The Stream
Swim City

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 10th 2013

Hello everyone! It's good to be back after a month's hiatus from both The Stream and Shelf Life. Last month, I was holed up in my room writing my PhD dissertation and getting ready for my defense. I'm happy to say that all went smoothly, and while I regret not being able to post The Stream earlier (and having to play massive catch-up), I feel like a giant boulder has finally been lifted off my shoulders. For the time being, you'll be seeing a lot more of me at ANN, so I look forward to chatting with everyone about anime, and arguing in the forums.

You may notice that both Space Brothers and Hunter x Hunter have vanished from the rankings. While I love both dearly, Space Brothers is at ~70+ episodes now, while Hunter x Hunter is just a few weeks shy from its 100th episode. From now on, I'd like to cap series off at the 52nd episode. At some point, it just ceases to be meaningful to continue writing about a series that has been running for so long. For those who have been watching either Space Brothers or Hunter x Hunter, I doubt you will stop. For those who haven't started yet, 70+ episodes is just too daunting to think of catching up. Since one of the goals of this column is to give readers a jumping-off point to discuss the shows they're watching each season, it seems more useful to try and keep conversation centered around newer, more accessible shows.

Alright, let's go.

#1 - The Eccentric Family [ep. 1-8]

Over the years, P.A. Works has slowly become one of my favorite studios, blending tremendous artistic talent with a knack for writing about the everyday. Despite the fantastical elements in The Eccentric Family, a show populated by tanuki and tengu, it's still very much a slice-of-life show. Even though we humans can't relate to transformation powers or booze-fueled airships, there are other things that ring true—family, honor, respect, regret.

The series centers around Yasaburo, a mischievous young tanuki whose lackadaisical nature often gets him scolded by his older brother. He enjoys using his transformation powers to take on the appearance of high school girls, although he hasn't quite figured out how to hide his swagger or sit like a lady. Over the course of the series, he and his brothers finally take the steps to come to terms with the death of their father, a well-respected tanuki whose death (caused by being eaten in a tanuki hot pot) still haunts them.

There's something distinctly melancholic about The Eccentric Family. Even though Yasaburo frequently mentions how carefree and easily distracted tanuki are, his family is a somber one. None of the sons feel able to live up to their father's expectations or reputation, though it's through finally investigating his death that they begin to understand his life.

When I originally started watching The Eccentric Family, I'm not sure I really had any high hopes for it. It seemed cute, but I wasn't expecting it to grip me as tightly as it has. The characters play off each other remarkably well, and although many stories throughout time have tried to tackle the idea of "family," it takes patient writing to craft a story as rich as The Eccentric Family. Somehow, a story about shape-shifting raccoon dogs has managed to be more poignant than any human-centric show I've watched in a long time.

#2 - Gatchaman Crowds [ep. 1-9]

Look past the first episode of Gatchaman Crowds (and perhaps main girl Hajime) and you'll find a series that's a lot more introspective and philosophical than one might initially give it credit for.

The story takes place in 2015 in a city protected by the Gatchaman, superheroes who fight alien menaces using special suits powered by a special item called NOTE. In comes Hajime, who barrels through the show (and the rest of the Gatchaman) like a colorful, scrap-booking, super-genki freight train. She can't understand why the Gatchaman are so strict when it comes to using their powers, and she definitely doesn't understand why they can't be revealed to the world. So naturally, when she gets her powers, she turns their organization upside down and rather than getting disciplined, she renders everyone speechless. Hajime is change personified, only wrapped up in a rainbow and rolled through a pile of sprinkles.

Incidentally, she also introduces one of her teammates to GALAX, a popular social app that's been spreading like wildfire. Operated by a mysterious figure (whom we quickly meet), GALAX allows users to help one another by mobilizing them in the event of a tragedy. For instance, when a tunnel caves in, the app instructs some of them to pull victims from their cars, while others are asked to use their professional medical qualifications to take care of the injured.

Separately, each element of the story (the G-crew, GALAX) is perhaps a little impotent. Together, they're powerful, raising the level of discourse in the deceptively cheery and colorful series. When Hajime is given the chance to meet the person behind GALAX, she's asked to give up her powers. The leader, known to the public as X, believes that if humans are made aware of heroes, they will cease to take care of themselves. On the other hand, if they are asked to help themselves, they will actively take part in a better, updated society.

It's through the many story threads in Gatchaman Crowds that we see a more reflective side of the series. We're asked to ponder what heroism really is, and question the very concept of heroes and their role in society. Themes of change roll through the series as well, breaking through walls of resistance and apathy. Along the way, well-crafted dialogue prods you along, forcing you to think about the very media you're consuming. For a show that looks on paper like people in super suits fighting aliens, it packs a meaty punch.

There are lots of ways to watch Gatchaman Crowds, but if you let yourself ponder the questions that the characters themselves raise, you may find yourself deriving more enjoyment from the series than just sitting back and letting the bright colors flash past your eyes. For those who stalled after the first episode, I'd recommend trying a few more.

#3 - Watamote [ep. 1-9]

WATAMOTE, the blessedly short abbreviation for Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!, or "No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!", is, in one word— heartbreaking. It hits you over the head with the protagonist's social ineptitude and self-sabotage until you want to pluck her from the TV screen and wrap her in a bear hug.

Fifteen-year-old Tomoko Kuroki is convinced that high school will be the trigger for her meteoric rise into popularity. With her crippling social anxiety and awkwardness though, that hope is nothing but fantasy. She spends her days blending into the background, cursing popular kids under her breath and bemoaning that no one likes her. In her lonely bubble of a world, choking out a "hello" to a boy is an event to be celebrated.

