by Bamboo Dong,
1 (1) Flowers of Evil
2 (2) Attack on Titan
3 (4) Space Brothers
4 (4*) Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
5 (3*) Chihayafuru 2
6 (6*) The Devil is a Part-Timer!
7 (7*) Muromi-san
8 (8*) Yuyushiki
9 (9*) Majestic Prince
10* (10*) Red Data Girl
11 (13*) Valvrave the Liberator
12 (11*) Devil Survivor 2
13 (12*) My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
14 (14*) Karneval
Arata: The Legend
A quick note about the ratings. I was an idiot and didn't leave a place holder for Space Brothers when I said I'd spread out how often I was writing about it. So, had I left a numerical place-holder like I should've (using the last ranking for Space Brothers), everything below it would have been lower by one number, which has been designated with an asterisk in the parenthesis. I'll get it right some day!
Okay, let's finish out the spring!
The closing episode of Flowers of Evil might be the best usage of intentional spoilers I've ever seen in an anime. It starts similarly to the way the series started… with Takao going somewhere he's not really supposed to be. In the first episode, it's him loitering behind in the classroom after hours, blushing and smelling Nanako's gym clothes. In the last episode, it's him stepping into Sawa's off-limits bedroom, taking in the scent of her room, and reading her diary. Suddenly, we see the series through her eyes, and we see that despite her rough exterior, Sawa is just a lonely and deeply dissatisfied teenager, desperate to step off a dull life path that she believes has already been predetermined. She bursts into her room and confronts him, of course, but after he chases her down, we see something interesting. We see flash-forwards of what would happen if Takao and Sawa formed a relationship. These are scenes from the manga (and perhaps the second season?), but out of context, they're disturbing and a little confusing, and yet despite this (or because of this?), Takao asks Sawa to enter a contract with him.
There are so many shows out there about the ideal youth experience that series like Flowers of Evil are a breath of fresh air. They show a darker side to adolescence, the side that isn't about giggling in school, or eating manju with your pals, or planning cultural festivals. This is a side that's more desperate and suffocated, and while Flowers of Evil is a little on the extreme end of relate-ability, there are aspects of it that many can recognize as truthful.
Understandably, there are many barricades to watching Flowers of Evil. The art style is definitely hard to get used to, and the series can be immensely boring. Even in the last set of episodes, watching Takao take thirty seconds to open a window was agony. If you're able to make it past all this, though, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, especially by the second half of the series. There's a lot of raw emotions crammed into those episodes, and that alone has made Flowers of Evil one of my favorite shows of this season.
Make no mistake, Attack on Titan is the Next Big Thing. Thirteen episodes ago, I wouldn't have expected it to take off the way it did. Sure, it was a fun show—who doesn't love the gruesomeness of a giant, skinless, man-eating monster? But flash forward a couple months, and you have the next big fan phenomenon since Fullmetal Alchemist. Titan cosplayers were swarming all over Anime Expo last weekend, and the internet has been blowing up with fan theories as to who and what the Titans are.
I think Attack on Titan deserves every ounce of the fanfare. The show is just flat-out, plain and simple fun, which is an adjective that most entertainment strives to be, but only a select few manage to attain. It manages to be intriguing, despite largely being a very black-and-white good guys (humans) versus bad guys (the things eating humans) show, thanks in large part to this giant mystery that shrouds the Titans. Because of that, there's a secondary force that drives this series forward—sure, we all want to see the good guys prevail against the aggressors, but we also deeply want to know just what the heck is going on. Alas, we don't get any answers this season, but we do have plenty of fodder for fan speculation, which is almost good enough when it comes to shows like this where things haven't been resolved in the source material yet.
The last episode of the season (not counting episode 13.5, which is entirely recap and not entirely welcome) finishes out the Battle for Trost, and it's overall satisfying, primarily because we can clearly see how far the good guys have come in one season. Yeah, it's neat and cool that Titan-Eren can help them clobber Titans and lift rocks and such, but more importantly, there's an intangible that's swept through the soldiers' ranks— confidence. Compared to the first few episodes of the series, in which everyone, civilians and soldiers alike, just kind of resigned themselves to sure defeat, the humans we see now are much more resilient. They're willing to put their training to good use, and they're willing to work together, even trying out risky plans that they're not comfortable with. There's an element of team trust, now, and the fact that we can see this forward march towards progress and change is part of what makes Attack on Titan so compelling. Things are happening, things are changing.
