The Stream
Clash on Titans

by Bamboo Dong,

With rare exceptions, I'm not usually jazzed for the middle of each anime season. This is usually when a lot of shows spin off into fluff territory, and I'm sad to have seen this happen to one of the series I was most looking forward to this season. It's a difficult set of episodes to write about as well, with so many series dipping into mediocrity, but the upside is, one this hump is tackled, we dive straight into the lead up to the finales. I already can't wait.

Alright, Stream time.

#1 - Attack on Titan [ep. 5-8]

Every week, I look at my calendar, counting down the days until I can watch a new episode of Attack on Titan. It's not a masterpiece, but it's insanely entertaining, and since I haven't been spoiled by the manga yet, it keeps me on my toes. Every week, exciting stuff happens and new knowledge about the Titans are revealed, and every week, I yearn to see more. That to me is the mark of a good show, despite any problems it may have.

For instance, at times, the series feels a little frantic to me because it's comprised of so many Big Moments. The speeches are grandiose and the fights are epic, despite the characters being a little run-of-the-mill. Considering how many plot twists the series itself has, too, the characters themselves progress in very predictable ways. Even flashback scenes meant to show how tragedy has shaped the characters seem a little too convenient at times. Mikasa stars in a stilted flashback where her killer instinct is triggered not so much by the horrible trauma she just witnessed, but by the eerily calm analogy of a bug dying. Despite Eren's own traumas, his character development is a little scant as well, plopping him into the role of the idealistic hero. The others fare even worse, but then again, considering how disposable most of them are (and they are frequently disposed of), perhaps it's more expedient this way. The series certainly does not shy away from death and destruction, reveling in grotesque combinations of limb-ripping and blood draining that excite as much as they repel. Even better are the Titans themselves, who vary from bulbous eating machines to one special long-haired Titan whom I won't spoil at the moment.

There's a visceral-ness to Attack on Titan that makes it addictive. From the gruesome deaths to the constant plot twists that serve as narrative exclamation points, it's a show driven by anger and angst, and it's one that will have you coming back every week. If you haven't read the manga and are good at avoiding spoilers online, I would especially recommend it. The cliffhangers in this show are fantastic, and not knowing what comes next makes it better.

#2 - Flowers of Evil [ep. 5-8]

It's undeniable—Flowers of Evil is, at times, painfully slow. Episode eight literally shows two characters just walking through town, holding hands, for eight whole minutes. It's meaningful, sure, but it's also very slow. At the same time, it has moments of absolute brilliance. The previous episode had one of the greatest scenes I've seen in an anime in a long time, ending in a scene that was both visually beautiful and emotionally cathartic. Without spoiling what happens, that one scene manages to take all of the awkwardness and tension that's slowly been wound up over the past six episodes, and crack it open in a torrent of poetry and passion.

With the exception of that one tremendous scene in episode seven, watching Flowers of Evil is a mostly uncomfortable affair. Sawa's actions are painful to watch, in the same way that it's painful watching a horror movie where the hero is about to walk into a room with a killer. Even when the characters on screen are happy, it feels like something awful is lurking around the corner, resulting in a viewing experience that's suspenseful, but borderline terrifying. In fact, much of the series relies on this uncomfortable tension—if you really break it down, not much happens in each episode. That is, except the seventh episode. It's liberating and revealing, and I feel like everyone should strive to at least push to that point in the series. By far, it's been my most favorite scene from the series up until this point, and although the subsequent episode is stuck in a pit of molasses, I felt like I learned more about Takao and Sawa in those few minutes than all the other episodes combined.

I know Flowers of Evil is not everyone's cup of tea. It looks weird, the characters are ugly, and it's really slow. Still, its mere existence amongst a sea of cookie-cutter anime deserves to be lauded, and its portrayal of adolescence is absolutely unique. If you can make it to episode seven, I highly encourage it.

#3- Chihayafuru 2 [ep. 17-20]

I love this show to death, but these recaps need to stop. After a grueling day of karuta matches (and believe me, as viewers we felt how slow and tedious that process was, considering we were there for every damned card slap and every pep talk), victory has been achieved. It's celebrated with a half-episode recap of the tournament, which would have normally been fine, had we not just sat through a full-episode recap a few episodes ago. Enough already. We don't need a highlights reel for a show we just watched.

