was a nice bonus)… I also found the swimming races less exciting, generally not really caring much about who won or lost, which might be a bit of a problem since it’s a sports anime. But, since it was pretty evident that this time round it was more about the characters and their development than it was about winning any swimming races, I guess I can just watch season 1 to relive some of the tension-filled sports moments.

In the scope of the Free! franchise, I thought Eternal Summer did a nice job at concluding the series as a whole, giving a good measure of closure to the entire cast. It went by quickly, covered a lot of ground, and in typical KyoAni style, had some nice animation as well. Definitely a recommended series if you’ve seen the first season of Free! or you’re interested in watching a light, heartwarming (sports) anime.

Final Impressions: The sports side of things steps aside for more drama and character development, rounding out the series nicely.
Verdict: So… Any hope for a third season…?

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki kun 03Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki kun 02

Funny, light, and relaxing to watch, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was a comedy series that actually managed to make me smile more often than not. Of course, comedy is subjective and not every gag had me chuckling, but it was still consistently funny and enjoyable, and definitely something I looked forward to every week. Characters were lively, quirky, and colourful, with Sakura taking the cake this summer season as my favourite character… (along side the adorable Naru from Barakamon). I just loved her voice and all her silly expressions!

While I found this anime pretty hilarious, I would recommend this with some caution if only because I think the main area where this series suffers is the fact that many of the gags are very much dependent on how well you know the classic shoujo anime/manga tropes. And, since this is what so many of the jokes are based on, it won’t necessarily be accessible to everyone. There’s also the format of the series, where each episode is split into 2 or so sections (reflecting the 4-koma manga it’s based on), each with a separate story, which can be a bit jarring.

Overall, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was a fun series that had some unexpectedly hilarious moments. Just don’t expect much development in the story, romance, or character departments… It’s just not that type of show. Instead it’s all about the quirky humour and silly situations that poke light fun at anime and manga tropes. I would definitely watch another season of this!

Final Impressions: Funny, light, and quirky! Season 2, please!
Verdict: “N-N-N-Nozaki-kun! I’ve always been your fan!”

Glasslip

Glasslip 03Glasslip 01

So, about Glasslip… I really don’t recommend anyone waste their time with this series where nothing happens, no one does anything, and there’s no concrete story to speak of. At first I watched this because the animation looked nice enough and I was just hoping it would get better, but at some point, it became evident that it was not going anywhere… so I continued watching just to see how far down it would go down – I want to say “go down in flames”, but this show’s pace was really more like ultra slow quicksand or watching paint dry.

There’s honestly not much to say about Glasslip, except that you shouldn’t be fooled by the nice, shiny animation (which isn’t so great, all things considered, especially with the overuse of filters and still frames). The entire anime felt like it just went around and around in circles, with a cast of characters that were poorly represented, and dialogue so vague and stilted it came off as pretentiously profound.

With a better writer and director, this anime might have actually been good… or at the very least, serviceable. For a better slice of life/romance/coming of age story with a hint of the supernatural that features a group of childhood friends and a sleepy seaside town, go watch Nagi no Asukara (also by PA Works) instead.

Final Impressions: I just… can’t believe I sat through that.
Verdict: I watched this so you wouldn’t have to.

Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul 02Tokyo Ghoul 01

In all honesty, my initial impression of Tokyo Ghoul has not changed. While the series has great first and last episodes, the remaining leftovers were generally slow, unexciting, and uninspiring. I attribute most of this show’s failure to the fact that I had little to no emotional connection to any of the characters, in a show where said emotional connection was key to driving the drama of the story home.

I found the characters so dull and flat, that I felt pretty much nothing for any of the horrible things that they all went through during the course of the series. I mean, an adorable little girl has her kind-hearted mom offed right in front of her eyes using part of her dead dad’s body, and all I thought was “is this episode over yet?” I suppose the speed of which the anime progresses is also not doing it any favors… as I’ve heard many who have read the manga say, the anime covers a ton of material in a short amount of time, and when you do that, you inevitably miss out on some aspects.

