The Tree of Life
by Bamboo Dong,
1 (1) Psycho-Pass
2 (2) My Little Monster
3 (3) Space Brothers
4 (4) Polar Bear Cafe
5 (5) BTOOOM!
6 (7) Pet Girl of Sakurasou
7 (9) Hunter x Hunter
8 (10) From the New World
9 (8) Robotics;Notes
10 (14) Ixion Saga DT
11 (13) Kamisama Kiss
12 (12) Say "I Love You"
Let's dive in.
Dark, twisted, and horrifying, Psycho-Pass has finally reached its maturation. Up until now, the series has satisfied our demands for action and bloodlust, delivering episode after episode of gruesome cases that have shocked and appalled, but now it's finally tapped into the very thing that I thought gave the series promise to begin with—the Psycho-Pass system. Akane has long been a weak spot in the series, cruising under the radar, but now she's being challenged and everything she's ever known has been shaken, so I think it'll be a Hell of a ride from here on out.
After becoming involved in a death game orchestrated by evil mastermind Makishima, Akane finally meets him face to face. She's horrified to learn that the Dominator doesn't work on him at all, despite seeing signs of murderous intent right in front of her. Crippled by her inability to carry out actions contrary to what the Sybil system advocates, tragedy strikes. It's not only a pivotal moment for Akane, but a high mark for the series as well. From the beginning of the series, the Psycho-Pass system has existed in a moral grey area, raising questions about its efficacy and intent. I had postulated that the most interesting aspect of the series was neither the characters nor the cases, but the implications of the Pass, and now I am excited to see where the series will go with it.
Week after week, My Little Monster hits me with just how wonderfully frank it is. This series has somehow encapsulated teenage awkwardness and repackaged it into an anime, and I love it dearly because of it. Despite how many times Shizuku and Haru confess their feelings to one another, it never quite sticks. Not because the series doesn't want them to be together, but because neither of them really seem ready for a relationship. I appreciate that even though the two are doing their best to navigate their feelings, they never quite lose sight of their own goals—Shizuku, in particular, is wary of how Haru affects her grades and her career plans. It's a refreshing break from your typical, useless damsel-in-love, and even though both characters are utterly lost as to how to interact with each other, and everyone else around them, their bull-headedness and naivete makes them fun to watch. There's a cute scene at the end of episode thirteen (after 20 minutes that I'm pretty sure qualify as filler) where Haru, in all his innocence, finally gets to show Shizuku something special he saw earlier in the day. It suddenly makes it feel right that the characters are taking their sweet time getting together; more romance series should take their lead.
My Little Monster has been one of my favorites all season, and I'm happy that it's been consistent the entire time. All of the characters, including the side characters, have been colorful and unique in their own way, and I appreciate that the series took the time to develop all of their idiosyncrasies. It makes the series less about a romance, and more about a group of friends trying to figure out how to handle the social stresses of young adulthood, and it's been a great ride. I highly recommend it.
It's taken 38 episodes for Space Brothers to tell us who passed the JAXA astronaut selection exam, and every second has been worth it. I have recommended Space Brothers to more non-anime fans than any other title in the past five years, and if it weren't animated, I think it would succeed wildly on late-night television. It is so involving and so meticulous and so incredibly interesting that my life has been enriched by it. It's also heartwarming as heck, so if you're feeling the post-holiday blues, then you need to pour yourself a tall glass of Space Brothers. This is a weekly routine you should get yourself on.
As the year draws to an end, Polar Bear Cafe also reaches another season finale. As one character mentions, paraphrased, “Can you believe all that happened in a year?” And indeed, it's kind of hard to believe that an entire years' worth of Polar Bear Cafe has elapsed, as it's become one of my weekly staples that I most look forward to every week. This series was the dark horse that no one could've predicted would be a runaway hit for so many fans, season after season. It doesn't go out of its way to be overly sentimental for the holidays, but it does cap off the year on a high note. There really was no better way to ring in the new year than show all of our favorite characters congregating once again inside the cafe. If you haven't watched this show yet, that seems like a good resolution for 2013.