That having been said, the last couple of episodes definitely have elements of what I love so much about Chihayafuru. The bond between the Mizusawa karuta team members is uplifting to watch, and its complemented perfectly by the different group dynamics we see in the other teams. But what's so great about it is the strings it draws between Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata. As much as I appreciated that the show never turned into a romance melodrama, I would like to see it resolved at some point in the series. The mixed emotions that the three of them experience are subtle and wonderfully presented, and that's what sells it. Chihayafuru excels at cramming in an immense amount of emotion into tiny gestures, and we see it in how Taichi perceives Chihaya's attention as a ray of light, and Arata's feelings towards team matches. If it weren't for these moments, the series would grind into a dull sports show, but it's these scenes that still make it worth watching, even when the episodes start slogging.

I haven't loved this season as much as I loved the first season, but it still has plenty of great moments to keep me going. I don't think the appeal of this series has ever had anything to do with karuta (although there are plenty of amazing karuta-related moments; Kana's presence as the one who educates the audience on the poems is irreplaceable), so much as it did with the characters, and I hope that we can get a resolution between the three main characters before the end of the season.

#4 - Space Brothers [ep. 56-59]

The realism of Space Brothers is one of the greatest things about it. It's not just a matter of diligently copying a reference photograph—any talented artist can painstakingly draw the inside of a Home Depot—it's the way it sets the tone of the series. Because things look real, the events feel real. Fictional characters like Brian Jay seem so real, so legendary that I've eagerly Googled them, hoping to verify their legacies. Even the engineers and scientists that are profiled are so lovingly biographied that I believe whole-heartedly in their existences. They shape the characters' lives in such unique and tangible ways that it's hard to believe they're all fragments of a fictional world, and the past few episodes with Pico and Vince are no exception. Even though the characters are made up, their struggles against small-town upbringings are real, and their passion for space exploration is real.

I wish desperately that Space Brothers could be introduced to a wider American audience. It's incredibly well-written and remarkably well crafted. The characters are fascinating and even though their journey to space has been a long and arduous one, every step of the way is interesting and eye-opening.

From a fan's perspective, I could talk about Space Brothers forever. I have recommended this show more to non-anime fans than perhaps any other show in my lifetime, and I would love nothing more than to introduce everyone I know to this series. However, from a reviewer's perspective, I'm realizing that I'm running out of meaningful ways to talk about this series. While I will continue watching this series (and will keep ranking it in the Top Five of every season), I will likely cease writing about it. It's a fantastic series, and even though the episode count keeps creeping higher and higher, I hope everyone will take the time to check it out.

#5 - The Devil is a Part-Timer! [ep. 5-8]

I thought I would lose interest in The Devil is a Part-Timer once more and more people started arriving in Tokyo from Ente Isla, but this has not been the case. With every new bad guy (or good guy) comes weird new characters and new gags, and so far, all of them have fit into the cast wonderfully. Nebulous bad guy Lucifer has become the internet-obsessed third roommate, while church member Suzuno has stepped in as an old-fashioned lady baffled by Earth's modern amenities. Of course, none can compare to the greatest threat that Sadao's has had to face—the addition of a Sentucky Fried Chicken franchise to the shopping center. As the soon-to-be shift manager, how will he lure customers away from the succulent crunch of fresh fried chicken?

This show is fantastic. It cracks me up every episode with its absurdity, and even though one would think that the “The Devil is in Japan, see? And he works at MgRonalds! Ain't that funny?” bit would get old over time, the series continually finds ways to keep it fresh by carefully rationing how many jokes it milks from the culture (world??) clash. I wouldn't say that the story itself is necessarily that involving, but the characters keep things fresh week to week. If you need a new comedy to watch, I recommend this one.

