The Stream
Unhappy Families

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 23rd 2013

This season is just about wrapped up! A handful of series have already completed, while others just have one or two more episodes to go. Next time, we'll finish out the season, and then plunge on into the Fall season. I'm trying my best to not make these columns a wall of text, but we'll see how long that lasts.

In the meantime, which Fall titles are you all most psyched for?

#1 - The Eccentric Family [ep. 9-12]

As the threat of a tanuki hot pot creeps closer, two of the tanuki from the Shimogamo family find their lives in peril. We discover, too, that the truth behind the late-Souchirou is even more sinister and calculated than we initially thought, and it lends an even graver edge to the series.

For as much as the show is about tanuki and tengu and hot pots, it's also laden with time-tested problems. Even while characters are transforming into other objects, or are fueling their flying houses with alcohol, they converse about relatable issues like family, and living up to expectations. They talk about betrayal and leadership and respect... real issues that have affected real people for centuries, and not just those with raccoon tails.

As I was watching The Eccentric Family, I got the feeling like I was watching an old movie about warring samurai clans. Considering the amount of Japanese culture and history that is woven into this series, and its references to warrior legends and other mythos, it's not much of a stretch. It's a little too much for me to decipher, but I imagine that if we were to get a nice, annotated release, enjoyment of this series could only quintuple.

For those who have been following along with the series, the final episode is daring and wonderful. It has moments of utter craziness, and moments of triumph. And in the end, still moments of fear and caution, because at the end of the day, we're always all just inches away from our demise.

#2 - Gatchaman Crowds [ep. 10-11]

What happens when you give people the power to do anything they want? The power to organize their idiocy in large numbers, and the freedom to carry out whatever form of justice they think the world needs?

After several episodes of philosophical musings about heroism, responsibility, and change, Gatchaman Crowds ups the ante by giving us the chance to see exactly what happens when the first two questions are answered. GALAX users previously deemed unfit for Crowds are given abilities, thanks to Katze, and it's basically how one might imagine the world would be if Internet trolls were to materialize in real life and be given free reign to use super powers.

It's power in numbers, and it's scary to see it play out in the series. After all, one armchair quarterback internet commenter probably doesn't have the resources or the motivation to do anything except flame people from behind a desk (there's a great scene where the Gatchaman team turns off their feedback feed, which is a lesson we could all learn), but in large numbers, it's dangerous. Likewise, that same idea of people in numbers can be used for good, but only if initiative and direction is given. The series is a bold look at group psychology and the fragile moral balance that keeps us in check.

Gatchaman Crowds is a fascinating and riveting show that can seem awfully silly when you're describing the premise to someone, but it has a fantastic premise and complex writing to back it up. It holds a mirror up to our modern day society, and I appreciate that it forces you to think. Definitely recommended.

#3 - Silver Spoon [ep. 10-11]

I'm not going to lie, Silver Spoon kind of made me cry at the end. Not because Pork Bowl had to be eaten (we all knew that was coming, and I respect the series for not turning back on it), but because of the journey that was undertaken to get there. The series is deeply thoughtful and very carefully written, and the last two episodes make for a satisfying ending with an emotional punch.

Although the series started off as a weird, semi-slice-of-life show about farm kids, it definitely turned into something a whole lot more. We still haven't gotten to see the full extent of Yugo's animosity with his family, nor a satisfying conclusion to his soul-searching or career plans, but the after-credits scene certainly did seem to allude to there being a second season.

In the meantime, we do get a bittersweet end to the Pork Bowl story thread. There's actually a very pivotal scene when one of their teachers screens a documentary on how slaughterhouses work. None of the students are forced to watch it, but Yugo doesn't take the easy exit. Instead, he squares himself and makes the decision to not shy away from the decisions he's made regarding meat consumption.

I can't help but feel that Silver Spoon is still magically idyllic in comparison to the harsh realities of factory farming, but I do think it's an important work, and one that's worth watching, especially for mindful carnivores.

#4 - Watamote [ep. 10-11]

Tomoko hasn't really changed much this series, which is both good and bad. It's good because I love her character for who she is, but bad because at the end of the day, you really do want to see her grow from her experiences. While the past two episodes haven't really offered much in the way of the latter (although there is a notable and heartbreaking scene where Tomoko loses her manga-reading nook/hideaway at the school and tries to recreate it in her classroom), there is one scene at the end of episode 11 that is magnificent.

