The Stream
And I Feel Fine

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 4th 2012

Thank you to everyone who hung out with us over the weekend at Anime Expo! And thanks also to everyone who made it to our panel on Friday; it was nice to see the room so packed! You made my heart shimmer like a beacon in a stormy night.

Speaking of stormy nights, the spring season of anime is finally over. Am I sad to see some of these titles go? Yes. But am I glad to not have to watching a bazillion shows every week? Hell yes. Especially those pesky titles right on the border where you kind of don't like them anymore, but you're not sure that you're ready to stop... I'm pretty sure I've had a bunch of relationships like that, too! Yikes.

Well, let's dive in!

 

#1 - Kids on the Slope [ep. 10-12]

Kids on the Slope jerks people's emotions around like a broken rollercoaster. In the last three episodes alone, I've smiled and I've cried, and was faked out not once, but twice. I probably should've known something was up when things in the series were “too good to be true.” But, as in life, nothing good lasts forever, and the fleeting happiness in Kids on the Slope quickly gives way to tragedy followed by heartbreak. Though in the end, perhaps it cycles back to happiness again.

This series has an incredibly mature way about dealing with high school. The characters go through things that one normally associates with “grown up problems,” but it may be just that I've lived a blessedly sheltered life. Even though Kaoru and Sen are just a couple of kids trying to play jazz music, they have a host of familial problems that they have no choice but to deal with. Many characters over the course of the series have to make life-altering choices. The characters may be fictional, but I imagine their problems are felt by many, and I appreciate that the series even takes us to those places.

In the end, the finale was uplifting and wonderful, and I felt as elated as I did when they first played in the school festival. So many things have happened in the series—some happy, some sad—but thinking back on the series, the scenes that stand out to me the most are the ones that celebrate the friendship between Sen and Kaoru. For all the times that the series has delivered heart-crushing blows, it has equally delivered pure joy.

I joke all the time that a lot of series are about throwaway concepts like “teamwork” and “friendship,” but in the case of Kids on the Slope, the latter is genuine. It's a wonderfully un-cynical show and my only wish would be that it was longer. Even being able to stretch itself out to 24 episodes would've greatly helped the pacing, which suffered a bit in the last few episodes where things happened too quickly. But given the amount of episodes the creative staff was allowed to work with, the series was definitely successful. It's so rare to see such frank writing these days, that when a series like Kids on the Slope comes along, it seems to touch everyone who watches it. I am very happy that I got the chance to watch this series.

Status: How could one not like this series? It is so open and genuine with its emotions that it's sometimes astounding how well it plays with the human heart. I've been really grateful that this series came out, and I am crossing my fingers for an eventual domestic Blu-ray release.

 

#2 - Space Brothers [ep. 12-13]

I'm so happy that Space Brothers is continuing in the summer. It could go on for the next few years, and I'd be just as happy. Hands down, every week, it is one of the series that I look the most forward to, because Mutta is just so much darned fun to watch. If I could hand-pick fictional characters to be my friends, Mutta would be on the list. Sure, maybe he's a little flakey and maybe he's prone to poor decisions, but he seems like a super genuine guy who'd be really fun to share a beer with.

Plus, I absolutely need to know what's going on in his life. You wouldn't think watching Mutta and his fellow JAXA examinees would be so fascinating to watch, but they really are. I love watching the way their minds work, and I love watching each character's personality develop so strongly. Presumably, that's something that the JAXA testers wanted to see also, and I commend the writers for making this happen in a natural and organic way.

There are also just a lot of good moments in the show. Recently, the examinees had to write a letter of rebuttal to a journalist who claimed that space travel was unnecessary. Almost all of the answers featured were unique and well thought out, and it's amazing to remember that all of this was originally penned by the mangaka. That the anime is able to adapt all of this material into such consistently engaging entertainment is testament to the strong writing ability of their creative staff.

I don't know how long Space Brothers will eventually end up being, but I'm glad the staff feels comfortable taking their time. If the show was any faster or slower, it wouldn't be as good.

Status: Summer will be good, because I know I will always have more Space Brothers. If you haven't watched it yet, for whatever reason, you should start, because you've got a whole another season of it ahead of you.

