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The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 6: Finding the Freedom To Go With the Flow

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One of the best – or more acutely, entertaining – parts of watching anime is keeping up with the anime blogosphere to see how they’re reacting to the anime I’m watching. The best is when a sizable percentage of writers get fired up over the same anime because, dollars to doughnuts, there will be fireworks. It might be something epic that causes people to put 110% in to displaying their love and admiration. It might be something controversial that causes spirited discussions and strongly worded rants on both sides. It might just be something normal that happens to catch everyone’s attention and pulls everyone together to share in the same experience.

I often steer clear of these events because, either, I don’t feel like contributing and rather enjoy what others are saying, or, I feel like contributing but someone has already made my point better than I could have.

It was a combination of the two that stayed my hand from joining the brouhaha that erupted over Kyoto Animation’s summer series, Free!. At first the conflagration was just to fun to watch to attempt to wedge myself in. Besides, beyond being surprised by the sheer overload of man-service found in Free! when KyoAni had become a fan-service free zone for several years, there wasn’t much I was willing to commit to saying.

After the sixth or seventh episode I had an incandescent 100W light bulb moment.

What I realized was that Free! was still just a pretty standard KyoAni series.

If I drew a Venn Diagram of the characteristics of all the series that KyoAni made over the last roughly 6 years, I’d see a very huge overlap between Free! and just about everything else.

For some, Free! being a standard KyoAni series is a bad thing but not me. It’s one of the reasons why I think I was disappointed with Little Busters after really liking AIR, Kanon, and Clannad.  This lead to a desire to point this out and tell everyone to repeat to themselves, ”‘It’s just a show; I should really just relax.‘” It’s not that big of deal. Of course, by the time I reached this realization, many people had also pointed this very fact out and in a way better than I could have.

That moment still stayed me; so, for getting me to look at shows in new and deeper ways which will further broadened my horizons, I’m picking it today as one of my top moments of 2013.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the freedom to go with the flow.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: anime to get buzzed from.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: that final musical montage.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: discovered gems during the Animusic Tournament.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the Time of Eve Kickstarter.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: that publicity picture.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 12: I Love You

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If I didn’t already say so, I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas!

I know nobody wants to spend a bunch of time reading blog posts today so I’m going keep it short. I wanted to start with a love powered moment and end with a love powered moment and the instant I saw this scene I knew I’d be picking it for this the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas (though technically, the real 12 days of Christmas starts on Christmas).

The scene is Rikka’s confession of love to Yuuta underneath the bridge in episode 10 of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!.

I could say this scene is today’s moment because of the massive level of work Kyoto Animation put into it so that it would be the very definition of perfection but that’s doesn’t really explain it correctly. The better explanation is that I felt the genuine, sincere love Rikka and Yuuta have for each other – not mere affection, lust, interest, or the facsimile of love that are so prevalent in anime, especially in so-called “romance/comedy” anime series – and it just melted my heart. I want to Remember the Love because it is the reason for this season and that makes it the perfect way to end.

Good job Kyoto Animation, that’s why you’re the best.

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So, to pick up from yesterday:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a love powered mecha.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a wake up call.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a unique form of culture shock.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a masterpiece to savor.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a shock to the heart.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a pair of comfortable old slippers.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a wink and a nudge.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Botox for the facial spasms.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a reality check.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a warm fuzzy memory.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a reckoning of my failures.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: the reason for the season.

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If you missed any of the previous days, you can use the links above (the darker red part of each line) to see what you missed.


Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 11: Nobody’s Perfect

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If I was to complain about the current generation of anime I would say, among other things, that there’s not enough emphasis on what happens after the boy gets the girl or the girl gets the boy and there’s still too many loser male main characters. Neither are inheritantly bad; but, with the former, it’s because it went past the happily-ever-after that the second season of Clannad was so unique and great. And, the insistence by some on the latter really restricts the type of series that can be done and often feels like mere laziness on the part of the creators. Just look at the reaction from fans with Melancholy of Haruhi, Gurren Lagann, Steins;Gate, and Space Brothers to see what’s possible with non-loser male main characters.

One of the reasons for the success with Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! is that it didn’t settle on using these current anime conventions, either.

In episode 10 of Chuu2 we got the profession of love which would be the end to a lesser series and up until that point our male main character, Yuuta, had been a pretty solid character – on the whole coming across as pretty average with flashes of being cool. That puts Yuuta in a very small group of male main characters but what makes him even more interesting is what happens afterwards.

Guys, I’m willing to admit, are pretty clueless about many things and can come off as losers very easily and very frequently. So it’s not that I dislike characters like Shinji because they’re unrealistic but I dislike them for their prevalence and how far their loserness is carried out.

After Yuuta and Rikka pledge a lover’s contract between themselves then in an exceedingly short amount of time Yuuta realizes just how completely ill-equipped he is to handle their new relationship. A cool character would have known exactly what to say and how to act to help Rikka but he doesn’t those words or the right actions and he knows it. He’s become a loser and a jerk, not because that’s how the creators artificially wrote him to be, but because he’s a tenth grader who has no prior knowledge to handle a situation such as this.

His downwards streak continues in episode 11. After seeing Rikka off at the train station and failing to figure out what he’s supposed to do, Yuuta is confronted by Dekomori. She berates him for allowing Rikka to just leave like she did and he blows up; he angrily attacks her about her own chunnibyouism until she runs away in tears.

He then stands there shaking with frustrated anger at himself like the lost little lamb he is, lamenting that he didn’t say what he wanted say and said what he didn’t want to say. It’s this moment of raw emotional grief that is shown with such clarity because of the efforts by Kyoto Animation that it is today’s moment. It’s not the prettiest moment from Chuu2 but it’s such a unique scene that it’s one of the most memorable.

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Totally off the subject but I made this up a couple weeks ago with about 30 seconds of work in MS Paint. That hair and smile really made think Lupin.

So, to pick up from yesterday:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a love powered mecha.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a wake up call.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a unique form of culture shock.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a masterpiece to savor.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a shock to the heart.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a pair of comfortable old slippers.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a wink and a nudge.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Botox for the facial spasms.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a reality check.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a warm fuzzy memory.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a reckoning of my failures.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.

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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

The 12 Days of Christmas – Day 5: A Confession of Love

Posted by Author | 12 Days of Christmas, Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, general anime interst, hyouka, kyoto animation | Tuesday 18 December 2012 8:35 am

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A couple of things are becoming apparent as I go through the days; I’m getting more wordsy and there’s been a lot more personal reflection on my part than I’d initially thought would go with creating this series of posts. Today probably won’t be any different because I’m picking my favorite anime moment of 2012 for this post. In the real version of the 12 Days of Christmas song, the fifth day with it’s gold rings always seems to get the most attention so I thought I’d put my favorite moment here.

The very best anime seem to always have the very best characters. There’s exceptions of course but overcoming the challenge in making believable, interesting, characters seems like a key dry run for the creators in the creation of good anime. Sometimes it takes the entire series to fully develop a character’s personality and sometimes it takes a single blinding moment of insight to do so. Since we’re talking moments, you’re probably guessing that I’m going to talk about a case of the latter and you’d be right.

Hyouka started off a bit slow. Many thought it was because the mysteries were so uninteresting but I felt it was because the characters didn’t feel like real people. Slowly the characters had opportunities to express themselves as individuals and slowly Hyouka got better. By the conclusion of the School Fair Arc almost all the characters had gone far beyond the limited set of characteristics they were initially except of Chitanda. We knew she was curious about everything but there had to more that made her tick and there was.

It took Kyoto Animation crafting an anime-only final episode to give the series a sense of conclusion for us to learn about Chitanda but it was worth the wait.

Chitanda asked Houtarou Oreki to help with a ceremony at the local temple and the ceremony went off perfectly after a couple small Hyouka-type problems were fixed by Houtarou and Chitanda. On the way back Chitanda stops Houtarou and says this to him -

“Take a look, Oreki-san. This is my place. All that’s here is water and soil. The people are growing old and tired. I don’t think that this place is the most beautiful. I also don’t think that this place is full of potential. But … I wanted you to see it, Oreki-san.”

I felt a shot pierce my head and my heart; I suddenly knew who Chitanda was. I knew because I know the exact feelings that caused her to say that; they’re the same feelings that I feel for my hometown – even down to how I’d describe it, though I’d swap ‘water and soil’ out for ‘rusting buildings and broken concrete’ to be 100% correct.

If it was me, I’d show the empty lot where my elementary school used to be, the CVS drugstore that was built over the local grocery store that as a kid I’d walk to when my Mom needed a gallon of milk, the Hungarian church that I mentioned two days ago which was closed last year when the new bishop didn’t see the need to have small ethnic parishes, the empty houses of baby-boomers now either dead or living in nursing homes, the scrubby, vacant fields where the steel mills once stood, but also the park which happens to be the second largest urban park in the US, the Italian-American church I now belong to downtown (without being Italian either) which somehow is still thriving, the university with it’s beautifully landscaped grounds slowly expanding, the convention center that has made the downtown more lively then it’s been since the mid-1970’s and offers a glimmer of hope that there’s still a bit of potential in this old steel town. This is my place and, just like Chitanda, I love it.

