Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Anime — 2015 in review

A busy year, this living in the future lark. Early summer was marked by both the announcement of the dennou-megane wearable AR, and the first kaiju attacks on Tokyo-3. These were interspersed with the world-wide devastation caused by the Stardust that began in late July, but otherwise continued through the end of the year. And on the 19th December, the Japanese exploratory space fleet was destroyed by space monsters. But I spent more time building up my backlog and sorting out my media library than watching new titles.

Of the carry-over series, from 2014 I finally finished Gatchaman Crowds, and Mushi-shi 2nd but House of Five Leaves remains fogbound.

Watched

Magical Mah-jongg Saki : the Nationals was the weakest of the three series to date; being the shortest, but still trying to rush through almost as many other opposing teams as the first 26 episode series. Add to that being front-loaded with fanservice, when play started, both the character stories and, especially, the magical girl antics were fairly perfunctory. And we're still waiting for Teru time, but that will probably only appear in the manga some considerable time after Akagi's game in the Washizu mansion finishes (which might even be this year!).


Encouragement of Climb S2 was cute fun and almost a vicarious walking holiday in Japan, a breath of the outdoors in the tag end of last winter, with just the lingering regret that I'll never actually climb those peaks along with a bunch of cute Japanese girls.


Character development imminent

Akatsuki no Yona was a sort of role-reversed Moribito, though with a strong retro feel -- archaic anime mannerisms like sliding into SD to emphasise the humorous bits. In all, it was a very effective "now go read the manga" sort of series, a 24 episode introduction to just gather up the band that will restore the princess to her usurped throne. If only there was a niche for a long-running shoujo in amongst the open-ended fightan shonen shows. Could have done with toning down the ditzy blonds, though.


Hajime makes friends with MESS-chan and doesn't afraid of anything

Gatchaman Crowds once again shows that Japan doesn't into endings, with Berg-Katze going from unstoppable existential threat into a "Sorry, we're all too busy on Facebook to pay your ramblings any attention." in the course of a couple of minutes. The half an episode explaining the narrative point of Hajime (simply the best character) for those who hadn't gotten the idea already was too much, too late. Overall, for someone who hadn't even seen the Battle of the Planets version of the original, I'd rate it as an interesting concept, but flawed in execution. The sequel is in the backlog.

Donyatsu -- alas, in a dozen two-minute shorts, it doesn't even reach the WTFness of the first page of the manga let alone the continuing story.

Hōkago no Pleiades the Gainax farewell tour magical girl sentai show -- which is less of a blatant Subaru ad than the ONA on which it expands. This is a series I continued with mainly for the astrophysics fan-service, and a little bit for the tangled world-lines stuff, because otherwise it is the epitome of blandness. Pretty girls with no character, antagonists with no menace, action scenes with no tension -- none of it actively bad, but neither does it have much positive going for it.

By half-way through, it hadn't established itself even as much as Gen'ei o Kakeru Taiyō did in the fewer episodes I gave that; the MC is still a moe-blob cipher, and the other characters just vanish from consciousness. Even at the end the characters barely advance beyond being colour coded ciphers -- and what is this disgusting heterosex doing in my mahou shoujo anime? It needed a lot more of the ">School >Slice of life" up front, or just dropping that side almost entirely and turning the astronomy porn up to eleven.

Mushi-shi 2nd a faithful adaptation of material that got a little tired towards the end, with a little too much escalation of what the mushi could do, but was still suitably atmospheric throughout.


This is a Japanese submarine

Arpeggio of Blue Steel looked to start with as if it was going to be a harem/fleet show, but developed into something more complicated, with factions on land, as well as the mysterious Fog and all the ship-girls. As usual, the journey was better than the destination, with the massive UNDERSTANDING boss fight at the end falling rather flat after the sudden out of nowhere escalation (that's no moon!). Also, anime should not try to do rumpled aluminium foil for a few years yet in a 3D/2D hybrid.

Mawaru Penguindrum. It's watchable, and there's enough "WTF is going on here?" to flow through in a binge watch, but Utena it is not. Not sure what else I can say about it, other than it got that off the backlog; and that the SHAFT-esque architecture I noticed in the opening minutes of Yuri Bear was prefigured here. Also, Ikuhara did his Kaworu thing again.

Symphogear seems to retread elements of Nadia and of Nanoha S1 -- though Bikki-tan really needs to take a few lessons from a much younger magical girl. It's all very well trying to tell your opponent all the things you put on your social media profile and issue a friend request, but you really should be charging up your Divine Buster (or reasonable facsimile) at the same time. Nowhere near as gay as I'd been led to expect for a series teetering on the border between mecha musume and mahou shoujo; but it does deliver the appropriate level of OTT attacks and explosions.

All in all, an amusing little trainwreck of a series. Like Arpeggio of Blue Steel, it suffered from excessive threat escalation and an underwhelming UNDERSTANDING boss fight in the last couple of episodes. The characters were cute and all, but really the only one apart from the Commander who seemed to have any personality was the "anime ja nai" girl in the second tier of supporting characters. I guess Tsubasa's schtick was that she was the one-note warrior, but she came over as the flattest thing Nana has ever played, and Hibiki herself was just an air-head.

