by Bamboo Dong,
1 (1) Chihayafuru
2 (2) Bodacious Space Pirates
3 (3) Hunter x Hunter
4 (7) Another
5 (4) The Knight in the Area
6 (9) Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father
7 (8) Ano Natsu de Matteru
8 (6) Inu X Boku SS
9 (10) Lagrange ~The Flower of Rin-Ne~
Let's dive in.
It started with a recap episode. But it ended with another great start to what can only be another incredible season. Motivated by their experience at Nationals, Chihaya and the rest of the karuta team are more determined than ever to dominate next year. Chihaya has her eyes set on the title of Queen, while Taichi just wants to reach Class A so he can catch up with Arata's ghost.
Taichi is increasingly becoming the best character in Chihayafuru. We've known all along that he harbors feelings for Chihaya, but the extent of the depths of his emotions really come out in the latest episode. It's heartbreaking to see him perpetually trapped in Arata's shadow, and watching him push his own karuta performance is testament to just how much he cares about Chihaya and her passions. There's a great moment where he considers confessing his feelings, but chickens out in the face of her cluelessness. All of the characters in the show are great, but Taichi really drives the soapier romantic aspects of the show.
Chihayafuru thrives, perhaps, because of our limited knowledge of karuta. There are always extended sequences of the characters analyzing the cards in front of them. Sometimes they'll chastise their own striking movements. Sometimes they'll strategize their card placement. More often than not, there'll be a lengthy internal monologue about which cards have already been taken, and which cards are left, and what that means for the rest of the game. For American fans, who have essentially no clue about karuta, this is all riveting. I can only imagine though, that for Japanese fans who grew up playing karuta in grade school or over New Years, these scenes are as dry as it would be for American fans to watch someone obsessively strategize over a game of Chutes and Ladders.
Maybe that explains the popularity of the anime Stateside. Either way, this is a series that's been picking up a lot of momentum amongst fans, and it's easy to see why. Recap episode aside (which was still remarkably dull even with its 4-panel-styled interludes), this new arc in the Mizusawa karuta club is already off to a great start. It's great to see the characters so self-motivated to improve. It'll be just as easy to root for them again this season as it was the last.
Status: Recaps, shmecaps. Luckily, the next episode was so good that I instantly forgave the show for all the grief it caused me the previous week.
Being the heir to the captain's seat of a pirate's ship is tough enough, but luckily, Marika's friends seem pretty chill about it when they find out. Midway through their first practice space cruise, the girls discover that there's an enemy ship waiting to ambush them. Instead of freaking out, they calmly devise a strategy, stopping to acknowledge that the reason they're in this kerfuffle is because they're carrying the future captain of the Bentenmaru. It seems a teensy bit unreasonable that everyone would just shrug and move on with their lives, but as one of the girls paraphrases, everyone has skeletons in their closets. Some people's skeletons just happen to wear pirate hats.
What I like most about Bodacious Space Pirates is its reliance on old school science fiction fun. Instead of enemies rolling in with their guns blazing, Marika explains that they'll likely be hiding in the shadow of a star. Rather than launch a zillion mechs from their cargo hold, the girls think about scrambling their communications and backing up their network. Then they engage on one of the most creative mental battles space warfare has ever seen. There's a realism to this series that so many modern sci-fi shows lack. It's nice seeing people solving things with a notepad and a computer panel instead of whipping out a superfuturistic mega laser magic death cannon.
It'd be interesting to look at the demographics of viewers who prefer Bodacious Space Pirates to, say, Lagrange. I'm willing to bet that fans of this series tend to be at least in their mid-20s—old enough to have a nostalgia for shows like Stargate SG-1 that had just as much explaining and diagram-drawing as actual fighting. Maybe it's because I'm a diehard fan of Golden Era science fiction, but I like my sci-fi to focus more on the sci, and less on the fi. Granted, Bodacious Space Pirates still has plenty of fi, given its futuristic technology and fantastical setting, but it still grounds its problem-solving in good old fashioned logistics.
The girls have been on this practice cruise for what feels like quite some time now, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. They could spend another light year on this ship, and I'd be just as happy to watch their adventures.