I know this moment hit me harder because I could relate so much to it but this is supposed to be a personal list and Kyoto Animation did do a stellar job with the scene; so, this is the moment I’m picking from Hyouka (there were other great moments as well) and also today’s moment.

And, to pick up from yesterday:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a love powered mecha.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a wake up call.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a unique form of culture shock.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a masterpiece to savor.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a shock to the heart.

Tune in tomorrow to see what’s next.
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Filed under: anime, general anime interst

My Biggest Animation Pet Peeve

The recently released anime movie A Letter to Momo was overall a very solid movie that could have reached much higher if it could have fixed a relative small set of minor problems and put the elbow grease into polishing the various components to perfection. One area that needed a bit of polishing was, surprisingly because this is Production I.G., the animation work. If they had done so, they almost assuredly wouldn’t have allowed my biggest animation pet peeve to occur. Look at the screenshot below to see if you can figure it out.

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Give up?

My blog is only 600 pixels wide so let’s zoom in a bit.

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I absolutely, positively, hate with a passion when an animation scene telegraphs what’s going to happen by blatantly advertising how this scene was put together. Nothing pulls me out of whatever level of immersion I was at more then this happens.

Seriously Production I.G., would it have killed you to have drawn that crate and pieces of wood in the same style as literally everything else in the shot?

Failing that, couldn’t you have blended the CG crate and wood against the watercolor style better?

Doesn’t it bother you Production I.G. that within a very small fraction of a second it’s apparent that the running Momo will interact with crate and pieces of wood and only that crate and wood, no matter how crowded the background artist made the alley look, because those two items are drawn differently?

And the thing is, it can be done correctly. Compare the above screenshots to the next two screenshots taken from Kyoto Animation’s latest anime Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai.

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See how, even with the door being opened, the door still fits in with the background.

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Or here, even with such a tricky scene, does anything stick out? No. This is how it should be done.

It’s getting these type of things wrong that helps keep Production I.G. from the top tier of animation studios.


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views

Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai is Kyoto Animation’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Sneaky KyoAni; slipping this in the OP when it didn’t mean anything to the viewer.

Probably not in the way you’re thinking; I don’t think Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai (Chuu2) will put up anywhere near the same sales numbers as Madoka.

Shaft, the animation studio behind Madoka, is not a new animation studio. It was founded in 1975 and was a minor animation studio that produced only a few of it’s own animation series and movies for much of it’s history. That began to change when Akiyuki Shinbou was brought in to direct Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase for them back in 2004. After that series he stuck around and has directed to some degree almost every series Shaft has produced since then. Their profile slowly increased, in spite of the low budgets and hurried deadlines, and they had the chance to work on a wide variety of series like Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei to Hidamari Sketch.

Each series Shaft/Shinbou animated allowed them to define and refine what it means when Shaft makes that certain type of series but each individual series only encompasses a small percentage of what they are capable of. It’s like that old, mostly untrue, saying that a person only uses 10% of their brain. While it’s true, a person does normally only use 10% – 20% of their brain at one time, which 10% – 20% changes based on what the person is doing. It is possible to go over 20%, as the Mythbusters discovered, but it requires combining many types of activities and being able to do all these activities well simultaneously. Not an easy task to do which is one of the reasons for the greatness of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It took those scattered 10% – 20% slices from every type of show Shinbou/Shaft makes and combined them into one show. The result is that Madoka employed close to 100% of Shaft/Shinbou’s “brain”.

So, in a sense, Madoka is not just the culmination of everything Shinbou and the people at Shaft have done together in the last ~8 years but it also functions as the shortest answer to the question – “What type of anime does Shaft make?”.

Likewise, Kyoto Animation was an older minor studio (founded in 1981) that didn’t hit the big leagues until just a few short years ago. Their rise was much more swift due to their fourth series – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – sending shock waves throughout all of anime fandom. Like Shaft, they’ve had the chance to work on a variety of types of series. There were the action franchises like Full Metal Panic (still waiting for a new season :) ) to the tear-inducing dramas like Kanon and Clannad to the school-life series like Hyouka, K-On, and Haruhi to the comedies like Nichijou and Lucky Star.

With episode 7 of Chuu2 being the final piece of the puzzle, it’s now evident that Kyoto Animation has likewise decided to collect the assorted 10% – 20% fragments from all their anime series and run them in parallel to create Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai. It has the action, the tear-inducing drama, the school-life, the comedy and, though it is possible to tease these different strands out, the sum here might just be greater than the parts (like it was with Madoka).

So, Chuu2 is Kyoto Animation’s version of Shaft’s Madoka. It’s not only the culmination of everything Kyoto Animation has done in the last ~9 years but it also functions as the shortest answer to the question – “What type of anime does Kyoto Animation make?”.


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views, general anime interst

Top Picks for the Summer 2012 Anime Season – Part 3 of 3: The Top 8 Series

Like a thief in the night, I come

Part 3 and we’re reached the summer of the summer season; the series that burned the brightest. Up until now there hasn’t been too many awards given or series that are ones that have carried over from a previous season but this part has plenty of both.

Before I get to the top 8 series there’s one award that I traditionally give out that doesn’t fit well in this format – it is Top Animation Studio – because it is normally earned across multiple anime series. Therefore I’m going to award it now; winning the award for Top Animation Studio is Sunrise for animating Binbou-gami ga!, Accel World, Phi Brain Season 2, and Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 2. Of the animation studios that put out multiple series this season, the quality of Sunrise’s series were consistently the highest and even series that didn’t rank all that highly, like Phi Brain and Horizon, were a fun watch that never felt like a waste of time to watch.

8 – Dog Days 2

Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 9/12  A-
Runner-up Best Screen grabber: Godwin (Norio Wakamoto’s character)
Runner-up Best Ending
Winner Most Entertaining
Winner Most in Need of a Sequel
Winner Best Vocal Performance by the Cast

In my summer season preview (that I didn’t finish before the beginning of the season and thus never posted) one of the last shows on my list was Dog Days 2. The first season was “okay” and I really didn’t see how the series was going to fill up an entire second season so I wasn’t really looking forward to Dog Days 2. It was worth a couple episode test, however, and almost instantly I realized Dog Days 2 was not the same show Dog Days 1 was. The sequel didn’t change it’s genre or go in some weird direction so in a sense it was the same show as the first season but everything in the sequel had a clarity to it that the first season didn’t quite have and the resulting series could be summarized as “warm and fluffy”. I never finished an episode without a smile on my face and my mood shifted to happy contentment. Anime needs to put out more of these types of series.

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7 – Hunter x Hunter

Seasonal ratings for episodes 37 to 49 – 10/12 A
Winner Best Villain: Phantom Troupe
Runner-up Best Action
Winner Best Fight:
Kurapika and Uvo episode 47
Runner-up Best Plot

Much like how Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood phoned in the first patch of episodes because they had to re-cover ground from the original series, the creators of this version of Hunter x Hunter phoned in the first couple of story arcs. It was only towards the end of spring season that Madhouse signaled it was starting to get serious about this show. This season picked up where spring left off and has continued on a very steep upwards curve in terms of quality. One of the reasons for the increase in quality is greater focus on Kurapika and his quest to avenge his fallen clan and the recovery of the remains of his clan that are in the hands of collectors. This storyline allows for a greater sophistication and emotional depth then the more standard shounen storyline (as exemplified by the just completed story arc surrounding Gon’s quest for a Hunter’s license) and once again proves that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the shounen genre – just with the lazy, shallow writing that seems like the norm in this genre. Now if only we could get a remake of Yu Yu Hakusho then I’d truly be a happy camper.

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6 – Eureka Seven AO

Provisional series rating for episodes 1 to 22 – 10/12  A
Runner-up Best Drama
Winner Best Plot
Winner Best Action
Winner Most Interesting Setting
Winner Best Background Music
Runner-up Best Animation

As I’ve said elsewhere, I did not like the ending to original Eureka Seven series in part because it felt like a confusing mess. Because of that, I did not have the mindset of hating this sequel even before it aired like so many people apparently had and that also allowed me to give this series a fair chance to win me over. Which it did. I even think Bones might actually be able to nail the ending this time without reverting to their typical M.O. (and greatest weakness) of needing to fit way much material in at the end and not having the time to do so. And if it wasn’t for the stupid Olympics causing the final two episodes to get aired months after the rest of the series, it would be possible, at this point, to see if Bones accomplished a great ending or not.

