Anime Monthly: March – June 2015

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay, but I didn’t end up watching many anime in March, April, and May. This is mostly due to it being the end of the year in terms of school work, causing me to end up being in a bit of time crunch for most of the semester. Also to make things even worse, my computer broke down and I had to replace it. Yeah I just couldn’t reasonably produce a full length post for you guys, but luckily with the passing of a few months I have plenty to talk about. I promise this will be the last major delay for a long long time.

Also if you want to see my Hummingbird and Animelist stuff, well just click on the blue text! Enjoy the show.

-The Normals-

Baby Steps

Baby Steps:

If there’s one word to describe Baby Steps its probably small. Everything in the show feels underplayed, and while there are constant matches and training montages throughout, every inch of progress made by protagonist Eiichiro really feels like, well, a baby step. He loses matches, wins matches, and sometimes just gets plain lucky, but throughout all these trials Eiichiro is visibly changing. He’s growing stronger, more confident, and he’s also falling more in love with both tennis as a sport and his friend Natsu.

Yes, the show has the budget of a ham sandwich and it has some slow pacing in places, but overall its probably one of my favorite sport series to date, content wise at least. Eiichiro and Natsu are adorable together, the games are fun and interesting to watch, and in general it’s just a nice quaint creation. I really enjoyed this first season, and I can’t wait to start the second one… Once it’s finished airing.

Boogiepop

Boogiepop Phantom:

Like previous Anime Monthly’s Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom is an interesting relic of speculative late 90’s fiction. Though technically made in 2000, this series is a very loose adaptation of what is considered the first big light novel success in Japan from the 1990’s. That may not sound very much like Lain, but the cold atmosphere and eerie sound design are obviously very inspired by it. Combine that with the creepy yet interweaving stories, and some similarities start to pop up. Everything else though is very different, while Boogiepop Phantom is an exploration of the dark recesses of humanity, Boogiepop targets many more topics than Lain, which was pretty much only focused on the internet and self-identity. And that’s what makes this show a little hard to sit through.

Boogiepop Phantom is not a bad show, it’s extremely well constructed and interesting, but sometimes the execution and writing is overwhelming. Like the infamous Flowers of Evil anime, the experience is partially defined by how uncomfortable it is to watch the show. Seeing these characters stumble through terrifying hallucinations, grizzly murders, and disturbing supernatural drugs can become a dreary slog. You have to be in the perfect mood to watch this, because in other mood trying to watch three episodes of this in a row is painfully depressing. It also doesn’t help that this thing has the pacing of a snail at points.

Still, Boogiepop Phantom is an interesting creation. A lot of the episodes here are incredibly well made and creepy one offs that you’ll remember for days, and seeing them connect to previous episodes and recurring characters is engaging. You’re always questioning who Boogiepop is, why these strange events are happening, and how it’s all going to come together in the end. If you’re looking for a bleak piece of urban supernatural horror, you can’t go wrong with this. Just be prepared for a lot of gloom and darkness.

The Devil is a Part Timer!

The Devil is a Part-Timer!:

Honestly, I’m having a lot of problems really finding many words to say about this show. Not because it’s extremely good, or deplorably bad, but because it’s pretty much the definition of easy entertainment. It’s that one side show you watch alongside your regular seasonal stuff, but quickly forget afterwards. Of course, that may be too harsh on The Devil is a Part-Timer, since there is quite a lot to admire about it.

I mean from an overall standpoint it’s hard to find a show like this, since it’s fundamentally perfect at achieving its goals. Studio White Fox wanted to create a fun comedy show with a ridiculous premise, and they did just that. Watching the literal Devil and the angelic Hero Emi interact with modern day society was great, and the comedic timing never gets boring. This show is also helped by the fact that it isn’t just all comedy, since throughout this show’s short runtime there’s a constantly developing plot underneath the surface. It helps keeps things on track and grounded, and this aspect combined with the likable characters, makes for some of the best light entertainment I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Still at the end of the day, I’m kind of sad that’s all it is. However, I still highly recommend it to those looking for a great time waster!

Expelled

Expelled from Paradise:

Time to talk about the new Urobuchi  money making machine that came out recently, aka his new CGI sci-fi movie Expelled from Paradise. Now I’m going to be quite honest, I don’t really see why so many people have been so impressed by this movie. I mean yeah, I agree with most people when they say it’s good, but I just didn’t find it nearly as enjoyable as so many other people did. I’m not quite sure why either. On the surface all the elements seem to be there, good direction, a decently concept, great action scenes, and good character chemistry. And yet, despite all of this, something just didn’t quite click for me. I would like to say it’s all the CGI’s fault, but honestly it isn’t even that. Yeah, the CGI is pretty clunky at points, and I still don’t understand why you would make a style of CGI that tries to look like 2D (Seriously why not just make it 2D if you want it to look that way); but at least it looks decent at points.