#6 - Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet [ep. 5-8]

Somewhere along the line, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet lost its grip on logic. It simply stopped recognizing the power and existence of communication, which is the very thing that supposedly makes Gargantians more… well, human, than future humans. In the first four episodes, we're led to believe that future humans have become so cold, so mechanical, that they euthanize weaker people and live an endless life of warfare. We see this the most clearly with Ledo, who is completely baffled by the Gargantians and their peaceful ways. In a recent episode, Chamber tells him that there's a word in Earth language that simply doesn't exist in the future human lexicon—coexistence.

But here's the thing—if Gargantians are so great at communicating, then why don't they? The most recent two episodes are so embroiled in lack of communication that the conflict feels forced. After two episodes of fanservice fluff (more on that later), Ledo has gotten himself into trouble again. He's convinced that a creature called the whalesquid is, in fact, Hideauze. According to Chamber's analysis, he's right—except here on Earth, they have no interest in harming the humans and are able to live peacefully. The only time they attack is in self-defense, which tickles at questions about the future humans. Was it their inability to coexist with other creatures that started the intergalactic war against the Hideauze? Or was it, like the most recent episode foreshadows, initially an attempt at looting another population's home?

Either way, this new mess with the whalesquids feels forced. Although almost everyone on Gargantia is upset with Ledo for killing one of the creatures, no attempt is really made to either reconcile their ideological differences, or put him in jail. Instead, it's just two episodes of frantic arm-waving—both from the Gargantians, who gripe about Ledo but do nothing to stop his agenda; and Ledo, who is so tunnel-visioned about slaughtering the whalesquids that his bullheadedness feels like empty caricature. Maybe all of this was twisted into place so that the Great Whalesquid Hunt could serve as some kind of revelation or analogy, but in its current place, it feels illogical and half-assed. The Gargantians don't act in any sort of rational or organized manner, and it's frustrating to watch.

Maybe the conflict could've been built better if the series had taken the time to set it up better, rather than blowing two episodes on meaningless fan service. In one episode, Ledo goes to the beach (and gets hounded by a sexually aggressive transvestite), and in the other, he's wined and dined while he watches scantily-clad girls cavort on a festival stage.

While Gargantia was one of my favorite series going into the season, it's definitely petered off for me. The fanservice episodes pulled the brakes on the series' momentum, and the ensuing nonsense and non-communication over the whalesquid fiasco was maddening. I still maintain a lot of hope about the series, and am definitely intrigued by a possible analogy between the whalesquids and the Hideauze, but these past few episodes have really let the wind out of my sails.

#7 - My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU [ep. 5-8]

There is something very melancholy but lovely about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, even though it tries to hide it with jokes and visual gags (and a requisite swim suit scene). It is a show about lonely people who have managed to find a way to force themselves to interact with society, but who can never fully embrace the ones around them. Even though they can converse on command, there's always a barrier between them and the rest of the world. While you want them to break down the walls and learn about Friendship(!) and Teamwork(!) and Love(!) and all that hokey stuff, their self-sabotage is often much more interesting to watch.

My initial problem with My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was the awkward interaction between Hachiman and Yukino. Both were so intent on being aloof that their conversations felt less like true dialogue, and more like one-up banter. Even if that was perhaps the intent, it was exhausting to watch. In the next few episodes, though, things really open up. We see how difficult it is for Hachiman to accept the kindness of others, or even directly interact with others whom he perceives to be the same way. Yukino, too, exudes a loneliness that she masks with haughtiness, and as the two snip at each other more and more, we get a better sense of the isolation each one feels. And, with the ties between Hachiman, Yukino, and Yui start coming together regarding the hit-and-run, their interactions start becoming more strained and complex.

I wasn't feeling this series too much earlier on, but the last few episodes have really turned things around for me. While I can't directly relate to Hachiman's outlook on society, it's easy to empathize with his disillusionment. If you stalled out on the series as well, I encourage you to keep going, as it certainly gets a little better.