 

#3 - Polar Bear Cafe [ep. 11-12]

My God, pandas are amazing creatures. They're so dim-witted, but adorable, and only in Polar Bear Cafe could writers get away with an extended scene where two pandas sit around playing the Japanese version of Rochambeau, which ends with a, “Look over there!” psych-out. Literally, for about a minute, Panda and Full Time Panda just play this game. Yet every time one of them slowly deadpans, “Look over there!” it is amazingly entertaining and disgustingly cute.

I've heard accounts from zookeepers and conservationists that pandas are kind of jerks in real life. If that's the case, then Panda's persona makes complete sense. He's selfish and annoying, but damn it all if he doesn't get lavished with attention because of his cherubic face and pudgy paws. It says good things about the comedy writers on this show that they're able to deftly show both sides—the cute, cuddly “look at these talking animals in this idyllic setting!” side, and the flawed, almost human side to our beloved characters. Penguin may be plump and adorable, but he's an insecure stalker whose day planner opens up to reveal a schedule like that of a movie villain with a drawer full of masks in his closet. Perhaps the only consistently lovable animal characters are Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear, but let's be frank—we cherish all the characters, because who could really dislike animals.

Polar Bear Cafe has been one of the most pleasant shows to watch all season. The characters are some of the most interesting and well-written characters I've seen in ages, and it's not just because they look like they were pulled from a BBC documentary. They're all weird and hilarious in their own ways, and I am excited that there will be more.

Status: What a great series. If you're one of those fans that dislikes slice of life shows, I think you may be pleasantly surprised by Polar Bear Cafe. For starters, it's funny as Hell, and for seconds, it's pretty hard to be “slice of life” when that life includes motorcycle-riding bears.

 

#4 - Lupin III - The Woman Called Fujiko Mine [ep. 11-12]

Within the span of a few episodes, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine transformed from a fun, frolicky (but dark) thief show, into a captivating series that has risen to the upper echelons of the Lupin III franchise. Rather than the endless cat-and-mouse chases of previous series and movies, this newest project sets out to do exactly what it promises in the title—talk about the woman called Fujiko Mine. Up until this point, she's been the sexy, alluring femme fatale that always danced a foot or two ahead of Lupin's grasp. But this time, we get to see a little more of her. Namely, someone who isn't invincible, who does have weaknesses and feelings, and who is occasionally actually vulnerable.

The rabbit hole that the past few episodes have pushed us down is a bit of a red herring, but one that is still satisfying once resolved. Fujiko is led to believe that she embraces her sexuality and material goods to drown out a childhood that one only sees in horror films. What dangled in front of us is hinted at a couple episodes back in “Ghost Town,” but we're not sure how much of it is real, and how much of it is just through the drugged eyes of a groggy Lupin. Whether or not that's real is inconsequential leading up to the finale. What matters is that for the first time, we actually see her shed her cool facade in the two-part episode, “The Woman Called Fujiko Mine”—a callback to the series title. The characters all find themselves in an amusement park of sorts, with imagery and sound bites that will burn themselves into your memory for days. It's not only a pivotal moment in the series—it's a pivotal moment in the franchise. Whether or not you like the ending is up to you, but credit has to be given to this show for trying to add depth and tragedy to a sometimes shallow franchise.

That's not to say there aren't some light-hearted moments. Although the circumstances surrounding the transformation of Goemon are themselves disturbing, one can't help but crack a smile at the sight of his chiseled face sporting lipstick, and his svelte legs peeking out under a hot pink bathrobe.

For most of this season, I'd shoved Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine into that Purgatory of “Fun, But Not Great.” Now at long last, it belongs in the upper tiers of this season, bolstered by more than just pretty visuals and attitude.

Status: Although I hesitate to say that busy viewers should cherry-pick which episodes to watch, there are a handful that are more story-oriented than others. When you do that, though, you lose a lot of the character building, which would be a shame. Just to be safe, you should definitely watch the whole series. Just know that stuff really does eventually go down.

 

#5 - Fate/Zero [ep. 24-25]

After two seasons, Fate/Zero finally wraps up, building a narrative bridge to Fate/stay night that should hopefully satisfy fans of the franchise. Although the second season felt a little rushed, it was still immensely fun to watch, with all of the deaths and consequences that were denied in the first season. While the series did get a little too grandiose at times (what episode didn't go by without at least two epic monologues?), it delivered the visual experience that fans were expecting and showcased the Servants that everyone's grown to love. Not to mention that super messed up finale, which had me clawing at my desk in disbelief, and I'm not talking about seeing a buck-naked Gilgamesh sitting on a pile of rubble.