At the same time, she's filled with delusion and hope, never-ending in her quest to someday be popular. It's easy to see that it's all a ruse, and the only thing she wants is to not be lonely anymore. Part shut-in, part otaqueen, part that-really-weird-kid-who-tries-really-hard-to-crack-jokes-but-totally-fails, Tomoko is an exaggerated version of what many of us remember our high school selves to be. From her awkward interactions with members of the opposite sex, to the moments of self-hatred, to the bursts of anger and jealousy at all the “cool kids,” we totally get it. Because of it, we both love her and pity her, and that's what makes this series work so amazingly well. We're able to see vestiges of our past selves, but we're comforted in knowing, “wow, I was never this bad,” so it lets us observe from afar. But because most of us came out of it for the better, we can extend our hearts to a fictional character and tell her, episode after episode, “keep going.” If you haven't yet checked out WATAMOTE, give it a shot.

#4 - Silver Spoon [ep. 1-9]

At the heart of Silver Spoon, you have a high school boy who just doesn't know what to do with his life. Yugo is lost in a world of ambitious people who all have dreams and goals, and already know how the next ten years of their lives will play out. He felt so lost that he decided to enroll in an agricultural high school, not because he particularly cared for farming or agriculture, but because he figured the classes would be easier, and he'd have more time to study for college entrance exams. He certainly wasn't prepared to wake up before dawn to feed chickens, or have a summer job where he had to watch someone yank a calf out of a pregnant cow.

If I had to categorize exactly why I love Silver Spoon, I would list three reasons, one of which is personal to me. For starters, I think the aimlessness that Yugo feels is one that's fairly universal and one that's increasingly true of people in my generation and younger. The pressure to know what you want to do with your life is immense, and I think Silver Spoon encapsulates that despair amazingly well.

Secondly—and bear with me here, because it's about to get weird—I am fascinated and obsessed with where my food comes from. Call it conscientious eating, call it pretension, call it what you will, I have spent many waking hours debating with myself how I want to eat. I have also spent countless hours debating this same topic with many others, ranging from hunting to livestock raising. The conundrum of moral carnivorism is one that I think affects different people in different ways, with some choosing to abandon meat entirely, while others simply refusing to think about it.

With Silver Spoon, somehow, I have found a place to turn to in order to reflect on food, and specifically, meat consumption. The characters—all of them avid agriculture aficionados except Yugo—see food in a very different light than most consumers. They see food as livelihood. But even amongst them, there are differences in how they value animal lives versus money; some insist on small-scale, free-range livestock raising, while others believe in the big box, industrial method of agriculture in which efficiency is triumphed over a perception of “feel-good.” And yet, all are completely realistic about where their food comes from. At the end of the day, whether you raise your cows or pigs in a field or in stalls, they end up on a plate.

I think the relationship that people have with food— and where they get their food— is a very complex one. Somehow, Silver Spoon manages to talk about it, and in a manner that I think the topic deserves. I don't think eating meat should be as simple as going to King Soopers and buying a plastic-wrapped brisket. Silver Spoon manages to take this… complicated, gnarled idea of conscientious consumption (and to some degree, localvorism and sustainability) and present it in several thoughtful lights without ever resorting to preaching.

But, should you neither care nor feel like thinking about this kind of thing, Silver Spoon is also just plain entertaining. It has a quirky style of humor that I think many viewers would enjoy. One of my favorite scenes early on is when a group of guys are huddled around a calendar. Their dialogue leads viewers to believe that they're staring at porn, but the calendar is revealed to be about prize heifers. Another gag I enjoyed is when Yugo is convinced to help his classmates track down what he's led to believe is a UFO. I won't spoil how that one ends, but it had me smiling all day.

No matter how or why you choose to watch Silver Spoon, I think there is something in it for everyone. The subject matter of Silver Spoon—look at these farm kids doing their farm things!—lends itself to trivialization, but I think it's a deeply thoughtful series beyond the cow-milking and the egg-collecting. And it's hilarious, too, which is always a bonus.

#5 - Attack on Titan [ep. 14-22]

Attack on Titan continues to hurtle forward at a breakneck pace, skipping time when it needs to, abandoning bodies when it needs to lighten its load. In a way, I feel like the series is just as eager as fans to skip to the chase and figure out “what's in the basement???” even if it means sacrificing some character development and storytelling in the process. In 22 episodes, we've come further than I ever thought would be possible by this point. On one hand that's nice—series with a lot of merchandising power have a bad habit of dragging once they know they can milk a property for cash, and Attack on Titan doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. But on the other hand, I kind of wish the show would take a little more time, so we can ground ourselves and take some time to regroup, flesh out new characters, explore theories, and delve into some backstories.

I'm in love with the female Titan, who's uncharacteristically beautiful for a man-eating monster, but I desperately want to know more about her, and her origin. It seems like, with every answer that we got on this series, we're faced with three more questions. For the time being, I'm content riding along on this plummeting roller coaster that seems as intent as I am on uncovering the whole thing.

#6 - Genshiken 2 [ep. 1-9]

For starters, Genshiken 2 is nothing like Genshiken 1. There are familiar characters, to be sure, but the tone of the series has shifted, and the types of otaku who once populated the club room have given way to a new breed of fujoshi and BL lovers. It's a good change of pace, and it's an earnest reflection of changes in fandom over the years.