Attack on Titan has never been the most technically amazing of shows, nor has the storytelling or pacing ever been leak-proof. But what it's lacked in tangible excellence, it's always made up for with drive and momentum. I know it's sometimes difficult to jump into a show that has so much hype surrounding it, but I would encourage everyone to check out at least the first couple of episodes. That's all I needed to get hooked, and I've largely been very happy with this first season.
For those of us who've been keenly watching Mutta and Hibito up until this point, we know exactly how much Sharon means to them, especially Mutta. She is a hero in their lives, and a role model, and these past few episodes that have been dealing with Sharon's diagnoses of her neurological disease have been heartbreaking. We've only really seen Mutta lose his cool a couple times in the series, and his reaction to Sharon's experiences has been right up there with his brother's close encounter with death. It's partnered wonderfully with Serika's reactions as well, and we get a fresh reminder as to why space travel is so close to her own heart.
Space Brothers has never failed to deliver impeccably when it comes to human drama, and these episodes with Aunt Sharon have been perfect. They've been dispersed with moments of bittersweetness and resilience as well, and for those who cry easily, these episodes might have you dabbing at your eyes.
If there's one lesson I took away from Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, it's that humans are emotional and unpredictable, and sometimes irrational, but that's what makes us human. We don't always operate with our best interests in mind, we often do stupid things, and a large chunk of our decisions are driven less by pragmatism than a self-written moral code. And yet, that's what separates us from, say, non-Asimovian robots, whose moral compasses only point in one direction, and are dictated purely by code and if/then loops.
That's part of what makes the last two episodes of Gargantia so interesting, more so even than the revelation about the Hideauze and the whalesquids/squid people. Perhaps the revelation of the Hideauze's origins are what triggered Ledo to rethink his conditioned thinking about annihilating them, but it's really his interaction with the Gargantians that brought him back to humanity. In hindsight, then, that “beach” episode might have done more to shape Ledo's character than all the data chips in the ocean. The big revelation for these last two episodes is just as bizarre— it turns out Ledo's beloved commander isn't quite… what we think. It's difficult to address this without spoilers, but it leads to an interesting juxtaposition between future humans/robots and ye olden humans, bringing us full circle to the themes presented in the first episode. Once cold logic takes over your decision-making, you lose your humanity. We don't have any concrete evidence that future humans behave exactly like the religious fanatics that have been cultivated by Commander Kugel, but I imagine the levels of brainwashing are analogous, given the scene with the sacrifices.
Now that the series is over and done, I can say that I absolutely adored this series. It gave me plenty to think about, and I enjoyed that even during the final battle, the characters were able to be a little cheeky. Ledo's comments about family shame made me laugh, and it's appropriate, considering it's a very human construction. Looking back, there are things that I didn't love the execution of—I thought the way the series revealed the connection between the Hideauze and the whalesquids was clunky, and I thought that thread was closed too neatly; I thought the whole thing with Kugel and the fanatics came a little too much out of the blue—but the overall sentiment of the series was appreciated, and I think it's something that would thrive as a novel trilogy.
This last episode of Chihayafuru really encapsulates what I've loved so much about the series, and especially about the characters. Chihaya is one of my favorite heroines ever scripted; she's passionate about her dreams, she cares about her friends, and she's entirely clueless about everything else. She's clueless about her beauty, clueless about Taichi's feelings, and even clueless about her own feelings for Arata. We know she loves him, but I'm not so sure she's even aware of it, even though when Chihaya's tasked with writing poetry for a school assignment, Kana recognizes her unmistakable feelings for him. Ever a good friend, she pushes Taichi to be more aggressive, and right before the season ends, we see him and Chihaya about to go to a karuta sleep-away camp.
I haven't loved this season as much as I loved the first season, primarily because I think it spent too much time on karuta matches, and not enough time on the characters. Despite that, there were still plenty of noteworthy moments, which only ever added fuel to my love for the series. Based on the last few episodes, though, I think the series might be ready to tackle the relationship side of Chihayafuru, and if/when the series picks up again, I have the highest of hopes for it.
The Earth-stranded characters of The Devil is a Part-Timer have had their fair share of troubles. They've leveled city blocks, fought bad guys, and have battled crocodiles. None of that has prepared Sadao for his biggest challenge yet, though—dealing with the aftermath of a purchasing scam that Hanzo has stumbled into. It's a silly and trivial way to end the series, but it feels appropriate. After all, despite Sadao's identity and all of the visits he's gotten from fellow Ente Isla-ians, he's an Earthling now, and he's got real world problems to deal with.