I will say, however, that the final episode was a treat to watch. I really enjoyed it and how it brought back much of the psychological horror and darkness I loved so much in the first episode…. The only problem was that the final episode felt more like the second to last episode instead, leaving the story so unfinished and open ended that I felt a bit cheated. Overall, Tokyo Ghoul isn’t a total loss, though it could have been worlds better if it had simply taken a little more time to flesh the characters out.

Final Impressions: Brilliant first and last episodes… mediocre in between.
Verdict: I understand the manga is pretty good.

Zankyou no Terror

Zankyou no Terror 02Zankyou no Terror 03

Despite being only 11 episodes, this short series packs a bit of a punch, though perhaps not making as big of an impact as I might have wished. With some beautifully animated scenes, a soundtrack to die for, and a fascinating setup, Zankyou no Terror ended up being a strange mix of tightly thematic storytelling and muddled plot developments. There was a lot of interesting themes about isolation, the ways in which we remember and honour the past, political apathy, social and personal responsibility etc. that seemed particularly relevant to post WWII American occupied Japan…. but, maybe the themes were presented too subtly, becuase nothing completely hit home and made me really think.

And, while there were flashes of brilliance throughout, I found the pacing a bit slow, especially with the middle episodes that fell into the “bomb of the week” scenario, which quickly wore thin. But, I think my main complaint is how the characters were executed, because despite having lots of potential and some great introductions, I never felt very attached or invested in anyone. With the exception of maybe Shibazaki, they all felt like virtual strangers performing various actions on screen.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Zankyou no Terror, despite it’s flaws. It was contemplative, wonderfully animated, and underneath the rather simple plot were plenty of meaty subjects. Another major highlight was the music, which was full of a strange dissonance that sets you on edge. As for the ending, I found it fitting, if slightly rushed, though it had very little emotional impact due to my ambivalence towards the characters. While watching this anime, I often wondered whether it would have been better served if it had been a movie rather than a series.

Final Impressions: A fitting ending to a decent anime, though without much emotional impact.
Verdict: A good series despite it’s flaws. Might have been better suited as a movie instead of a series.

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10 thoughts on “Summer 2014 Anime Season: Final Impressions

  1. A few people are saying this was one of the worst seasons in a while, and though I didn’t find it terrible, no title had me on the edge of my seat.

    I watched all the shows you did – except Captain Earth which I dropped after the first cour – and agree with most of your views on them.

    One show I thought was a bit let down by was Barakamon, I found the insights got less and less and it started relying more gags and feels the further it got into the show. It was probably my own fault for the way I envisioned it after the first episode. Still enjoyable overall though, like you said with Naru and Handa carrying it through.

    Considering how Free! ended I’m not sure about a third season happening, but another OVA (or movie) about the boys a few years down the line would be nice.

    Nozaki-kun was the most pleasant surprise of the season and my most anticipated one each week. Agreed on Sakura taking this summer’s best character award – the way she foils just about all the other quirky characters in the show is just perfect. True too, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was pretty anime/manga specific in its humor – even more so of shoujo tropes. I was most surprised to learn it’s actually a shounen manga however, once again flipping the gender expectations that it’s so good at!

    That was a nice thought…but I watched all of Glasslip! : / Finishing it confirmed for me that I’m a masochist about finishing shows…really…what you said.

    Among the pretty popular manga adaptions this season I’d say that Tokyo ESP and Tokyo Ghoul got jinxed. In both cases readers have complained about the poor adaptions. In Tokyo Ghoul I found that specifically the lead character Kaneki’s whole development and final existential inner monologue at the end was almost completely ineffective. It was left to the last episode to reveal more about his past with his mother, then his final revelations just fell flat. Of the two manga I’m inclined to pick up Tokyo Ghoul as this does seem to be a case of hurried, jumbled adaption.

    Zankyou no Terror – yeah it had the makings of another landmark anime like Samurai Champloo, but didn’t quite make it. Expectations can be problematic with shows by directors/ writers you know and love. I think this show immediately got everyone’s hopes sky high. I really liked it, though I had the niggling feeling throughout that it was trying to stay within the bounds of what was ‘acceptable’ to the industry, making me feel it wasn’t able to fully express the depth of its subject matter. On a subtle level though it had plenty to say and delivered it…albeit in a quiet manner. Again, perhaps too short to really get into the characters and their struggles (?), especially in the case of Five.