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5 – Joshiraku

Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10/12  A
Winner Best Comedy
Runner-up Best ED

If one imagines a party thrown for these top 8 anime series, one might imagine Joshiraku feeling a bit embarrassed for being invited to the party after winning so few awards when compared to the other 7 anime series. It shouldn’t, though, because these awards are an imperfect way to judge the overall quality of series. For example, being a comedy meant that Joshiraku wasn’t going to win any of the character awards when there’s anime series like Space Brothers that focus on the characters almost exclusively. Nor was there a chance for it win awards like Best Plot or Best Story and having J.C. Staff produce it made awards like Best Animation and Best Animation Style equally unattainable. Winning the award for Best Comedy in conjunction with earning the number 5 spot does show my personal belief that making a successful comedy is as tough to do as creating a successful drama. I’ll be shocked if there’s a great number reading this that will agree with my high opinion of Joshiraku because Koji Kumeta (the creator of the original manga) takes a bit of work to understand. It’s not impossible, especially with the consumption of 3+ seasons of his previous work Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei that Shaft animated and a superb effort by the translator to localize the translation without losing the flavor of Kumeta. I actually find that Kumeta actually has a more Western mindset towards comedy then the average anime comedy series.

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4 – Binbou-gami ga!

Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10.5/12  Strong A
Runner-up Best Female Main Character: Momiji, a Poverty God
Runner-up Best Comedy
Winner Best Ending
Runner-up Most Entertaining
Winner Best Vocal Performance by a Seiyuu
: Kana Hanazawa as Ichiko
Runner-up Best Vocal Performance by a Seiyuu: Yumi Uchiyama as Momiji
Runner-up Best Vocal Performance by the Cast

All comedies series are entertaining but not all entertaining series are comedies. This distinction led me to creating a Best Comedy award and a Most Entertaining award. The possible overlap between the two awards appear here with Binbou-gami ga! being the runner-up for both awards. By not being a pure comedy series, however, Binbou-gami ga! was able to diversify how it filled up the episodes and helped make sure that it never got stale or stuck repeating material. Also helping this anime series finish so high was an extremely great performance by the seiyuus Kana Hanazawa and Yumi Uchiyama as the two main characters and backed by a slew of great performances from the supporting cast. Before this series I was sure that I had already heard the best that Kana Hanazawa could do (which is to say performances that put her at or near to the top for all vocal actors) but this anime showed that she still had room to get better.

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3 – Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi

Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10.5/12  Strong A
Runner-up Best Cast of Characters
Winner Best Drama
Runner-up Best Animation Style

My initial desire to see Uta Koi was enhanced by the excellent recent anime Chihayafuru which centered on the game of karuta which uses the poems of the Hyakunin Isshu collection but I was still skeptical how a series could be constructed around a group of poems. Some days it doesn’t pay to be skeptical because the creator of the manga was way ahead of me. For Uta Koi a mixture of historical fact and poetic license was used to show the circumstances behind why the writers of the poems in the Hyakunin Isshu wrote the poems they did. Because so many of the 100 poems dealt with love, almost without fault, each episode featured a different story of love between the characters of that episode. Of those, many ended up being stories about how the writer of the poem could not marry the love of their life because of the strict societal laws of the time. This is a very difficult way to set the show up, however, since every episode had to introduce a new story and complete it within the roughly 20 minutes in that episode but they nailed it. By the end of each episode I found myself wrapped up in the story and wishing these people could have found more happiness in there lives. And just like how Chihayafuru made me look forward to Uta Koi, Uta Koi has now made me all the more excited for Chihayafuru season 2.

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2 – Hyouka

Series rating for episodes 1 to 22 – 11.5/12  Near Perfect
Runner-up Best Male Main Character: Houtarou
Winner Best Female Main Character: Chitanda
Winner Best Couple: Chitanda and Houtarou
Runner-up Best Fight: Wildfire Cooking contest from episode 14
Runner-up Best Character Development
Runner-up Best Slice of Life
Runner-up Best Story
Runner-up Most in Need of a Sequel
Winner Best OP
Runner-up Best Background Music
Winner Best Animation

For the spring season Hyouka ranked at 11 but I said the show seemed to be picking up and would probably rank even higher for the summer season. Turns out that I was right on both counts; it almost caught Space Brothers this time. As a result of the increase in excellence Hyouka went from no character awards to winning or being runner-up four times, content awards went from zero to four, and creation awards stayed the same with three last time and three this time. Part of the reason for this show’s success was the original creator, of course, but the other part was the anime-only episodes that Kyoto Animation created. KyoAni used their expertise with character-driven slice-of-life series to further flesh the characters out and fluff the story side out more. For instance, episode 22 did a spectacular job of not only giving the series a sense of closure but it also went a long ways towards fully developing Chitanda’s character. There were glimpses of what made Chitanda tick before but episode 22 pulled it all together and probably permanently destroyed Houtarou’s energy conservation outlook on life. Ending the series like that, though, makes me really want a sequel.

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1 – Uchuu Kyoudai (Space Brothers)

Seasonal rating for episodes 13 to 26 – 12/12  Perfect
Winner Best Male Main Character: Mutta
Winner Best Supporting Character: Monkey Guy
Winner Best Screen grabber: Head of JAXA
Winner Best Cast of Characters
Winner Best Character Development
Winner Best Slice of Life
Winner Best Science Fiction
Winner Best Story
Winner Best ED

Surprise?! Probably not. Space Brothers finished at the top of the spring season and an even stronger story arc this season helps fend off Hyouka to keep it at number one for another season. This anime is a bit of an aberration in that it’s not a one cour or even two cour series which can throw some viewers off because a longer series means the pacing can be more relaxed compared to a series that only runs for 13 or 26 episodes. The animators aren’t forced to shoehorn a big story into a small number of episodes. (Though the ones that can effectively compress a story like in Madoka, Kaiba, FLCL, Haibane Renmei, and Baccano end up as awesome series that have a gravitas to them that a longer series will often lack. Once I finished writing this last sentence I realized I just named 4 series that show up on The Cart Driver’s excellent new combined Top 30 list.) There are so many facets that make Space Brothers the grand anime series that it is. Many of these facets are already mentioned by the awards it won but I also wanted to mention my continued love of the vocal work Hiroaki Hirata is doing for the main character Mutta. If KyoAni created an anime that was just about paint on a wall drying, I would tune in each week as long as Hiroaki Hirata provided the voice-over play-by-play as the paint slowly dried.

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Well, that’s it for look back at the summer 2012 anime season. It’s now time to move onto the fall season :) .


Filed under: anime, awards

The Top 12 Anime of the Spring 2012 Season – #12 to #7

from Bodacious Space Pirates

Because a tally of awards only gives a rough idea of the overall strength of an anime, I wanted to close this examination of the spring season with another way to look at the various anime series – a countdown – pitting the strengths of one anime against another to find the best anime of the spring 2012 season.

Why twelve? That happens to be the maximum number of series I can have under my two criteria. The first condition is that the anime has to good enough to be worth listing because anything less and series that don’t deserve to be  included are included. The second is that the maximum number of series to make it in the top list can be no more than half the total number of series because I have to stop somewhere.

12 – Upotte

What’s better then an anime about girls and guns? Answer, an anime about girls who are also guns. Well, maybe not. There was many anime better then Upotte this season but it was better than many other series. The only area Upotte really succeeded at was being funny, everything else was cobbled together and somehow the whole became enjoyable. Rock bottom expectations and having the right set of quirks and interests probably helped me to like Upotte. For example, I’ve actually fired a gun prior to watching Upotte and know enough geography and history to appreciate and “get” many of the characterization and jokes used in Upotte.
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11 – Hyouka

TV series by Kyoto Animation, arguably the world’s highest quality non-CG animation studio, carry a heavy burden of expectation from the moment they are announced and that can make it very difficult to give these series a fair shake before forming an opinion. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a KyoAni series can’t raise above this burden and is seen as “failing” – like Nichijou was – even though Nichijou was a very excellent anime. In fact, I feel that the Nichijou anime would have been a huge commercial success if some other studio’s name had been slapped on it. I initially thought Hyouka was bound to follow Nichijou and this time I’d agree with it’s critics; though, I was more worried about the characters and not the mysteries side – I like the mysteries but the characters were too one-dimensional and not interesting. The last story arc about the unfinished movie, however,  pushed the character of the main characters forward and I found that I started to like our gang of sleuths. This last mystery also showcases the writing chops of the creator behind the original light novels. I was proud of myself when I beat super sleuth Houtarou to the solution and equally dismayed when the full truth became apparent in the end. I’m excited to see what’s next for Hyouka.
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10 – Sakamichi no Apollon

Instead of complaining or bellyaching about how Sakamichi no Apollon failed to live up to it’s potential, I want to focus on what the show did right. After all, the way to fix Apollon is simple – give it more episodes – Guilty Crown got 22. Could you imagine what the creators could have done with another 10 episodes? Though, Apollon and Tsuritama, the two noitaminA shows this season, provided an examination of the question: is it better to be ambitious and miss the mark a bit or less ambitious and execute near flawlessly? I found the answer is that they’re about the same. With Apollon, I loved the setting and how a couple of the characters happened to be Catholic (with enough research done to get it right) and the presence of a larger family and the focus on non J-Pop/Rock/Rap music and the time period; all these elements worked together to make this anime feel unique. I also liked how the story didn’t always pick the path of most dorama or the easiest, most neat path because life is messy and troublesome but it rarely plays out like a novel or TV show. For example, the final time skip allowed the anime end on a positive note, while feeling realistic. In the end, I guess the take away from this anime is that fans of anime should seek out the manga.