For the most part, all of BTOOOM! has been fairly formulaic—new characters are encountered, some who are generically evil, and some who are possibly good, but regardless, at some point in time, trust starts creeping into the equation. Only in the case of the generically evil characters, that mistrust is parlayed into strategy games. With the morally ambiguous characters, the action is stretched out over longer periods of time, giving our dynamic duo Sakamoto and Himiko enough time to debate their premonitions about each new addition. Despite the pattern that the series has fallen into, BTOOOM! nevertheless remains one of the more exciting shows of the season. When the characters are constantly hurling explosives at each other, it's hard to not be interested. Plus, at some point, Himiko bounces a bomb off her breasts.
For those who have been rooting for the e-couple to take their relationship to the real world, that wish is finally granted. Even though we've all been expecting this to eventually happen, it's satisfying to see it happen, rather than just see them think about it every five minutes. Plus, it was a good chance for me to confirm that, yes, I care about the characters on the island way, way more than I care about why they're on the island. Every time the scene switches to the Overseers running the game, I find myself tuning it out. The premise is already enough of a stretch—don't make it even more hacky by trying to magic an explanation out of thin air. In the end, though, we are left with an intriguing morsel—apparently there's some kind of mechanical error on the island. What that means, I don't know, but as long as the next season keeps the focus on Sakamoto and Himiko, and their mutual push for survival, rather than the island itself, then I have faith that the series will continue to be engaging. The two main characters aren't terribly likeable people, but they've really grown on me, and I've come to enjoy watching them every week.
I've grown very fond of Pet Girl of Sakurasou over the past several weeks. Despite its terrible title, which all reviewers are contractually obligated to mention in every review, it is a show that speaks very personally to anyone, everywhere, who's ever felt jealous or resentful of someone else's talent. I already mentioned this earlier in the season, but this is a theme that keeps rearing its head. There's a new gal at Sakurasou—this time, a former colleague of Mashiro named Rita. She deeply loves art, but has sworn to paint ever again, in part because she felt as though she could never measure up to Mashiro's talent. It's a revelation that comes as a shock to Mashiro, but I feel the scene will resonate with many viewers. Who hasn't been bitter and resentful of a friend or colleague's talent or success? Pet Girl of Sakurasou has illustrated time and time again that your harshest critic is always yourself, and it's a lesson that propels many of the characters forward in the series. Even goofball Sorata has discovered newfound passion and motivation for his own career aspirations. More than anything, Pet Girl of Sakurasou is about setting your jaw and confronting your fears and failures, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to let go of their preconceptions about the show.
Let me say this first—Hunter x Hunter is one of the most fun and exciting shonen series I've had the pleasure of watching in a very long time. Week in and week out, I enjoy watching this show, and it feels like hanging out with an old friend. That having been said, I've made the decision to stop writing about the show. There's simply no point. Sixty episodes have gone by, and with the exception of a few that I personally thought were lulls, all have been consistently fantastic. The recent developments with the Phantom Troupe and Gon's quest to find his father have been incredible. I will still continue following the series, and I encourage any shonen fan who hasn't had the opportunity to watch it yet to start watching also, but my words are getting redundant.
I've come to an important realization—the primary reason I keep watching From the New World is simply because it's just so darned weird. There is absolutely no other reason. I don't care about any of the characters, I don't care about any of the bizarre, mangled, convoluted history in this world, and I certainly don't really care to learn about any of the wacky circumstances that have transpired to make it so that one of the kids has turned into some kind of power-leaking entity. The set-ups in From the New World are so needlessly complex and jumbled that I've stopped wringing my hands over them, and have just finally settled in to see what kind of ridiculous new thing each new episode will bring.