Given the broad brush similarities in storyline that this series had to Nanoha first, the differences in pacing and emphasis show where this one failed. Overall there was too much time spent on action for a one-cour show, to have much chance to build up characters, build up the threat, or give some coherent shape to the Atlantean/Muvian/Hyborean Secret History underlying the whole gear thing.

Hōzuki no Reitetsu which was one of those rare comedy anime that was actually amusing more often than not; a slice-of-afterlife in which the chief functionary to the King of Hell has to cope with incompetence all around.

And it also included the dyslexic diabolist joke, which you can still do in kana!

Incomplete

Having reached "Yes! Yes! Yes!" (D'Arby the Gamer), the motivation to grind through the rest of Stardust Crusaders has been lacking -- we're past all the interesting fights at this point. Wake me up when we get to Steel Ball Run.

Gen'ei o Kakeru Taiyō -- another post-Madoka magical girl, but so dull! Dropped after 4 episodes.

Prisma Illya 2wei Herz turns out to be mostly filler, so not picked up. And the manga seems to be diving into straight Fate/Whatever territory rather than being magical girl pyrotechnics.

Gundam : Iron Blooded Orphans -- well, it makes a change to have a major character who isn't all "Killing is wrong"; but the Hitler-in-a-wifebeater guy is such an obvious rotten apple that it came as no surprise that he was making dodgy phone calls to arrange things -- carried over.

Symphogear G, which starts with all the faults of the first series, with Bikki-tan's "why are we fighting, we only just met" bit at people with the declared aim of world domination coming over as serious stupidity rather than loveable naivete -- she still doesn't twig that you have to do that speech while charging your lazors, then shooting first. Still, the fights are fun, even if they blow their load in putting the most quoted set piece early in the first episode -- carried over.

Rewatched

Gurren Lagann -- I'd forgotten quite how much went on in each episode, without it being FLCL/P&SwG level hyper; definitely the best of zany-mode GAINAX. A fun ride, though I hadn't remembered quite how visually incoherent the final fight was. No wonder they went back and re-did it in a movie.

Busou Renkin, after a long enough interval to forget pretty much everything but that Papillon stole the show, was quite an enjoyable ride -- fightan shonen with power-ups, done right.

I'd rated Blue Drop highly at the time (enough comfortably to be in my top 20 of last decade), and I rate it just as highly today. I can't think of any other series I've seen where the MC is such a cute tsundere; and the sweet tsundere x ojou-sama core just works so well, to make it just that much more than simply "Marimite with spaceships".

Also holding up are the excellent OP and ED -- the latter being much stronger than the usual run of forgettable third-rate offerings for that slot.

When I first watched Elfen Lied it was all new, now almost a decade later, with a lot more familiarity with the tics of the medium, and in tying the spoken language to meaning without so much help from the subtitles, it's easier to notice things like the "kawaii uguu~" character designs for what they are, and where there was reliance on stereotype and MISUNDERSTANDING.

On balance, it stood up, and the scene with Kouta and Lucy on the stairs just before the end was a suitably sappy pay-off for all the back and forth. And it still tops anything else in my collection for the levels of gore and nudity.

Revisited

A few episodes here and there, or just still in flight...

The only thing that really tells you that Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! was made 9 years ago is the occasional bit of computing hardware (in a show set in the mid/late 2030s) that looks quaint even today. Truly one of the most well done "cute schoolgirls doing cute schoolgirl things" anime out there.

Strike Witches held up very well on a revisit -- Yoshika's oppai-envy just gets a bit tacky, though.

Simoun to about the halfway mark, is just as wonderful as it was at the time.

At 2/3 mark, Legendary Titan Ideon, isn't quite the [new planet/new alien boss/new alien mecha]-of-the-week treadmill I recalled from the first viewing. I'm also rather impressed by the sound design for the series -- the electronic chatter in the background when the scene is on a Buff Clan vessel (which to start with I thought was just degradation in the decade-old archival DVD), or the birdsong and other nature sounds when in the habitat dome of the Solo Ship.

And if Ideon is indeed ancestral to Evangelion, then Sheryl is clearly a proto-Ritsuko -- I caught myself thinking "waifu material" a couple of times. I guess I just have this thing about neurotic scientist girls.

I also re-watched a chunk of Burn-Up Excess -- and this time around could spot a bunch more Eva homages, including sudden white-on-black eye-catches with summary text, and a section of colour manipulated flashback images at a moment of stress, in amongst the explosions and the "jiggling baby-feeders".

I've shelved NaruTaru at the halfway mark for the moment, as just that little bit too tryhard edgy.

As some late night comfy viewing while waiting to see the New Year in, the first couple of episodes of Windy Tales >School >Slice of life were just what the doctor ordered.


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