I’ve already mentioned the great animation quality to Apollon and this quality might help explain what has happened to Madhouse of late. Much of the animation production for Apollon was handled by a new studio called MAPPA. It was founded by one of original co-founders of Madhouse and he had a history of pushing Madhouse to animate the off-beat series. I can’t find out if he’s permanently split with Madhouse or what; but, as a minimum, the energy in starting a new company is going to cut into time that could otherwise be spent creating anime.
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9 – Tsuritama

This time execution wins out over ambition with Tsuritama finishing higher then Apollon, although, neither side can compete with an anime that has both the ambition and the execution, like a Madoka or Steins;Gate :) . One of my favorite parts to Tsuritama was it’s animation style because it made the show feel summery, somehow.  For a long stretch of my being an anime fan it has felt like most animators, outside of Shaft, have been timid about creating stylized TV anime series and instead stuck to a basic, stock style. Sure, there was the random anime that was stylized but they were definitely the exception but now, with the recent success of Shaft, it looks like the other animation studios are more eager to diversify their look (if this season is a guide for the future). Which is a good thing because used correctly – like in Lupin and Tsuritama – the style of animation can serious enhance all aspects of an anime and make it so much better. If, say, Tsuritama had been done by J.C. Staff chances are it would have lost it’s summery feel and just felt way more generic. Tsuritama will be remembered by me for two specific reasons. The first is that it’s yet another example of how cool older characters are in anime; we really need more characters like the grandma. And the second is it left me wanting to try my hand at fishing.
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8 – Eureka Seven AO

Due to my slow writing speed I find myself in the awkward position of knowing that E7AO is a better show then this number 8 spot but not willing to bend the rules to allow episode 12 or 13 to be considered part of the spring season. I was actually shocked at how episode 12 moved me because I have a rather negative opinion of the original Eureka 7 series after being disappointed when the story got “weird” and incomprehensible towards the end. This impression came from the prehistoric times when I was just getting into anime seriously and still used Cartoon Network for the majority of my anime fix. It probably is no longer a valid opinion; but, it did allow me to look at E7AO as a way to redeem the franchise and not as the way for Bones to ruin the original (which many fans thought). Even without episode 12 or 13 it was apparent that E7AO was building up to something big and ambitious by how carefully the earlier episodes were plotted out, which allowed it to win the awards it did and place as high as it did. For the summer season I already know that I’ll be vacillating between excitement and fear that Bones will pooch yet another ending.
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7 – Jormungand

Sometimes not seeing a popular anime prior to a specific newer anime series is a detriment to the enjoyment of that newer anime series and I can tell when I start reading the thoughts of others. Conversely, sometimes I can tell it’s beneficial. In the case of Jormungand, I kept seeing talk about and comparisons to Black Lagoon – which I’ve yet to see – and invariably, this anime seemed to have warped expectations of what Jormungand should be doing to it’s detriment (as seen by those viewers). I still wasn’t entirely free of heaping expectations of what I expected Jormungand to do and my enjoyment of the series was limited as a result. Eventually, I realized Jormungand was set up more like a slice-of-life series (of an arms dealer) then a more traditionally plotted action series like an E7AO or Fate/Zero and the series clicked into place. I read the second half is set to air in the fall and I’m giddy over the chance to see more Loco Koko and Jonah.

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Stay tuned for the top 6 anime tomorrow.

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Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 1: Character Awards
Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 2: Content Awards
Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 3: Creation Awards
The Top 12 Anime of the Spring 2012 Season – #12 to #7 – currently here
The Top 12 Anime of the Spring 2012 Season – #6 to #1


Filed under: anime, awards

Spring 2011 Season Preview

Alright, so we’re pretty much on the eve of the start of the Spring 2011 season, which means it’s time for our previews. Below, you’ll read what each of the 4 of us think of the many many shows that are coming up. It seems that noitaminA is creating great anticipation again with its financial thriller [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, and the much hyped urban fantasy/scifi thriller Steins;Gate has caught our attention. We fork in our interests quite a bit from there, which is expected given the huge number of shows next season, but studio Shaft’s works seem to be on all our radars, a sign of the respect it’s earned over the past 2 years.

Rakuen

I would like to start by saying there is entirely too much anime airing this season. This is both good and bad. On the positive side, with at least 48 series listed on the latest guide I found, there’s a little something for everyone. If you can’t find a show you’re remotely interested in here, anime might not be your thing. On the negative side, it also makes it very difficult for me to watch everything I want to see. Right now, I have 15 series on my list. I am a little enthusiastic about 7 of them, while I’m definitely ready to try out the remaining 8. I expect to see this number dwindle rapidly. 7.5 hours of anime viewing per week is almost impossible to keep up to date, let alone remembering all the characters, plots and so on. Enough of my kvetching. I should get into the meat of my little segment.

I decided to order my lists by airing date, starting with the series I have a little interest in watching. Dog Days occupies the earliest spot on the list. I expect this to quickly devolve into harem territory, but I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the summoned hero bit. Next up is the new season of Kaiji. The titular character participates in a gambling event where the stakes are his life. Joojoobees piqued my interest in his post about the first season, but I haven’t gotten to it. So, this go on the Want to Watch list by default. Then, we have Hidan no Aria, which gets a first episode watch based solely on adorable girls with lethal weapons.

A Channel seems to be going with a typical four-girl band for a school comedy, but it is a school comedy, so I’ll give it a shot. The little one, Tooru, also has a baseball bat that shows up all over the promo art… so it could be interesting. Next, we have Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, or in shorter terms, a new Shaft show. I loved Soredemo, but didn’t like Arakawa. This seems to lean more towards the latter, what with the main girl insisting she’s an alien. Ao no Exorcist continues the “son of Satan will fight his fate” trend. I wonder if this theme comes up because many people have a desire to fight their own fates. What better example is there than the son of evil trying to do good? Finally, The World God Only Knows rounds out this portion of the list. I went back to finish the first season, which means the series did hold some interest for me. I just don’t know if it can do it for another 12 episodes.

The rest of my list comprises of shows I have stronger interest in, and Moshidora has the “earliest” airdate. Giant Killing got me into sports anime, and Big Windup has continued to strengthen my view of the genre. Like Big Windup, we have a female manager trying to lead a baseball club to victory. However, its airdate has been postponed, so it might have to wait for a later season. KyoAni’s Nichijou also airs this season, but I didn’t even realize they animated it until I started writing this. The synopsis itself got me hooked. A principal might wrestle a deer? This is a school comedy I’ve got to see! Hana-Saku Iroha kind of reminds me of Love Hina with the hot springs centric plot, but that’s where the similarities end. It looks like it completely lacks the male lead, meaning no harem, and the plot sounds more focused on drama. I think both of those aspects are Good Things. Showa Monogatari adds another drama to my list with its family orientation and historical setting. This is a more tentative entry on my list, but the Olympic setting piqued my interest.

Now we’re to two of my most anticipated shows. First, STEINS;GATE, which just looks phenomenally awesome in both the artwork and the synopsis. It has the whole time-travel thing, as well as the struggle for survival with the SERN organization on their tails. I get a little Persona vibe from it too, but it might only be me. Sket Dance is yet another school series, but this one stood out from the pack. The premise reminds me of Haruhi, except with less aliens, time travelers, and espers. Unlike the rest, this has the best chance of a strong overarching plot, which I’m really hoping happens. If someone who’s read the manga could confirm it, it’d be much appreciated. Returning to the outlier series on my list, there’s C, plus its long title. It’s got an economically crapsack Japan and a main character who gets sucked into the shuffle. Sounds interesting, and with its noitaminA slot, I’ve got hopes for it. Last, but not least, is Deadman Wonderland. The fight for survival premise fittingly relates to the old Coliseum. It could have a bit too much violence for my tastes, but want to give it a good shot.

Looking back at my list, there’s plenty of comedy, action, and drama with a variety of premises. This could very well be my most anticipated season since I first got into currently airing shows. I hope school and work don’t kick my ass too hard, so I can have the time to watch all these shows.

Top 3: Steins;Gate, Sket Dance, C

lvlln

There sure are a lot of shows coming out next season, but somehow the only ones I’m looking forward to are the sequels: The World God Only Knows, Maria+Holic Alive, and the Kampfer specials.

