Monday, 29 December 2014

Streaming: Autumn 2014 anime final impressions

I guess it's over! This season was much less intense than the last one; something I was extremely grateful for given how busy I've been with work lately.

After complaining that we had too many streaming services over here last time, this season was strangely uncomplicated. A couple of titles I wanted to see went to the region locking villains at FUNimation, but for the most part Crunchyroll had the UK covered. Wakanim, Daisuki and Animax had no new exclusive content worth talking about, and Nico Nico just stuck with Sailor Moon Crystal. Viewster had a few interesting pickups and continued to build on their back catalogue - it's amazing to see Golgo 13 available for streaming in the UK! I just wish they could be more transparent about which titles are available in which regions on their main site, as I often click on links and end up disappointed right at the last minute.

There were no big surprises in the ranking of my favourite autumn simulcasts:

1. Mushi-shi
2. Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji
3. Akatsuki No Yona

It was almost exactly as I had anticipated at the start of the season! Mushi-shi was easily the highest quality show of the lot but the other two were highly addictive even though I'd be the first to admit they had a number of flaws.


New titles

First of all, here are the shows which became available in the UK after my first impressions post went online. It's not a very long list.

Cardfight!! Vanguard G
A typical card battling show. I've never followed the world of Vanguard and this is the fifth series, so I was expecting to be lost right from the start. However, the plot is very simple and it will be immediately familiar if you've ever watched this kind of show before; a cool guy with an ostentatious hairstyle finds himself in possession of a deck of unusual cards and somehow ends up drawn into a game full of special effects. Since he's new to the game, another (rather annoying) player explains it to him in detail, so new viewers won't be lost even coming in late like I did. I'd be lying if I said that Cardfight!! Vanguard G was my kind of anime. Still, it's a decent quality kids show and if the concept interests you I can't imagine that you'd be disappointed by the way it's presented.

Seriously, the hairstyles in this show are incredible
Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon
This was a title which wasn't available to the UK at all on Crunchyroll (or FUNimation). It wasn't until Viewster came through and streamed it instead that I finally got a chance to catch up. This is also the first time I've watched something on Viewster which had the option to watch with a choice of subtitle languages. Does that make them the only European streaming service currently accessible in the UK which acknowledges that not everyone prefers the language of the country they live in?

Cross Ange is a pretty trashy series, truth be told, with plenty of slow pans over buxom young ladies, pandering sexualised violence and a bonkers science fiction setting. It's the kind of thing which will probably sell like hot cakes when it comes to Blu-ray. In my case, I had a hard time liking the stuck up main character - and a hard time liking anyone else, either - so I doubt I'll be watching any further.

The pandering is about as subtle as a sledgehammer
Wake Up, Girl ZOO!
It's Wake Up, Girls! except that all of the young idols have been reimagined as cute animals for some reason. It's actually pretty entertaining. Since it mirrors the plot of the original series, it's probably going to be less amusing once it passes the point I dropped that. I'll give it another try if I ever go back and finish Wake Up, Girls! properly one day.

Much cuter designs than those from the original show
World Trigger
It's been a while since I really got into a Shounen Jump action show and it doesn't look as though World Trigger is going to be the title which changes that. It's a formulaic romp about a young boy with a strong sense of justice having his world turned upside down when he meets someone who claims to be one of the invaders humanity is fighting against. And of course they go to school, because every series needs insipid subplots about high school bullying and cute schoolgirls. World Trigger is watchable enough without challenging the status quo, and while that's not a bad thing for the legions of hardcore Shounen Jump viewers out there, it makes it very easy to walk away when I'm already on a tight schedule.

If nothing else, I do like the designs for the two leads
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Series I watched

Akatsuki No Yona
The pacing of this shoujo fantasy adventure isn't always perfect, but it more than makes up for its unpolished feel with a big heart and fascinating characters. Hak is easily the coolest male character of the season and I'm itching to find out how Yona's quest for justice turns out.

I'm going to keep watching Akatsuki No Yona as it moves into the winter season. I hope that the characters will finally find some happiness one day after all of the struggles they've been through.