Status: Still digging this show. It might be slow for some viewers, but I think it makes up for it with gorgeous visuals and inventive battle scenarios.
I'd be okay if we were stuck on this crazy island arc forever. This was damned good fun. Not a single episode went by where I didn't gasp out loud at least once. Especially once the series started focusing on Killua, everyone's (read: my) favorite assassin. Even after almost 20 episodes, it's still hard to believe that some skateboarding punk can be such a fearless and ruthless killer. Every time he gets screen time, I get excited, because I know something crazy will happen.
With only a couple days left for the exam, our heroes are abiding their time until time is called. In an effort to confront his target, Leorio heads into a cave, only to be trapped by a nest of poisonous snakes. I appreciated this twist, because it was nice seeing the characters having to face other adversities besides just other human opponents, even though these snakes are also tied to one of the other examinees. As it turns out, the snakes aren't the only animal foe they have to meet—Leorio's target has critter tricks up her own sleeve, including an entire hat filled with bees. There are few things more disgusting than seeing a swarm of bees emerge from someone's hat. I felt invisible insects crawling on my skin for hours after watching this episode.
Hunter x Hunter knows that any action/adventure series is only as good as its villains. To be sure, it has a great cast of heroes—Gon, Kurapika, Leorio, and Killua are a dream team of fantastic characters—but it also has some amazing villains. We've already met some of the best, including murderous clown-face Hisoka, but the bad guys in these past two episodes are pretty great. Hunter x Hunter is brimming at the seams with good imagination, and it's easy to see. That's how shows like this can appeal to so many people. It never runs out of ideas.
Status: This arc is the best arc. Watching the characters fight one on one is much more satisfying than seeing them jump through one stupid obstacle hoop after another. I can't wait to see the conclusion of this exam.
This series may have started out slow, but it got crazy really fast. Whereas the first few episodes puttered along old clichés of boy-moves-to-small-town-and-creepy-stuff-starts-happening, things sped up awful fast once the bodies started dropping. Then again, it was only a matter of time. We already knew something sinister was going on, since every single person in town kept hinting at it, but I don't think anyone was expecting an epidemic of grisly deaths.
Despite warnings from all his classmates, Koichi just can't seem to stop talking to Creepy Dead Girl with the Glass Eye. He also can't seem to figure out that she's dead, which seems a little thick since she pretty much spells it out for him. Every now and again, there'll be a spark of realization that flickers through his brain, but then five minutes later, he'll wonder out loud why no one else seems to want to hang out with Patches O'Dead Girl. More maddening, though, is that no one in this cursed town will just sit him down and say, “Okay, so I know lots of weird shit has been happening lately, but let me explain the backstory for you, because your ignorance has caused this chain of events to happen.”
No. Instead of solving their problems using their words, every kid in town (including The Dead One) dodges his questions every time with vague non-answers, like, “We shouldn't be talking about it” or “You'll find out soon enough.” This is immensely frustrating. On the one hand, I'm being pulled into the series because no one enjoys splatter fests more than me, but on the other hand, I feel incredibly used. The “Oh, something terrible is going on, but I can't tell you about it” ploy is one of the laziest examples of mystery/horror writing known to man. It's essentially just one giant excuse to string viewers along until the last episode. It's not fair.
Now I'm at a crossroad. Another has quite a few things going for it—things are finally happening, now that some curse is causing the townsfolk to drop like flies, and the series is just pretty to look at. This show really goes out of its way to draw and animate everything as naturally as possible. Whenever characters are sitting somewhere and talking, the people in the background are actually doing things. It's a huge step up from the norm, which is just faceless shadows wandering in the background—or in the case of Fate/zero, just a freeze frame. But at the same time, Another also has that giant strike against it, which is that it has a vice grip on information that would make the show much more interesting. I understand that spilling all of the horror beans would be showing the cards too early, but there's a subtler way to withhold information other than just characters vocally ducking questions. At the very least, Koichi should go to the library or do some Googling to check out his town's murder history. Even Nancy Drew did that, and she like, twelve.
Another tantalizes me with its gory deaths, but I want more from it.