#8 - Muromi-san [ep. 5-8]

I've really come to appreciate the humor of Muromi-san. It doesn't always hit—but when it does hit, I laugh out loud. My favorite episodes are the ones where Muromi hangs out with other sea creatures. From those interactions, we've gotten some pretty solid gags, like the one where the kappa suddenly waxes poetic about the downfalls of commercially-grown cucumbers. Personally, I also love the gags that portray Muromi as a carefree, unkempt slob. There's just something delightful about how un-vain she is, despite being portrayed otherwise as bubble-headed and ditzy. In one episode, we learn that millennia ago, she used to have a beautiful tail, but over time, it's gotten disheveled from her carelessly dragging it over land.

As with any comedy, the jokes don't always land for every viewer, but Muromi-san benefits from its twelve minute run time. It also benefits from now having eight episodes under its belt, so the writers have had some time to fall into a good comedic rhythm. I wouldn't say that Muromi-san approaches genius levels of humor, but it's pretty entertaining, and I look forward to it every week.

#9 - Yuyushiki [ep. 5-8]

Yuyushiki certainly is pleasant, if not terribly memorable. In the moment, there are funny (and occasionally very charming) scenes, but I suspect that a year from now, one might not be able to recall any particular conversation. Maybe that fleetingness is part of the charm of watching the Yuyushiki girls—ideas flit into and out of their heads like the wind, sometimes ending in physical gags, sometimes ending with epic Wikipedia spirals. But in the same way that one probably couldn't remember any of the chit chat that they had with their buddies last week, I'd challenge anyone to remember all the conversations that these girls had in the first few episodes.

That's not to say it's a bad thing—sometimes the happiest I have ever been has been the nights where I just sat around with my friends, shooting the shit about dumb stuff and talking about whatever popped into our heads. It's a very “Right Now” sort of thing that appeals in that exact, transient moment of the present. Admittedly, I find that I'm not always in the mood to watch Yuyushiki. It's not because I don't find the girls' quirks charming—their jokes probably hit my funny bone about 30% of the time. It's that 25 minutes of chatter can really wear a person down, especially when two of the characters have a tendency to be incredibly grating.

By far, my favorite moments of the series are the ones where the girls are hanging out in the Data Processing Club. I found those derailing conversations to be more fascinating, and it spares me from a lot of the physical humor that doesn't tickle my particular comedy palate. I imagine, though, that if physical gags are your cup of tea, then you will likely find the rest of their jokes to be engaging. Personally, I'm not going nuts over Yuyushiki, but I could see how these hyperactive gals could appeal to a lot of viewers.

#10 - Valvrave the Liberator [ep. 5-8]

What happens when you let a bunch of teenagers run their own country? They s—wait, what's that? You wouldn't let them? Because it's a bad idea and could only happen in an anime where the writers are trolling you? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Valvrave the Liberator has its splotches of poignant moments via some flashbacks here and there, but it increasingly feels like the rest of the series is just an exercise to see how much more ridiculous the show can get. Problems solved via song! More space vampires! Space attacks every episode! Even when serious things do happen, they're not given enough gravity and setup to actually make an impact. In the eighth episode, the school/nation is rocked when one of the students die, but considering how little the audience really knows about her, her death barely registers as a blip. Instead, it just fuels enough micro-rage for a few kids to scream in rage, without really addressing the larger issue, which is that you have a nation run by a gaggle of high school students with no logical way to sustain it.

But, arguing “logic” for a show like Valvrave misses the point, which is to be an adrenaline-fueled, action-heavy romp. I mean, there are vampires and space robots, so one can't exactly shoot for realism here, although it's hard to watch a few episodes worth of high school hijinks and not want to shake everyone on JIOR and ask why they're okay with this nonsensical high school nation. I'm all for this Boxcar Children-level fantasy of self-sustainability, but if constant space raids and increasing panic can be cheerily waved away by a song and a dance, then I call shenanigans.

My biggest complaint with Valvrave is not the writing, though, so much as it is with the pacing. It's very uneven. There are so many story elements trying to coexist right now that not any one single item is really getting the time that it deserves. And, it's starting to feel repetitive with the Dorssian attacks that you could practically time on a watch. There's something about the razzle and dazzle about Valvrave that has me still watching, but I'm beginning to wonder if the writers know where they're going with this, or if the storyboard meetings are just as chaotic as this improvised high school nation.