I didn't think anyone would rival Hak - until Ki-Ja arrived
Bonjour♪ Koiaji P√Ętisserie (BONJOUR♪ Sweet Love Patisserie)
Given that the dessert theme is the only thing which really sets Bonjour♪ Koiaji P√Ętisserie apart from the countless other fluffy harem titles with a female lead, it's disappointing that most episodes are actually about character drama with only occasional references to cooking. I want to see the guys baking cakes more often! To add insult to injury, the female characters are more memorable than their male counterparts. It's not a great series, but I'm still watching for the promise of future culinary antics. The recurring gag where the school's deranged headmistress has become convinced that the lead has somehow seduced all of the hot guys around her is also rather funny.

This picture needs more delicious pudding
Danna Ga Nani Wo Itteiru Ka Wakaranai Ken (I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying)
I'm pleasantly surprised to see how many anime fans seem to have enjoyed these short vignettes showing married life between a typical otaku guy and his 'normal' wife. They're both very cute and genuinely care about one another, so there's very little drama getting in the way of the observational humour which brings this series to life. It's been announced that the show will return later on so I guess I'll be revisiting it later next year. Hurrah!

It's fun spotting all of the memes and references
DENKI-GAI (Denkigai No Honya-san)
I was struggling to catch up with all of the anime I'd missed due to my trip to Japan and the usual crazy holiday season rush at work, and at some point I took a step back and decided to drop the worst titles I was following for the sake of my sanity. The first on that list was Denkigai No Honya-san. I managed to watch the first eight episodes before giving up, encouraged by the occasional referential humour in between all of the completely annoying slapstick hijinks (and don't get me started on the tedious romantic subplots).

I'm not saying it's a terrible series - it clearly has an audience - but that audience definitely doesn't include me. I hate all of the characters other than Kantoku. He's bearable, and in my case that's the only bearable thing about the show. I can't take it any more.

Not a single brain cell between the three of them
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
I raved about the new Fate adaptation in my first impressions post on the strength of the first few episodes (and the incredible animation quality) but now that it's been running a little longer, it's clear that the issues which bothered me about the original Fate/stay night anime are still a problem in this new adaptation of Unlimited Blade Works. Simply put, the source material is not very good. Most of the characters are annoying and flat, and the school setting feels extremely forced after Fate/Zero showed the brutality of a Holy Grail War waged by a group of older, better-prepared mages. My favourite characters are the villains and I already know from the previous adaptations that they're unlikely to succeed in their ambitions.

I'll keep on watching Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works when it resumes later next year - if nothing else, the beautiful animation makes it unmissable and it's worth staying around for Gilgamesh. However, I'm not expecting any big surprises. Fate/Zero was the exception; even Ufotable's sublime animation can't make the story from the original visual novel into something it's not.

I couldn't find a decent picture of Gil, so here's Caster
Gugure! Kokkuri-san
If I wrote a checklist of all of the elements I like to see in comedy anime, this series would hit almost every single point on the list. Why, then, did I find it so uninteresting? I don't know the answer to this question myself. Gugure! Kokkuri-san is the kind of ridiculous, often-puerile comedy romp I usually love with a dash of Japanese folklore, but by the series' halfway point I found myself struggling to keep paying attention at times and it ended up being dropped after episode eight, another victim of my too-busy schedule.

This really ought to be funnier than it is
Gundam: Reconguista In G
The show is also available as a free ad-supported stream on Viewster if you're in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland or the UK. I'd already purchased the DTO version on Vimeo before Viewster's version was announced, so I watched ad-free. I'm glad that Anime Limited has provided options for both types of viewer to get their Gundam fix.

Having said that, Gundam: Reconguista In G is really difficult to follow unless you're prepared to do a little research in between episodes - and it helps if you remember your Gundam history, because much of the story relies upon knowledge of previous events. It's not a good place to start for newcomers to the Gundam universe. I'm also not that keen on the excessively cocky lead character - however, the occasional moments of campy brilliance still keep me watching every week.

The plot is all over the place but mobile suits are so cool!
Mushi-shi Zokushou season 2 (Mushi-shi: The Next Passage)
I don't know what miracle is leading to Mushi-shi continuing to have new adaptations announced, but it's a wonderful time to be an anime fan. The second half of this television series had some especially strong episodes which left me feeling melancholy for hours after the credits rolled, so hearing that there's a film coming next year has me really excited.

I doubt I'm along in saying that I'm looking forward to seeing more of Ginko's travels later on. When will someone in the west give this series the subtitled Blu-ray release it deserves?