The Devil is a Part-Timer was an unexpected highlight this past season, and I urge everyone who enjoys comedies to check it out. It forayed into some dramatic territory every now and again, but for the most part, it's been light-hearted and delightful, and the characters have been an absolute blast to watch. Sadao and his friends (and frenemies) are charming and hilarious, and for a one-note gag, the series has really made the most of it.
With all the mermaids and yetis and sea monsters and kappas that populate Muromi-san, the cast of characters started to feel more and more like a family. That's what I loved the most about Muromi-san, even more so than all the silly gags. I very clearly remember being exasperated with the start of the series, citing a repetition of fish jokes as one of my primary reasons for not really loving the first episode, but Muromi-san's really grown on me. The writers hit their stride halfway through, and having a large cast actually helped keep the jokes fresh. If you have a spare thirteen minutes one day, I recommend checking out an episode. It's a little on the dumb side, but it's a whole lot of fun, for not much of a time investment.
Wrapping up a season of Wiki-spirals and physical comedy, Yuyushiki ended with a classic—the beach episode. Except, in true Yuyushiki fashion, it had just the right amount of weird. The girls get laughs just from saying names of objects out loud in a funny voice, and it's hard not to appreciate the simplicity of this. As much as Yuzuko and Yukari still drive me crazy, I can't help but appreciate their zest for life. At one point, when Yuzuko is asked when the best time of the year is, she exclaims, “Today! And then after today, tomorrow will be the best!” If that's not a life lesson, it ought to be.
If I had to quantify how often Yuyushiki made me smile or laugh, I'd say about 25% of the time. Those are some pretty good odds though, and I think for those who like outrageously genki characters or slapstick, that percentage could be much higher. While I liked their adventures within the Data Processing Club the most, I also learned to love the girls' outlooks on life. That, to me, is worth the price of admission.
Nestled between some of the goofy jokes and generic robot fights, Majestic Prince had one shining moment of truth. Team Rabbits is given some time off from battles, but unfortunately, Tamaki and Kei are roped into doing several PR stunts, most of which involve dressing up in various outfits for various videos and photo shoots. Sometimes the outfits are just downright ludicrous, in particular this one swimsuit-looking number that Kei dismisses as being impractical. Afterward, when they rejoin their teammates, they tell the men that they've spent all of their time off being roped into these PR activities. While some of the scenes were played for laughs, there was a sad little nugget of truth behind it, which is that by virtue of being women, they were dragged into being figureheads, and made to wear costumes, too. Regardless of how I've felt about some of Majestic Princes' more generic episodes, I appreciated this one greatly for its subtle presentation of society's gender standards, and the characters' awareness of them.
Lest we get too comfortable with the hijinks of Team Rabbits, though, another pilot has been added to the mix. New recruit Ange Kuroki has joined the team, but nobody can quite tell what gender he or she is. They only thing we know is that the new pilot is very talented, and has a serious angry streak. The whole, “is it a boy or a girl???” gimmick is a little tired, but it's nice to have another character. Still, I was a little let down by these past couple of episodes. Considering the plot twist that was delivered a few episodes ago about humanity's origins and their relationship with the Wulgaru, it's a little disappointing that thread isn't given more screen time.
#10 - Red Data Girl (finished)
Red Data Girl finished its season at the time of the last column. Click above to read the review.
It turns out, all this mountain of crap that's happened to Haruto and his classmates? Yeah, that's just the appetizer. Now the Dorssians are actually going to get serious. They've straight up launched a chemical warfare attack on the school, intending on wiping out every last person in the module. As for the kids, their happy-go-lucky days of being a self-sufficient school-nation have long since eroded, only to be replaced with death, more death, and a half dozen Valvraves.
But first, Haruto. Wracked with guilt, he asks Saki to marry him, exposing his naivete. Saki, to the writers' credit, doesn't say yes, but she doesn't really want to talk about it either. She brushes him off, spinning a lie about how it didn't really matter, and it wasn't really his fault anyway. Later she cries, revealing her true emotions, but by then the message is clear—she is done talking about it. As far as the writers are concerned, they're done talking about it too, which kind of bolsters my grumpy assumption that they just used it as a “doesn't this also suck???” shock device, which is disappointing.
Other things happen as well, though. Akira gets a Valvrave of her own, and reveals that she has one of the most utterly ridiculous and stupid special attacks ever, hacking into the chemical death drill and stopping it just in time. Lex Murphy would have been proud. But the biggest twist of all is evil villain Cain, who not only isn't really human, but is part of some shadow organization that governs the entire world. Of course he is. Of course there's some shadow organization.
