The Other Side
by Bamboo Dong,
1 (2) Flowers of Evil
2 (1) Attack on Titan
3 (3) Chihayafuru 2
4 (6) Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
5 (5) The Devil is a Part-Timer!
6 (8) Muromi-san
7 (9) Yuyushiki
8 (12) Majestic Prince
9 (11) Red Data Girl
10 (14) Devil Survivor 2
11 (7) My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
12 (10) Valvrave the Liberator
13 (13) Karneval
14 (15) Arata: The Legend
As a reminder, I've removed Space Brothers from this list, because it's increasingly difficult to keep finding new ways to write about a long-running series, but I'm still enjoying it very much. I may try to find a way to insert the longer-running series back in next season, or at the very least, next column. I can't not talk about Aunt Sharon.
Let's dive in!
In what is possibly the best stretch of episodes yet, Flowers of Evil explodes with all the insecurity and awkwardness and self-loathing that adolescence has to offer. From Nanako's desperation and naïveté, to Sawa's anger and disgust, to Takao's bewildered despair, emotions collide in these episodes with all the grace of a herd of drunk giraffes, resulting in a confrontation and fallout that is both difficult and refreshing to watch. While some of the episodes earlier in the series were ambiguous in meaning, this crescendo towards the end makes everything painfully clear. When Takao realizes that Nanako will be fine and happy with or without him, it's like a light bulb flickers on. In many ways, his relationship with Sawa personifies that struggle against teenage ennui, the fear that you'll be sucked into the same cycle as everyone else in town, only to live, breed, and die woefully unimportant.
Flowers of Evil has always operated in spikes of energy. Actions and events happen in zaps, everything else languishing in between. But it's those quiet, borderline boring moments that sometimes are my favorite. There's an incredible scene when Takao's class is at the pool during gym class, and the gym teacher has to yell at Sawa to not float in the middle of the lane.
I'm reminded of a quote from the incredible 1999 American Beauty that I adore, where Angela says, “At least I'm not ugly!” And Ricky retorts, “Yes, you are. And you're boring, and you're totally ordinary, and you know it.” I think that's a movie that Takao and Sawa could watch together.
It's so mean that Attack on Titan is going to dangle Eren's secret key in our faces without telling us what's in the basement. What's in the basement, Eren? What's in the basement??? Will that explain why you can magic into a gigantic rib cage monster??
Predictably, the other soldiers (namely Commander Kitz) are not psyched about learning that Eren can turn into a giant Titan. It's frustrating to watch because we're all on his side— after all, we just saw him decimate a dozen Titans—but I could see how one would be terrified when they find out that one of their fellow humans crawled out of a Titan's back. Luckily, Armin peeks his head out of his shell long enough to deliver a rousing speech, and now everyone's agreed to let Super Eren have a crack at fixing the busted wall.
That's all fine and well, but I just want to know what's in the basement. I am the kind of one-track minded viewer that once someone tells me there's a secret box somewhere, I can't stop watching until I figure out what's in the box. Eren could make ten more holes in all the walls if he just told me what was in the basement. It all feeds into the relentless forward momentum that Attack on Titan's carried with it the entire series. Whether it's the Titan battles that have you hooked, or the mystery behind the identity of the Titans (or Los Gigantes Eren), there are always more questions that need to be answered. This series has a great grasp on what makes for good suspense, and I can't wait to see how this season finishes out.
And just like that, the national high school tournament is finally over. It took an eternity, but everything's over and done with, including the individual tournament. Blessedly, that only took a few episodes to resolve, since I think by now, we're all a little karuta-d out. I know I am.
This season has felt a little more karuta-heavy than the previous one, though I'm not sure if I only feel that way because I'm just antsy for more development on the Taichi and Arata front. Then again, Chihaya and her teammates also came a lot further in this year's tournament than last year, so it had the ability to spend much more time on matches. Now that Arata's firmly in the picture, though, and not just a ghost of Chihaya's past (that happens to haunt Taichi as well), I want to see him in the series more often. I appreciated that Chihayafuru never turned into a sappy rom com, but it's been enough time— I want to see how the friendship between the three evolve. Taichi's grown more in this cour than the entire first season combined, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he'll be handling his new Class A rank.