Throughout the episode, Tomoko unknowingly befriends(?) the chair of the cultural festival committee, a sweet girl who seems to accept everyone with a full heart. We only see her interact with Tomoko a few times (all of them awkward, thanks to our beloved heroine), but at the end, we see her perform an act of random kindness that could melt a witch's heart. As we've seen a couple times now, it's not so much that Tomoko isn't loved, but that she refuses to see it. If that isn't a life lesson worth pondering, I don't know what is.

Tomoko's antics may skirt that uncomfortable line of humor and self-reflection, but it's hard not to love her for her bull-headedness and vulnerability. I wouldn't say that I'm moe for very many characters, but I'm most certainly moe for Tomoko.

#5 - Attack on Titan [ep. 23-24]

Attack on Titan is one of the rare anime shows that makes me scream at my computer while I'm watching episodes. Between yelling at Eren to stay alive, and yelling at titans to not eat him, it makes my living room sound like a bar on game day.

In these set of episodes, we learn the true identity of the female titan. It's a little surprising, but I can't say that I was really invested enough in the character for the revelation to register lasting shock beyond not wanting her to put Eren in her mouth. In any case, we don't yet know how she managed to figure out the whole titan transformation thing, which would solve one of the show's biggest mysteries (beyond, of course, knowing what's in the basement).

Throughout the series, Attack on Titan has been fairly gory-- we've seen women and children be plucked from houses and ripped in half, and people's heads get munched on like Corn Nuts. Yet somehow, there has not been anything as uncomfortable for me to watch as Eren chomping into his own hand, trying to transform. There is something visceral and real about Eren drawing blood from his own hand, and boy, it gave me the chills.

Attack on Titan still feels kind of choppy to me, but I think by now, we're all too engrossed to really put up a fight about it.

#6 - Sunday without God [ep. 10-11]

What a great little series this has turned out to be. Broken up into little bite-sized, three-to-four episode chunks, Sunday Without God is like reading a collection of fairy tales, or watching a series of short films. It's long since abandoned the "why?" of their Miracle Day, and focused purely on the, "now what?"

In this most recent stash of episodes, we're privy to a unique time bubble that traps students from a high school in a one-year loop. For fourteen years now, the students have been obliviously reliving the same year of their lives, over and over again, due primarily to a wish that they made to reset time. In these episodes, we only see Ai occasionally, but she acts as a conduit for the story, prodding the narrative along as she asks questions.

I love the way that Sunday Without God unfolds. There's a spirit of adventure in the way that viewers learn alongside Ai, and it's been a fantastical and eye-opening experience. I wasn't so sure about the first few episodes, but once the characters left town and were able to explore other areas, the series definitely had more room to stretch its wings. I'm absolutely loving this series right now, and I encourage anyone who's dropped it to just plow through the first arc and keep going.

#7 - Stella Women's Academy C3-bu [ep. 10-11]

What started out as a cute show about girls in protective padding and safety goggles running around campus and shooting each other with Airsoft guns has taken a bit of a darker turn as of late. Yura's insecurities and need for validation from others have manifested themselves in her desire to be the best at survival games, increasingly foregoing the safety of her teammates for getting just “one more kill.”

It feels a little sudden, because her dependency issues aren't really telegraphed until midway through the series, but it works well to add some gravity to the series. And in a way, it helps the series touch on an interesting point, which is that at the end of the day, survival games are just that—a game. Guns are dangerous, even if they're just Airsoft guns, and there is no glory to be gained in bloodlust. As Yura sinks further into her lust to nab more and more kills, an ugliness peeks through. I wouldn't say that it's necessarily resolved in the most graceful way, but the entire character arc tries its best to add a deeper element to a show that at the end of the day is just about a group of gals having fun with their pals.

Still, the episodes I like best of Stella Girls Academy C3-bu are the ones that just involve the girls playing various survival games. I think it's there that we really get to see how their friendship shines through in the form of teamwork, and we get to see their wholesome enjoyment of the sport.

#8 - Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club [ep. 10-11]

Although we've had a general idea all along of why Haruka and Rin hate each other so much, things are finally spelled out for us, thanks to a confrontation by Rei. Because of this, we not only get to see a couple flashbacks from the boys' youths and the last time they swam a medley relay together, but also that interim time in which Rin was in Australia. While the information that's revealed is not terribly new, it serves to bring Rei to the surface, and it's nice to be able to see his emotional involvement in the dynamic of the team. With Regionals just around the corner, it's nice to have some character development sandwiched in between the races.

Honestly, if you're still holding off on Free! because you think it's "gay" or something, you're missing out on a solid show that's got a good combination of goofy jokes, well written (if a little exaggerated) character interaction, and sports.