My feelings about Valvrave are pretty mild in comparison with some of the pure fan love it's been getting. I like a ridiculous “so bad it's good” show as much as the next person, but Valvrave's always felt like a big “F You” to me. It feels like it's constantly one-upping itself with crazy stuff, and this whole shadow organization cliffhanger nonsense is really just another glob of icing on an already ludicrous cake. It's certainly not boring, which is a point in its favor, but I guess we'll all have to wait until the fall to see what gilded riches Valvrave has for us in store.
Considering this entire show has been about characters whipping out bigger and badder demon avatars from their smartphones, it's no surprise that the final showdown had a serious trump card up its sleeve. Now that the fate of the world is down to Hibiki and Yamato, they're really pulling out the big guns. Yamato fuses a bunch of his avatars together into this six-breasted, giant, blue Satan, but somehow, Hibiki gets a notice from his phone that he's now inherited all of his dead friends' avatars. He's then able to merge them all together to form this massive, beautiful Lucifer, and the final clash begins.
Without even having seen the episode (or the series), you could probably guess what Hibiki's wish was. And so, that itself is not really a surprise. What is kind of pleasant, though, is the requisite, “this is what being alive is all about!” speech, or whatever variation on it Hibiki had. It's not really a groundbreaking moment, but it's a solid way to end the series.
Overall, I enjoyed watching Devil Survivor 2 the Animation, but I did have one major gripe about it, which is that I didn't think any of the characters were really fleshed out at all. It made it difficult to care when they were squaring off against demon invader after demon invader. And, since there wasn't really enough time to explore the characters' reactions to the world disappearing, it dehumanized them to the point where their deaths didn't carry any emotional weight. As a game adaptation, I guess Devil Survivor 2 the Animation probably did a reasonable job recreating the plot, but I think it could have executed the storytelling better.
About midway through My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, I lauded the series for making their characters more likeable by reaching out to other loners and social misfits. I loved the summer camp episodes where Hachiman reached out to a shy girl whom he resonated with. Unfortunately for me, though, that's also kind of where the series peaked. I found that the rest of the show rambled, and I couldn't quite bring myself to care about the drama that surrounded the school cultural festival. I appreciated the insights that we were able to gleam about Hachiman and Yukino's personalities and vulnerabilities, but I didn't find them interesting from a viewer's standpoint.
I've wavered on and off all season about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. Ultimately, my hang-up with the series is that none of the main characters are really that relate-able. Snide Hachiman is so perpetually bitter and sardonic that even though you might recognize the importance of his penchant for telling things the way they are, it's very difficult to like him. Likewise with Yukino, even though you can see and appreciate the vulnerabilities and insecurities that hide behind her tough exterior, her inaccessibility makes it hard to empathize. Part of why I loved the summer camp episodes so much was because it's one of the rare times the characters appear genuine, and not just aloof little assholes.
I've always deeply loved troubled characters, because I find them more realistic. When done right, you can project yourself into their troubles and insecurities, and you can experience their journey towards fulfillment alongside them. With My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, that wall always felt closed off, and while the characters have realistic flaws, they're written in such a manner that not even the viewer can relate or participate. Ultimately, I don't regret watching this show, but it's not something I'd ever want to watch again.
Karneval ended as it started— pretty, but confusing as hell. I watched the entire darned show, and while I can give you a general outline of what happened this season, I can't really explain any of it. It's just messy, messy, messy. From the giant cast of flat characters, to the weird science and fantasy mumbo jumbo, Karneval was too lofty in its ideas. As a result, we got a show in which things happened in a linear manner, but nothing felt like it belonged.
At its very core, Karneval has a solid idea. Bad guys who do genetic experimentation! Who doesn't like that tried-and-true sci-fi gimmick? And Karneval one-upped it by giving us not just your typical monster-people, but also some adorable stuff, like sweet rabbit-looking Nai and weird Bond gadgets in the form of sentient space-heating snowmen. And yet, it didn't do really do anything with the material. There were some fights here and there, some mansion raids over there, and some mascot jokes, but it lacked the cohesion that stories need in order to be, well, comprehensible. The pinnacle of the story for me was early on, around episodes four and five, when we meet the two twins (Tsubame and Yotaka) from Gareki's past. That's the only time when the story actually has its wheels on the rails, but rather than running with the narrative, it immediately spun onto a half dozen other side stories.
I think Karneval is really pretty to look at, and it has enough cute animals and critters to stock an entire store with plushies, but it's just too cluttered to be fun to consume. It's a real shame, because I really wanted to like this show.
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