No, I’m going to blame my disappointment on the script which, despite having some nice dialogue here and there, is rather mediocre in places. It only consists of four action scenes, which is already a big red flag considering this is an action movie, but it also features all of Urobuchi’s worst tendencies. Like some scenes in Psycho Pass, this show tends to have characters spout long monologues about their beliefs, which I personally find rather clunky. While Urobuchi is one of my favorite writers in anime, I find this quirk of his to be his most frustrating. At points it can work, but for the most part it just seems like a less creative way of developing the story’s characters. In the end, these small problem really killed the whole experience for me. Expelled from Paradise definitely isn’t bad, it’s fun light entertainment and makes for a fun and breezy watch, but it just didn’t appeal to me.

GITS SAC

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:

Kenji Kamiyama’s spiritual successor to Mamoru Oshii’s original 1995 classic anime movie is one of those works you kind of feel obligated to watch. You may not love it, and you may even be disappointed in the end, but it’s so ingrained in anime culture and history that’s it hard to ignore. And that’s certainly how I felt watching this  first season. The scope is grand, the animation is amazing considering it’s a 2002 production, and so many things about are well thought out and beautifully executed. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little cold by the end of it . I know this is the first season, and I know that many people say the second season and movie are where the series really hits its peak; but I feel like the real reason I don’t love this show is because it just isn’t for me.

While Ghost in the Shell’s views on the post singularity world are fascinating, it’s very much focused on the concepts and ideas of it all, which doesn’t appeal to me. I like speculative science fiction as much as any other nerd, but I prefer it a lot more when it’s grounded by relatable or intriguing characters; something I think this series really lacks. Not to say the characters are bad, Motoko is cool and Batou is somewhat interesting, but most of them feel like mouthpieces for the worldbuilding of the show. It also doesn’t help that the series lacks the amazing direction everyone told me it had. Don’t get me wrong, everything is very well animated and there are some nice action scenes, but everything looked really cold and bland to me. At the end of the day though, there’s still no denying that Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a classic among anime sci-fi shows. It’s storyline is intricate and amazingly philosophical, but it’s presented in a way where none of it feels forced or hamfisted; a rare feat among anime of its type. Ghost in the Shell may not be my favorite franchise, but it certainly is a noteworthy one.

Kuroko's Basketball 2

Kuroko’s Basketball 2:

It’s been more than a full year since I finished season one of Kuroko’s Basketball, but I’ve now finally gotten around to watching and finishing season two. Once again, my productiveness really is terrible when it comes to anime. Anyways, besides the long completion time I had for this show, I sadly don’t have much else to say about it. Kuroko’s Basketball is basically the definition of popcorn entertainment, and to my surprising realization, not really my type of sports anime. Yes, I love the crazy superpowers and melodramatic basketball antics as much as anyone else, but it gets a little tiring after a while. This becomes especially true if the show focuses on anyone that isn’t a main character like Kagami or the members of the Generation of Miracles.

It’s because of this that I didn’t really enjoy this season very much. Teppei, Hyuga, and the other side characters on each team are just boring, and combining this with the drawn out shonen pacing really made a couple of the quiet down episodes painful to watch. There were still some good matches and tense moments throughout, but honestly I kind of wish I was watching Baby Steps or Haikyuu instead. Unlike Kuroko, their good characters are all human beings, which can’t be said of the sports philosophy obsessed superhumans of this show. I’m still going to watch season three once it’s finished airing, but yeah, this definitely wasn’t one of my more enjoyable watches.

Tsubasa

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom:

You know technically speaking I’ve never actually seen the original Tsubasa anime series. I saw a few scattered scenes when I accidently stumbled upon the Funimation Channel in my TV cable subscription a half decade ago, but I never actively sought out the whole show; which is weird because I love the manga. It was the shit for my middle school self, and I read each new volume of it religiously. I even went so far as to read the ending online when it was taking to long to get transferred to my local library.

However, I feel like the reason I stopped caring about Tsubasa Chronicles after that strange period in my life is because I started to realize it’s flaws. By the ending of the manga it was all a convoluted mess, and when I got into TV anime a few years later, everything I heard about the anime adaptation was unanimously negative. Still, here I am. Years later, watching a Tsubasa Chronicles movie because it came with the xxxHOLIC movie disc… Sometimes old habits die hard.