From the old club, the only two who remain are pevious manga club member Chika Ogiue, and cosplayer Kanako Ohno, whose shyness has dissipated over the years. New to the club is BL fanatic Rika, the more reserved Merei, and fudanshi cross-dresser Kenjiro (along with two new-to-us members, the American Sue and the token weird guy Manabu). Of the new members, perhaps the most fascinating is Kenjiro (surname Hato, by which she's usually referred) who feels a strong desire to cross-dress and draw explicit BL, but only feels safe doing so within the confines of Genshiken. His presence as a girl is readily accepted by everyone in the club except Merei, who refuses to understand his desire to cross-dress. It's realistic, at the very least, and while the series never scratches gender identity too deeply, it treats it with an appropriate amount of gravitas, at least far enough to infer the all-inclusive nature of otakudom.

Perhaps most surprising of all is Madarame's character and how much he's changed. Long since graduated, he still lives in an apartment nearby, which Kenjiro uses to change into his female clothes. Through their interactions (and Kenjiro's accidental snooping), we uncover a lot about Madarame, from his unrequited love for Saki to his all-to-sharp awareness that his life has hit a plateau. Even in the original series, Madarame had moments of wisdom and greatness, but he absolutely shines in this season and is one of the best parts of the show. I'm looking forward to seeing how everything concludes.

#7 - Stella Women's Academy C3-bu [ep. 1-9]

Back in college, I used to play a lot of airsoft with my buddies. We had two favorite playing fields—the basement underneath the engineering buildings, and this old abandoned, ramshackle hotel downtown that was always peppered in the pellets of the thousands of airsofters that used it. For us, it was either Capture the Flag, or Manhunt. Only, our guns were pretty crappy, and being mostly-broke college students, we never had the funds to really go all-out with our gun selections. So that having been said, I'm pretty envious of the girls in Stella Girl's Academy C3. Not only do they have a ridiculous arsenal of guns, but they also have genius colored-powder grenades, and entire forests and old schools at their disposal.

Guns and grenades and playing fields aside, though, I think there's a lot more to C3-bu than meets the eye. Take the opening scene, for instance. New student Yura is already imagining her life at this prestigious all-girls school. She envisions a life of fairytale pink and elegant white horses. When she steps onto campus, there are beautiful walkways and pink buildings, with gurgling waterfalls cascading amongst the ever-green landscaping. What she doesn't expect is to discover that her roommate is crazy obsessed with action movies, and hides guns and protective gear all over the room. Caught playing dress-up Rambo by the roommate, Yura is convinced to check out the C3 Club, the airsoft “survival games” club, populated by a peppy array of girls who love to eat cake and drink tea as much as they like to shoot each other with plastic pellets.

And that right there, in a nutshell, is why I love C3-bu. It takes the idea of femininity and rubs mud in its face. It dismisses the very idea that girls can either love cakes and frilly things, or guns, but certainly not both. And it lets the girls “be themselves” by not forcing them into silly archetypes with preconceived personality checklists. These self-professed weirdos know that their hobby makes them stand out in their pink-walled campus, but they push it aside to have fun with each other.

More so than being gun enthusiasts, they are role-playing enthusiasts. They enjoy the thrill of being on either side of a survival game, but they take it seriously. Protective gear is always on (except for a ridiculous episode where they're playing in bikinis— don't people know how much airsoft pellets sting???), and play is always restricted to designated areas. At some point, when Yura takes out a(n airsoft) handgun in the club room, she's scolded by the club president for having a gun out outside of a game. It's a detail that's appreciated, given that guns are weapons, and at the end of the day, they shouldn't be taken lately, even if they only dispense plastic pellets.

For the most part, C3-bu always does a fairly good job of reining in the fanservice. The girls wear short skirts, as per their school uniforms, but their underpants are never revealed, and the girls are almost never cast in a sexualized light. I say “almost,” because there are two back-to-back episodes that are chock full of intentional fanservice, one in which the girls spend the entire time running around in bikinis, and the other in which the girls soak each other's paper-made cover-ups with water guns. While I understand that the manga was published in an anthology for young men… well, up until that point, I had been able to convince myself that titillation was never a goal. To the series' credit, any fanservice is mild.

Still, I like the series quite a bit, and although this current character arc with Yura has taken a turn for the serious, I'm looking forward to seeing the last few episodes. In a medium peppered with every variation possible of “girls with guns,” C3-bu has been a nice change of pace.

#8 - Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club [ep. 1-9]

Despite all of the hubbub that surrounded the series before its debut, Free! has managed to surpass many of our expectations. Yes, it has lots of chiseled, angular muscles. Yes, it has tons of dudes in Speedos. Yes, it's absolutely over-the-top and cheesy in many ways (remember when Haruka tried to take his pants off and climb into a fish tank??). But it's also a really decent sports show, filled with obligatory training camp episodes and pre-/post-race soul-searching. The only thing that sets it apart from your typical “Let's go to Koshien! Banzai!” show is its unabashed, female-targeted fanservice, which is so in-your-face that it almost feels like KyoAni rose up to challenge a dare. “Oh, you thought we could only draw high school girls? Check out these triceps! Look at their well-articulated and masculine feet! I wonder where this V-line goes?”

The show follows four guys (plus archrival Rin), three of whom grew up swimming together in the same club. For a variety of reasons, they all stopped competing, but when an old friend returns and challenges Haruka to a race, his competitive streak is rekindled. Together, he and his buddies and newcomer Rei restart their high school's swim club, and must do their best to try to go to nationals.

