Sunday 30 June 2013

Streaming: Spring 2013 anime final impressions

I enjoyed having a breather this season with a streaming schedule more evenly spread throughout the week than it was back in the winter. It helped that I skipped most of Anime On Demand's offerings this time, sparing myself from spending time reloading their homepage and trying to work out when to expect the next episodes every week. They still hadn't finished broadcasting shows from last winter until halfway through June!

Only one of the series I had picked out in my previous post ended up being dropped: Zettai Boei Leviatan (Zettai Bouei Leviathan) never quite became as interesting as the first episode or two had promised. I should probably have dropped Oreimo season 2 as well, except that I was watching it with someone else so we persisted even after it was obvious that it was never going to regain its former glory. While last season's The Unlimited -Hyoubu Kyousuke- has been sorely missed, its influence has continued as I've been buying up the new CD releases and other goodies.

In assembling a shortlist of the series I enjoyed the most for spring 2013 it was difficult to choose which of the frontrunners was the best overall. Controversial mecha show Kakumeiki Valvrave won out in the end, producing a list which looked like this:

1. Valvrave The Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave)
2. Uta No Prince-sama: Maji Love 2000%
3. Attack On Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin)

The traditional post mortem of the season (or at least, the portion of it legally available in the UK) comes after the jump.

Attack On Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin)
It's very rare that a series can exceed my expectations so skilfully, and even rarer when talking about shounen titles. Attack On Titan's blend of horror and human drama had earned it a large number of fans back before it was animated. The anime production had been beset by difficulties from the beginning with reports of problems with deadlines and last minute recruitment drives; it's a credit to the staff that they still managed to keep the show as compelling as it is without running out of steam. The animation quality varies within each episode, sacrificing detail during quiet scenes for the sake of some truly exciting action sequences, and for the most part it's balanced perfectly. There have only been a couple of moments in all of the episodes so far where the use of still pictures distracted me from the excitement of the story being told. Attack On Titan will be continuing into the next season complete with a new opening sequence to replace the instant classic Guren No Yumiya. I'm hoping that the recap episode they have planned will give them time to tighten up the pacing on the second set of episodes; there are signs it's been starting to drift as the pacing slowed down towards the end of the spring season.

One infuriating thing about the Attack On Titan fandom is the insistence on referring to a certain popular character as 'Rivaille'. It's 'Levi' according to the creator and in the legally-available subtitles and manga, and it's still 'Levi' to anyone who can either read Japanese or hear what the voice actors are saying. Rivaille isn't even a first name. Because the incorrect spelling comes from illegal translations, it's plain that a huge number of people in the English-speaking world are still getting their Titan fix from sources other than Kodansha, Crunchyroll or FUNimation, and this time the official translations are plainly superior. I wish people would show a little more restraint.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei No Gargantia)
After my glowing comments at the start of the season, I'm surprised to find myself writing a much more restrained summary now the story has finished. Gargantia is not a bad show at all; every episode was full of life and unquestionably enjoyable to watch. However, on the strength of the first few episodes I had been ready to import the English-subtitled Blu-ray sets from Japan, whereas now it's not even in my top three for the season. Although the world building remained excellent throughout, after the halfway point I realised that the ongoing story was reaching for something quite ambitious - and it lost me. Compared to Attack On Titan and Kakumeiki Valvrave, the plot twists in Suisei No Gargantia were extremely predictable and lacking in shock value. I still enjoyed watching and would buy a US release, but I'm no longer going to pick up the (admittedly very nice) Japanese Blu-ray sets. It's not exceptional enough to warrant the cost.

Mushibugyo didn't quite live up to my hopes in the end. Even though it was always very watchable in a repetitive way (seriously, how many times does useless waitress Oharu need to be rescued from certain death in one season?), it kept its feet firmly on familiar ground, which stopped it ever becoming memorable. If I was less jaded I'd have enjoyed the show much more, and to its credit I watched it every week happily enough. The best parts were the voice acting (KENN turned in a wonderfully spirited performance) and the vivid colours. It's one to watch if you want some historically-themed fantasy action without having to think too hard. Mushibugyo will be continuing through to the summer season where it looks as though the Sanada faction will be providing some more interesting enemies!