Now let me state this upfront, this movie is a high budget filler episode. It’s only 35 minutes long, doesn’t affect the story in any way, and in general is only really noteworthy for its visuals. Hell, it was in theaters while the first season of the TV show was still broadcasting! As such this movie is rather uninteresting plotwise, leaving not much to talk about. The animation by Production IG is really pretty, and provides some stunning art and animation to the otherwise basic save the princess and kingdom plot. There’s also Yuki Kajura, who delivers her typically stunning orchestral work for the soundtrack. In the end though, this the kind of thing I would only recommend to someone who’s a die hard Tsubasa fanboy. Maybe this could have been interesting if they stretched out the run time a little bit and added some subplots to flesh out the side characters, but that’s clearly not what it was going for. It’s meant to be flash in the pan entertainment, and it is.

If there was one thing I learned from this trip down memory lane though, it would definitely be that I still have no desire to watch the original TV series. From what I’ve heard Bee Train’s adaptation has lesser animation than this movie, and more filler than the manga. And if this is the kind of filler content they’re going to deliver, you can count me out!

xxxHolic

xxxHOLIC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Holy shit was this surprisingly good! I’ve actually watched the original TV series for this one, and while I love the manga, the TV adaptation was pretty boring. I’m not sure why, it had all the same material plus a few filler episodes, but I feel like it just lacked the pazazz of the manga’s visual presentation. CLAMP’s lanky character designs have never really translated well into animation, and xxxHolic’s 2006 adaptation by Production IG was the worst example of that fact. The characters looked really stiff and the fluidity was just downright garbage. So when I saw Funimation’s trailer for the SAVE rerelease of the CLAMP double feature DVD, I was shocked by how good the xxxHolic movie looked. Already from a few seconds of footage, I could just tell it was ten times more visually interesting than the TV show ever was! Upon further research I learned that people actually had rather nice things to say about the movie itself; so I decided to check it out, and boy was it worth it.

Those visuals are a major part of why it’s so enjoyable. Like Tsubasa’s movie, this is very much a high budget filler episode, but man does it work so much better as a standalone movie. For one thing it’s actually an hour long, giving it plenty of room to breath, unlike the Tsubasa movie which moved at a mile a minute. It also helps that visuals here are a lot more cool to look at. From the spirits and monsters that look reminiscent of Maasaki Yuasa’s work, to the gorgeous backgrounds, everything pops with a unique supernatural flavor. There are so many memorable shots in here, and Production IG also did a great job in making CLAMP’s character designs fluid, while not becoming balls of lanky mush.

The story here is also pretty decent. Unlike Tsubasa which felt like a really shitty rough draft cobbled together in 1 day, this movie actually feels like a story from the manga. It’s filled to the brim with a cool and creepy atmosphere, while Domeki and Watanuki’s comedic interplay keeps things light and fast. Yuko is also a brilliant presence as usual, delivering her smooth philosophy and badass demeanor to the party. The main collector spirit plotline isn’t too special, but it works well enough that it has a slight emotional impact by the end, and it reminds me of the more optimistic tales from the manga. In the end though, I really enjoyed this one off movie. Sure it may not be groundbreaking, but it’s well made, polished, and just based off a much stronger source material than the Tsubasa movie. What really baffles me about this thing though is that it just further proves how incompetent the TV adaptation is. I mean this was made a year before the TV show, and it’s so much better at capturing the greatness of its source material. How could Production IG go from doing xxxHolic so right in 2005, to so wrong in the very next year? Budget, I guess.

– The Awards-

-The Biggest Surprise-

Haruhi

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Series:

No Haruhi isn’t here because I was surprised by how bad it was. The reason Haruhi is here is for one reason: I found it very enjoyable. And not just in an entertaining way, everything about it was pretty good. I knew going in to keep my expectations metered, but in the end I still really enjoyed it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Endless Eight sucks, even if it tries its damndest to make each repeated loop interesting with new animation and redubbed voice acting. Not to mention the show’s tendency for random wackiness can get annoying in places; but at it’s best the series was a bundle of great character interactions and ideas.

This is all pretty much exemplified by the series’ crowning achievement, aka, the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Now, while I do have some problems with how this movie treats Nagato near the end, this movie is pretty much everything good about Haruhi Suzumiya in one package. The archetypal characters have well defined voices and reactive chemistry, the animation is crisp and gorgeously refined, and the story is heartfelt and character driven. Kyon is more than the snarky protagonist, just like Nagato’s more than a cold emotionless alien entity; everyone has flaws and traits beyond their surface level stereotypes. Combine this with a well thought out story with dark implications, and you’ve got yourself a great series. It definitely has its ups and downs, but if you’re looking for an extremely well crafted slice of life show with a semi-interesting twist, then you can’t go very wrong here.