Free! follows your typical high school sports anime trajectory for sure, but it manages to do so in a way that's also immensely fun. There are dramatic moments—team mate Makoto has a phobia of the ocean from a childhood trauma, and Haruka must face his own demons before he can swim competitively—but they're broken up by plenty of goofy scenes as well. Each swimmer provides his own brand of humor or archetype—Haruka's shtick is his straight-faced obsession with the feel of water, perpetually wearing his suit under his pants in case he comes near water; Rei is obsessed with beauty and form; nemesis Rin provides… shark teeth, I guess. Meanwhile, Nagisa gets to play the token cute boy who's obsessed with the club mascot, and Makoto is the kind-hearted sempai. The end result is a collection of characters who are an absolute joy to watch every week, whether they're preparing for a race or goofing off.

It's hard to say what kind of expectations fans had for the series, but I think that so far, the show is a success. It delivers the fan service that fans were hoping for / fearing, a solid sports storyline, and above all, a healthy dose of self-awareness of exactly what kind of show it was setting out to be. Not too serious, not too goofy, Free! is good, solid entertainment.

#9 - Sunday without God [ep. 1-9]

God has given up on humanity and closed the gates of Heaven. He has left mankind to itself, without a way to peacefully exit the earth. As a result, people no longer die. They roam the world for eternity, either in one piece, or sporting whatever gruesome cause of death ended their natural lives. The only people who can put the dead to rest are Gravekeepers.

It's through these strange circumstances that we meet Ai, an adorable but naive little girl who takes pride in her existence as a half-human, half-Gravedigger. Through a series of circumstances and three-episode arcs, she meets a man whom she believes to be her father, loses everyone she loves, encounters a city for the dead, and gets abducted into a school for children with special abilities. To say that she's given a rude awakening from her idyllic life is to put it mildly, although she manages to stay in steady spirits throughout the entire ordeal.

While we as viewers are expected to care about Ai and her happenings, I would argue that the format of the series gives us the luxury of being able to explore this strange world without being forced to emotionally invest in the lead character. Each arc is wrapped up so succinctly that, even though each one is laced with its own heartaches and tragedies, they feel like separate modules. It allows the exploration of this strange world that we find ourselves observing, and because Ai is just as bewildered by all of the events, we get to uncover the truth alongside her. In this case, she feels more like a vehicle for the story, than the driving force. When it comes to supernatural stories where the origin phenomena is the main hook, I'm okay with this.

In starting the series, I wouldn't have expected to like the series as much as I do now. The first episode suffers from a case of the WTFs. As the series progresses, though, and as we learn more about the world, we see that there's a whole lot more to the premise than we were originally led to believe. Sure, it's kind of neat that people can no longer die, but how the living and the non-living cope with this is the truly fascinating part. It pulls into question the now-skewed idea of immortality. If the dead can be put to rest by Gravediggers, does that not mean that permanent death is still a threat? And in that case, what really constitutes life? If one is to permanently remain in their dead form, is it not better to control how one dies, rather than face the terrifying possibility of dying in a more gruesome or disfiguring way? If everyone will eventually be dead, who then, becomes the Other?

On the surface, Sunday Without God may seem like a gimmick show, but it does a fascinating job with the subject material given. If you're turned off by the confusing nature of the first episode, I would recommend pushing past it. By the time you're deep into the second arc, you'll be hooked.

#10 - Majestic Prince [ep. 14-22]

Majestic Prince has always been hit or miss with me, every episode, every week, but lately it's been okay. Sometimes the series has moments of genius, pausing to reflect on the tragedies and devastation of war or examining society's uneven treatment of male and female soldiers; sometimes it has moments of slick combat and well-choreographed battle; sometimes we get jaw-dropping plot twists. Other times, it just stagnates, offering only small kicks to the rear to short of shuffle the story along, but not necessarily giving viewers a chance to stay engaged.

The past several episodes have had a lot of high points—the team's terror when they realize Ange's dual nature, the portrayal of human loss that comes as a side-effect of war—but there are still moments where it feels like series can't sustain itself.

Overall, Majestic Prince has come a long way since its humdrum, reaction shot-laden beginning, but the last few episodes are on the hook to prove themselves.

#11 - Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen [ep. 1-9]

Zuruck: 1-9

I don't like dolls. They eat your soul. But, I have always kind of liked the Rozen Maiden franchise, and I'm actually really digging this reboot.

Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen is the third series in the popular franchise, and it does something kind of different with the source material. After a clunky first episode that is mostly a long and awkward info dump catching us up with the original Rozen Maiden, we flash-forward to future-based timeline where lead protagonist Jun is now in college. In this timeline, when he was first given the opportunity to wind the Shinku's key, he declined. However, while he's cleaning things up at the bookstore where he works, he discovers a magazine on how to build dolls. Puzzlingly, he keeps receiving subsequent issues of the magazine, each with a doll part, and quickly becomes obsessed with finishing the doll.

Along the way, he starts getting emails from a younger version of himself—the version of Jun that did wind the key. It seems that regardless of timeline, the Alice Game has begun again, and the doll that Older Jun was building turned out to be Shinku.

Arguably, while this reboot is a clever way to breathe new life into an older franchise, it may not be that user-friendly to new viewers. The first episode is barely enough information to scrape together a coherent backstory (even for people who have seen the first two series and just want a refresher), and without that knowledge, it's difficult to figure out a) who the dolls are b) their relationship to one another and c) who's on whose side. Newcomers are given enough context to piece together what the Alice Game is, but without deeper understanding of the relationships and friendships that the dolls previously had, some of the scenes might lack the full emotional impact that was intended for seasoned viewers.

Even so, Zuruckspulen is enjoyable. The character designs for the dolls have always been eye-catching, and the same is true of this series. The art style is similarly dark and brooding as it was before, and while the arrival of Kirakishou only cements my fear of dolls, her presence does kick the suspense of the series up a notch.

