Winter 2015 Anime Season: Final Impressions

Akatsuki no Yona 02Aldnoah Zero S2 01Death Parade 01Garo 02Junketsu no Maria 01Koufuku Graffiti 02Log Horizon S2 03Parasyte 01Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso 03Shirobako 01Tokyo Ghoul Root A 03Yuri Kuma Arashi 02

The winter 2015 anime season has come to a close, bringing to an end a good number of long running, 2-cour series. It’s sad to say goodbye to the characters and stories we’ve been following all the way since the distant fall 2014 season, but their conclusion will give way to what will hopefully be a fruitful spring season! But, we can’t get to next season without shutting the door on the last, so here are my final impressions on 12 series from winter 2015….

Akatsuki no Yona

Akatsuki no Yona 03Akatsuki no Yona 01

While the premise might not be anything new (spoiled princess is violently ousted from her castle and must gather mythical warriors to her cause while learning of the true state of her “peaceful” kingdom etc..), Akatsuki no Yona stands out as a wonderful adventure series with a great mix of action, drama, and comedy. Sure, the basic story is predictable, but I found the anime less about what was going to happen and more about how. How will Yona find and win the 4 dragons to her side? How will her decision to take up arms change her?

While I loved all the characters, Yona herself takes the cake not only in this series, but in the entire winter anime season, as my favorite character. With a nice mix of naiveté, burning determination, and straightforward honesty, it was a delight to watch Yona develop so significantly and gradually over the course of the series. Also, every time her eyes lit up with that intense inner fire, I got chills!

Animation is colorful and crisp, character designs were great, and I loved the music, which was part epic orchestral and part traditional Korean-inspired. Unfortunately, the anime ends on a “and their journey continues…” kind of note, leaving it wide open to a continuation – and, it goes without saying that if a second season materializes, I will definitely watch it.

Final impressions: What an amazing journey… Season 2: when??
Verdict: Watch it — Don’t let the reverse harem tag scare you away; it has all the hallmarks of a sweeping adventure story with some solid characters.

Aldnoah.Zero, Season 2

Aldnoah Zero S2 03Aldnoah Zero S2 02

If I can sum up my feelings for Aldnoah.Zero in a single word, it would be: anticlimatic. I was really hoping that the second season would use the blood-filled finale of the first as a catalyst to really overhaul the entire anime and bring in some actual character development. And, while I did enjoy the changes in location and the energetic mecha battles in space, I remained sadly unenthusiastic about the characters.

Slaine was undoubtedly the most realized character, though I found many of his decisions difficult to relate to or rationalize, mostly because his inner thoughts were seldom really explored. Inaho remained a total cipher, with little smiles standing in for apparent character development, while Asseylum was unconscious most of the time. I found Lemrina pretty interesting, but like the other characters, she could have used more development.

I will say that I actually liked the bittersweet note the anime concluded on, and that I can accept where the three main characters ended up. However, what I can’t accept is how there was so little lead up… it was as if the writers decided on the beginnings and endings for each of the characters, but then forgot to add in everything in between. In the end, Aldnoah.Zero is yet another case of an anime with all the pieces (great animation, music, action, basic premise and characters) that still manages to fall well short of its full potential.

Final impressions: Well… that was anticlimactic.
Verdict: Forget it — No amount of energetic and fun space battles can make up for the mediocre characters and story that is this show.

Death Parade

Death Parade 03Death Parade 02

With an interesting premise and a curious cast, Death Parade was a very enjoyable series that explored the morality of judgement, what it means to live and be human, and the circumstances of death, all through a few games played in a mysterious little bar called Quindecim. With psychological, mystery, and suspense elements, this anime was often full of surprises and tense moments as the “true nature” of those playing the games were revealed.

Though mostly episodic, with each episode usually dealing with two newly deceased people being judged by Decim on whether they will be reincarnated or enter the void based on the life they lived, Death Parade is largely character driven. This is often a good thing, but in this anime, it goes both ways: while it was great discovering the pasts and motivations of each new pair of characters that showed up to play the games, it was also a little disappointing to go through all of that development only to say goodbye to them at the end of each episode.

For this reason, I thought it lagged a bit in the middle section where there was less going on with the main cast… But, I feel these are minor complaints. The anime picked up wonderfully in the end and concluded on an emotional finale. Animation looked great, and the music helped heighten the mood of each scene (and yes, the OP by Bradio was awesome). Overall, Death Parade was a great show that explores some interesting themes, and one which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Final impressions: I cried more in 1 episode of Death Parade than all 22 episodes of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Hmm…
Verdict: Watch it — Mysterious, suspenseful, and thoughtful, who knew playing a simple game could be so revealing?

Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

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While Garo starts off in a very standard way with a general “monster of the week” type set up, with our angsty teenager protagonist and his womanizing deadbeat dad facing off against monsters that consume humans, it quickly escalates into a life or death situation with an entire kingdom on the line. With great action and lots of flare, I really enjoyed the stylish fight scenes, even with the use of CG armor (I actually though they looked pretty cool, making the transformed knights look otherworldly). Each episode also moved the main plot along in some degree, so it always felt like some overall progress was being made.