Status: As cheated as I feel, I'll stick with Another for at least another couple of episodes. If there's not still any more information a few episodes down the road, though, I might have to pull the plug.
I love soccer, but I'm starting to dislike this show. It's a difficult conundrum for me, because there are such few soccer shows that I almost feel obligated to keep watching it. The problem is, this show is just not very well executed. The Knight in the Area actually does have the worst music cues in anime history. Every time there's a revelation scene, they play creepy horror music. Every time there's a sad scene, they play jaunty 90s sitcom music. Not only did the composer write a bizarrely mismatched set of music, but why the director would watch the playback and okay it is baffling. At some point, an intern should've said, “Hey, we're making a soccer show, not the Amityville Horror.”
The Knight in the Area veers into weird creepy horror territory way too often to be accidental. It's led me to believe that maybe I'm the one who walked in with false expectations for the show. I was expecting something inspirational and uplifting, like maybe we'd get some montages of Kakeru dribbling a ball really hard and then winning the World Cup. I wasn't expecting his dead brother to haunt the shit out of him, complete with possession music. It's not just the music cues either, although they are 90% of it. The way that the series is drawn also gives an impression that we're watching a horror show. Kakeru's increasingly frequent visual transformations into Suguru is eerie and unnecessary.
Now that Kakeru has reconnected with Suguru's dream of him receiving the pass of a lifetime at the World Cup finals, he's back into soccer again. This time, he wants to find a midfielder to replace his brother and settles his sights on a nearby highs school's ace. He packs up his bags and transfers schools, which I guess is easier to do than I assumed it would be. My fingers are crossed that Kakeru will settle into a nice soccer groove, and we won't have any more unnecessarily creepy scenes with his brother's spirit, but I will probably not get my wish.
Status: I wanted to like this show, but it's been really tough to watch. It has a somewhat decent idea, but the execution is just terrible.
Why has no one called child services on this particular case? Why haven't any of the girls' relatives stepped in and said, “Hey, what a second now, you're going to raise three girls in your miniscule studio apartment? With your part time job?” Yeah, it's sweet that Yuta is willing to make huge sacrifices to make sure the girls get to stay together, but it's also really illogical to think that his situation is even remotely condoned by the state, or responsible. It's actually the opposite of responsible. No one should force children into that kind of situation, even if the other option is to separate siblings.
That having been said, Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father has been a very up and down experience for me. On average, I've actively disliked 60% of every episode I've watched, but really liked 40%. For instance, I was beside myself with agony watching the girls terrorize Yuta's apartment in their cooking adventure, or all the scenes in which Sora woke up with her arms wrapped around his neck. At the same time, the scene at the end of the most recent episode where Yuta talks about how much family means to him was incredibly tender.
I can see very clearly why this series is well-liked. Quite frankly, it's a very cute show. It's hard not to like a show about three adorable little urchins that just want to spend time together as a family. It's a little like watching a basket of golden retriever puppies. But at the same time, the premise of the show seems incredibly forced. Forcing three kids to stay inside a one-room apartment all day borders on cruelty, and were it not for the silly plot point of having the four of them snuggle up on a futon cushion together, there would be no need for these cramped quarters. I hate to be the one pooh-poohing the cuteness of this show with the, “But it's not logical!” complaint, but it is a total contrivance. If any of the characters had acted responsibly, the last two episodes wouldn't have even happened. In the trade-off between Cute and Absurd, Listen to Me, Girls is losing to the latter.
Status: The 5 minutes of pleasure I get from each episode doesn't seem to be making up for the 17 minutes of dissatisfaction I get. I'll re-evaluate this in a couple weeks.
What bums me out the most about Ano Natsu de Matteru is that it's shockingly boring. I really want to like this series. But man, oh man, every time I see this pop up on Crunchyroll, I sigh, because it's another half hour of fighting to stay awake, watching these characters blush at each other. I remember being riveted by Onegai Teacher and Onegai Twins, but I wonder now how well those series have held up over time. If I watched them again today, would I still like them? Maybe Ano Natsu de Matteru is just a cheap copy that lacks the heart of its Onegai Teacher predecessor.