#9 - Genshiken 2 [ep. 10-12]

The Genshiken club helps Madarame reach some closure regarding his feelings towards Saki, but as the season closer, it's perhaps not the most interesting of story lines. While it's been nice seeing this new, more mature, more introspective side of Madarame (he reverts back to his older character for a while in the last episode), what's drawn me towards this season is his interactions with the new members of the club. Without Hato and the rest of the gals, this season would simply not have worked. So while it's nice that Madarame gets to confront Saki and clear the air, the lack of screentime for the other characters kind of drags these episodes down.

There was a scene that I enjoyed, though, which was Ohno stressing out about having to enter the real world, and not being able to find a job. Her passion is cosplay, and short of selling an image CD loaded with sexy pictures of herself in costume, she doesn't know what else to do. It's a nice touch of reality, as I don't doubt that this career panic is a universal one for those in their 20s and early 30s.

Genshiken has been a lot more pleasant than I originally anticipated. The new characters are a great addition to the series, and as much as the online community likes to rag on fujoshi, it was great seeing them represented in this series. Fandom has a new face, and Genshiken was ready to embrace it.

#10 - Majestic Prince [ep. 23-24]

Majestic Prince has always excelled when it comes to heart-pounding actions scenes, and whether or not that's where they blew all their budget, who can really say? (Signs point to yes.) So for everyone who's been watching this series for the robot battles, these past two episodes have been incredible. Not only are both episodes chock full of sweet mech action, but we also get to see what the robots are fully capable of. When Red 5 transforms into full beast mode (whatever it's called), it's pretty much the highlight of the past several episodes.

I do think that the series has come a long way. Not only in its story, but also its portrayal of the characters. Of course, Team Rabbits has been working as a semi-functional unit for a while now, but it's still sweet to see them back each other up, and see how much they mean to each other. Before the big fight, Izuru tells all the crewmembers how much he loves them, and even though it's a little cheesy, it's perfect. Majestic Prince has touched on this idea of family before as those whom you choose to have around you, and it's been nice seeing it repeated time and again.

Although there have been some good scenes with the characters scattered throughout the series, I think Majestic Prince is the strongest when everyone is in their respective cockpits. These past two episodes may not have the emotional pull that some of the previous ones did, but they're certainly more fun.

#11 - Day Break Illusion [ep. 9-12]

While the first several episodes of Day Break Illusion seemed to be argely episodic and felt like a parade of dark, angsty Daemonia fights, things get fleshed out a lot more in this set of episodes. The events with Ginka have shook the team, especially Luna, who feels especially traumatized and vulnerable. This leaves her open to corruption from the Daemonia, and we see a fascinating string of events that involves not only her romantic feelings for Akari, but also the way these feelings morph into jealousy and rage.

Akari, meanwhile, learns something surprising about her true identity. It pairs well with her ability to hear Daemonia's thoughts, as well as a scene in which she's forced to relive her final battle with her cousin Fuyuna over and over again.

Now that the series has pulled away from the incessant Daemonia fights, I'm a lot more interested in it. Learning about Akari's backstory and watching her try to right her wrongs with Fuyuna makes her much more of a three-dimensional character, and it's about time, too. The sudden way that Fuyuna was dispatched was always a point of contention with me, and it's good to see it finally being addressed in a manner befitting the circumstance. I was worried that the series would continually try to brush it under the rug, but I should've given it more credit.

#12 - Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya [ep. 9-10]

Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya ends after ten episodes, but not without telling us that Friendship is the magic cure for everything, and reminding us that even though the series is about cute teenage girls fighting monsters, it's still aimed at teenage boys and 20-30s-something otaku. After all, the series just couldn't end without one last shot of Illya yearning (in her dreams) for the succulent lips of her (to be fair, adoptive) older brother, but instead, receiving the blushing willingness of Miyu. Sigh.

But until that scene, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is a rollicking good time. It's a little on the darker side, because that's what all magical girl shows have become these days, but the fights are well-choreographed, well-animated, and an absolute blast to watch. Having the Fate servants be the monsters is actually kind of a genius idea, because it allows fans to have all the excitement of seeing their favorite characters without actually needing them to function as people. Watching Miyu transform into Saber to fight Berserker was almost as fun as watching Illya/Archer fight Saber.

All in all, I wasn't expecting to derive as much enjoyment out of this series as I did, but I'm glad I watched it. It's a little fluffy at the beginning of the series, but once it heats up, it's a ton of fun.

#13 - Danganronpa the Animation [ep. 10-12]

Danganronpa still has the problem of not showing its cards to the viewers (which is a little unfair, because if you were playing the game, you'd get all of the clues upfront), but things have changed a little in the series. Now that one of the characters has conveniently procured a skeleton key for every room in the school, we're seeing a lot more clues about the school itself.