– Most Prolonged Completion –

Patema Inverted

Patema Inverted:

I’ve been planning to watch this movie since about December of 2013. I mean it’s directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, who’s directed one of my favorite anime movies of all time: Time of Eve. However, for some reason I’m still not sure of, I really didn’t feel like watching it. Maybe it was because I was busy, or because I just didn’t feel like watching any movies, but I just wasn’t interested. Luckily though, now that I’ve watched it, I can safely say that it was… Pretty decent.

Don’t get me wrong, Patema Inverted is quite an enjoyable movie to watch. Some of the imagery and concepts here are absolutely breathtaking in execution, and watching Patema and Age jumping around while holding each other against the opposing gravities is really awesome. That being said, the movie suffers from some clunky pacing overall, and the villain is so weak and one dimensional that he was honestly pretty uninteresting throughout most of the movie. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the dystopia aspect they added to the world of Aiga. I get it, they find floating people creepy, but did we really need another generic totalitarian dystopia? Otherwise though, I’d definitely recommend. It isn’t groundbreaking, but the gravity science really is a lot of fun, and Yoshiura’s direction has some nice moments in there. So yeah, Patema Inverted, I guess it was worth the wait.

– Favorite Anime-

Shirobako

Shirobako:

There were actually a couple of anime fighting for this spot during the past four months, and while I love every single one of those shows with all my heart, none of them were quite on the level of Shirobako. Admittedly the first few episodes are kind of slow in comparison to the rest of the series, but once you get past that initial road block Shirobako really becomes something truly magical. Every single character, from minor bit players like Kumogi, to the five main girls are not only compelling, but incredibly relatable. I feel like everyone at one point in their life, especially recent college graduates, have had a feeling of uneasiness and confusion about whether or not they’re really heading down the right path in life. This show taps into that brilliantly, showing the struggles and stress of it all while still being reservedly optimistic.

So what if deadlines are approaching? Who cares about a lack of sleep? Because at the end of the day, that uphill climb is worth it to create something meaningful with your talents. From beginning to end, Shirobako dazzles with fun humor, realistic situations, and just top notch craftsmanship throughout. It’s one of my favorite anime I’ve seen in a long long time, and I will not be surprised to see it end up as number one on my year end list. Everyone should watch Shirobako.

-Special Award: Best Messy Show I’ve Seen So Far –

Karekano

His and Her Circumstances:

Was this show made for me? No seriously, did Hideaki Anno decide to adapt this shoujo manga at Gainax because he thought, “You know, some random kid in the US is really going to like this show in 2015,” because it sure feels like it to me! Okay that’s probably not true, but either way this show really hits almost all of my favorite things in storytelling. Well developed romance, psychologically distraught kids, awesome side characters who strengthen the plot, the only thing it’s really missing is a gimmick around the characters being artists. Still that’s an impressive list of traits for me, and from episode one onward I was hooked.

At its core, His and Her Circumstances is a story about masks and how we define ourselves. When we begin our tale Yukino Miyazawa and Soichiro Arima are living what seems to be the ideal high school life. They earn the best grades in their class, their classmates and teachers absolutely love and respect them, and on the surface they seem to be perfect model students. However the big twist here is that they aren’t, Miyazawa is a snarky, abrasive girl who comes from a loudmouth family, and Soichiro is a rich boy who lives in an adoptive family and suffers from severe stress due to his past relationship with his abusive mother. Eventually though they discover each others true selves, and fall in love, not because of their perfect exterior, but because they understand each other.

I love the core relationship of His and Her Circumstances. Not only is it amazingly refreshing due to the couple getting together three episodes into the show, but it’s also consensual and isn’t filled with some weird disgusting quirks. These two characters truly respect and love each other, and every seen when their together is heartwarming, funny, and believable. This quality also extends to the side characters, who all carry interesting masks of their own. Everyone in this show, no matter how bad they first appear to be, is extremely likable; and that’s truly an accomplishment.

Sadly though, there are quite a few major problems that plague this show’s amazing track record. For one thing the animation isn’t very good. Don’t get me wrong, Hideaki Anno directs this thing as best he can, delivering his typically beautiful shot composition and art direction, but there is barely any actual movement or quality control  here. To add to the list of noticeable production issues, there are an abundance of pointless recap episodes, and the clear and obvious director shift in some episodes creates for a jarring experience in certain episodes. The show also significantly slows down in the second half, making it a chore to sit through. There are still great moments peppered throughout, but it’s overall much more drawn out than it should be, and the whole thing ends with a unsatisfying whimper. Which is sad because I adore everything else about it! It’s reserved, well written, and probably one of my favorite romance shows I’ve seen to date. His and Her Circumstances may not be for everyone, but it certainly is for me.

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