Now that we now about what happened to Shun (in that we know what we've been told—whether or not it really makes sense in the grand scheme of things… well, that's up for debate), scenes from earlier in the series have fallen into place. The mystery with the giant cats and the incidents of the canoe trip are given better context, as well as what the kids learned from the False Minoshiro. Despite that, the series still feels incredibly disjointed. We are given the knowledge that these Crazy Things exist and happen, but we are not given the most important piece—the Why. From the New World seems weird for the sake of being weird. That's fine—that's certainly the reason I'm still following the show, but for viewers who are a little less inclined to follow a series for its weird factor, that seems to be its biggest problem.
For much of the entire season, I've struggled with the feeling that Robotics;Notes really feels like two separate shows. There's the sweet slice-of-life side, where it's all about watching this motley crew of teenagers overcome family and adult pessimism and build a sweet, Gundam-size mech. Then there's the funky supernatural side, where magnetic monopoles fall from the sky and mysterious anime videos foretell the end of humanity. While I understand that often, we don't expect the supernatural to invade our lives, from an entertainment-watching standpoint, I wish the two halves of Robotics;Notes were welded together a little better. The characters are a little too nonchalant about the supernatural elements, and the slice-of-life let's-build-a-robot story is a little too boring. Nevertheless, the series has been steadfast in its forward progress, and especially now with the advent of the doomsaying Gunvarrel episode, I am still ever-curious as to what will happen next. Try as I might, I can't shake myself from this show.
Despite my initial hesitation with Ixion Saga DT, I've grown to really enjoy it. Over the past several episodes, the comedy has fallen into a really good groove, and the last two episodes absolutely killed me. The second to last episode, in particular, is a really fun one. DT and the others have devised a way of picking off several bad guys whereupon they set up a series of booby traps that literally have giant white arrows pointed at them. And the culmination? A giant vat of lube.
Ixion Saga DT uses the same kind of silly potty humor that I found hilarious in high school, and apparently my tastes haven't changed that much since then. Despite its juvenileness, the jokes are funny and well-timed. I'm really glad I kept going with this show. It's certainly not high-brow entertainment, but if you're just looking for a casual laugh, I think this series will hit the spot.
Kamisama Kiss is charming and effusive, but Nanami kind of rubs me the wrong way. She means well, and gosh, she tries everything with all of her heart, but on the spectrum of anime heroines, she's a little on the useless side. She gets saved by Tomoe an awful lot, although to her credit, she's very aware of this. I just wish it wasn't such a consistent theme. Don't get me wrong—if I were shoved into her position, I wouldn't know the first thing about being an Earth deity, but I'm also not the main character of an anime. I don't need to fret about whether or not a fox demon is enjoying himself on an amusement park date with me or not, and I certainly don't need to fuss over whether or not he's ever had a human lover before.
Every week, I find myself enjoying each new episode of Kamisama Kiss, but I'm not sure I actively look forward to it every week. It's awfully cute, and it's occasionally funny, but a combination of Nanami's wet rag characterization and the gentle monotony of the episodes has firmly put this series in the middle of the pack every week.
I suspect Say I Love You would be a much better show if Mei weren't in it. She's a terrible lead protagonist, and if it weren't for the other characters, the series would be so overwhelmed with insecurity and teen angst that it would crumple into a soggy ball of wet newspaper. Very early on in the series, it was already established that Mei and Yamato were an item. You wouldn't know it. In this show, being in a relationship is I guess kind of like in elementary school when kids play-pretend to have crushes, and then nothing much happens other than some blushing and giggles. Several episodes in, Mei and Yamato still barely do anything other than occasionally walk home from school together, leaving Mei in a crippling whirlpool of insecurity and confusion that essentially never gets solved. This makes for great television, if you've never seen television before.
