Monday, 30 September 2013

Streaming: Summer 2013 anime final impressions

This summer's anime offerings were a strange bunch. I started out with one of my most packed schedules to date, pushing my DVD/BD backlog even farther down my list of priorities, yet many failed to hold my interest once the first few episodes were out of the way. While it was difficult to rank my top three for the spring 2013 season because I'd enjoyed them all so much, summer 2013 was a little easier:

1. Attack On Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin)
2. FREE!
3. The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku)

Gatchaman Crowds came close at times, but the sheer quality of Uchouten Kazoku prevailed.

None of the summer shows went on my list of must-have titles, which means I haven't imported a TV show since the winter (though I'll be picking up quite a few when they make it to the US). Having said that, FREE!, Attack On Titan and Monogatari might have been very tempting if the Japanese editions had included English subtitles, and Uchouten Kazoku is still proving difficult to resist.

With Anime On Demand having pulled out of UK streaming without a word, here's my final look back at what Crunchyroll and Daisuki had to offer last season.

Attack On Titan (Shingeki No Kyojin)
I've loved every second of this show. The plot has gradually become more political and - dare I say - intelligent as older cast members have started joining the heroes in the fight against the Titans. The constant cliffhangers and mounting body count have kept the tension high for the whole summer season and I've tried to ignore the spoilers and sneering that come with all series which attain this level of mass popularity. It's going to be weird getting used to weekends without the cast and I can't wait for the inevitable sequel. Perhaps it's time to catch up with the manga now that the English edition is receiving an accelerated release?


FREE! (Free - Iwatobi Swim Club)
KyoAni have proved their broader appeal with this very well-made sports show about teamwork and friendship. I'd initially expected to be watching FREE! alone each week as my guilty dose of female-orientated fan service, yet to my surprise my partner ended up becoming hooked on it too and we'd watch every episode together. It was very easy to root for all of the main cast members and the shots of bright blue water made the warm summer evenings much easier to bear. Unfortunately my favourite character ended up being someone with a very minor role in the story (hint: of the two characters pictured, it's not Nitori).


Gatchaman Crowds
I had a very positive impression of Gatchaman Crowds back at the start of the season and for the most part, it remained intact throughout. It's a beautiful, lively show which isn't afraid to try its own ideas. My main complaint is that Gatchaman Crowds left me wanting more; the ending seemed rather abrupt and encounters I'd hoped would be played out later ended up being swept aside. It could definitely use some spin-off OAVs to make the finale feel more satisfying. Still, remakes of classics are difficult to get right and the way that the staff handled it here was great - the show has an identity of its own in spite of the occasional references to the original material and its heroic themes.


Genshiken Second Season (Genshiken Nidaime)
I mentioned my concerns about Genshiken Nidaime in my first impressions post, with cautious optimism that the anime adaptation would rectify the issues I had with the original manga. Sadly, by the halfway mark it was apparent that my worst fears were realised and this promising return to the Genshiken world was doomed to end up as the biggest disappointment of the season.

Like most fans, what originally drew me to Genshiken was its depiction of a rose-tinted college anime club. The characters were flawed but believable, and they all loved anime, manga, games and cosplay as much as the viewer did. Genshiken Nidaime keeps the same basic setting but swaps the original cast of jaded male otaku for a bunch of newcomers - mostly female. It uses the girls to explore topics such as BL, cosplay and relationships to a much greater degree than in the original series. While the original series painted all of the characters as experienced otaku except for the newcomers, Genshiken Nidaime (slightly implausibly) portrays all of the girls as casual fans who don't particularly care which doujinshi they buy and rarely go to otaku shopping areas. Yoshitake is the only one who seems to have a deep interest in her particular niche (so of course she rarely has more than a couple of lines in each episode).

The biggest problem I have with this new series is actually Hato, the cross-dressing character around whom most of the story revolves. There's plenty of inherent story potential with a cross-dressing fudanshi and at first I found his awkwardness endearing. After half a dozen episodes had passed, however, I realised that I had become tired of the constant teenage melodrama that he seemed to attract performing even the most simple of tasks, full of flustered excuses and blushes. Even knowing that Genshiken is aimed squarely at male viewers, the gratuitous attempts to make Hato appealing to the target audience eventually crossed the line of being cleverly self-aware and started to make me cringe. There were numerous problems with the other cast members too: Oono seemed to have lost all sense of maturity since the original show, Kuchiki should be in jail, Sue was a one-shot gag spun out into a full character, Angela's personality made no sense... in the end I felt as though I was watching one of the dozens of recent 'cute high school girls do cute things' gag shows rather than a sequel to Genshiken. This new generation might appeal more to younger viewers who find the lighter atmosphere more familiar.

At least the references to other I.G. shows (like Sengoku Basara!) made persevering worthwhile. It's just a shame that this second series fell so far short of its predecessor. It should have been more accurately titled Genshiken: The Hato Saga.