Just kidding; besides those 3, We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day (AnoHana) on noitaminA’s block sounds like it has potential, simply for being a real-life drama on noitaminA. Oh, and it also contains a character type that’s near and dear to the hearts of everyone here on this site, a hikikomori. Then again, noitaminA has been really hit or miss lately, with the trainwreck that is Fractale and the hugely disappointing Kuragehime, even if AIC’s Wandering Son is absolutely knocking it out of the park this season. AnoHana is being made by A-1 Pictures, which is responsible for some pretty poor shows such as Kannagi and last year’s Anime no Chikara duo Sora no Woto and Occult Academy, so I’m very prepared to be disappointed. Still, the director has A Certain Scientific Railgun on his resume, and that didn’t suck too much, and I’ve heard his Toradora! did drama well.

Besides that, only 2 other non-sequels have caught my eye: Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko and Steins;Gate. Denpa Onna because it’s Shaft, even if it sounds just like another version of Arakawa Under the Bridge, which turned out… alright. Steins;Gate because I’ve read some other people really excited about it. Plus, I like modern-day scifi stories.

But really, the sequels are what I’m looking forward to.

The World God Only Knows was a surprisingly entertaining show for which didn’t have a bit of faith in going in. But Keima’s cynical, almost nihilistic personality combined with his occasional outbursts made for good comedy. A show that was as meta as that could have been a lot more meaningful, sure, but it was a fine source of dumb laughs. The 1st season ended on a planned cliffhanger, and though I doubt the pickle Keima got into will last more than an episode, I look forward to seeing how he will continue to add to his transient harem.

What I liked about Maria+Holic was Asami Sanada‘s Kanako, the perverted lesbian man hating protagonist. Her smooth, soft voice is unique, and seeing her character constantly abused somehow didn’t get old. Didn’t hurt that it was Yuu Kobayashi as Maria doing the abusing. She plays male characters well, and she does crazy well, too. Then there’s Marina Inoue as Matsurika. I like to think of it as a gay Stalker-tan being forced to live with an abusive Kaere and her snarky maid Symmetrical-tan. What more whacky antics will these 3 and the rest of the cast get into?

And bottom of the sequel list is Kampfer. Now here’s a show that was pure guilty pleasure. Looking for things like action, plot, character development, or meaningful relationships was a fruitless endeavor. I just loved seeing Natsuru and his/her thick head be dragged around by his psychotic harem. And this show’s cast is pretty much a who’s who list of female voice actors right now. I wish they’d do a 2nd season instead of just a couple episodes, but I suppose they’ll do.

Top 3: The World God Only Knows, Maria+Holic Alive, We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day

Raphael

Pleasantly, there’s a good bit of original anime in this crop. Tiger & Bunny is among them and has received more press for the large amount of product placement it’ll employ than for the fact that Sunrise is doing a superhero show. I’m hoping it will be fun and won’t drag. Another of these original shows is Dog Days by the team behind Nanoha. The setting and premise don’t appeal to me, but I may well give it a whirl; it’ll probably at least look nice. The most promising of this lot in my eyes is C. Strong staff, very interesting premise, noitaminA. Unfortunately, the trailer didn’t meet my expectations, with the wonderful character designs not translating as well as I’d hoped and the animation looking a tad under par. It’s still the season’s series I’m most eagerly awaiting. The last two original anime, Hana-saku Iroha (which, judging by trailers, will look stunning) and AnoHana seem to fall squarely into the slice of life/drama genre zone. They also have the same head writer in Mari Okada. Both could be enjoyable if done well, but I feel like both could also try my patience, especially given that Hana-saku Iroha is reportedly 26 episodes. I’ll give them a go.

Moving onto the adaptations, we have manga-based slice-of-life comedies in A Channel and Nichijou. I’ve read the source of the former, and I was expecting to discard it quickly… but I found myself really enjoying it. It’s nothing new, but the humor has a slightly mean bent and I got several good laughs out of it. I’m curious to see how it translates to anime, as there’s a fairly new studio on board but also the director and series composition guy who did Saki. The latter is Kyoto Animation’s spring offering and, like Hana-saku Iroha, is supposedly two-cour. I found the prequel OVA nowhere near as funny as I do A Channel’s manga, but I definitely felt it had charm to it. I’ll give both of these series a try. Other comedies include Xebec’s entries Hen Zemi and Softenni. I’ll be watching Hen Zemi because I liked its OVA for its disgusting humor, but I do wonder if things will get cleaned up for TV. In addition, the OVA’s director will not be returning for the series; instead he’s been replaced by the director who did Rio – Rainbow Gate! and To Love-Ru. Meanwhile, the man behind the OVA will be working on Softenni, which I get big Saki vibes from. I’m also a massive tennis fan, so – though I’m sure I’ll feel silly for thinking there might be actual tennis-playing involved – while I really, really doubt I’ll enjoy it anywhere near as much as Saki, I’ll give it a shot. Hopefully I won’t want to be shot because of it/need several shots of something to get through it. (Punning is hard, give me a break (ha!).) Shaft will also have two comedies airing: the sequel to Maria+Holic, and the bizarre enough for me to check out Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko.

To the action/adventure side of things, Steins;Gate stands out as having potential to be very entertaining and entertainingly technobabble-filled. Premise sounds great, art looks great, and Jukki Hanada is at the writing helm. Really looking forward to this. We also have Ao no Exorcist, Deadman Wonderland, and Hidan no Aria. The first has good buzz and the director of Darker than Black going for it, and it could be interesting. As for the latter two, I’m up to date with what’s been translated of the manga of both. Deadman Wonderland is packed full of gore, action, good characters, and plot twists, and I love it. I’m unsure whether it’ll get the treatment it deserves, though, as Manglobe will be dividing its efforts between it and the second season of The World God Only Knows. But I’m hoping for the best. Hidan no Aria has been less fun for me to get through. I would’ve dropped it very quickly (for its mix of mostly-loli fanservice, poor art, and storm of cliches) if I hadn’t found the concept of a school for armed detectives so enticing. I plan to be watching the anime too, even though Rie Kugimiya as yet another flat-chested tsundere should’ve deterred me, and – despite my grumbling – I’m sure I’ll have some fun. Interestingly, this (along with Gosick) will make two shows airing simultaneously that focus on a foreign-loli-Holmes/Japanese-high-school-boy-Watson duo.

As for the rest? Moshidora‘s unusual premise has piqued my interest, and I plan to check it out; Hyouge Mono, Toriko, Sket Dance, and Showa Monogatari don’t appeal to me; OreTsuba (We Don’t Have Wings) and HoshiKaka (A Bridge to the Starry Skies) look very similar and similarly uninteresting; and Astarotte no Omocha! does not exist. And finally, though I’m almost certain I’ll be unable to get through an episode, I feel obligated to check out Sekaiichi Hatsukoi because BL anime adaptations are just so rare.

Top 3: C, Steins;Gate, Deadman Wonderland

CPAnime

Despite the overwhelming amount of new anime coming out, it feels like most of the stuff out there is either for teens or a generic (adult) drama. Thankfully, there are enough shows out there that choosing which anime I will be watching will still be a difficult task. The following are a few of the anime that I have the most interest in for varying reasons.

It has been about two years since I started watching anime on a season by season basis, and one of the first shows I watched in this way was Maria+Holic. So, with the benefit of two years of full time anime watching experience, it will be interesting for me to see if I find Alive anywhere as interesting as the original was in 2009. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I tuned in on a week to week basis was to see the OP and ED, so it will be interesting to see if my tastes have changed, or if this show is actually as awesome as I remembered.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko

I am also pretty interested in the other Shaft show, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, but mainly because I don’t know anything about it. Shaft has built up some serious street cred over the past few months with Madoka Magica, but there is also the possibility that this could turn into an Arakawa under the Bridge 2 situation, especially given the synopsis. Another thing that worries me is that Shaft is doing two shows this season, and seeing as how they can barely manage one most of the time, I think the quality is inevitably going to suffer. Still, girls with mysterious pasts are kind of one my things, so I’ll be checking this one out for sure.

C is another interesting show for me, but for some different reasons. It reminds me a lot of Madoka in that there is a contract being made, though I doubt that the main character will be naive as some of the characters in Madoka, as the show doesn’t seem to be hiding its cards. From the previews I’ve read up to this point, it seems like the show might have a difficult time with its first few episodes as there looks to be a lot going on. Hopefully, a deeper understanding of economics or business won’t be needed for this show, as that could turn off some viewers. Personally, I have confidence that this shouldn’t be a problem as it is part of the noitaminA time slot, but even that is no longer a guarantee.

Moshidora

Staying on the business end of things, the one show I am looking forward to the most this season is Moshidora. While its broadcast schedule kind of seems up in the air, I’m looking forward to watching this during the baseball season. Since I’m a business student and a baseball fan, this show is kind of a no brainer for me, and I can potentially see myself blogging this. Still, I do have my doubts as to whether this will work, despite its popularity in Japan. Mainly, I am concerned that the translation of the material into an anime will fail to jump off the page, if you will, and just become another boring class lesson, though I doubt it.