I've cooled on Chihayafuru a little bit over the course of this tournament, but the last few episodes had some really great moments, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
While I was expecting something eye-opening to be revealed with the whale squid, I certainly was not expecting the twist that was actually delivered. When the origin and actual identity of the Hideauze/Whale Squids are revealed, I was just as shocked and horrified as Ledo. Granted, the political and moral strife surrounding both the creation of and the backlash against the Hideauze is a little muddled, thanks in large part to the entire revelation being crammed into a mash-up of found footage, but we get the Big Picture. And in any case, it's big enough to drastically shake Ledo out of his shell, and for the first time all season, we see him become aware of the Alliance's brainwashing. Before he can really get a grip on what he's seen though, he finds out his beloved commander is on Earth, and he happily trots off to meet him.
I can't say that I've entirely loved the pacing so far of the latter half of the series. It's felt really choppy to me, and this sudden re-installation of Commander Kugel doesn't help. Part of the problem is that now we essentially have four separate groups of characters with different motivations and storylines— we have Pinion and his whole bit, we have the people of Gargantia, we have Ledo (who is now traumatized about what he learned about the Hideauze), and we have Kugel + Booby Pirate. All are battling for screen time, and all have different things that they want. Unfortunately, the series only has two more episodes to wrap things up, so despite the writers' best efforts to give everyone the proper amount of development, there simply isn't enough time to weave everything together naturally. This doesn't even include the possible motives and story trajectory of a fifth party— the Machine Calibers, whom we're slowly becoming aware are kind of a-holes, as touched upon during Ledo's conversation with an eerily omniscient Chamber. I would not have cried if the series had sacrificed the beach episode in lieu of more time spent with actual story development, but that ship's already sailed.
I'm very eager to see how the last two episodes will play out, but I0 wish that this series had been longer. The past few episodes have definitely delivered in terms of shock value, but I think if the series had more time, the various story elements could have been more gracefully executed.
I'm all about some good, cheesy fun, and The Devil Is A Part-Timer really fits the bill. Even after all these episodes, there's still something amusing about how seriously Sadao takes his duties as a manager. For a favorite scene, I'm torn between when Chiho retorts, “But he even showed me how to use the soft-serve machine!” and when Sadao carefully lays his uniform on the ground before engaging in a fight.
If I'm to be perfectly honest, I don't think this series has that much variety going for it. Every episode is kind of the same, in that more people keep coming from Ente Isla, different people keep finding ways to use their magic, and somebody makes a straight-faced reference to working at MgRonald's. Even so, there's a simplicity to this series that makes it enjoyable to watch. There's just enough action every week to be able to turn off some brain cells, padded with enough dumb jokes to make it fun. If you want a silly show to marathon as you wait for the summer shows to start, I recommended this one.
There's only so much that someone can keep saying about Muromi-san. All the episodes are just variations of the same thing, which is Muromi being sloppy and annoying, and hanging out with her sea pals. And yet, that's what makes this show so satisfying to come back to every week, because I know exactly what's in store for me. If you like your comedy a little more bawdy and more scattered than Devil is a Part-Timer, I'd recommend Muromi-san.
At one point, while the girls are eating lunch and talking about something trivial, one of them stops and says, “I wonder if other people think our conversation is dumb.” And in one sentence, that captures exactly what I like about the non-slapstick parts of Yuyushiki. Let's face it— the vast majority of the conversations that we have with close friends are probably pretty dumb, and if you're amongst the subset of people who think that everything that drops from your mouth is intellectual gold, you're flat-out wrong. Stupid conversations are what cement friends together, and the ones that the Yuyushiki girls have are by far my favorite scenes in the series.
While the gags are still hit or miss, as one might expect of any comedy, I've warmed up to Yuyushiki considerably. My own personal preference hasn't changed on my dislike of physical comedy, but their rambling conservations and weird internet searches make me smile.
For the first time in about nine episodes, Majestic Prince has finally offered something in its story that vaguely resembles novelty. Through the convenient introduction of a Wulgaru defector, we learn that All Is Not What It Seems! And in fact, the real truth behind the pilot training program— and humanity itself— is super sinister. While we've yet to really see the implications behind this twist, it definitely breathes some fresh air into a series that up until this point, has been a mixed stew of recycled mech show ideas.
God forbid that Majestic Prince stay serious for longer than five minutes, though. Airhead Tamaki had me wanting to break my screen in frustration, alternately portrayed as either a boy-obsessed idiot or a desperate, mewling ditz. I'm not saying I need to watch an anime where every female is Condoleeza Rice or anything, but not having one of the two female pilots on the team be a giant stereotype would be a nice start.