    As far as other titles go I think you’ve got the best of them here. I watched a few others too, but none that I’d particularly recommend. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your article and look forward to your thoughts on next season’s titles. There are quite a few sequels, as well as some pretty intriguing new titles. Anything you’re anticipating or recommend for the coming season?

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    • I think my overall feelings of the season were something akin to apathy… like you say, nothing had me on the edge of seat. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was certainly a highlight, and I had no idea it’s classified as a shounen!

      As for Barakamon, like you, I also had my expectations too high after that amazing first episode… I think the opposite happened for me though, in that I eventually changed my mindset completely and just started watching it as primarily a gag show instead. I still wish it could have been closer to Usagi Drop, however.

      I can’t see a third season of Free! really happening, so it’ll just have to be my little pipe dream… 😛

      A fellow Glasslip survivor! We are such masochists… I mean, after only a couple episodes it was pretty evident that it wasn’t any good, and yet we stuck with it… (> <;)

      Oh, Tokyo Ghoul…. this could have been so much better if only it had a little more story and character development. But, from what I've heard from those who have read the manga, the anime adapted a lot of material for only a limited amount of episodes… I completely agree that it was a victim of a hurried adaptation, and am definitely going to check out the manga! If you end up reading it, can I hope for a write up on your blog? 🙂

      And Zankyou no Terror: I also quite liked it, but perhaps our expectations were set to impossible heights. I'm not sure if the lack of character development was due to having too few episodes, but rather the execution. Just a couple scenes having the characters interact with each other a little more, showing their character, emotions, or thoughts, would have done wonders for fostering some empathy for them. Especially in the case of Five, who I think was a much needed character that was simply poorly executed. Maybe it was just all too subtle in the end… and while I like subtlety, sometimes a little more guidance is nice.

      Thanks for your comment! I always look forward to your views on the season. As for the next season, I'll certainly be checking out some sequels (Psycho Pass, Log Horizon, Chaika, Fate/Stay), and (just off the top of my head since I haven't really looked at the schedule much yet…) Amagi Brilliant Park, Madan no Ou to Vanadis, Akatsuki no Yona, Parasyte, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso.

      Wow, that's a lot of sequels… Wait, is Mushishi airing too? Anything you think I should check out that's not on my radar?

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      • It’s great to hear from you again too! Those ones you’ve mentioned are sure-to-watch series on my list for this season as well. I’ll probably try a lot, then be left with only a few after a couple of weeks, though. You’ve pretty much mentioned what I’d consider the best of the season. Psycho-Pass goes without saying, though this time Gen Urobuchi isn’t doing the screenplay so I’m not sure if it’s going to have the same feel as the first season.

        Fate/Stay Night looks particularly exciting with its depiction of the Unlimited Blade Works arc of the visual novel, which peole are saying was a pretty good one. Just seeing the characters again will be fun in itself ^.^

        I’m really interested in Akatsuki no Yona; it looks like it has a refreshingly different setting and more of a scrappy heroine for a shoujo manga adaptation.
        There are a lot of titles adapted from manga or visual novels that I’ll try sift through for some gems (a lot just look like fanservice factories however : P )
        There’s another shoujo title too: Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – do you know anything about it? I was thinking I might pick it up to give it a try.

        Parasyte might be decent,and its unique to be adapting an older manga from the 90s. The description sounds exactly like an old horror I saw a while ago – hope it’s not just a gorefest! ^O^

        Other than that of course Mushishi II’s second cour and Knights of Sidonia’s second season in November (which I’m guessing will be OVAs due to their lateness?). All in all there are some shows that I’m sure will be worthwhile, whereas others will be hit or miss.

        Thanks for your interest – I’ll definitely be doing a Tokyo Ghoul manga review soon, and from the little I’ve read I can already feel the vibe is different. I was meaning to ask you, as you’re a blogger I respect – from what you’ve read of my posts, what do you think I can improve? Any criticism or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! 😀

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  2. I ended up dropping Captain Earth somewhere just before the halfway mark, for pretty much exactly the same reasons you talk about here. It seemed to have all the makings of a great anime – including great production values – and yet it just fell off the wagon with its (mostly) poor character development and some irritatingly bad writing. That said, it was an overall very enjoyable summer anime season regardless, with both Zankyou no Terror and Nozaki-kun really standing out to me. Barakamon managed to charm its way into my top picks for the season as well.