The whole idea of Young Jun communicating with Old Jun kind of falls apart if you think about it too hard, but if you just ignore it and embrace the split timelines, I think Zuruckspulen is a fun, fresh take on a franchise I'd almost forgotten about.

#12 - Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya [ep. 1-8]

As far as alternate universe spin-offs go, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is surprisingly fun, even if the first few episodes induce some eye rolling. Adapted from a manga by Hiroshi Hiroyama, it basically plucks a few characters from the Fate/stay night franchise and adds a dash of magic.

Regular, ordinary girl Illyasviel von Einzbern is suddenly presented with the chance to become a magical girl when a sentient, talking magical girl wand decides that she'd make a better master than Rin Tosaka. Illya agrees, thinking it'd be a fun chance to live out the magical girl life she's always seen in comics and anime. It turns out, she's pretty good at it, partially because as far as magic goes, it's all about what you believe. Since she's always believed that magical girls can fly, she too can fly.

As is the new norm with magical girl shows these days, though, things are hardly what they seem and she soon realizes that the magical girl life is not the glam one she imagined. She and other magical girl Luvia are tasked with collecting seven class cards, each one containing a heroic spirit. Excitingly, these class cards coincide with the Servants that Fate/Stay fans have come to know and cherish. It's not without some fangirlish delight that I watched Illya “capture” one card after another. As with many Fate/ iterations, my excitement sky-rocketed when Saber showed up, dressed in homage to her typical dress and armor. To reward us for our patience, we're treated to a spectacular and well-choreographed fight.

Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is a little choppy at times, but it certainly picks up a few episodes in, especially once we get to see the girls interacting with the cards. For those expecting a series like Fate/stay night or Fate/Zero, it's obviously not, but it also never claimed to be. It's a magical girl show simply with appearances from familiar characters, and if you approach the series with fresh eyes, you may find yourself getting sucked into it.

#13 - Day Break Illusion [ep. 1-8]

Buried beneath a thick glaze of manufactured shock and doom is the makings of an interesting series. Daybreak Illusion feels a lot like a half-born idea, one that flowered fruitfully in someone's head, but just never made it on screen in one piece. It follows in the footsteps of other "dark magical girl" shows, but while it attempts to carve its own place in that library, stilted pacing takes away its greatest weapons of suspense and surprise.

We're introduced first to Akari, a plucky gal who just can't get enough of tarot cards. She is absolutely obsessed with them and even moonlights as a fortune teller. She inherited her love of tarot from her deceased mother, and while she's obviously still shaken by the loss, she's remarkably chipper in her new life. She now lives with her cousin and her cousin's family, which is great except that her cousin is a real nasty piece of work. But hey, by the end of the first episode, she gets accidentally stabbed to death by Akari.

If that sounds abrupt, it's because it is. In fact, everything about the series is abrupt. Events happen in spurts, leaving nothing sacred. The basic story of the series is simple—Akari is one of 22 girls who can harness the powers of a tarot card to fight Daemonia, monsters who prey on those consumed by negative thoughts. Through these battles, either past or present, or as casualities of war, people suffer. Lots of people suffer. Friends lose their homes to fires, childhood friends get impaled, new friends sacrifice themselves, people die left and right, and in that chaos of pain and disfunction, one's left to wonder, "well now what?" The series tries so hard to be shocking that even by the eigth episode, one can't help but feel a little jerked around. I never got the sense that the series wanted me to care about any of the characters, only just know them long enough to kill them off in front of my eyes.

It's a shame because Akari is written to be an enriching character. She has the ability to hear a Daemonia's thoughts, oftentimes letting their victims say their last words, express any last regrets, or communicate with their loved ones one last time. Unfortunately, writing in a situation in which a character is allowed to let go and gain closure means also writing in their death, and that has an unintended effect of coming off as forced tragedy. The last death, in particular, made me realize that we weren't given enough opportunity to attach ourselves to any of the people dying.

I think Day Break Illusion has a good idea behind it, but the execution leaves a little to be desired. I'm holding out hope for an epic ending, so we'll see.

#14 - Kinmoza [ep. 1-9]

For me, at least, I think the best episode of Kinmoza! has already happened. No matter how many more episodes I watch, it will never top the first episode, which is not only the best episode of the series so far, but I think one of the best episodes of an anime I've ever seen. If it was released as just a one-shot OVA, I think I'd make a point to watch it every few months.

In the first episode, two girls—one Japanese, one British—are saying goodybe to each other after having just spent a week together for a homestay. The Japanese girl doesn't speak any English except "hello!" and the British girl doesn't speak any Japanese except, "konnichiwa!" And so as the car pulls away with Japanese gal Shinobu inside, the two can only wave tearfully at each other, yelling, "Hello!! Hello!" and "Konnichiwa!" It's a heartfelt moment and lightning in a bottle that can never be recreated.

Jump forward a few years and Shinobu gets a letter from her British friend Alice. It turns out, Alice has been busy learning Japanese, and has decided to transfer to her school. Soon after, yet another Brit transfers in, and cute, non-groundbreaking comedy ensues.

While Kinmoza! is certainly okay, and it has its moments of laughter and heartwarming scenes, I can't help but compare all the other episodes to the first one. With such a powerful first episode, one would hope for a whole season of heartfelt, feel-good fuzzies, but Kinmoza! struggles to stand out in a sea of slice-of-life gag comedies.