Whereas the emotions between the characters in Onegai Teacher seemed genuine and filled with teenage confusion, the emotions in Ano Natsu de Matteru feel like they're being recited from a script—especially those of the supporting characters. The childhood friend knows that she must furrow her brow and scowl on command, but she doesn't seem genuinely put out by the presence of Ichika. The “u-hu-hu” uttering friend doesn't really have a function except to meddle when necessary, and chortle on cue. They all seem to lukewarmly enjoy each other's company, but not to the extent where they'd be upset if something out of the ordinary happened. In fact, the only characters who seem to show any kind of cause-and-effect emotional range are Ichika and Kaito, though theirs seem to revolve around misunderstandings.
Rinon is the standout hit of the series. I was disappointed when I learned that no one is selling giant Rinon plushes yet. He/(she??)/(it???) is the senselessly cute critter that all such series need, who serves the dual function of comic relief and cute merchandising opportunity. In this case, he's a gerbil-esque creature who eats real food, but is also the computer of Ichika's ship. Or at least he can communicate with the ship. Something like that.
It tells you something about how I feel about Ano Natsu de Matteru when my most positive response is to the mascot character. This series is plenty cute—that's one thing this show definitely has going for it. It's just… not much else. At least not yet. But for quite a few episodes now, the characters have said, “Now summer is beginning,” so I'm hoping this time, that will actually come true. Because supposedly, crazy things are supposed to happen in the summer. So for now, I'll be patient a little longer.
Status: I'm not sure I really like this series right now. It's cute, but few of the characters are actually interesting, and the rest seem mostly like rehashed archetypes. Hopefully once the summer actually starts, something will happen. After all, they're all waiting for summer. I have my money on John Stamos moving to town.
Ririchiyo might just be one of the gosh-darned cutest things around. She's mean and nasty on the outside, but on the inside, she's as soft as a bunny, who just wants friends. It's because of this that she finds herself opening up to her secret service agent Soushi, who still straddles that line between gushingly loyal and slightly creepy. I'm hoping that in the next couple of episodes, they'll tell us why exactly he's so attached to her, because I'm eager for an explanation for his fanatical devotion to his master. Then it'll be less weird.
On the surface, I know that Inu x Boku SS has something to do with demons. I know that all the main characters are half demons, and that Ririchiyo herself was raised as the prototypic half-demon in the family. As of episode four though, I still don't really know what any of that means. Inu x Boku SS has largely been focusing on the characters and their relationships, which is fine by me. However, I do hope that eventually a larger story arc is introduced, in which this whole demon thing comes into play, because the series is dangerously close to dipping into banality.
I know characters like Ririchiyo aren't new. You always see the big tough guy who also likes cute things, or the quick-tempered girl who likes cats, but I find that I sympathize more with Ririchiyo because she's brutally self-aware of her mean exterior. She's mean to others not because she feels superior to them, but because she doesn't know how else to handle being made fun of. There's a flashback scene where she looks back at her childhood with sadness and resentment, and you can't help but feel sorry for her.
For the time being, Inu x Boku SS is okay. The characters are fun to watch, but their good graces may soon dissipate if the series doesn't bring something else in to bolster the house adventures. They should at least make an effort to explain Soushi's past, because there's nothing that wears me out faster than being strung along.
Status: Inu x Boku SS is still cute, but it's not really going anywhere. Hopefully this will change in the next few episodes.
Sorry Lagrange fans, but I'm about one episode away from dropping this show. It's not that it doesn't have its good moments—in one of the episodes, we get a great, and deserved, confrontation between the principal at Madoka's school and the people running the Vox program. Unfortunately, so much of the other moments in each episode feel like filler that watching Lagrange feels more like a chore than pleasure. A few episodes back, we were introduced briefly to a droopy-breasted red-head at the Vox compound, which we should all just make a pact to call the Voxhole. She ends up transferring into Madoka's class too, of course, and we get several scenes of her doing frivolous things like helping out at Madoka's uncle's restaurant. Eventually we learn that she may have ulterior motives (no way!!) and that she has ties to an enigmatic “Brother” character, but none of these plot twists really make up for all the time this series has sucked out of my life.