Either way, recent plot developments have me interested in Majestic Prince again. I still think the Wulgaru overlords are depicted more like hilarious Saturday morning villains than real, honest-to-goodness antagonists, but considering they're [SPOILER]ing people's [SPOILERS], it might open them up for some extra dimensionality.
Red Data Girl ended somewhat as it began—a beautiful series with a lot of unrealized potential. It had all the makings of a magnificent show, both in the delicate visuals that P.A. Works has become known for, and also its rapt attention to detail in its utilization of various Eastern religions, but it got lost in its efforts at efficient time management. Things happen without the viewer really knowing why or how; story elements are revealed without having the proper context to back them up. The end effect is a series in which every episode advances the story without really going anywhere.
The puzzling thing about Red Data Girl is that if you were to ask someone for a synopsis of an episode they had just watched, you'd get a very detailed play-by-play of important events that transpired. You'd be able to connect the dots as to why this high school is having a Sengoku era-themed festival and a battle, and you'd be able to understand the heavy importance of Izumiko's identity. And yet, after the fact, the prevailing thought is, “What did I just watch?” Things happen in this show. A lot of things happen. But because we're not given enough context, nothing sticks. The storytelling is lean and efficient, but it lacks the umami that makes it thoroughly enjoyable or memorable.
While Devil Survivor 2 has always been a pretty dark show— the central premise includes watching videos of your friends die—the lead-up to the finale is just all-out pessimistic. The End of Days is here, and I don't know about the rest of the world, but Japan has pretty much been reduced to a population of like, twelve. To DS2's credit, the series doesn't even attempt to dabble in destruction porn— all of the widespread death is just implied, and we don't even have to deal with seeing shots of people running into the streets in panic (although that might have lent some unfortunate reality to a rather incredulous story).
What we do see is a billion demons forever spawned from a million cell phones. Okay, I'm exaggerating. I don't know how many of these demon-god-avatar-digimon things the series has introduced so far, but there are a lot of them, and apparently they're giving these out like cereal box prizes these days. At the beginning of the series, everyone was pretty wowed by Byakko, but now people are summoning Hindu gods and crazy dragons, so I guess the sky's the limit.
I haven't been able to muster up any interest in any of the characters up until this point, but I guess if there's only one episode left, I can't stop now.
I waffle between liking and disliking My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It has moments of greatness, moments of comedy, and moments where I just want to pull aside the characters and ask them if any of this is going anywhere. It feels like the show is always dancing around something interesting, but either it doesn't quite know how to unlock the final door, or it just isn't interested in being more than sardonic teenagers wringing their hands at life.
The entire series up until this point has been largely about forging friendships and letting people in. We're not talking that sappy “You can do anything!!” cheese; the friendship in MTRCSNAFU (what are the kids calling this show these days?) is a little more hard-earned, like the tentative tendrils of goodwill between calloused loners. That's when the series shines the best. Unfortunately, it gets a little long in the tooth sometimes, and I found the episodes about Yukino overworking on the school festival to be a little taxing. At this point, I'm looking forward to the series ending. Although the series never really fluttered above mediocrity, it should probably quit while it's ahead.
So suddenly the space vampire thing isn't so cheeky and delightful anymore. Well that's a bummer. That moment at the end of the tenth episode really sucked the fun out of this show. Granted, Valvrave's never really been about the chuckles— the enemy tries to attack the school-nation every. single. freaking. episode— and Aina's death opens a raincloud over the party, but it's always managed to be just over-the-top enough that one could still enjoy the series with plenty of eye-rolling. Buuuuuuuut Valvrave had to go and ruin the whole campy vampire thing, and now the show is kind of just messed up and dark. Thanks Haruto.
I know that it's in poor form to write a review with spoilers, but it is absolutely impossible to talk about Valvrave without addressing the issue, so this next paragraph is laden with spoilers. I'm sorry. For those of you who haven't watched the series yet, I've kept the text hidden. For those of you who either have seen the show up until the end of episode 10, or who don't care about spoilers, go ahead and highlight to read.