#15 - Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist [ep. 1-8]

Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist is about one character away from being generic, and that's the "Realist" in the title. The "realist" refers to main character William Twining, a high school boy who takes pride in being smart and of high birth. However, his world is ruined when he learns that his uncle has bankrupted his family. In an attempt to find something of value in his house, he accidentally summons a man who claims to be Dantalion, the Grand Duke of Hell. William, being the realist that he is, has Dantalion carted away as a trespasser.

We learn that William is actually the descendent of King Solomon, one of the Electors who gets to help decide who will be Lucifer's substitue. He soon encounters a lot more demons, most of whom end up transferring into his high school, because that's just what happens in anime. Before we know it, there are demons everywhere trying to gain his favor, and angels trying to retrieve him.

Throughout all of this, William manages to remain scientific and logical, perhaps the silliest but most welcome aspect of the series. There are probably hundreds of shows about demons and Hell lords, but few have the sardonic charm of William. I'm not terribly invested in the story, but the characters are colorful and vivacious, and I'm looking forward to learning a bit more about William and Dantalion's past together.

#16 - Danganronpa the Animation [ep. 1-9]

Danganronpa The Animation is sick and twisted, but it's certainly hard to pull away from. Adapted from the visual novel of the same name, it follows a group of kids who find themselves in a mysterious high school. They soon realize that they've been abducted and sentenced to play in some evil mastermind's creepy game, where the only way to "graduate" is to be the last man standing. The twist? Every time someone gets murdered, everyone has to figure out who the murderer is. If the conviction is correct, the murderer gets executed in gruesome ways. If the conviction is wrong, everyone dies except the killer. Maybe in a more morally grey world, one would say that the goal is to commit the perfect murder... but in this series and the game, one merely wants to solve as many cases correctly as possible.

The way that Danganronpa The Animation plays out is both its strong suit and its weakness, depending on what you want to get out of the series. If what you're looking for is a murder mystery where you, the viewer, gets to figure out the cases alongside the students... you probably won't get that. The story is very linear, allowing almost no time for self-theorizing. Clues are unveiled not as they're discovered, but as characters present theories. So rather than having, say, a set of footprints, a broken window, and a rope, the characters instead reveal them in dialogue, like, "your theory can't be possible because I found the rope next to the broken window, before the footprints showed up." In this case, you are not a participant, but merely an observer.

On the other hand, if you like these types of visual novels, then you might well like this style of storytelling, in which your level of participation is largely confined to picking up clues and waiting for dialogue cues. With Danganronpa, you can shoot down a character's argument, but you can't string together a theory that hasn't already been preassembled by you or someone else.

It's frustrating in a way. Watching Danganronpa feels a bit like watching someone else play a visual novel (which, for people like me who already don't like the limited interaction of visual novels, is a little on the dull side), only you have no control over which clues can be accessed. Your are exclusively an observer, and while it certainly has its pay-offs— the series can be enjoyed purely from an action/suspense standpoint, it's not always the most engaging. Even so, the series moves at a fast clip, and I find myself always a bit curious to see how each new case will play out.

#17 - Blood Lad [ep. 1-9]

Meet Staz. He's one of the territory bosses of East Demon World. He looks like your average, sleep-deprived late-twenties-something, but he's actually descended from a powerful and noble vampire. He has no interest in feeding off humans, though. When he does go to the human realm, it's to pick up anime, manga, and video games. This all changes when runs into Fuyumi, a human girl who accidentally ends up in the Demon World. After she's accidentally killed by a plant and turned into a ghost, Staz embarks on a mission to bring her back to life.

As far as supernatural action shows go, Blood Lad is on the goofy side. Staz's obsession with otaku culture earns him a certain quota of jokes and laughs, but in combination with the other crazy creatures who inhabit the demon world, it's a fun viewing experience. There's two sides to Blood Lad. There's the goofy, jokey side; and then there's the more serious, blood-drenched side that you'd expect form a show about vampires, werewolves, and teleporters. In his mission to resurrect Fuyumi, we stumble upon an interesting sub-narrative about doppelgangers, and while that hasn't quite resolved itself yet, I am looking forward to where that thread is leading.

There's something appealing about shows where the demon/vampire/monster is kind of just an everyday dude. We saw it last season with The Devil is a Part Timer, and while the gags are different for Blood Lad, the mood is similar. On a sliding scale, I'd say Blood Lad is definitely goofier than Makai Ouji (but not as visually lush) from this season, so if humor is important to you, I'd say give this one a go.

#18 - Chronicles of the Going Home Club [ep. 1-7]

I was on board with the Chronicles of the Going Home Club for maybe four episodes or so. It's not that anything changed, per se. I just lost interest. It's kind of like eating the same thing every day. Even if the food is perfectly fine, you just kind of get tired of it.

Chronicles of the Going Home Club is one of this season's "cute girls being weird" shows, in which that premise alone seems to be the main gist of the series. Freshman Natsuki is invited to join the "Going Home Club" where she discovers the club members... don't really do much at all. They most just hang out... and then go home. But, with the exception of the totally ordinary club president, everyone else is extraordinary. Botan is the heir to an ancient martial arts technique (and fights bears on her vacations), while Claire is the charming but spoiled daughter of the head of a powerful conglomerate. Together, they do fun things, like eat snacks and play word games and tell stories, but... well, that's it.

There are moments in every episode of Chronicles of the Going Home Club that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, but in comedies, jokes are precious commodities. As with many 25-minute gag series, the jokes in this show are stretched out, spaced just close enough that you never quite want to stop watching, but juuuuuuust far enough that you're always waiting for another joke. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they don't.

As far as these types of shows go, this one is perhaps a bit more scattered than most. There is limited cohesion between episodes, and some of the gags get used a bit too often (Botan is really tough, didn't you know? But she's also a cute girl!). It's a good backburner show to keep for the days when you're kind of bored, or you just want a laugh, but it's not really compelling enough to crave watching every week.