I'll miss you next season, Mushi-shi
Nobunaga Concerto
It's not an anime, I know, but as it's the only live action drama I followed this season I figured that it was easier to include it in the main list. Regrettably, the Nobunaga Concerto drama is a pale shadow of the earlier anime adaptation which throws away all of the things I enjoyed most: Saburou's curiously likeable personality, a script which balanced humour and seriousness and a memorable cast of characters. The live action drama has a longer run time and a decent budget yet it failed to capture the charm of the anime (and presumably, the original manga). By the halfway point I was pretty much only watching the live action version to appreciate Mukai Osamu's good looks in the role of Ikeda Tsuneoki, and eventually I decided to drop it entirely rather than wasting the better part of an hour each weekend on something so disappointing. Overall it felt like a very weak adaptation with its handful of decent scenes spread out far too thinly.

Still images make it seem like a much better show
Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji (Wolf Girl and Black Prince)
I'm not going to pretend that my enjoyment of Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji is especially deep or intelligent (a large part of the appeal of the show is definitely its jerk of a male lead) but as with many other problematic titles, I feel there's more to this abusive romance show than most critics are giving it credit for. At the beginning, Kyouya is cruel, rude and heartless; a horrible lead for a romance title who had many viewers questioning fans of the series.

However, on this occasion our 'wolf girl' Erika is far from blameless herself. While nothing she does is on the same level as Kyouya's deliberate cruelty, she's so selfish and superficial that she ends up making him feel just as horrible as she does. While the fact that someone is a jerk doesn't mean it's right for others to abuse them, the two of them were both so badly behaved at the start that they ended up pushing one another to grow into better people in a positive way. Over the course of the series, they gradually learned to treat one another as people rather than tools for their own personal entertainment.

My only real complaint is that the tense atmosphere which initially made Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji so appealing fizzled out towards the end, turning it into a normal shoujo romance story after all. The two leads started to respect one another a little too quickly for my taste. With only twelve episodes available to them, the staff were probably limited in what they could do.

Kyouya's funny expressions became rarer later on (bah!)
Orenchi No Furo Jijou
This series is nothing more than fluff paired up with blatant fan service. It's entertaining, though, so I don't have a problem with that. Aside from the parade of character introductions which occupy much of the first half of the series, nothing happens throughout Orenchi No Furo Jijou's run other than merman Wakasa taking every opportunity to irritate the owner of his bathtub somehow. The show's unapologetic, good-natured dumbness has been an enjoyable way to start each week during this hectic season.

It's ok for anime to be pointless, sometimes
Parasyte -The Maxim- (Kiseijuu -Sei No Kakuritsu-)
After some trepidation over the modernised artwork which seemed to be trying to appeal to a younger audience, I've been enjoying this adaptation more and more over the course of the season. The designs have improved to better reflect Shinichi's increasingly isolated mental state and the highlights of each arc are suitably exciting. The background music is rather good, too. We're well past the point I stopped reading the manga during its initial publication in English so I'm looking forward to continuing Parasyte -The Maxim- when it continues in the near future.

You're looking much cooler now, Shinichi
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal
What more can I say about the new Sailor Moon? There haven't been very many episodes since the last time I wrote my impressions and very little has changed. It's still not the most satisfying adaptation, especially for fans of the secondary characters (i.e. anyone who isn't Usagi or Mamoru). And in spite of that, for some reason I can't stop watching.

The most frustrating aspect of this broadcast isn't the inconsistent quality or erratic schedule (does anyone else find it difficult to remember that a show will air on the first and third Saturday of each month?). In the US, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal is available on a large number of streaming services so everyone has a choice about how to watch it. In most other countries, the official broadcast on Nico Nico Douga is all there is - and as each episode is taken down when the next one arrives, it's very easy to completely miss part of the show! Since I didn't have enough time to watch episode nine while travelling overseas this winter, I ended up unable to catch up without skipping it. It was even more disappointing for my partner who has never seen or read Sailor Moon before.

It's such a shame that the industry continues to drop the ball for fans living outside Japan and the US; surely it wouldn't hurt to add the older episodes to Nico Nico's paid rental service or for paid users of sites such as Crunchyroll once the initial broadcast is over.

I don't remember you being this pretty before, Jadeite
Anyway, the last few episodes have featured the Shitennou, so it's not all bad.

I couldn't decide which of them was best, so I used both
SHIROBAKO
SHIROBAKO's appeal works by completely different rules to most other shows I'm watching; I'm not that interested in any of the individual characters and half of the countless references to famous anime production staff probably fly right over my head. Perhaps that's why this anime is so pleasant to watch; it's a study of teamwork and passion which makes no attempts to pander to its audience or incorporate irrelevant melodrama. If you value animation and want to know more about how anime is made, this series should definitely be on your viewing schedule.