Finally, the one show that will undoubtedly be my guilty pleasure is Hen Zemi. I recently watched the first episode of the OVA and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The only real criticism I could levy against it, besides the obvious, was that it took too long to get to its punch lines. I am a bit concerned that the TV broadcast will be impeded by those god forsaken censors (Kiss X Sis‘s OVAs, for example, were and are infinitely better than the censored TV broadcast), but as long as the staff is witty enough, it can probably work around this. Though, it is XEBEC. So… that could be good or bad, depending on your preferences (btw, where is my LxB sequel?).

Top 3: C, Moshidora, A Channel

And that about wraps it up. Which of the dozens and dozens of shows are you looking forward to this spring?


[Review] The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Movies, Reviews, bandai, fantasy, haruhi, kyoani, kyoto animation, lvlln, mystery, romance, school, science fiction, scifi | Wednesday 13 October 2010 2:28 am

Here’s the short version: whatever you’ve heard about it is true; it’s really that good. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an absolutely stunning film that succeeds on every level. It does not make up for the horrible second season, but if you liked the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and long for more of something of that caliber, this is a must-watch. You will not be disappointed.

If you actually want me to expand on those thoughts, proceed downward (note: like any proper review, this will contain no spoilers, although I will delve into story bits when necessary).

Let’s first make one thing clear: you must watch the TV show The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in order to understand Disappearance. It is a sequel that depends on the first work, and there is just no getting around that. Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are high that you’ve already seen both seasons of the show. But in case you haven’t, make sure to watch it in the following order: 1. Season 1 in airing (not chronological) order, 2. Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, 3. 1st and last episodes of Endless Eight, 4. The Sighs of Haruhi Suzumiya. Don’t make the mistake of watching all 8 episodes of Endless Eight.

As I write above, Disappearance is a direct sequel to the TV show, taking place in December of the protagonist Kyon’s first year at high school. The movie starts off with a brief set up to Kyon’s daily school life before he awakens one day to find that the entire world has changed around him, with him the only one aware of this. Haruhi Suzumiya has literally disappeared, and the one sitting behind him is, well, I won’t spoil that bit for you. Gone along with Haruhi is the should-be transfer student Koizumi Itsuki, and while Mikuru Asahina and Yuki Nagato are still at the school, the former doesn’t know him, and the latter is still the glasses-wearing girl, the sole member of the literature club whose room that Haruhi had taken over when starting the SOS Brigade in the show. That’s when the story really begins, as Kyon attempts to untangle the mystery of this sudden shift in timeline, to find the one responsible for it, and to figure out a way to go back.

Technically speaking, Disappearance follows Kyoto Animation’s tradition of being ridiculously well animated. It sometimes takes things a step too far, and the over-smoothness of some of the animations look unnatural, but all things considered, that’s a good problem to have. The cinematography is excellent throughout, reminiscent mostly of the anime original episode, Some Day in the Rain in its wide angle shots of rooms and long single-take cuts. The music is subtle and serves its purpose, though the use of new versions of the same tunes from the show will definitely please the fans. Unusual for a movie, it features an opening sequence, using the first season’s opening song, Bouken Desho Desho? – as if to help us forget about the epic failure that was the second season.

At the surface, the movie is just plain fun. It doesn’t lose the lighthearted sense of humor of the show. Most of the comedy is at the beginning, as Kyon first discovers the differences of this new world, leading to some very embarrassing situations. His run in with Mikuru involving the mention of her unique mole was particularly humorous. But the movie remains amusing throughout, revitalized when Haruhi finally makes her triumphant reappearance and acts in ways Haruhi only could. Throughout, Kyon’s narration is as dry and sarcastic as ever.

The scifi/mystery-thriller aspects are also well executed. The pacing is sublime, never lingering on any situation for too long, but also never feeling hurried or rushed. The movie keeps you hooked with its constant twists and turns, always leaving you in anticipation and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, but never frustrated. The fact that this movie is 163 minutes long may scare some away – it certainly scared me, though obviously not enough to keep me from watching it – but this is one that uses every bit of time it has to the fullest extent. There are some awesome OHSHI- moments as well, which would be criminal for me to spoil for you here.

But simple entertainment was never the hook for Melancholy. Though the show succeeded in that regard, what made it special was the subtle emotional and personal story taking place, specifically between Kyon and Haruhi. The show was ultimately a high school romance story of those two characters with the science fiction/fantasy comedy genre being used as a vehicle, and it was that layer that had made it, in my humble opinion, the best TV anime of this past decade. And Disappearance exploits that same method to be not just an enjoyable movie, but also a deeply meaningful and emotional one.

In that context, Disappearance is the story of a couple separating and realizing that they can’t go on without the other. It’s mainly told from one end, Kyon’s, but both parts are there. Perhaps for the first time ever, Kyon is actually honest to himself about his feelings regarding Haruhi and the SOS Brigade. Kyon performs far more introspection than he ever did in the show. Some of his internal scenes are reminiscent of the scene at the train crossing from the episode The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Part 5, in which Haruhi explains to Kyon how she decided to be the way she was. Kyon’s inner struggles feel honest and heartfelt, and there is a powerful feeling of release and relief when he reaches epiphany.

But the movie takes things even a step further than the show and examines the relationship Kyon has with other members of the SOS brigade. Nagato is the one that receives the most focus. Perhaps the purpose of Endless Eight was to give us just a small taste of the pain that Nagato had to go through during the 15,000+ cycles she had to live through. And the conversation that Kyon has with Nagato at the very end of the movie simultaneously leaves us feeling ache and hope in the heart.

Indeed, one could interpret that the whole movie was about Nagato and designed to make us sympathize with a character whose physical manifestations of emotion have only been subtle up to this point. It makes us ponder, what issues face one who is effectively omnipotent, but at the same time is not allowed to make any decisions in how to use that power? How does she, quite literally a slave, deal with them? More than that, it makes us sympathize with her, to feel for her plight, and to want to fight for her. This is a somewhat common theme in the realm of science fiction, and Kyoto Animation presents it to us in a way that can only be presented in the world of Haruhi Suzumiya. I don’t consider that to be the main focus of the movie, but it is undoubtedly a key element of it that is integral to making it as powerful as it is.

The other members get their moments too, though they are mainly there for fanservice. An adult Asahina gets to spend some time alone with Kyon and reminisce about her fun days. And Koizumi, the one who has always seemed easygoing and bright shows us a small glimpse into the pain and heartbreak he must experience due to his position. Besides the members of the SOS Brigade, Kyon’s friends Taniguchi and Kunikida get plenty of the screen time they couldn’t get in the show.

All in all, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an amazing film. Don’t let its near 3-hour run time or the bad taste from season 2′s Endless Eight scare you off. If you are lucky enough to live near one of the places it is showing in theaters, go see it. Does it make up for the debacle of Endless Eight? No, but nothing can. This movie comes as close as possible, though, and reminds us of why we first fell in love with the world of Haruhi in the first place. In not only recapturing the magic of the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya but expanding upon it, Disappearance truly is a marvelous achievement.

I’m not much one for attaching numbers to reviews, but, for what it’s worth, I give it 5 out of 5 stars, a perfect 10/10, A+, etc. This is the best anime movie I’ve seen since… well, Evangelion 2.22, which I saw earlier this year. So that’s actually not saying much. But this is a movie that easily ranks right along with it, far above anything else in the past decade. Melancholy showed us that Kyoto Animation was capable of creating anime that was not just entertainment but also deeply emotional pieces of work. Disappearance proves to us that that wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and they are very capable of doing it again.

Now, to get them to stop adapting banal 4-koma or vapid visual novels and keep making anime based on award winning novels…

Notes

  • I watched this film at its screening last Friday at the New York Anime Festival. I also made a post on the cosplay I saw at the festival.
  • Disappearance was originally released to Japanese theaters on February 6, 2010. The DVD and Bluray of the film will be released in Japan on December 18, 2010. The film has been licensed by Bandai Entertainment and is currently set to be released on DVD and Bluray in the US sometime in spring 2011.
  • Given the technical excellence of the film, I recommend that you avoid watching the camrip that is floating around and rather wait for the movie proper to be available.
  • All art contained in this review are official art by Kyoto Animation from various sources.

My Top 10 Anime of All-Time – #10 to #6

Everyone has one and there’s no surer way for other people to figure out loads of information about a person then from a person’s personal top 10 list. The genre of shows the person likes, the length the person has been a fan of anime, if the person is an elitist fan or a populist fan, what the person thinks about old anime being superior to new anime and vice-versa, if the person watches anime with fan-subs or dubs are just some of the things people can glean from a top 10 anime list. Even using some other number then 10 can be illuminating; a person doing their top 75 anime shows is saying something completely different then a person that only has a top 4 or top 6 list.