Maybe the series would be better if the characters weren't so one-dimensional. But unfortunately, they are. Madoka is still Peppy the Pepster, who performs her trademark hand gesture at least once every five minutes, and reacts to life situations more like a talking cell phone strap mascot than a real human. The aliens clearly need the humans' help, but instead of just talking about it, they get angry and start shooting again. One dimensional. It's not just her—everyone and everything in the series is a bit of a contrivance. In the third episode, we see the entire town evacuating because they're being attacked by alien robots, but by the fourth episode, everyone's already moved back and has gone back to their daily lives. I can only assume that only a day or so has passed between episodes. One of the characters questions if it's too soon after the tragedy for the girls to be holding their open water swim race, but someone else says that resuming “normal” activities is the only way to feel normal in the face of adversity. Normally, I would agree with her. In the context of this series, it sounds like code for, “Well, uh, we didn't really know how else we'd write ourselves out of the evacuation, so everyone came back.”
I think if I had an empty weekend with nothing else to do except to marathon Lagrange, I would have a good time. It's just engaging enough that one could zip through several episodes on a lazy Sunday. But when you're actively sorting through twelve-some shows, Lagrange tends to fall to the back of the pack. The characters aren't interesting enough to sustain a series with a weeklong gap in between, nor do the events in each episode have me eager to see what happens next. My only endorsement is a lukewarm, “Well, I don't hate it,” but that doesn't sound too positive. Let's see where the “Brother” revelation takes us in the next couple of episodes.
Status: Watching Lagrange feels like watching a dollar bin ripoff of a much better movie. The kind of movie that has a title like Henry Potter and the Sorceror's Amulet, or Pirates of the South Sea. All the elements are there, but they're not strung together in a compelling way.
There are too many damned diaries in Future Diaries. When I first started watching the series, I was promised only a handful of diary users, and a gripping race to be the last man standing, a la Eden of the East. I wasn't expecting a free-for-all diary bonanza in which each diary gets progressively more insipid. Last time, I complained that everyone seemed to be getting a Future Diary with their cereal box. As it turns out, that's not entirely true, but it's true enough in other ways to be absolutely stupid. There's a character named the Matron who is essentially just a comically and unrealistically large woman, a bit like a theme park mascot. She can hand out Child Diaries, which sort of work like Future Diaries, only because all their information is fed from a central server, destroying one doesn't kill the user. So that's dumb enough. But then to make things even dumber, two of the Child Diaries have some of the lamest diary powers to date, like a flirting diary, and some other ridiculous power that I've already flushed from my memory.
But WAIT, those diaries are just fake-out diaries, because those two people are actually a husband-wife team who use a Lovey Dovey Diary to predict the actions of other couples. What? It all pretty much sounded like terrible bullshit to me. So they're fighting with their Lovey Dovey Diaries, and meanwhile Yukki has to run interference on his lunatic ex-girlfriend because she won't stop killing everything in sight.
Yeah, wow. If I was to trace back through all of the episodes, would I even be able to pinpoint where exactly this show went off the rails? A few columns ago, I was already moaning about how things stopped making sense. Even in the last column, I was whining about how I couldn't stop watching this show, despite its absolute absurdity. But like pulling off a band-aid, I think I need to rip it off and quit Future Diary cold turkey. Crazy girlfriends and dog diaries are one thing, but Lovey Dovey Diaries? Flirting Diaries? Giant matryoshka-looking women who e-breed diaries??? I've had it. I'm done with this. Also, at this point, so many of the previous enemies have now become allies, and there are so many new enemies every week that I can't even set them straight in my head anymore.
I'd throw my cell phone against the wall for comedic effect right about now, but I'm fond of it.
Status: Dropped like a basket of jellyfish. After they introduced the millionth diary, I realized I needed to address my Future Diary problem before it consumed me. This show stopped making sense several episodes ago. I don't know why I've held onto it this long.
Persona 4 is the socially awkward friend that doesn't know when to leave a party, even though all of the other guests have long since pulled out of the parking lot. At the end of last season, we were faked out when a copy-cat killer turned himself in. However, knowing that the series was only half over, we weren't fooled by their shenanigans. So instead, we buckled in, bracing ourselves for a few episodes of wasted filler until the story got back on its feet again. This time, we're re-introduced to Naota, the boy detective that we saw earlier in the series. He gets thrown into TV World, and we learn things about this character that I wouldn't dare spoil. Frustratingly, all of the characters treat him differently once they find out his secret, which makes me understand why he went through such efforts to hide it all this time.