#11 - Red Data Girl [ep. 5-8]

With every new project that I see from P.A. Works, the more I respect the studio. Red Data Girl is absolutely beautiful, especially with its lush backgrounds and the careful way it depicts supernatural elements. When we see Masumi at the end of the eighth episode, it's everything you might have hoped for.

However, I can't necessarily say the same thing about Red Data Girl itself. Try as I might, I find it very difficult to get into the series. It has a great knack for pushing a lot of information into the episodes without making them feel cluttered or rushed, so I can no longer claim that the series hasn't made an attempt to explain itself, but the series just doesn't grab me. Part of this is the way that it rations its exposition. The series rarely just comes out and explains its story elements; it beats around the bush, letting viewers try and string things together, but it doesn't always make sense. Watching Red Data Girl feels a bit like watching a movie with the speakers cutting out. The information is there, but it comes out in spurts. It makes it so that afterward, you can sit back and think, “that was a lovely episode,” but not fully understand what you just consumed.

Some of this lapse in understanding might be cultural. I don't claim nor pretend to know anything about Shintoism, which this series draws heavily from. As a result, a lot of the intricacies of the show are lost on me, and I wonder if perhaps this should would be better consumed as a DVD release with liner notes, or soft-subbed explanations. It also doesn't help that a lot of source material is being crammed into a one-season show, resulting in too many ideas, with not enough time to explore each one. I think Red Data Girl is visually nice to watch, but I'm not sure I'm getting that much out of it.

#12 - Majestic Prince [ep. 5-8]

Majestic Prince is fun, I guess. I certainly don't dislike it, but I don't love it either. I mean, it is what it is, which is a generic mech show with generic characters and generic action scenes. The space battles are neat to look at, and it's kind of nice seeing Team Rabbit start to learn how to act as more of a team. That having been said, there's not much else to the series. As far as mech series go, it hovers around the middle of the pack. There's not that much that stands out about it, and every element that it has going for it—super talented pilots who are savants at fighting, mechs that tune into the pilot's DNA, pilots who need to work together but who are bad at teamwork—has been done elsewhere to some degree. I appreciate that the series is trying to show the enemy's side of the conflict, but it's not doing much to paint them as anything but villains.

If there's one thing that I particularly liked about this last batch of episodes, is it places an emphasis on family and togetherness that I think is rare for a mech series. It works especially well in the case of Majestic Prince, where it contrasts with the fact that all of the pilots have had their childhood memories wiped. That Izuru is able to feel so at home with his newfound mechanic team family is a good addition to the series. So often we see shows about the cool, aloof heroes that it's nice to see a show where the idea of “family” is explicitly hailed. It makes him one of the more relatable characters in the series, and the more three-dimensional as well.

Majestic Prince is reasonably entertaining to watch, but there's not much about it that sets it apart from other shows of its kind. I don't mind watching it week to week, I guess, but I find that I rarely look forward to new episodes, especially amongst more intriguing shows like Valvrave and Gargantia. I guess it's fine if you've absolutely run out of other stuff to watch that week.

#13 - Karneval [ep. 5-8]

Karneval has the potential to be a much better show than it is. At its core, it has some interesting ideas—ones that are finally detailed in the fifth episode. It's basically sort of a… monster/conspiracy/evil organization show, in the sense that you have a shady group of villains who engage in illegal genetic research. They call themselves Kafka, and they give animals and humans cell-modifying medicine that will transform them (get it? Kafka?). In opposition to them is a governmental defense group called Circus, which I guess is notable in that they have neat technology and dapper dudes.

So here you have a premise that is infinitely workable. You have a good set of bad guys, an endless supply of monster pawns, and protagonists who can do just about anything you want them to. The only problem is, Karneval seems to not quite know what to do with its ingredients. With the exception of a few compelling episodes (like the fifth episode when you first really get a solid grasp of what the Circus is dealing with), it's overly convoluted, and needlessly frilly. For every episode of story development, there's two more episodes of pointless fighting and putzing around, mostly with lackluster characters. Granted, a few of the main cast get their time in the flashback spotlight, but with such a large cast of characters, it still feels mostly like a sea of strangers.