SHIROBAKO is one of the most realistic portrayals of working life I've ever seen on television - director Kinoshita could easily have been modelled on my boss, and everyone knows someone like Tarou (unfortunately). It's quite fun to try to pick out the famous titles and industry figures caricatured as part of the story. I'll be rooting for the staff of Musashino Animation next year, too!

The staff's passion is beautiful
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It's been a quiet season, but since most of the shows which kept my interest are continuing into the new year (or returning after a short break) it doesn't really feel as though it's ending. It was odd to find myself watching so many shows with episodes shorter than five minutes this time.


I hope that there'll be more interesting full-length titles during the winter season! So far, it looks as though FUNimation have locked away most of the upcoming anime I'm most looking forward to again in order to prevent those of us outside the US from being able to watch any of it legally. When will the madness end?

4 comments:

  1. I can't even begin to tell you how bitter I am over the Nobunaga Concerto TV drama. :( I went in with really low expectations (to be honest I haven't seen a Japanese live action adaptation of any anime/manga that wasn't lackluster at best and an absolute disgrace at worst), but even so it managed to be disappointing. And the characters, what have they done to the characters... and for no good reason, too. (I never expected that a NobuCon adaptation would go and turn Micchi into a moustache-twirling villain.)

    And the worst thing about it is that it was successful in that it had decent ratings. :/ With the movie likely being connected to the TV drama, I can only begin to imagine how the mangaka feels...

    By the way, I can't recommend the manga strongly enough. It's so good!

    I take it haven't you been watching Shingeki no Bahamut? It was being simulcast on Crunchyroll, but perhaps not in the UK? I wonder how you'd like it...

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    1. The drama adaptation was so disappointing! I tried to keep an open mind as much as possible (I liked Judge End despite its enormous flaws, and I've enjoyed some adaptations like NANA and Sakuran) but I couldn't find anything to like about the drama version of Nobunaga Concerto other than Mukai's pretty face. Even actors I usually quite like such as Shibasaki Kou seemed completely miscast. I would have expected the longer episodes to allow for more character development rather than turning everyone into overly-simplistic parodies of the originals :(

      I'm tempted to pick up the anime box set (now that they've finally announced it) but I don't understand why they made it DVD-only. The manga will definitely be on my list once I've got my reading backlog down to a manageable size ;_;

      Regrettably the Shingeki no Bahamut anime is unavailable here. Would you recommend it? I've been hearing some good things about it and the voice cast certainly has my attention.

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    2. Uwah, I'm sorry for replying so late, for some reason I thought I already had! /o\

      Yes, I definitely recommend Shingeki no Bahamut! The voice cast does an absolutely fantastic job (absolutely fantastinc casting, really, all voices fit the characters perfectly), the story is nothing complex but it's loads of fun (the first half is a kind of swashbuckling adventure that isn't taking itself too seriously, the second half is more of a conventional fantasy epic with angels and demons and dragons), and the main characters are all very charming and likeable. Do watch it if you have the chance!

      As Nobunaga Concerto drama, yep, the drama was an all-around disaster as far as I'm concerned. :/ And I just can't get over how they completely changed Kichou's and Mitsuhide's personality...

      I was also tempted to pick up the DVD box, especially because I don't think there will be a Blu-ray edition (clearly FujiTV is not very interested in the anime version, especially after the success of the drama... which is a shame, because it was such a gem). Unfortunately our currency here is in a horrible state, and with my job paying as much as it does... I did some maths and had to come to the conclusion that there's no way I can justify spending so much money on it. :/ If only it was half as much... My heart is bleeding.

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    3. After such a positive review I'll have to try to watch Shingeki No Bahamut! It may take me a while to get to it but well-made fantasy is definitely worth checking out.

      Sorry to hear about the financial situation; we've been very lucky with the exchange rate here at the moment even though it's slightly worsened lately. I hope someone will give Nobunaga Concerto a proper chance in the west one day even though it seems impossible right now...

      Perhaps it will get a priced-down rerelease at some point in the future, especially if Fuji TV don't see the anime as a valuable property for them. If there was one show last year which deserved a sequel once the manga was done, it would be right at the very top of my list :/

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