I do wish that the action was spread out a little more throughout the series. I realize that the series was fairly faithful to the light novels, and many of the action-heavy events were backloaded in the books, but it would've helped to shift some of the second season stuff into the first season. Ultimately, the way that the series was laid out made the first season feel relatively impotent, while the second season scrambled to right its wrongs.

Visually, though, the series is a huge step up from Studio DEEN's Fate/stay night, even though there are a handful of infamously cheap scenes. I grew to rue the sight of someone swirling red wine, because I knew it would mean a lengthy monologue, but the fight scenes truly delivered in their magnitude. I would watch this series again before I re-watched Fate/stay night. The characters are more interesting, and the fights are cooler—especially in the second season.

Status: Definitely worth watching if you've got the time. Especially if you like giant battle sequences slathered in slick CG.

 

#6 - Tsuritama [ep. 10-12]

tsuritama has changed drastically over the season, both in terms of the atmosphere of the show and the characters. It started out with a shy, friendless boy who couldn't even stand to talk in public, a surly teenager who only cared about fishing, and a couple of fishing poles, and ended with an alien invasion, a government-issued evacuation, and a trio of friends who've not only opened up to each other, but also the people around them. If you stay through the credits, there's a clip of Haru grinning his infectious grin, and the voiceover says, “Always be smiling! And always hold your head high!” which may ultimately be the moral for this story. No matter what crises may occur (though truthfully, is it really a crisis to be brainwashed into dancing and singing?), you can always pull through with some elbow grease and a positive attitude.

Aside from its quirky visuals and chipper music—the entire soundtrack prominently features a quartet of recorders—and its crazy storyline, tsuritama is ultimately more of a cute novelty act than it is memorable in the long-term. I enjoyed it immensely while it was running, but I was more so a fan of the first half. The alien nonsense at the end was cute, sure, but it felt rushed and it felt forced, like someone was shaking the writers to make it crazier and wackier.

Still, it's hard to beat a good upbeat message, and if you need a pick-me-up, tsuritama is it. It's a lot like eating dessert for dinner—it's not particularly fulfilling, but it's sweet and it makes you happy, and sometimes you just need a little more dessert in your life.

Status: I can't say that I really liked the last few episodes, but I'm charmed by the unwavering optimism of the series, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something different.

 

#7 - Bodacious Space Pirates [ep. 24-26]

Bodacious Space Pirates has not always been the most thrilling of shows, but it's been consistently cute and plucky, and definitely redeemed itself near the end. While parts of the series dragged in a quagmire of minutiae, the end managed to give the finale the series deserved. With pirate hunting ships out on the prowl, Marika and her crew wrangle together all the pirate ships in the area for a giant conference, and together, they help save the day. There are some distractions along the way—the subplots about android Luca, and doppelganger Kane—but for the most part, it manages to steer away from so much of the fluff that ensconced the middle chunk of the series.

It seems as though these pacing issues were endemic throughout the entire series—while the beginning of the first season started off slow, things picked up by the time the season finale came around, only to slow down again in the second season. It's not so much the pacing that bothered me at times, but just how meaningless some of the episodes felt. While the girls of the yacht club no doubt mean much to Marika, watching their escapades felt a lot like being forced to watch someone else's home videos.

In the end, the last few episodes were definitely worth sitting through. If I had to make a recommendation, though, I might recommended skipping the first half of the second season. The less yacht club, the better.

Status: Bodacious Space Pirates was great last season when it was the only show worth watching, but this season it lost some of its shine. Still, once the pirate club was convened, things got a lot better. When this series is focusing more on pirates and science, it's a lot better than when it's just watching girls clean a ship.

 

#8 - Hunter x Hunter [ep. 35-36]

Hisoka's villainy is perhaps one of the best part of the show. He's not only ruthless when it comes to his attacks and his lack of regard for whom he's fighting, but he's also got a code of ethics that I think more villains should have. As much as he knocks Gon around and serves as his nemesis, he also acts as a mentor who seems genuinely invested in Gon's development as a Hunter. That, or he's just a cat that likes to play with his food before wolfing it down.