Had episode five not given the series the injection of exposition and character development it desperately needed, I might have dropped Karneval already, but now I'm interested to see if we'll learn any more about Kafka and their motives.

#14 - Devil Survivor 2 The Animation [ep. 5-8]

Without a doubt, Devil Survivor 2 would be much more interesting if I had a controller in my hands. I would probably care a lot more about this vague, impinging evil that's eating its way across Japan, and I'd likely appreciate all the demons more, too. It's a shame, because the demons (and the Septentrione) are the most interesting part of the series. They're the most vibrant, the most uniquely designed, and they're a lot more dynamic than their look-alike human counterparts. Maybe it's just me, but half the time, I can barely keep all the similar-looking characters straight until they whip out their cell phones.

I understand that it's difficult cramming an entire game into a series, but it just feels messy. In this past set of episodes, we finally meet the mastermind behind Nicaea and the e-demons, but it does little to allay the onslaught of new characters and new demons every episodes. What does arise, though, is the Big Picture, and it comes at the exact right moment. Like many End of the World shows that have come before it, some unseen god has decided that humanity needs to be tested. And, like many such shows that have come before it, it still doesn't make sense why this “test” would rest in the hands of a select few, but this is something that works better in the context of a video game.

Devil Survivor 2 is not un-interesting, by any means. The episodes are chock full of action scenes, for those viewers who are captivated by such things, but the past few episodes have been lackluster. Only now with the introduction of Polaris and “The Anguished One” do we really see how any of this demon-summoning nonsense comes together, and I can only hope that the remaining episodes of this season will use this to weave a more immersive story.

#15 - Arata the Legend [ep. 5-7]

For the longest time, something wasn't sitting right with me about Arata the Legend, and I couldn't quite place my finger on it. Yes, there was some problem with the characterization—we never fully get to meet either Arata or Hinohara or understand what really makes them tick, resulting in characters that are more like cardboard stand-ins for plot development. And yes, the breakneck pacing makes the story feel like a blur of disjointed plot points. But there was still something about it that made the series feel… uncompelling, and I realized that it was the lack of tension. In Arata the Legend, things just simply happen. There is no rise, there is no fall, things just are. The end result is that it feels like I'm just scanning through a storyboard, making mental checklists of events that occur, without actually feeling anything.

There's a pivotal scene in one of the recent episodes where a man sacrifices himself to save his wife and unborn child. He asks the aggressor for his word to not harm his family, in exchange for his life (and Hayagami). And then, poof. He's gone. Just like that. There's no tragedy, no grief. And when the inevitable happens, that too comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Watching it, I knew cerebrally that something tragic had happened, but I didn't feel it. That's generally how I feel about most of Arata the Legend. Events occur in logical succession, but there's not enough time to sit down and process the events. Even emotionally distraught characters are only given the time to shed a tear or two, but are quickly ushered off stage.

Add to that the nagging feeling that the series is much more interested in what's happening in Fantasy World than Real World, and one can't help but start to feel like the whole Arata/Hinohara switcheroo happened only because it was a convenient gimmick to plop an Ordinary High School Boy into a different world (without having to open up a magical ancient Chinese book). There's a lot more to both worlds, and to both sets of characters, that the series could explore, but it doesn't appear to be interested in doing so. As such, the series is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment. The story is interesting, but I feel like the show is only scratching at the surface.

#16 - The Severing Crime Edge [ep. 5-8]

I guess if you feel uncomfortable around serial killers, you probably shouldn't move to wherever Kiri and Iwai live. Their hometown is a viper's nest of serial killers, each with some kind of violent compulsion, and each with some weird ancestral weapon. And, because of some crazy serial killer legend, everyone wants to murder Iwai because then they'll get whatever wish they want. So naturally, every single episode of Severing Crime Edge features a new murderer-of-the-week, which I guess is neat for people who are really into serial killers. Only, they're increasingly outlandish, and everything always ends the same way anyway, with Kiri saving the day with his scissors.