There is a small list of things that I dislike about Persona 4. At first, they didn't matter so much, but as the series progressed, I found them more and more annoying, to the point where they were deal breakers. For starters, the fighting system in the game is so little used in the series that it almost doesn't really warrant explaining. When the characters actually do fight, though, viewers who haven't played the game are at a loss. From an outsider's perspective, it seems like the characters just yell the names of their Personas, and then something happens. It would've been nice if the Personas were explained a little better, for those uninitiated to the game.
The TV World sequences are also frustratingly repetitive. In the first season, we were subjected to several episodes in a row of similar sequences, but mercifully, we were given a break. Now that Naota needs to pop into the world, we're stuck with another long voyage of self-acceptance. At some point, the characters shout advice to him, but Hooligan Boy interjects, “No! He has to figure this out for himself!” And thus two minutes was stretched into twenty minutes.
This leads me to my other complaint, which resurfaced after Naota's secret was unearthed. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'm going to be vague about this, but I find Persona 4 to be strangely intolerant of many things. I mentioned this last season when I was uncomfortable by how grossed out everyone was by Hooligan's softer, more feminine side. Now everyone is treating Naota differently, even though that's exactly the reaction he was trying to avoid all these years. He wanted to break stereotypes, but the series just tossed him right back in. It's like this series is trapped somewhere in the early 60s, where progressive concerns were a thing of science fiction and pipe dreams.
I think at this point, I can safely say that I no longer care who the real killer is. This series has passed its expiration point, and if I ever want to know the ending, I'll play the game instead.
Status: Dropped like a rotten orange. This series ran out of steam, and I'm getting off at the next stop.
You know, I like ridiculous mammary-related fan service as much as the next person, especially once it strays into that hilarious, physics-defying jugglosphere. As a heterosexual female, I'm not fascinated by such things from a reproductive standpoint, but it's pretty funny. High School DxD especially goes above and beyond in the tits department. Not only is every other scene filled with breasts threatening to burst through flimsy scraps of pleather, or nipples the size of small walnuts, but even the school uniforms manage to caress each individual breast like a tube sock.
At the same time, if boobs are the only thing a show has going for it, then it runs out of steam really fast. Boobs are one thing, but a show also needs to be interesting. Unfortunately, High School DxD just isn't. It's storyline is hackneyed and fairly predictable, and quite frankly, as much as I loved the breast spectacle, I found myself not really caring about each next episode.
The story stars lovable lech Issei, whose life revolves about boobs, and thinking about boobs. Luckily, he exists within the confines of a series that grows chest fruit like a farmer's market. One day, he's asked out on a date by a cute stranger, but lo and behold, she's actually a big-tittied boob demon, and kills him. Just before he dies, beautiful redhead Rias shows up with her Cheech Marins hanging out and resurrects him as a demon. So now Issei is a demon. From that point on, he has to find people to sign devil pacts with, all while dodging endless attacks from booberiffic Fallen Angels, and pining over Anne of Green Gables.
This is essentially every episode. Issei goes on some kind of errand, and then some Fallen Angel rolls up, ready to kill him with a spear of light and independently gyrating breasts. Along the way, we get to see Rias take a lot of showers, and plenty of nipple and vag shots that are censored with little flying demons. Sigh. If you worked in an ice cream factory, you wouldn't want ice cream anymore. That's how I feel about the fan service in the series. Enough, already. What about the story?
I absolutely think that High School DxD can be a lot of fun to watch. It's probably the kind of show that you could pick up mid-season and still be reasonably entertained. I just don't know that I want to spend any more time each week watching it.
Status: Dropped like a leaky implant. Sadly, for a show about demon and boobs, High School DxD just wasn't that interesting.
Whew. That was a rough two weeks. This part of each season is always the worst, because everyone's in filler mode. Hopefully the next few weeks will be better. Hey Groundhog, is it spring yet?
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