The fateful day has finally come—Gon is meeting Hisoka at the Heaven's Arena. It goes without saying that if things were to come to a quick resolution, the series would be over within episodes. Things don't go quite as planned, but lessons are learned along the way, and Hisoka is able to impart more wisdom before he leaves. It would've been a letdown, if it weren't for the fact that each of the battles in Hunter x Hunter are so imaginative and fun to watch. Every time I think the show has run out of tricks in its bag, it pulls out more weird stunts, like Hisoka's bubblegum chi slap. I'm looking forward to another season.

Status: Still going strong. If you're looking to catch up, this is definitely a marathonable show.

 

#9 - Sankarea [ep. 9-11]

Sankarea continuously surprises me. I'm surprised whenever the series veers into extremely dark territory—like the truths behind Rea's terrible relationship with her father—and when it veers right back into moe territory, like having dress-up montages, both in cutesy street clothing and in cosplay. It's like the series wants to be impactful and shocking, but it's worried that fans will skitter away if there aren't enough scenes of Rea simpering into a camera. It's almost ironic when you contrast all those montages with the revelation of her father's inappropriate obsession with her.

Luckily, most of the characters in Sankarea are pretty lovable. Chihiro is hard to dislike because he's so nice and inoffensive, even if he does have bizarre hobbies and interests. Ranko is irritating but fun, and even Rea is easy to like because she's so big-hearted for everything she's gone through. This is just a show where none of the characters really give you a reason to dislike them, with the obvious exception being the father.

That having been said, once the zombie novelty wears off, Sankarea starts feeling a little thin. The various emotions that the series tries to take viewers to feel a little forced, like they're more the product of a board meeting rather than an inspired story unfolding naturally. When tragedy strikes, it feels like someone's going through a checklist of Things Stories Need. As mentioned before, this feels even more flighty when tragedy is immediately rinsed away by cutesy. Sure, even if the reason for the cutesy outfit changes may be a father's inappropriate love, aren't they just as much for the benefit of the audience? Ultimately, that's what kind of weirded me out about the last couple of episodes—the mix of dark and moe, with the audience as the spectator.

I haven't had a chance to see the last episode yet, what with the delayed simulcast schedule, but Sankarea has been an amusing ride. My love for the series waned rapidly near the end, but it had its moments.

Status: I think maybe if the series was more consistent near the end, I would've liked it better. Instead, it couldn't quite decide on the tone it wanted to take.

 

#10 - Dusk Maiden of Amnesia [ep. 11-12]

Leading up to the finale, Dusk maiden of Amnesia really found some dark corners to hide in. The truth about Yuuko's past was deftly revealed, and by the time viewers found out what happened to her, and the circumstances behind her death, it was like a punch to the face. Whatever was cute and chipper about the show up until that point was hurled out the window, sealed with the image of Yuuko's warped face screaming in agony.

But, once that's over and done with, things are cute again. Yuuko reunites her dark self with her light self, and everything is sunshine and berries. She goes on a play date with Teichii, and does cute anime girl stuff, like feed him omelets. Sadly, her happiness does not last forever, and we get a bittersweet ending to their date. The end.

In hindsight, I don't know that I would've wanted to watch the entire series. Dusk maiden of Amnesia is essentially two shows crammed into one. The first half is this weird, quirky supernatural comedy where everyone gets to chuckle over a ghost that only some people can see. The second half is incredibly twisted and horrific, in terms of what the townsfolk do to Yuuko, and I'm honestly a little shocked that it all gets resolved so quickly. Jumping to the happy date episode feels so jarring, that I was initially worried I was watching some kind of OVA that wasn't part of the actual series.

For those who know my taste in supernatural and horror, it's no surprise that the latter half of the series appealed to me more than the first half. I enjoy seeing characters swirl into madness, whether they're main characters or ancillary characters. To me, that descent into madness is the most intriguing part of any horror story, more so than the actual consequences and subsequent bloodshed. I had a decent time with this show. I just kind of want the 25 minutes I spent watching the last episode back.

Status: It took a while for me to get into this show, but once things started down the gnarled path of horror, I started feeling it. Maybe with a better balance of cute and scary, the series could've been made better all around.