When Haruto lunged at Saki, I expected him to bite her throat, perhaps. I expected her to maybe knee him in the stomach like L-Elf did. I was not expecting her to get raped, and I certainly was not expecting her to just lie back and take it without a fight, because that's really dangerous ground to tread. All the defenders in the world can say, “Haruto was under a curse! He didn't know what was going on!” but Saki wasn't, and depicting her as just letting it happen is an irresponsible line to cross. Okay, fine. But at least they talked about it and handled it with the gravity that it commanded in the next episode, right? No. Not at all, actually. Not only in the previous scene when Haruto was about to molest the teacher did someone say to her, “Well you probably shouldn't be dressed like that anyway,” but later with Saki, it just sort of happens, and there is zero fall-out afterward. Saki's not really mad, she's not really sad, she just kind of accepts it and moves on. It was thrown in there as a cheap zinger, and then Valvrave makes the choice to move on like nothing happened. And then Haruto puts the icing on the cake by proposing. Yes, because that will make everything better. Way to do the right thing, Haruto. “Sorry I just raped you; will you marry me?” Wait till you see the look on Shouko's face! Woooooooooooah!!!!!! I do NOT expect even for a millisecond that a cheesy sci-fi show like Valvrave the Liberator is going to offer an eye-opening assessment of rape and its aftermath, but that also does not mean that it's okay to just use it as a cheap ploy to generate romantic drama and empty shock. But it forgets it almost as quickly as it does it, giving off the message that, “hey, rape's no big deal. Now it's awkward when they pass each other in the hallway lol.”
Uhhhhhhhhhhhh but I guess after that shocker, more crazy stuff happens. There's another battle with the Dorsian, and two more kids get Valvraves, and then L-Elf draws up some battle plan, I guess. Oh, and Shouko has to witness some horrifying stuff. No big deal, am I right? But won't she be surprised when she finds out about Haruto and Saki!!! Zings all around! Ugh.
It's not the events in Valvrave that have me so bothered, as it is the way that the series then refuses to address them in any sort of manner, other than, “Well, life sucks, so deal with it, kids.” You can say until the cows come home that “Saki's already cynical, so she's dealing with it her own way,” but it doesn't really make it okay to sweep it under the rug. I will say this— I am very much looking forward to seeing how Saki responds to the proposal. I think that will absolutely make or break the series for me.
I suspect that Karneval would be a really good show if it had just gone through a few more rounds of edits. The story behind Karneval is solid. It's just… not executed very well. Half the time the characters are talking, it feels like gibberish. I mean, the lines make sense. Just not… together. Everything's needlessly grandiose and overcomplicated, when the story itself is straightforward. Throw in a few too many characters, too many bad guys, and too many locations, and we've got a series that's pretty to stare at, but largely incomprehensible.
The unexpected bonus is that the series is chock full of cute things, which makes me want to buy tons of mascot merchandise for a show I don't even like. Nai is incredibly adorable, and that episode where they go to some forest full of cute critters was very relevant to my interests. Maybe if Karneval was just a line of character goods instead of a real show, I'd like it better. In any case, there's only two episodes left on this season, so I might as well stick with it until the end.
So let me get this straight. Hinohara's nemesis Kadowaki is just mad at him because he beat him in a track meet? Really? Isn't it time to get over it? I mean, I understand being a little upset for a couple days, but this grudge should really not be enough fuel to go into another world, summon some demon sword, and try to kill somebody. All of this probably could've been solved if he had just went up to Hinohara and said, “Hey man, I feel like you've been holding back when we run together. It makes me feel sad.” And then Hinohara would've said, “Sorry bro, I won't do it again. Bro dap.” And then they would've hugged it out, and then six years later, or however the hell long it's been, they wouldn't be in some alternate world trying to kill each other with magic swords.
Meanwhile, everyone in Alternate Universe keeps saying to Kadowaki, “I don't think you really hate this guy. I can see it in your eyes.” Because you know, deep down, even Kadowaki is thinking, “Yeah, it's actually really stupid that this entire rivalry and my desire to bully him is because of some dumb race.” On a sliding scale of reasons that one man would have for killing another, a childhood grudge is pretty low on that list, maybe next to, “Hinohara ate the last Pringle.”
Also, this is a pet peeve of mine, but I don't like it in shows when The Hero gets The Ultimate Super Amazing Extreme Best Ever Weapon, and everyone wants it, but then The Bad Guy comes along and then just magics out The Evil Weapon That Can Destroy The Other One. It's super hokey and it's super unimaginative. In fact, that's my problem with this entire show. It's incredibly trite, and I can't buy any of these characters or their motivations for even a second. My guess is that the manga is way better, but in any case, I've just about had it with this show.
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