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Yahari Ore No Seishun Love-Come Wa Machigatteiru)
I almost skipped 'Oregairu' entirely due to school romantic comedy fatigue; I don't care for shows about schoolgirls at the best of times and Oreimo's turn for the generic this season didn't help. Even though Oregairu turned out to be better than the majority of its peers thanks to a vicious streak of self-aware comedy, it still failed to hook me from the first few episodes. Some coaxing from fans of the series persuaded me to keep going, and I found that from the fourth episode I was laughing much more often at Hachiman's unapologetically blunt treatment of the cute, deeply-flawed girls who gather around him. The writing is razor sharp and gets better over time as more characters are added to the cast for the leads to deal with. Many of the observations they make about the behaviour of adolescents at school are spot on.

I'm cheating a little here as unlike everything else on this list, I have yet to see the final episode of Oregairu. The reason is that Anime On Demand are more than two weeks behind with their broadcast and I'm not willing to delay my final impressions post yet again when they might not catch up for months (according to the site, the next episode was scheduled to go online three days ago). Great show; would have been even better if Crunchyroll had managed to get the UK rights to give it the streaming consistency it deserved.

Oreimo season 2 (Ore No Imouto Ga Konna Ni Kawaii Wake Ga Nai.)
This season of Oreimo was a roller coaster ride in all of the wrong ways. Some episodes were good fun with a glimmer of the same charm which attracted me to the original, others were so awkwardly cliché that I almost dropped the show entirely several times. The biggest point of contention from my perspective was that the tone of the series has shifted; where it was once a comedy-drama full of referential otaku humour, season two felt like a more pedestrian romantic comedy using incest as its sole gimmick. Its not helped by the near-absence of several of the first season's main characters; this sequel works best for those fans who were only in it for Kirino, Kuroneko and Kyousuke from the outset. Although I made it to the end, let's just say I won't be buying the home video release or signing up to watch any future Oreimo projects.

Sparrow's Hotel
I mentioned the retro, cheap-looking animation and design work for Sparrow's Hotel in my first impressions post (it's difficult to watch the series without remarking on it). The production team behind the show subsequently made the strange decision to completely redo its weird-looking visuals for the home video release, and sure enough from episode seven it switched to a brand new art style. From still images it looks a thousand times better, yet in motion the actual animation is just as cheap and silly as it was at the beginning. In spite of everything I found the comedy shorts pretty fun to watch, especially the episode about the hotel hosting guests for a geeky convention. Sparrow's Hotel made me nostalgic for the cheap, friendly business accommodation I favour whenever I'm in Japan.

Uta No Prince-sama: Maji Love 2000%
UtaPri's second season is very similar to the first, something that was made all the more obvious by watching the two side by side as part of Crunchyroll's catch-up arrangements. That's not a complaint at all - why change something which works so well? This show is never going to convert anyone who doesn't have a soft spot for sparkly young men, but UtaPri's second season surpassed my expectations and set a high bar for the summer female-orientated anime to try to match; the production standards were as high as before and I even got goosebumps watching the grand finale. The only drawback was that there were so many new characters between Cecil, HEAVENS and Quartet Night that most of them barely had any time to show off their individuality. A third season with more time to develop the older students would be much appreciated.

Valvrave The Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave)
It's been very frustrating that the legal steam for this show arrives a day after all of the people watching illegally get their hands on it, as Kakumeiki Valvrave is a show where advance knowledge of its twists can dampen the experience the first time its watched. And what twists they are! With a scenario straight out of Kidou Senshi Gundam SEED and a love of the absurd worthy of Code Geass, the series veers between action, fan service and shock at the drop of a hat. People who like their mecha series to be completely serious will find the presentation vexing, as will people who wanted something light-hearted. Kakumeiki Valvrave sits squarely between the two extremes, showing the true horrors of a peaceful nation plunged into war yet unable to forget its love of childish fun - even when things seem hopeless. I can't wait for the second season in October 2013, especially after the tremendous climax to the first half of the show.