 

#11 - Kuroko's Basketball [ep. 11-12]

If you read episode summaries of Kuroko's Basketball, it's really hard not to laugh. Every episode sounds like a crisis-in-action, and one begins to think the kids are on the verge of a Cold War, rather than just a game of basketball. No matter how far along in the game they are, there is always some secret attack lurking around the corner. Maybe it's someone's super secret killer pass, or someone's super secret jump block, or someone's super secret hawk-eye play-reading vision. There is always something.

I wish real basketball was even a quarter as exciting as this. Then again, the NBA doesn't have the Miracle Generation. Kobe ain't got nothin' on these kids, with their crazy laser passes and their eight foot wingspans.

Kuroko's Basketball is a fun diversion. It's the kind of show that you can watch and forget, then pick up right back where you started the following week. A lot of the characters kind of look the same, and everything jumbles together, but it doesn't really matter. You just need to know that someone's trying to get a ball into the hoop, and you're always rooting for the underdogs. It's popcorn sports entertainment at its finest.

Status: It's not a great show, but it's pretty easy to watch. If you're looking for characterization or strategy sessions, you're not going to find any of that here. But you will find lots of guys grunting into the camera, and sweat whisking off their foreheads like a midday rain.

 

#12 - Zetman [ep. 11-12]

Throughout the entire season, watching any given episode of Zetman has felt a bit like flipping TV channels and stumbling across a movie you've never seen before. You don't fully know what's going on, but you watch the rest of the movie anyway, because you're fascinated by whatever action scenes are flashing across the screen. Sometimes you promise yourself you'll try to catch the first half of the movie the next time it's on. Except with Zetman, you never get to see the first half, because most of the episodes make minimal sense within the context of the series.

Now, each episode makes sense—that's an important distinction I feel I should make. The series just doesn't really flow together, because Zetman is a bit too overambitious for its own ability. I appreciate that the series is trying to give viewers a glimpse into Jin and Kouga's confused and complex mindsets, but contrasted with the sporadic killing sprees, everything ends up feeling disjointed. I thought that once Jin powered up into Super Ultimate Crazy Giant Red Chest Spike of Death Zet, things would follow a more natural path. Instead, there are death mazes here, Player outbreaks there, kidnappings everywhere, and it distinctly feels like the series is a few storylines cobbled into one. As a result, even when there are tender scenes, the story doesn't slow down enough to let viewers appreciate them.

For instance, an episode back, there are the deaths of some family members of one of the characters. This is a scene that should register as either sad or horrifying, but come off as neither because it's brushed off too quickly. There are terrible revelations revealed about other characters that should be deeply depressing, but because we never got the chance to really connect with any of the characters, it's just shocking, but mostly unaffecting.

That's what the series has always been, though. Shocking. But unaffecting. Now that the series is over, I can appreciate that it's been a bumpy and fun ride, but I'd be okay with never seeing it again, and I don't know that I'd ever recommend that someone purchase the series on physical media. It might be worth watching once while it's still available streaming, but it works better as a blood-soaked distraction than meaningful entertainment.

Status: I don't regret watching it, but it certainly didn't really enrich my life. I hear the manga is good, but the anime is ultimately skippable.

 

#13 - Medaka Box [ep. 11-12]

I've come to the conclusion that Medaka Box is just simply not interesting. It wasn't interesting before the famed “genre shift,” and it certainly isn't interesting after. Sure, I was tickled when Medaka transformed into a Super Saiyan demon woman who could take down entire buildings with her brute strength. Sure, I'm amused by the idea that this entire high school is some kind of incubator for crazy warrior children who sit around concocting exploding rubber balls and hulking out. At the end of the day, though, it just feels like Nisio Isin was kind of making up this story as he went along, and then someone turned it into an anime.

Believably, after Medaka tears up half the school and a few body parts, she checks herself into the hospital. What follows is an episode where the remainder of the Student Council helps the shogi club track down a missing piece from one of their sets, only to discover that a large-scale theft has taken place. We're treated to a couple of monologues and the reassurance that, yes, everyone loves Medaka, and that the world screeches to a halt without her. Also, love, friendship, and self-respect.