Gifuu Doudou!! Kanetsugu To Keiji
It seems that most of the western audience dropped the rambling period adventure Gifuu Doudou within a couple of episodes. The gratuitous manliness blends well with the series' depiction of Sengoku-era politics and daily life, though it's probably better enjoyed with a little prior knowledge of Japanese history; many of the famous historical figures who appear aren't introduced with a foreign audience in mind and the satisfyingly bloodthirsty fights are few and far between. The animation budget isn't all that high either. Still, Gifuu Doudou will be continuing in the autumn season and I'll keep watching it for my weekly dose of righteousness and eccentricity.


Makai Ouji: Devils And Realist
Even with occasional Sengoku Basara artist Yukihiro Utako behind the (gorgeous) original artwork, my enjoyment of Makai Ouji began flagging quite early on, yet somehow I managed to persevere long enough for them to introduce some of my favourite seiyuu (including Ishida Akira, Kobayashi Yuu and Fujiwara Keiji). This let me continue on the strength of the audio and visuals alone.


The plot and characters, sadly, were less memorable. The main character of Makai Ouji was utterly obnoxious, which rather ruined any sense of drama as I privately wanted one of the demons to jab a sword through his ribs after a couple of episodes. On the other hand, the quirky portrayals of upper class British school life from a Japanese perspective were pretty funny at times. Makai Ouji was never a bad show - simply a generic one.


Monogatari Second Season
I switched from Daisuki's stream of Monogatari to Crunchyroll's in the end even though it was a few weeks behind. Due to the technical problems with Daisuki's provider, I ended up starting the show really late - and then I had to catch up on the similarly-delayed stream of Nekomonogatari Black (an odd scheduling arrangement on Daisuki's part). By the time I was done I decided it was easier to just continue with the delayed Crunchyroll stream and enjoy it properly on my PS3.

By this point in the story Monogatari has lost most of its initial shock value, and the large number of consecutive stories about my least favourite girl, Tsubasa, didn't help. It wasn't until the second arc that my love for the series came rushing back as Koyomi, Mayoi and (especially) Shinobu took centre stage. The wackiness will continue into the autumn season and I'm sticking with it until the very end. It would be nice to finally see the promised Kizumonogatari film one day to fill in the biggest gap in the story's timeline.


Mushibugyo
There were times that I considered dropping Mushibugyo. It often spent long periods being a typical (period-themed) shounen series with little to make it stand out and my schedule was quite busy this season. When it's good, however, Mushibugyo is very good, and the lovely new ending song featuring Kuroageha has been a highlight of my week each Monday evening. Not every series has to rewrite the rulebook to be enjoyable.


Senyuu. (Senyu Part 2)
Senyuu. suddenly recovered from its vague meandering halfway through this season and managed to regain its initial excitement right the way to the end. It remained a pointless fantasy comedy with a plot which made no sense, of course, but I enjoyed following it week by week! Let's hope Senyuu. reappears in future.


Silver Spoon (Gin No Saji)
Watching poor Hachiken grapple with the morality of livestock farming in Silver Spoon may have lost some of its intended impact when viewed by someone who doesn't eat meat to begin with. Nonetheless, this has been a thoroughly charming series from start to finish and its return next year will be something to look forward to. I've actually spent time working on farms myself so the jokes in Silver Spoon were often much easier to relate to than those in typical high school series - I found the small differences between the Japanese farms in the show and the western ones I'm used to absolutely fascinating. Silver Spoon deserves the critical praise it's been receiving, and I'm curious whether it has made anime viewers across the world question their preconceptions about rural life.


The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku)
Splendid! Uchouten Kazoku was the big surprise of the season with its beautiful views of Kyoto, a loveable cast and its offbeat blend of philosophy and mythology. I can't praise it enough. Kumeta's distinctive cartoony designs were the first things to catch my eye yet by the end, it was writer Morimi Tomihiko whose influence shone through strongest. There was a familiarity to the atmosphere which was eventually recognisable as reminiscent of The Tatami Galaxy, one of my favourite noitaminA shows to date. Uchouten Kazoku was the classiest show I watched all summer.


Though I didn't find Watamote as uncomfortable to watch as many of my peers seemed to, it was still a charming show with some razor-sharp observational humour about the sad realisations most teenaged misfits have to deal with at some point in their lives. There was one episode halfway through its run where a Hatsune Miku cover song was used at the ending, and for me hearing that familiar synthetic voice breaking out into wistful song was the series' most emotional moment.

I don't think I could have stomached another season of Watamote. What we got felt just right for exploring Tomoko's self-inflicted misery without dragging the concept out.


Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Once Yamishibai's gimmick of having a sudden fright at the end became obvious, the show stopped being as creepy as it once was. It was pleasant seeing a horror show with a modern urban setting and the five-minute episodes kept it from outstaying its welcome. I'm grateful to sites such as Crunchyroll for letting us see these experimental anime shows which would never ordinarily make it to home video outside Japan.


