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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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!”
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.
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
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.