I knew this when I started blogging and I also knew that I didn’t have the breadth of knowledge needed to make such a list without being deeply embarrassed of it a year later. Therefore; I waited, read other people’s lists and consumed as much anime (current and old) as possible. I refused to rough out a list until I was done considering what important conditions I should set-up for the list because I didn’t want potential picks to influence my thought processes. The conditions that will constrain this list are three.

  1. For an anime to be eligible, I needed to watch it at least two times.
  2. No movies would be eligible.
  3. For shows with multiple seasons, I could choose which seasons to include but no one show could be listed more than once.

The first constraint made a lot of sense to me. I’ve often encountered a show where the second time watching it yields a different response – either positively like Lucky Star or negatively like Azumanga Daioh or Witch Hunter Robin. Watching an anime that second time also reinforces the experience in my memory and helps ensure that imperfect recollections of a show don’t improperly help or hinder a show’s chances. The flip side of this constraint is that there’s a large number of shows that I can’t consider at this time that I’d love too. Kaiba, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Baccano, Cross Game, Clannad, Kanon, Kemono no Souja Erin, Spice & Wolf, Ga-Rei:Zero, Sora No Otoshimono, Hanamaru Kindergarten, Blue Literature, Hidemari Sketch, and Bakemonogatari are just some of the shows that I think could be competitive in making this list but have only been watched once.

The second constraint is there because I think series and movies are just too dissimilar to put into one list together; it would be like creating a top 10 list of the best cow and dog breeds. It might be possible but it wouldn’t be meaningful. And by carving movies off, I can make a companion list at some point of the my top ten anime movies. :)

Since most seasons (not cours) of anime are produced separately, I put in the third constraint in because it didn’t make sense to me to penalize an earlier season if future seasons stunk and were made just to bilk money from the fans or if later seasons improved from the earlier seasons.

Now with that out-of-the-way, let’s get to the list.

Vintage: Winter 2009
Director:
Kazuki Akane
Studio:
A-1 Pictures
Times Watched:
2

The first season of Birdy was a good show, one of the bright spots in a pretty weak summer season but there were weaknesses that prevented it from being great. I can be a very optimistic person so when the second season rolled around I had very rosy hopes. Imagine my shock when even these rosy hopes couldn’t match how good the second season was. The wooden characters from the first season were replaced with characters that oozed personality and depth. The story was grittier and more real; the building destroyed in the first season remained destroyed and the people who lost their homes were still homeless in the second season. No punches were pulled, the super-powered character with an understandable desire for revenge kills in a way you’d expect an angry individual out for revenge would. And I loved the animation style they switched to for the fights; if I had to describe it in one word that word would be “kinetic”. The characters looked like they actually weighed something and the sense of motion was unparalleled. It ended at a good point but one can just tell there’s still untapped potential with the bigger story so I’m still fervently hoping for a third season.

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Vintage: Summer 2007
Director:
Takashi Ikehata
Studio:
J.C. Staff
Times Watched:
4

The set-up for Potemayo (sentient unearthly creatures coming to life in a refrigerator) would have been the start of a horror film in probably every other country in the world but in the hands of J.C. Staff, we get a cute comedy/slice-of-life show with a very messed up sense of humor. Calling it unique would be an understatement and trying to make an accurate judgment about the show based solely on it’s animation style and characters is impossible.

I really didn’t expect Potemayo to make my top 10 list but the show holds up so well every-time I rewatch that I need to just accept that Potemayo is a great show.

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Vintage: Winter 2004
Director:
Satoshi Kon
Studio:
Madhouse
Times Watched:
3

I first watched Paranoia Agent when I was a freshly minted anime fan on Cartoon Network way back in the day when Cartoon Network ran animated stuff all day and wasn’t afraid to show anime before midnight. The realistic setting, the mystery behind Lil’ Slugger, the examination of the psychological effect Lil’ Slugger would have on the populace, the oddness that I’d later learn to be Satoshi Kon’s trademark and the interesting – often quite twisted – characters fascinated me and helped open my perception of what anime could do. Several years passed and I grew hesitant to watch Paranoia Agent again because I worried that it wouldn’t stand up. That had happened with Witch Hunter Robin and I didn’t want to lose another early anime favorite but my youngest sister stated bugging me about watching it. I pushed it off for a while but I eventually relented and we started watching Paranoia Agent. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried since I adore every other work of Satoshi Kon I ever watched and Paranoia Agent is no different. Many mystery type shows are only good the first time through but even knowing how Paranoia Agent ends doesn’t diminish how enthralled the show left me.

An interesting tidbit, Paranoia Agent is the only show on this countdown that I’ve never listened to the Japanese dub of it.

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Vintage: Summer 2007, Winter 2008, Summer 2009
Director:
Akiyuki Shinbo
Studio:
Shaft
Times Watched:
3, 3, 1

Having to bend my rules to include the whole series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has left me in despair! ;)

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei really is an acquired taste. Looking back, I needed that first season and the months between it and the second season to really get the show and it’s sense of humor situated in my brain. And it eventually clicked because I instantly, and completely, fell for the second season and later rewatches of the first season left me with a better opinion of it. I’ve also learned the best way to watch Despair is to watch each episode twice; once with my finger posed over the pause button so I can read all the text in the background and the second time without pausing so I can focus on the foreground. This leads me into putting much more effort into getting this show than any other anime but I think it’s worth it.

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Vintage: Spring 2006
Director:
Tatsuya Ishihara
Studio:
Kyoto Animation
Times Watched:
6

At one time this would have been my #1 or #2 pick for top anime and seeing it drop this far makes me a bit sad even if I fully believe it deserves this diminished level. It’s very difficult to get into the old mind-frame for this show when the renewed Melancholy of Haruhi (2009) employed the Endless Eight stunt. It’s not that I particularly hated Endless Eight but back in 2006, I decided not to read the novels Haruhi were based on because I didn’t want to be spoiled before watching the future seasons of anime and I’ve been waiting for more of the story ever since and thought that time had finally come. I know this is a mend-able feeling, though, all I need is Kyoto Animation to animate a couple of seasons of Haruhi, reaching the quality level of the 2006 series,  and chances are I’d be pushing this back up.

One of the interesting things about The Melancholy of Haruhi (2006) was observing how hype effected fan reception. At the very beginning when there was no hype for the show, everyone (and I mean everyone) loved the show. I remember watching Haruhi work it’s way to number 1 on ANN’s top 10 anime list. As time and the hype increased, though, I noticed more and more new viewers react negatively towards it, wondering what the hype was all about. This trend continued and intensified when Haruhi was licensed in America and the non-fansub fans finally got to watch what the fansub fans had been incessantly talking about for over a year. Their reactions were even less positive and reading what these people thought of Haruhi made this fan’s blood boil on numerous occasions.

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That ends part 1. I’m curious if anyone can guess my top 5 before I post it in the next day or two.


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Angel Beats

I couldn’t have been the only one that felt having someone other Kyoto Animation doing a Key work was vaguely wrong; like some sort of cosmic law had been broken. Silly, I know but I still made sure I coached myself to remember to not fault P.A. Works for simply not being Kyoto Animation. (And by having P.A. Works do Angel Beats it probably cleared KyoAni’s schedule so they could do the Haruhi movie. Which I hear is great but will wait for a proper release before watching it.)

Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 10/12  A
Anticipation Level:
3.5/5 – Medium

The Story

Otonashi wakes up in a strange world of a sprawling high school campus, apparently dead, though he does not remember his previous life. He meets Yuri, the head of a rebel organization that seeks to find the answers behind this world and why they are there from God’s representative in this world – Angel (who acts as the school’s student council president). He initially doesn’t believe he’s dead but after suffering fatal injuries twice, he decides to accept Yuri’s offer and joins her group as the seek to find answers and do battle against the seemingly invincible Angel.

The Fine Print

I’ll hardily be original, at this point, if I point out the apparent similarities to Haibane Renmei or the Melancholy of Haruhi or other Key works. Many people have been covering this show already and even in my limited reading all these similarities have been brought up and I have to agree that I do see these similarities but I’m not sure if this is the most productive way of talking about this show.

If I had jumped early and written this impression post after the first or second episode I would have complained that Angel Beats felt completely derivative of other works but I didn’t and I’m glad. Five episodes in and I’ve come to conclusion that the most accurate way to relate Angel Beats to these other works is to compare Angel Beats to a Quentin Tarantino film such as Kill Bill. It’s possible to pick out the influences that Tarantino had bouncing around in his mind while he created Kill Bill but the film is just too creative and good to cheapen it by saying he just ripped off those earlier works.