#19 - Gifu Dodo!! Kanetsugu and Keiji [ep. 1-6]

I really like the idea of Gifu Dodo!! Kanetsugu and Keiji, and I love Tetsuo Hara... but something about this show just makes me always dread watching the next episode. It's not that I don't appreciate what the show is all about—I love the very Hara-esque amalgam of history and hypermasculine dudes—I just can't get over how flat the series feels. Even with all the fighting and the epic battle scheming and all the giant dudes yelling at each other, it manages to feel really dull.

Part of the problem is the way the story is told. The events in the series unfold retrospectively, narrated by Kanetsugu and Keiji from a point in the future. The end effect is one of choppiness, where grandiose tales of heroism and honor are aborted by scenes of dudes sitting on rocks, sipping on sake and reminiscing about their pasts. Timeline-changing events are hand-waved away with remarks like, “and so that's how [this conflict] ended! Shortly afterward, [historic dude] told [other historic dude] [this one thing! Say, do you remember that one time we...” It kills the flow of the narrative, and it kills any chance of suspense that the show has, so everything feels like one big flat line.

I really wanted to like this series, because it combines two things that I love—history and over-the-top standoffs, but I just can't get behind how often I get jerked out of the story, and how abruptly we're thrown back in. It's possible that this is a show that's better off marathoned, so you don't have to find your way back into the timeline-within-a-timeline every time, but for now, I'm setting this show aside.

#20 - Servant x Service [ep. 1-5]

You know how home videos are only interesting to the people who were involved in the video? That's how I feel about Servant x Service. I'm sure the quirky, everyday office adventures of the thrilling civil servants of Servant x Service are interesting to the employees of that office, but they're mind-numbingly dull to everyone else watching. It's like that guy at the bar who won't shut up about his work stories, even though you really don't care what Tom said to Cindy after his spilled his coffee.

The characters of Servant x Service are the everyday, uninteresting office workers who get their first taste of civil service when they start their jobs in a nondescript government office building somewhere in Hokkaido. They work in the health and welfare division, and spend most of their day telling people which counter to go to, asking people to sign paperwork, and filing documents. To go with their everyday jobs, each character has an everday, not-really-interesting quirk. The main character's quirk-- hang on-- is that her first name is really, really long. She's really insecure about it (and hates whichever civil servant allowed her parents to register her super long name), but also really hates it when people call her by the abridged name Lucy. It kind of seems to me that she just needs to get over it, but what do I know about having a weird name.

Other co-workers are similarly disinteresting, such as the girl who really likes manga (wooooooooooah!), the girl who's Too Nice to patrons, the guy whose sister has a crush on him, and the other guy who's a playboy genius.

Oh, also Lucy has giant tits, which seems to come up in conversation only a dozen times an episode.

It's not so much that the characters never really do anything-- we all wish our jobs were more glamorous than they are-- but that none of them are remotely interesting. They have the personalities of fast food wrappers and any manufactured gag between them falls flat because of it. I won't be too sad to see this one go.

#21 - Fantasista Doll [ep. 1-6]

Perhaps it would not shock you to learn that Fantasista Doll is part of a greater multi-medium marketing blitz to also sell manga and a smartphone game. What gives it away is the nagging sense, throughout the entire first few episodes, that the series is relentlessly trying to teach you how to play a game that it wants you to buy.

Main character Uzume is a normal everyday gal who super loves playing Magic the Gathering. One day, she discovers that a phone was slipped into her school bag, but she's not exactly the intellectually curious type. She accepts it as fact, and moves on with her day, culminating in an experience in a dark, empty hallway where she discovers that her mystery phone can summon girls known as Fantasista Dolls. "But they're not wearing clothes!" Aha, young viewer, that's because you haven't equipped any costume decks yet. "But I don't like this outfit!" Good observation, young consumer, that's because you need to purchase more from the in-app store.

Through this extensive tutorial/sales copy disguised as an anime, we piece together that Fantasista Doll is kind of like pogs, where if you defeat someone's doll, you get to keep their card. Because Fantasista Doll players just go around trying to capture each other's dolls, we meet a bajillion dolls, all of whom kind of look the same, so it's almost impossible to keep everyone separate. They're all cute though, so you can bet they like eating snacks.

At the end of the day, I don't really have the patience for shows like Fantasista Doll. I don't like shows where they're trying to sell me something the whole time. There are scenes that do try to break out of tutorial mode and offer some genuine stories, but they're fleeting and far in between.

#22 - Hyperdimension Neptunia [ep. 1-3]

Hyperdimension Neptunia makes the same mistake that many other video game adaptations have made before it. In its attempt to satisfy the fans who have played the games before, it completely alienates new viewers. Instead of watching an episode and thinking, “oh yeah, this is the part in the game where you get to go to this place and do this thing,” the only thing you get to think is, “yeah, I guess these are some neat references, but I don't know what's going on.”

It's a shame that they didn't try to tweak the series for newcomers, because the premise of Hyperdimension Neptunia is a fun one. Set in a universe called Gamindustri, Goddesses rule four countries—Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox, each meant to signify one of the video game companies. The game itself is a riff off the seventh gen console wars, and in this world, the goddesses vie for Shares. As we're introduced to the various lands in the intro episodes, we see homages to the various video game companies and their properties. In Lowee, for instance, the characters grab coins and pop in and out of pipes. Unfortunately, the series itself seems more intent on paying mere lip-service to the video game franchise than developing a story of its own, lending itself to bare-bones storytelling and maximum fanservice. In the first three episodes, we see bountiful breasts, cutesy-poo girls, characters whose breasts bounce every time they're on screen, and all manners of molestation. There's no question which demographic is the target.