Dropped due to time restraints

DD Fist Of The North Star (DD Hokuto No Ken)
I'm definitely going to finish this one day. The full-length(!) episodes overstay their welcome a little, but the content is both cute and funny (I can't praise mini-Raou enough). If it had started streaming at the beginning of the season I'd have found a way to squeeze it into my schedule for sure. In the meantime the parody opening song by Yoshiki Risa and Hyadain is a must-buy.

Red Data Girl
I'd probably have watched this if it had been announced earlier and if Anime On Demand's service wasn't so bad. It might get a second chance once the home video release appears.

Dropped due to disinterest

Hayate The Combat Butler! Cuties (Hayate No Gotoku! Cuties)
I just couldn't get into this sequel's cuter character designs and heavy focus on fluffy romantic comedy storylines. However, I returned to it for episode eight just to catch the amazing P.A.N.D.R.A. cameo after falling in love with The Unlimited -Hyoubu Kyousuke- last season. Unfortunately it did little to convince me to give the series another chance and I think I'm done with the Hayate No Gotoku world for good.

Date A Live
Devil Survivor 2
Flowers of Evil (Aku No Hana)
HENNEKO – The Hentai Prince And The Stony Cat (Hentai Ouji To Warawanai Neko)
Majestic Prince (Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince)
Muromi-san (Namiuchigiwa No Muromi-san)
Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos W (Haiyore! Nyaruko-san W)
The Severing Crime Edge (Dansai Bunri No Crime Edge)
Zettai Boei Leviatan (Zettai Bouei Leviathan)

Didn't watch due to corporate politics

Arata: The Legend (Arata Kangatari)
It's streaming outside the UK on Crunchyroll for some reason. I still have some fondness for Watase Yuu; it's a shame I can't decide whether it's any good for myself given how many poor reviews have been appearing from the US.

Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Bride
A bizarre omission from Anime On Demand's selection this season since they released its predecessor here on Blu-ray.

I was going to make a point and skip the Japanese Blu-ray release (which comes with English subtitles) due to FUNimation's annoying US-only stream locking me out. However, everything I've seen from the Karneval anime looks gorgeous and I ended up ordering the first volume as a test. Maddeningly the manga has an English translation too and that's limited to Singapore and Australia! Perhaps I'll import the Australian edition if I can get over my sticker shock at the prices on Madman's official store.

Hataraku Maou-sama (The Devil Is A Part Timer)
This one has been getting a lot of positive feedback and I'm itching to see it. Thanks for nothing, FUNimation.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S (Toaru Kagaku No Railgun S)
Another FUNimation exclusive. I don't mind as much in this case since I'm way behind on the previous series. Technically that's FUNimation's fault too for releasing it so slowly and on DVD only...


Anime On Demand seems to be fading into the background, a trend I hope will continue until they stop picking up exclusive UK rights to shows they don't intend to properly promote. As far as I can tell, they haven't said a word to their fans since the beginning of January. In contrast, Crunchyroll have done a marvellous job with the majority of the shows I've been following, getting episodes of Attack On Titan up earlier than expected from time to time and being reliable with everything else. Daisuki joined the companies offering streaming anime this season but I haven't spent much time on the site while they're only showing older content; that will change for the summer 2013 simulcasts as they're going to be bringing us the second Monogatari series!

In terms of trends I didn't like any of the streaming shows I watched this spring season enough to import them. Attack On Titan or Kakumeiki Valvrave would have been must-buys if their Blu-ray editions had contained value-adding English subtitles.

Let's hope that the anime companies don't lock their best titles away from the UK when summer begins!

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