Dropped due to time restraints

Nothing, though Makai Ouji and Mushibygyo came close when my work hours increased!

Dropped due to disinterest

Chronicles Of The Going Home Club (Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku)
Dog & Scissors (Inu To Hasami Ha Tsukaiyou)
Fantasista Doll
Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA ILLYA
il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion (Genei Wo Kakeru Taiyou)
Kiniro Mosaic (KINMOZA!)

Love Lab
Love Lab was a strange one, suddenly appearing halfway through the summer season as a late Crunchyroll simulcast. It's based on a 4-koma manga and follows the unlikely combination of self-assured Riko and sweet, dignified Maki. They're both very curious about romance with no real experience of their own, so the series shows their clumsy attempts to learn more in an idealised, comical way. Love Lab certainly does things a little differently but it's yet another fluffy school series about cluelessly cute young girls, and I've had more than enough of those lately.


Servant x Service
Sunday Without God (Kamisama No Inai Nichiyoubi)
The World God Only Knows: Goddesses (Kami Nomi Zo Shiru Sekai III: Megami Hen)

Didn't watch due to corporate politics

Blood Lad
Viz gloriously returned to the streaming market and immediately locked this season's newest shounen series away from UK viewers. Thanks, Viz.

Brothers Conflict

It's streaming outside the UK on Funimation. I doubt I'll bother buying the home video edition on the strength of word of mouth.

Dangan Ronpa: The Animation
A lot of people complained about this show. I'd have liked to see for myself.

Rozen Maiden Zur├╝ckspulen
Another series which attracted mixed reviews. I bought all of the earlier Rozen Maiden anime so it's a little frustrating I can't see this new title - apparently my money supporting Rozen Maiden until now didn't go very far!

Then there are the locked shows which, realistically, I was never going to enjoy anyway:

Futari Ha Milky Holmes
Hyperdimension Neptunia (Choujigen Game Neptune The Animation)
High School Division Class C3 (Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-Bu)
High School DxD New
Kimi No Iru Machi
Rou-Kyuu-Bu! SS
Senki Zesshou Symphogear G
Stella Women’s Academy
Tamayura ~More Aggressive~

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With the last episodes of the summer season now behind me, it's time to get fired up for autumn. It's already guaranteed to be amazing with both Valvrave and Kuroko No Basuke returning with new episodes, and the only problem on the horizon so far is that most of the new shows seem to be locked to the US with no licensed UK streams available. Why do you do this to us, anime industry?

4 comments:

  1. I'm happy that someone else has positive opinions about Gatchaman Crowds. ^^;; Apparently the majority of western audience hated it, and even most of those who liked it seem to hate the finale... I thought it was a brilliant series, bordering on pure genius at times, and even though the finale had some problems, it was still a witty, charming and fitting end to the series. I wonder how Gatchaman Crowds is doing in Japan, financially (I could never read the Amazon Stalker charts). Also, I hope that the script will be eventually released as a novel, like Tsuritama... although the anime lives and breathes the internet so I guess it would be difficult to turn that aspect of it into a book.

    As for Mushibugyou, to me the show got more and more charming with each episode, it's been a long while since I saw such an enjoyable series of this genre. Admittedly it didn't do anything revolutionary, but it had lots of heart and a great voice cast. And there was an unintentional layer of enjoyment for me, since Tsukishima strongly reminded me of a certain someone who shares the same name with Mushibugyou's final boss. XD

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    1. Hahaha, yes, Jinbee was an adorable lead and very reminiscent of that other character. I loved his enthusiastic voice :D

      The series also has some of the craziest hair designs I've seen in a long time. I'd like to see a pretty NISA box set come out in the west so I can pick it up without denting my budget too badly ^^; the colourful artwork is just begging for an oversized box set...

      I didn't even know that many people in the English-speaking world were watching Gatchaman Crowds until the complaints about the ending appeared everywhere. I'd have liked it to carry on longer to give everyone more time on screen and wrap things up more tidily, but if that's the biggest complaint I came up with I suppose it's a big compliment to the creative team. The Stalker numbers probably aren't much use since it's one of the ambiguous all-in-one Blu-ray box titles which tend to be difficult to estimate. It's so reasonably priced that it deserves to do reasonably well :(

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  2. I didn't understand from the post if you had already read the Attack on Titan manga before or not - but if you haven't, I really recommend it! The anime has a great, dramatic soundtrack and often great animation too - but the manga is special imo. There is something about the bleak art style that works better.

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    1. I have the first five volumes of the manga but I was waiting until the anime ended because the exciting cliffhangers were too fun to spoil. Now it's over I think it's impossible to patiently wait for them to start animating more; I wanna see what happens next! Time to order the next few books...

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