Naturally, creepy/cute principal bear knows just how to use this to his advantage, and the students are given a new offer--find out what's going on at the school, and everyone wins. It's kind of a vague task, but one that at least delivers information that's much meatier than a simple whodunnit.

With the mastermind revealed, it's exciting to see how the entire conspiracy comes together, even though I still wish that viewers were allowed to participate more. Danganronpa hasn't been the most intellectually interactive of shows, but it's been flashy and fun, and now we're finally getting to pull the curtains on the wizard.

#14 - Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen [ep. 10-12]

What I've enjoyed about this new series is that, really, it's nothing like the original series. I have limited patience for reboots that feel like I'm just wasting away, watching something I've already seen, but Zurckspulen is fresh and different.

After the nonsense with the play, Jun finds himself trapped in Kirakisho's writhing trap of thorns. The only way to defeat her is to form a contract with Shinku, but all of the other dolls want him for their own purposes. After some manipulation and trickery, we see that a different doll gets awakened instead, all of which has the net effect of tossing Jun in a parallel field where he actually meets his younger self.

Zurckspulen has involved more mind games than previous Rozen Maiden series, I think. As a result, there's more talking and less fighting, but I'm enjoying this version of the series quite a bit. It's definitely a new twist on a series I never thought I'd see again.

#15 - Blood Lad [ep. 10]

With Blood Lad over, we learn a few things. Namely, the truth behind Fuyumi and the existence of doppelgangers, as well as her real father. Meanwhile, Staz struggles with his decision to bring her back to life. And then... it just... kind of ends. There's an OVA planned after this, but I worry that it won't be enough. In hindsight, it feels like this season has largely been building up to something much larger that will never be scratched unless there's a second season I'm not aware of.

For the ten episodes that have come out, though, Blood Lad has been fairly successful all season long in pacing out its big reveals. For a series that started out as a gag about a vampire who likes reading manga and playing video games, it deftly wove in supernatural/action segments like Staz's true powers, those who want to take his position, and Fuyumi's existence. It's hard to strike a good balance between supernatural action and humor, and I think Blood Lad managed to do a good job of it. Even in the last episode, there are still gag elements (one of the characters wears an "I <3 Meyn" shirt in reference to the opening theme, which is sung by May'n) and touches of romance that made me chuckle.

In the pantheon of anime about characters from the Underworld, Blood Lad may not be the most exciting or ground-breaking, but it does do a good job of presenting it in a new way. I just wonder how they'll seal up this series in a satisfying way.

#16 - Kinmoza [ep. 10-12]

Kinmoza! has been charming this entire season, if not always meaningful or directed. Many of its jokes seem to revolve around, "I'm Japanese, you're British, now ain't that funny?" as the cultural and physical difference between Alice, Karen, and their Japanese classmates are pointed out at least every five minutes. I get that that's the whole shtick, but it gets a little tiresome after a while.

The last episdoe of the series is cute, though, for those who like their shows on the fluffy and shallow side. The girls are ready for a new school year, but are distraight that they've been separated into different classes. Regardless, they still try and hang out, and during one of their lunches, Shinobu weaves a princess/pirate story starring all of the girls. There's singing, there's mermaids, and by the end of the it, every girl on the floor is enraptured. Again, it's cute, but a little fluffy.

Kinmoza! has always nailed the "cute" aspect, though. The characters are cherubic and likeable, and if all you're looking for in a show is sweet girls who enjoy each other's company, then maybe you'll get a kick out of Kinmoza!.

#17 - Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist [ep. 9-11]

I guess since I'm nearing the end of this series, I have to keep going, but I'll be honest. I'm kind of over this series, a feeling that snuck up on me sometime in the last two episodes. William is increasinginly irritating, and all the awesomeness of all the other demon characters combined can't make up for the stubbornness of the lead character. And boy, there are a lot of demon characters. There are, in fact, too many.

I think if I were marathoning this series, it would be a lot easier to keep track of the characters, but just watching it every week, it's a bit of a hassle. There are so many good and bad demons, and so many goat-looking demons, that I find it hard to remember who everyone is, much less care about their motivations and character outcomes.

Inherently, too, there are so many anime series in the "humanoid demons" sub-genre that unless a series has a solid gimmick or premise (and sadly, William being a realist ran its full course already), it's hard for any new show to stand out. Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist is fun every now and again, but it doesn't really stand out. I've felt kind of blase about this show on and off all season, and I think I'm ready for it to fizzle out.


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