As for the characters, the main cast was generally solid and fleshed out, as many of them are gradually forced to come to terms with their pasts, their insecurities, and their weaknesses in order to grow. Leon especially shines as he begins the series as a whiny, undisciplined, childish teenager, and develops into a responsible, focused adult. Apparently there’s going to be a second season of this, which I will definitely be checking out when it airs.

Final impressions: What a ride! That ending was epic and got me hyped for a second season!
Verdict: Worth a look — A magical fantasy action series with plenty of action and a solid main cast.

Junketsu no Maria

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When I started Junketsu no Maria, I was expecting a funny ecchi series with a little medieval magic thrown into the mix… and what I got instead were serious discussions about a variety of subjects including religious theory and organizations, the economics of war, and freewill vs. fatalism. Not quite the direction I was expecting considering the first few episodes, which were quick to throw in a dirty joke or some silly humor, but welcome nonetheless.

The characters were a huge highlight of the series, with a lot more depth than I was expecting from an anime billed as an ecchi comedy. Even remote side characters (such as Martha and her family) felt fleshed out and relatable despite their small amount of screen time. And, while I don’t quite love or agree with the ending and how Maria arrives at her final decision (it just seemed so rushed with quite a jarring change in tone. Also, while I like the direction she went in, I couldn’t help but feel she lost a little of her identity in return…), I found Junketsu no Maria a fascinating journey with plenty of surprises.

Final impressions: An unexpected amount of depth for an anime billed as an ecchi comedy… I just wish the ending had been a little less jarring.
Verdict: Worth a look, but YMMV — The ecchi elements mostly disappear after the first few episodes, making way for some meatier topics.

Koufuku Graffiti

Koufuku Graffiti 03Koufuku Graffiti 01

Cute girls eating delicious food while learning about friendship: that’s pretty much Koufuku Graffiti in a nutshell. Animation was colorful though inconsistent, while the music was appropriate (loved the cute “taberuuu~~” song played over the previews). Overall, it’s nothing particularly amazing (I fully admit that the only reason I watched it was because of the food) with a cast of cute but generic characters and not much of a story, but did the food ever look amazing! And, maybe that’s all that really matters.

Final impressions: An adorable, delicious anime full of the fluffiest of fluff.
Verdict: Forget it — Cute, but ultimately forgettable… On the plus side, if you like delicious anime food, this just may be a winner for you.

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte -the maxim-)

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Kiseijuu started off strong with lots of suspense and action, but unfortunately didn’t manage to hold up in the long run. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point during the show (I’m thinking it was around when Shinichi changes his hairstyle), my interest began to wane significantly. There was just so much potential in the first few episodes, especially with questions about what makes one human, for what reason were we born into the world, reason vs. morality, self-preservation, and instinct vs. logic.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like any of these subjects were really explored with any depth or in any meaningful way. And, while I found the premise interesting, the execution just felt very muddy with dropped plot points and characters I cared little for. Ultimately, I don’t really get the point of the show. Humans are monsters too? Mankind should try and get along better with other creatures? Humanity is under the delusion it exists outside the rules of nature? Insert shoehorned environmental message here?

On the plus side, Tamiya Ryouko offered an interesting perspective and I did like the dynamic between Shinichi and Migi, though I really wished there had been more tension between them and their ideals. Overall, Kiseijuu had a great set up in the early episodes, but ultimately failed to really make much of an impact.

Final impressions: What was the point of all this again?
Verdict: Forget it — Starts great but its muddied execution fails to connect the dots.

Log Horizon, Season 2

Log Horizon S2 02Log Horizon S2 01

I don’t think my opinion of Log Horizon has changed much since the first season… I still find the characters generally enjoyable, if a bit flat, and I like how game mechanics are woven into the raids and fights. That said, I didn’t quite enjoy the second season nearly as much as the first, mostly due to the uneven pacing and my general ambivalence to 2 of the 4 arcs (the series begins and ends on a high note, but I found the maidens of Watermaple and the “kids” arcs pretty dull).

Animation was a step down from the first season, with lots of inconsistencies in the character animation. On the plus side, the raid battles were really exciting and fun to watch (especially the huge dungeon raid in the first arc!), and I felt that the story actually moved forward in a big way. As expected, lots of questions have been left unanswered, but hopefully there’ll be a season 3 in which it will all be explained…. or, something?

Final impressions: Starts and ends strong, but I probably could have done without the entire middle section.
Verdict: Worth a look, but YMMV — A must-see if you liked the first season, but about half the content is a wash and the animation takes a hit.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso 02Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso 01

I wasn’t too impressed by Shigatsu was Kimi no Uso when it first aired, but I love classical music, struggling artists, and comeback/underdog stories, so I stuck with it hoping for some awesome drama. Unfortunately, that moment never came, and I was instead left with a drawn out anime that was a bit too melodramatic for my tastes. Few moments really resonated with me and I felt little for any of the characters, which was a huge shame since

Ultimately, I feel like this series could have been far better had it been more tightly written and maybe half the length instead… It always felt like moments were being artificially stretched out or withheld with the sole reason of positioning a concert or dramatic moment at the end/beginning of an episode. The themes and messages of the anime also felt very repetitive and would have had more effect if they had been handled with more subtly.