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    • Yea, Captain Earth was a disappointment, mostly because it seemed like it had everything needed to make a great anime… If only they had spent more of their budget on the writing staff instead of the elaborate transformation scenes.

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  3. Excellent rundown of the summer’s anime!

    Even though Aldnoah.Zero’s characters could have been better, I did connect with them more than you did, especially towards the end. It was not on the same level of Gen Urobuchi’s other top work like Fate/Zero or Madoka Magica, but I am definitely excited for the next season.

    Ao Haru Ride is the first romance shoujo series that I have seen (unless Ouran counts), and since I was not familiar with the tropes, I will admit that I enjoyed it more than expected. Kou’s character arc was my favorite part of the series though.

    After Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Barakamon was my favorite of the season. Like you said, comedy is subjective, and I have to say that it made me laugh for often than not. Also, a slice-of-life about a guy my age was refreshing opposed to the typical high school setting.

    Captain Earth felt like a throwback to classic mecha, and while I am not the biggest fan of mecha, this series was a lot of fun for me. Well, at least after those utterly confusing first six episodes. Plus, Bones’ animation was stellar.

    After watching the first season of Free after losing a bet of sorts, I was surprised by how good it was, Eternal Summer did not disappoint as a sequel. Like you, I want another season! It would be great to see what happens to the character in the professional world of swimming.

    Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun easily took my favorite anime of the summer, and it certainly made me laugh more than any other anime that I have seen. But again, comedy is subjective, so it depends on the person. However, having a series where the comedy did not rely on any fanservice, but rather clever satire and parody.

    I did not hate Glasslip as much as everyone else. That being said, it is a series that I dislike the more I think about it.

    As for Tokyo Ghoul, I agree the first and last episodes are the best. I did not really care for anything else about the series. It was just another cliched shounen with buckets of blood and censored gore.

    Like I said in my review of the series yesterday, Zankyou no Terror could have been amazing, but it stumbled in a few episodes unfortunately. That being said, the animation is exceptional and unique, and it was genuinely thrilling. I also agree that Yoko Kanno’s music was a highlight of the series as well.

    Great post! I enjoyed reading it!

    -James

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    • Hey there! Thanks for your comment 🙂 A few thoughts:

      Aldnoah.Zero: Definitely keen to check out the next season, if only to see what happened to our main characters… While I really liked the final scenes of the last episode, I really wished I had connected with the characters a little more – especially Inaho. A little inner monologuing, flashes of his past, some small bursts of emotion – basically anything to just slightly explain his thought process would have done wonders to develop him.

      Ao Haru Ride: Had its ups and downs, and I agree that Kou’s arc at the end was a big highlight of the series. That said, I feel like I’ve seen this type of story done before and done a lot better… Anime like Kimi ni Todoke, Honey and Clover, and Nodame Cantabile come to mind. For a similar story written by the same author, I really recommend checking out a manga called Strobe Edge!

      Free: I really want a movie or at the very least a special or two…. Is that so much to ask for??? (T T)

      Glasslip: People might be especially hateful of Glasslip because it came right on the heels of the greatly superior Nagi no Asukara… Both had a similar vibe, setting, cast, animation, and character dynamics, except Glasslip ended up being vastly worse. :/

      Tokyo Ghoul: Agreed that it’s pretty cliched, but despite having a pretty lackluster middle section, that final episode still compels me to check out the sequel, haha.

      Zankyou no Terror: Yes, loved the animation and the music! This anime had some wonderful moments like the motorbike scene and the entire first episode… Are you watching Shingeki no Bahamut this season? It’s also animated by MAPPA, the same studio that did Zankyou no Terror.

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      • A Free movie or OVA would be great wouldn’t?

        Yes, I am watching Shingeki no Bahamut. The series has been a lot of fun. The most recent episode with the zombies has me hooked now. In fact, I am watching almost literally everything this season, except for Gundam. MAPPA’s animation for Garo: The Animation is fairly good, although the series itself is not as good as Shingeki no Bahamut.

        -James

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