Presumably, the series will be launching into the next arc when it picks up again in October, wherein Medaka will now have to contend with a whole litter of students with super powers. Even as I type that, I sigh with discontent, because it sounds so unbelievably trite. Medaka Box is like playing with a cat, where everything is kind of fun for a while, but once the cat gets bored, you have to change things up so it's intrigued again. Instead of just throwing a jangly bell across the floor, you can tie a piece of string to it, and whaaaaaaaaaaaaat??? There's a string????? Medaka helps people at a school whose nonchalance about collateral damage and student injury is dwarfed by the students' super abilities?????

I'm onto you, Medaka Box. I ain't playing yo' reindeer games.

Status: I think I've been telling myself that I really want to like this series, but at the end of the day, I really don't. I'll stick my head into the second season, but I don't think I'll shed too many tears when it vacates my life.

 

#14 - Mysterious Girlfriend X [ep. 11-13]

I'm put off by this show. It's not just the drool, or the fact that Tsubaki blushes even when he sees his sister drool, or the constant finger-in-mouth-spit-swap—it's that Urabe kind of creeps me out. She's mysterious, as the title might imply, but the more I watch her interact with Tsubaki, the more I want him to be in a healthier relationship. For most of the series, I pegged their awkward interaction on the very nature of teenage relationships—stilted and weird, and mostly based on kneejerk reactions and stuff you see in movies—but the more I watched Urabe bulldoze her way through Tsubaki's life, the more I wanted him to go away to college and find someone better.

In the last episode, we pull away from their relationship a little bit and see a different side of Tsubaki's life, namely his family life. We see that his sister has raised him ever since his mother died, and he feels bad that she's sacrificed so much of herself for him and his father. But upon discovering that Tsubaki's mother was deceased, Urabe insists on visiting her grave, which is something that didn't sit well with me, considering that's not a request a significant other has the right to demand, nor is their relationship even at a level of intimacy in which she can butt her way into a tender aspect of his past.

The entirety of Mysterious Girlfriend X has been this really uncomfortable romantic dramedy. That the two leads constantly suck on each other's fingers but won't kiss is weird and unsettling, and more and more, I felt like I was watching something I wasn't supposed to see. The more Urabe appeared to have some kind of magical spit powers, the more I was convinced that she was just dangerously unstable and was misleading a confused and hapless Tsubaki.

Then again, maybe the fact that I'm so strongly put off by this show, and have such an adverse reaction to it means that the series succeeded. Just because my reaction isn't a positive one, doesn't mean that the series was ineffective—it just pushed me in the other direction. Ultimately, I stuck around because I was bewildered by everything that was taking place, but if you have a stronger tolerance than I for awkward characters, then you may enjoy it more than I did. I started out liking Urabe and her quirky side, but near the end, I was praying for a breakup.

Status: Even if there's a second season, I don't know that I'll tune in. If you want an offbeat romance that's different from all the others, then maybe this one's for you. Or if you really like spit and weird girls.

 

#15- Accel World [ep. 10-12]

At the Viz panel, the entire room erupted into cheers when they showed a clip of Accel World. Either I'm the uncoolest kid on the block, or I'm watching a completely different show. I cannot get into Accel World no matter how I try, and I will probably not watch the second season.

Mostly, I just can't really bring myself to care about what these kids do in their virtual reality video game. Nothing they do actually matters. So what if there's some bad guy running around their game. At worst, he kills the character you've spent so much time leveling up. Go out and get some sunshine. He's not going to level Tokyo or anything, so it's not a big deal. Being betrayed in Accel World is like getting screwed over by your friends when you're playing Settlers of Cataan. You thought maybe your friend was going to give you some ore, but he lied.

This series is supposed to be 24 episodes long. I think this whole time I was expecting it to be bigger than it was, and show more of the characters' lives outside of the game, but I was let down. No more.

Status: Dropped, in that the second season no longer appeals to me. I'm glad the characters love leveling up so much, but I have other things to watch.


That's it for this season. Whew. I am proud of everyone who is still somehow watching all of those shows.

What did you think of Spring? What are you most looking forward to the in the Summer? Head on over to the Talkback forum to share your thoughts! And, if you'd like to hear more endless yapping about anime, you can also follow me on Twitter at @ANN_Bamboo, where chit-chat about the Summer season has already started!


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