I also think there’s another reason why Angel Beats is reminding people of Haruhi and K-On! and it doesn’t have anything to do with source material. I think P.A. Works not only sees Angel Beats as the vehicle that will catapult them into the top-tier of animation studios like Haruhi did to KyoAni but it’s also the golden opportunity for the very young P.A. Works to gain a great deal of respect by outdoing KyoAni at their own game. There’s nothing with this because anytime an animation studio succeeds at pushing the bar higher, it prods the other animation studios to improve their game or go out of business.

And so far, I’ve been pretty impressed with the effort by P.A. Works – easily the best work they’ve done to this point – they might just be ready for the big leagues but I don’t think they quite unseat KyoAni yet.

Going into the show I was most worried about how well P.A. Works would handle the characterization. In their previous two works, True Tears and Canaan, I was disappointed by their inability to really make the characters come alive and the resulting disconnect this caused made it hard to really get into the show and care what happened. For Angel Beats, P.A. Works was working with the master of characterization, Jun Maeda (AIR, Kanon, Clannad) so it should be impossible to screw it up but if watching anime has taught me anything shows that should be impossible to screw up are just as likely to fail as other shows. Therefore, P.A. Works deserves the full credit for creating an interesting bunch of characters. If I was looking to pick a fight I’d congratulate them for doing a better job in a couple of episodes to convince me that Iwasawa was a real musician then KyoAni has been with convince me any of the girls in K-On are real musicians with 16+ episodes. But I’m not looking to pick a fight :) .

The other slight worry I had for Angel Beats was it’s story; specifically, how well would Jun Maeda do when he wasn’t writing the story for a visual novel. In this department I’ve been very happy as well. Every episode unravels a little more of the story and it appears to be deliciously more complex then it did at first look. I don’t want to spoil the story here so the only other thing I’ll say about the story is that for those that have grown to like the sad stories that characters in Key works often have, you won’t be disappointed here.

There is one area that when I compare Clannad to Angel Beats in broad generalities I notice that Angel Beats comes up short to Clannad. That area is how well the comedy is handled in Angel Beats and how easily the show shifts from comedy to drama and back to comedy. Some of the comedy feels tacked on with Angel Beats so far and sometimes the comedy fills ill-timed and a few of the jokes in Angel Beats really feel lifted from other Key works. It’s hardily a big problem and I wonder if I noticed it because I so liked Clannad; also, not to slight Angel Beats but I do find the comedy is heavily weighted to the “hits” side with very few “misses”.

In conclusion, Angel Beats follows in the footsteps of the past Key works and at the same time it offers something different than it’s anime predecessors. I was worried that P.A. Works didn’t have the capability to pull this off but they’ve been doing a great job. I’ve already mentioned the characters and the story but I can’t finish without mentioning the very high quality animation and great voice work as well. In a season stuffed with quality titles, Angel Beats has been able to find a place as one of this season’s must watch shows.

Possible spoilers so I’m sticking it here. At the end of episodes 2-5 the cast picture at the end of show changes depending on what’s happened in the episode and I figured I’d put them here.

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5 - note the difference in Hinata's shadow


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Anime Songs That Can Get Me To Shed Tears


kenshin_winter

You can thank Winamp and it’s non-random random shuffling for this post.

I have a super condensed anime music playlist that I like to listen to; it’s only 230 songs long and there’s a handful of songs on this list that when I’m in the right mood will get me to shed a tear. Last night I wasn’t much in the mood but out-of-the-blue Winamp starts playing every sad song on the list in a row and even repeating some more than once so now I’m in that mood.

It’s probably not a good idea to marathon a Key series right now so instead I’ll write this post. :)

Oh, and there’s some spoilers so read at your own risk.

Natsukage – from AIR

fall0903714

Let’s start off with an obvious show that could generate a tear inducing song – AIR. This anime holds the personal record for the most tears shed while watching it (Clannad is a close second). See, I was a relatively new anime watcher at the time, mainly subsisting on a diet of shounen shows and wasn’t aware of the emotional depths that could be found in anime. It also didn’t help that I had absolutely no knowledge of what to expect and was lulled into a false sense of security by it’s light-hearted start. Therefore, when the story turned tragic, I wasn’t ready for it and ended up crying for just about every remaining episode.

Natsukage is the name of the instrumental track that KyoAni used for many of the emotional scenes during AIR and thus when I hear it, I’m reminded of those scenes.

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Koikogarete Mita Yume – from Cross Game

fall0936283

The show’s first closing is another song that can bring me to tears and was able to from the very first time I heard it, which was in episode 1.

That episode completely blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to see enough character building and tragedy to fill most series all within those 24 minutes and by playing this song at the saddest scene meant that I’d always link this song to that first episode. Nor has that episode and that song lost it’s power to move the viewer, recently the animators essentially reshowed the first episode in it’s entirety for the episode 30 recap.

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Kanon by Pachebel – from Kanon

fall0910778

The wedding standard got repurposed for another of Key’s works – Kanon. This time, the characters actually referenced the song in the show and provided a strong means for the viewers to attach the often tragic nature of Kanon to the song. At least when I hear this song in public it’ll probably be at a wedding and it’ll be more socially acceptable to cry to it.

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“Libera me” From Hell – from Gurren Lagann

fall0930290

I’m convinced that Gurren Lagann is one of the greatest anime ever made and should be required watching for, not only those who profess to be an anime fan, but also for every single kid that grows up watching the insipid tv shows that pass for kid’s shows these days.

This song was used in many places throughout the show, primarily when it was time for the good guys to kick butt which makes it a strange song to cry over. And it would be but for it’s use during one of the best scenes to Gurren Lagann which happened in episode 26. The hero of the show, Simon, was given the choice between the easy way out and the harder path that true heroism calls for. He chooses the path of heroism and as a result is able to break himself and his comrades out of a devious trap laid by the enemy. The whole scene is very emotional, a testament to Gainax’s stellar character development and story telling ability, and having this track play during the entire scene meant that those emotions come back whenever hear it.

And within the entire scene there’s a small part that absolutely gets to me every single time I see it. The trap that Simon breaks everyone out of gives each person the ability to live in whatever dream world they wish for. One of the people trapped is Viral; he’s a beastman which means he looks human but was created sterile and he has a tough-as-nails personality so one would expect his dream world to be some sort Valhalla battlefield but it’s not – it’s living in a little cottage in a country meadow with a wife and a daughter that calls him “Papa”.

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Dango Daikazoku – from Clannad

sad15387

Yes, another song from a Key/KyoAni anime, this time it’s from Clannad. This was used as the first season ending but it wasn’t until the second season that this became tear inducing. Though in the case of Dango Daikazoku (or “Big Dango Family”), the song brings tears from being linked to the tragic parts to Clannad and also from the happy parts.

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Love is a Flower, You are a Seed – from Only Yesterday

fall09165441

In many ways Only Yesterday is my favorite Studio Ghibli work so I find it an absolute travesty that it’s the only Studio Ghibli movie not released in America.

This is the only song that exclusively makes me shed tears from happiness alone. It’s the end song to Only Yesterday and the animators had it playing while the movie had it’s climatic scene before going to credits. So, like the others, those emotions got transferred to the song and hearing this song gets to me every time.

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Anyone else want to share? Or is everyone too busy getting in the Halloween mood today?

Posted in anime, anime rants/views, general anime interst

Kyoto Animation’s New Spring Anime or We’re Still Waiting for Haruhi Season 2


image1

Official Site

I thought the announcement of a new season of Haruhi starting this April sounded a bit unbelievable. A couple of days before the mis-interpreted news broke about the first season of Haruhi being replayed starting in April, I came across this site mentioning Kyoto Animation was going to be doing the anime adaptation of a 4-koma called K-On! or Keion. It’s about 4 high school girls who are trying to save the light music club without knowing how to play musical instruments. I thought the premise could be interesting and almost wrote up a post saying this looked good and I was looking forward to it even though we were going to have to wait for Haruhi and Full Metal Panic even longer.

With regards to Haruhi I thought it highly unlikely after doing two shows at once for the first time in the current season, Winter 2009, that KyoAni would (or even could without outsourcing) do it again. If I had to guess based on the news of Haruhi being replayed this spring is that we can expect the second season either in the summer or fall. But I really don’t care much because I’ve slowly fallen into the camp of people that will watch Haruhi S.2 (and probably love it) but will no longer spend much effort about the show until it actually airs.

keion_kaigi

Character design of the source material

I like the character design of the anime over the original. For some reason I thought of Manabi Straight instantly when I saw the anime picture and read what the show will about and that’s a good thing because I loved Manabi Straight. I’m hoping for more information soon like who’s the voice cast because this show could feature a bunch of singing and concert scenes and I’m curious if they’ll get a star-studded cast.

As we get closer to the spring season, expect more information on this and the many other new shows like the second series of Full Metal Alchemist and Hayate the Combat Butler which are set to air. And I can’t believe I’m starting to already think about my spring preview already - there’s still a few winter shows I wanted to get to.

Posted in anime, anime news, general anime interst, season preview      



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