Aha, but now, boring villain Nakajima (who murders people with a magical book) is back, and he really, really wants our pesky heroes out of the way. He orchestrates this entire Gossip party, which seems like a really terrible invitation to accept if all sorts of serial killers have already tried killing your long-haired gal pal, and then stages an elaborate play about Iwai and her hair. Wouldn't you know, he finds a way to get both Kiri and Iwai on stage, ensnaring the former with a magic noose, and locking up the latter in a cage. Meanwhile, their acquaintances are in the audience, commenting on how bizarre it is that Nakajima is trying to kill the pair in public, yet doing nothing to stop it.

For a bad-guy-of-the-week show, Severing Crime Edge ultimately isn't that interesting. Why are there so many serial killers in this one town? I don't know. Nobody wants to see a sweet (if personality-less and backstory-deprived) girl like Iwai get murdered, but that alone isn't quite enough to drive an entire series, especially when your biggest villain so far has been some lame-o that kills people by reading a book. What's his compulsion? Reading before bedtime? No thanks.

#17 - Date A Live [ep. 5-8]

I was pleasantly surprised with the first four episodes of the series, because while the whole harem/dating sim shtick is a little overdone, I thought the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of the series breathed new life into a tired genre. Sadly, this falls by the wayside in the subsequent episodes, trading in the humorous winks and nods for episodes that are much more trite and by the book.

With more and more Spirits being introduced every episode, Shido has his little hands full with trying to make all of them fall in love with him. He succeeds with Yoshino, a Spirit with the face and mindset of a child (I won't go there, I promise), and then moves on to the goth lolita Kurumi, whom he takes lingerie shopping because why not. Meanwhile, original girl Tohka is increasingly jealous, because the story dictates it, and thus the harem is set. Throw in some other chicks who are also interested in the cotton-brained Shido and you have an old-fashioned dating sim cast that struggles to remember whether or not it's doing things in jest or not.

There are still some laughs to be had in the series—the hot springs episode is amusing because most of it is spent erecting barricades against the Anti-Spirits Team who also wish to travel to the hot springs—but it's inching increasingly nearer to being that which it lampoons. Instead of every silly dating sim decision being voted on by a panel of experts, we see that Shido is more and more Just Special, and all the Spirits he's trying to “court” are falling into stereotypes.

I appreciate what Date A Live is trying to do, and I think it makes a good attempt at doing something different with the same old harem material, but it falls into traps of convenience. While I'd be interested in seeing later down the line if it's able to inject itself with some fresh jokes, I'm weary of watching it on a weekly basis.

#18 - Photo Kano [ep. 5-8]

Photo Kano exists in a weird fantasy land where women desperately desire to be sexual objects, and nothing else. They preen and pose for the camera, excited for a boy's attention, shoving their butts in his lens so they can grapple for whatever modicum of self esteem they've lost along life's journey. In one flashback, we see a sweet tomboy promising to grow her hair out and wear more dresses, because a boy told her it'd make her cuter. “And if I become cuter, will you marry me?” she asks hopefully. Poor girl.

Although I held out for eight episodes, foolishly hoping the ridiculousness and offensiveness around Photo Kano would magically disappear and shock everyone with a dab of sincerity, my wishes did not come to fruition. Instead, we meet girl after girl, each one with her own hosts of problems and insecurities (and, to Photo Kano's credit—an occasionally poignant observation about her life). And, one by one, they are all charmed by dull Kazuya. After they go out on a date with him, or confess their love, or both, they agree to be photographed by him, blushing coyly as they wriggle their behinds or pose in sexual positions. After all, he's a Nice Boy and one that grants them attention, so in return, they happily reward him, hoping he'll convert their sexual readiness into romantic love.

In hindsight, I probably should've dropped Photo Kano several episodes ago. Part of me was morbidly fascinated by the setup of this show, which was basically, “let's take pictures of boobs and butts.” Alas, it never amounts to anything more than that, and despite being introduced to a wide host of women (all of whom eventually end up in one lewd photo shoot or another), they're never quite interesting enough to warrant the time invested in watching the show. It's time to let this show out to pasture.

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