Luckily, there are other female characters in this show beside Mei, and they carry the series. Bitchy model Megumi is fantastic, and unlike Mei, she actually goes through a character arc where we learn where her aloofness comes from, her emotional downfall, and her subsequent growth from the event. No such luck for Mei, who has transformed from a quiet, but sweet, loner, to a needy paper cut-out in an unhealthy relationship. At this point, I think I'm sticking with it just to see if they'll write her any lower than this. Considering Mei and Yamato's relationship is pretty hard to root for, I wonder if this title wasn't intended to just be a lonely hearts club for other women suffering silently in uneven relationships.
Magi has shown itself to be a viable adventure show for adults. By that, I mean that it has a good knack for tackling grown-up themes, like poverty and wealth distribution, to economic topics like trade sanctions and currency inflation. It's still entertaining, but perhaps as a tradeoff, it feels like it's lost some of the childlike innocence that permeated the first few episodes of the series.
I greatly admire Magi for what it is—a smart show with colorful characters that I think would appeal to both teens and adults alike, but at this juncture in my life, I'm not sure I want to follow this as a weekly simulcast. For me, it's a combination of time and convenience. With shows like Magi, that have increasingly large casts of characters and increasingly interwoven character threads, I feel like I enjoy them better when I can watch a season's worth of episodes at a time. Also, as someone who tends to watch upwards of a dozen simulcasts at a time, I'm not sure I want to invest time in Magi every week. It's increasingly heavy and dreary, which is great when I'm emotionally and mentally prepared to sit down and watch such series, but for a weekly simulcast, it's not something I look forward to every week. While I would encourage those with a taste for adventure and socioeconomic strife-driven shows to check out Magi, I'm going to have to leave it off my list in the future.
What happened? How did this admittedly kind of long-winded, but mostly cool, show go from intriguing and action-packed to impossibly tedious within the short span of a few episodes? One moment you have a show that's fast-paced and mysterious (mysterious disease where people turn to metal? A powerful sorceress who's fighting an evil organization who wants to wipe out the world…but who might already be dead???)—and then before you know it, we are stuck on a small dirt path about fifteen feet long, watching some guy mumble his way out of plot quicksand.
The twist that got me so excited about Blast of Tempest a few weeks ago (the possibility of the ultra powerful sorceress girl being dead) turned out to be a red herring. Or was it??? The writers didn't seem so sure either. Now they had a real puzzle on their hands—how do we now explain how a major character's bones came to be bared, and de-fleshed? What arose was a standoff between the two dudes who are in communication with the sorceress, and the comically incompetent evil guy who stranded her on the island. Basically, he would think to himself, with the help of some freaky-deaky psychedelic backgrounds, “How can I convince these kids this plot twist wasn't totally bogus?” And then one of the kids would counter, “But magic!” And then the guy would clutch and head and think, “Curses! These kids are too smart! Let's try to dig myself out of this hole!” This goes on for what feels like hours. The characters just stand around trying to outwit each other, except no real wit is really involved. It's just two sides trying to squirm their way around a plot that is filled with increasingly larger holes. At some point, the Talking Point becomes, “But what if the Tree of [Doesn't Matter] wanted (future event to happen), so it set things in motion by causing past tragedies?”
It's so, so tedious. Not only is everything fair game in this world, meaning certain characters have essentially unlimited types of power, but now the supposition is that everything that has been set up in this series up until this point (Aika's murder being the big one) has possibly been planned by one of two trees. There's the Tree of Genesis, and the Tree of Exodus, and which one you think is “good” really depends on which episode you're watching at the moment. The line between Good and Bad is supposed to be gray at this point, but unfortunately, the series has blurred it so promiscuously, and so often, that it's hard to care about any of the characters at this point. The last thing I need is for one of the major plot points in the series to be shoe-horned into this Tree business.
It's a messy, messy affair, and I've gone from being really attached to Blast of Tempest to firmly not caring what happens from this point forward. I feel jerked around, and I'm not convinced the writers know what direction they're heading in either. I'm not sure I'm in for season two.
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