Unfortunately, so much time is spent on references and shots of girls getting licked by monsters or getting tied up that it takes until the end of the third episode to scratch at any hint of a storyline. In the meantime, it just dawdles along, pleased with itself for being able to cram as many characters into one frame as possible, aiming for cheap laughs and easy references. Maybe this is enough for avid fans of the game who just want to see their favorite characters a little more animated, but this isn't enough to introduce new viewers to the story or the franchise. For new viewers, Hyperdimension Neptunia is little more than just a roll-call of "things we think men between 16-36 like" without giving credit to their viewers for wanting something with a little more substance.

For those who have played the games, they'll already know the backstories of the characters, as well as their relationships with one another. For new viewers, that baseline reference simply isn't there, and while veteran fans may marvel at the series' colorful backgroudns or vivacious character animation, new viewers are left to stare only in bewilderment at what feels like a shallow stew of fanservice.

If I'm too harsh on this series, it's because adaptations like this frustrate me to no end. I know there are several schools of thought on what makes good adaptations, but I think every property should be able to stand on its own. If a show feels more like a parade of characters and in-jokes, it's simply not fun for a large chunk of the viewers. Likely, I'll inevitably revisit the series in its entirety when it's released by Funimation, and I expect that series to pick up in the next few episodes, but at the moment, it's too frustrating to continue.

#23 - Brothers Conflict [ep. 1-3]

Okay, stop me if you've heard this one. High school girl Ema's life changes when her dad remarries, and she has to move into a house with her thirteen step-bro— oh. You know the rest? What about how the thirteen brothers all have different wacky personalities, like how one is a beautiful hairdresser, and one is a pop star, and one is a playboy monk, and another is a handsome but serious doctor and—oh okay. You've heard that one too? What if I told you that sometimes there were misunderstandings about how two of them were in love?? Or that they all wanted to flirt with Ema? Or that one of them tries to kiss her???????? WOULD THAT BLOW YOUR MIND???

Or maybe you're like me, and you've been around the anime block a few times, and crap like Brothers Conflict (lovingly nicknamed BroCon) is transparent as nothing more than a cheap attempt to pander to as many fangirls as possible. Pretty much, for any possible “type” you could ever have, BroCon has it. If you like the dreamy but mysterious classmate, BroCon has it. If you like the aggressive and mean (but really nice on the inside, I promise!) guy, BroCon has it. If you like the bubbly, cheerful boy, BroCon has it. There are thirteen to choose from, so unless your type is very specifically FDR or something, BroCon probably has it. As such, it barely makes an effort to squeeze out any type of storyline, other than having a revolving stable of men simper at the self-insert MC who also has a talking pet squirrel are you kidding me.

I like fanservice as much as the next human who has a pulse and breathes air, but BroCon is the type of offensive, meaningless fan-pandering that makes me froth at the mouth. It's cheap, it's pointless, and it can't even be bothered to pretend that it has a meaningful reason to exist other than selling character merchandise or omelet rice at a themed cafe.

I mean, at least the guys are hot, but that's a shoddy reason to let your brain rot in front of some boring dudes and an even more boring heroine who has a talking squirrel.

#24 - Dog & Scissors [ep. 1-4]

I think one's tolerance for terrible things drastically affects how much enjoyment one could derive from Dog & Scissors. That's not just me talking— the show knows it's bad, and takes immense pleasure from it. It embraces it, even, resulting in a wacky, scattered comedy that dares you to stop watching while it simultaneously hits you in the face with tidbits of weirdness and shards of crap. At the end of the day, life is short. Too short to spend precious minutes watching Dog & Scissors.

If the show were just Dog instead of Dog & Scissors, I think I'd like it quite a bit. Then again, it'd probably defeat the purpose of the whole show. The “dog” is adorable. I mean, what's not to like? He's a bookworm who reads words like he breathes air (who… used to be a normal everyday dude, until he was shot to death and resurrected in the body of a fluffy, long-haired dachshund), and he has this cute little puff of hair on his head that wags about as much as his tail.

Except the show isn't just called Dog. After poor Kazuhito wakes up as a dog, he discovers that he has some sort of telepathic connection with his favorite author, the sadistic and crazy Kirihime (pen name Shinobu Akiyama). They can communicate with each other, and soon, he becomes her pet. Also, she has a pair of scissors that she uses on him. Aaaaaaaaand that's where the show lost me. Look, I know this is a fictional tale, and I know no actual dogs were harmed in the drawing of this show (duh), and I know this is “the joke,” but I just can't get on board with a show whose primary yuks come from, “Look at this crazy/sexy lady who keeps tying up this dog and shearing him! And probably other stuff too! HAHA!” It's dark and it's disturbing, and quite frankly, I hate it. I don't find it funny, although I won't judge anyone who's able to look past this aspect of the series.

The hook is, there's a killer on the loose (or multiple killers?), and Kirihime wants to get to the bottom of it. She engages in this murder mystery/manhunt herself because she uses it as inspiration for her books, or whatever. But along the way, we meet all these waaaaaaaaaaaaaacky side characters, like the hilarious/wacky/also sexy/also crazy editor!! And the hilarious/wacky/scary/obsessed/crazy little sister! And they all kind of like abusing dogs!!! And isn't that funny, I guess???

So really, the show should be called Dog & Scissors & Imouto & Killers. All but one of those items totally drags down the show. I'm done with this one.


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