To it’s credit though, the animation was beautiful with a lot of care given to the concert scenes, and the music was of course lovely. I also liked Kousei’s development, though I wish more care had been given to the extended cast, Watari in particular. This is an anime that will really resonate with some, but for me, it sadly fell on deaf ears. I really wanted to feel something for the characters and their stories, but in the end no amount of emotionally charged concert scenes could make me care much.

Final impressions: I can’t believe zero tears were shed: a fact that makes me the most sad.
Verdict: Forget it — Overly melodramatic, drawn out, repetitive, and full of characters I felt little for. On the plus side, the animation and music are great!

Shirobako

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If there’s one cast of characters I’ll be sad to leave behind with the conclusion of the winter 2015 anime season, it’ll be the cast of Shirobako! It was a wonderful privilege to have been able to experience their growth and take part in this journey through the anime industry with such great characters…. I’m going to miss our “don, don, donuts!” crew, who worked hard to grasp their dreams and transform themselves from the fresh-faced and hesitant novices they started out as.

With a nice mix of workplace drama and comedy, Shirobako managed to bring a ton of excitement and tension to the screen… Every episode had me on the edge of my seat (will they finish the episode in time?? who’s going to screw up the schedule next? will the director ever finish his storyboards?), and I shared in the same frustrations, joys, and sighs of relief as Miyamori and the rest of the cast. Definitely a must see if you’ve ever wondered about what goes into actually making the anime you watch!

Final impressions: A wholly satisfying ending to a wholly satisfying anime.
Verdict: Watch it — Brilliant and relatable characters make this journey through the anime industry an unforgettable one.

Tokyo Ghoul: Root √A

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I kept my expectations pretty low for the second season of Tokyo Ghoul, but somehow it still managed to be a disappointment. Sure, there’s more fighting this time around, which makes for some exciting stuff, but unfortunately character development was sacrificed in return… Most of the story looked at the Anteiku group and their reaction to Kaneki’s departure, with particular focus on Touka and her plans for the future (and let’s not forget how she spends a full 3 episodes just running in the snow).

This shift of focus left Kaneki on the back burner most of the time, despite his story certainly being the more interesting one (and the story we’ve been following since the first season!), with his sudden decision to leave Anteiku and his fracturing mental state. With so little screen time given to him (we mostly see him either fighting or agonizing in pain silently) and I felt disconnected from his character and thus ambivalent to his unexplained plight.

In the end, Tokyo Ghoul was an anime with a great premise and sparks of greatness, but that ultimately fell flat in terms of character depth and development, pacing, and general coherency. So much is left unexplained that it often felt like I had missed huge sections of an episode, leaving me wondering how the characters even made it from point A to point B. Of course, I could say “go read the manga”, but I really don’t think I should have to because I really believe a series, whether it be an adaptation or not, should be able to stand on it’s own feet.

Final impressions: This show makes no sense. Maybe the manga will help clear things up?
Verdict: Forget it — A little action can’t mask the mess of poor character development, pacing, and coherency that is this anime.

Yuri Kuma Arashi

Yuri Kuma Arashi 03Yuri Kuma Arashi 01

I wasn’t too sure about Yuri Kuma Arashi after the first three episodes, but happily the repetitive “kuma shock” of the week disappeared pretty quickly, making way for a more plot- and character-driven story. While I can’t tell you what this anime was about exactly, I found it a fun little ride, despite being very heavy on the SYMBOLISM (it’s an Ikuhara anime, so what did I expect?). Actually, I liked all the visual cues, surreal imagery, and symbols which populated the scenes… there was always so much to see and pick out, and I had a lot of fun trying to piece it all together.

Animation looked very nice with a lot of beautiful imagery, though there were some randomly out of place CG bear paws that showed up now and then. I also loved the music, which was really varied, ranging from chorused vocals and epic pipe organs, to punctuated electronic and a gentle music box. Overall, Yuri Kuma Arashi was a fantastical journey full of mystery and psychological elements, and a lot more in it than meets the eye.

Final impressions: I’m not exactly sure what happened in the end, but it was absolutely beautiful.
Verdict: Watch it, but YMMV — Yes, there are lesbians, but at it’s core, this anime is a touching love story with more than meets the eye.

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3 thoughts on “Winter 2015 Anime Season: Final Impressions

  1. I didn’t watch all of these, and unfortunately I just don’t think Yuri Kuma Arashi was particularly deep or even that well executed, but I agree with you on most – particularly with your thoughts on Yona, Death, Parade, Parasyte, and April. Your comments about Aldnoah and Tokyo Ghoul also made me really glad that I didn’t end up trying either sequel.

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  2. I watched Yona, A.Z, Parasyte, and Log Horizon. Yona, as you mentioned, was probably the best and surprisingly great, while A.Z fell quite short. Parasyte, to me, turned out great with its environmental issue addressed; there’s a little more than we thought. Log Horizon did muddle around quite a bit in the middle – I was snoring! Great recaps – I’ll have to check out Death Parade now!

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