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Archive for the ‘Winter 2013’ Category

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This is going to be a PRETTY SHORT review. Why? I’ve already explained why I loved the first series, and this is basically more of the same. If you think this is a bad thing, you don’t fully grasp the implications in “more Chihayafuru”.

Long story short: yessssssssssssssss it is so good. We’ve got wonderful, memorable and truly engaging characters and exciting, tense card games about old poetry. EXCEPT MORE: TWO new core characters, and more card games in the form of the entire series basically being one long tournament arc. And it’s not just the gang playing the game that makes it so great – it’s seeing all the effort they put in bearing fruit, seeing them make mistakes and learn from it in a real, tangible way. The sense of progression in their karuta play is phenomenal, not only from the previous season but from match-to-match. It’s an exciting and intense experience, and the change in perspective the two new characters bring (in particular with Sumire, being completely new to the game as she is) gives us as the audience a chance to see just how powerful and passionate Chihaya, Taichi and everyone else really are. The matches are on top form from the very start, and only get better and better as the series progresses.

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“Snap!”

That said, there are issues with Chihayafuru 2. Or rather, one major area in which it lacks. It’s not all that noticeable when you’re wrapped up in the round-to-round flurry of the tournaments, but once you lose engagement and investment with the outcome (say, by being spoiled for the finale), the missing element is absolutely glaring:

There’s basically no character or relationship development outside of karuta, and outside of their skills as players.

One of the absolute best parts of the first season was the amazing characterisation and development of the cast, and their relationships and feelings towards each other. I was choking up a little at the end of the childhood arc, and that was barely a handful of episodes in! The people of Chihayafuru were always the core of my enjoyment; the card games were merely the icing on the cake. It’s a shame that this side was neglected in favour of focusing so much on them as sportspeople, because while doing so certainly wasn’t bad and unenjoyable, it just wasn’t as satisfying. It’s telling that I remember the last two episodes – after all the tournaments, when it did focus on the characters as people – far more fondly than the episodes preceding it.

Karuta as She is played

Karuta as She is played

It’s a relatively minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but given that my enjoyment of the meat of this sequel season was impacted by spoilers, it does become more prominent. But regardless, this is fantastic and worthy sequel to an absolutely incredible series. If you haven’t watched Chihayafuru 2 yet, go watch it. If you haven’t watched Chihayafuru, watch it, and then immediately watch Chihayafuru 2. Neither of those are suggestions. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t, frankly.

9/10

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Ah, Key. Purveyor of visual novels created with the singular goal of making you cry like a little child, their works – both the visual novels and anime adaptations of them – are generally highly received amongst anime fans (except in anime blogging circles, where they’re far more divisive). Well, at least the adaptations by KyoAni. Those are quite highly regarded, capturing the atmosphere and magic in the stories quite effectively (Air was a bit iffy, but that was very early in the studio’s lifetime), but the adaptations by other studios? Far more mixed.

Prior to 2012, the only Key works to be animated were Air, Kanon and Clannad, all handled by KyoAni (and some other studios doing separate adaptations). Missing was Little Busters!, one of the most highly regarded from their repertoire, and one fans had been wanting to see tackled for years. So naturally, when Key announced that it was being animated, there was much rejoicing. This immediately turned to speculation, and to concern. Everyone wanted KyoAni to adapt it. They had spent so much time establishing themselves as the de facto Key adaptation studio! But KyoAni already had a series ready for the season Little Busters! had been announced for, so it quickly became apparent that their treatment was unlikely. So who was going to be working on it? Most every studio was considered and evaluated, but the actual studio who were handling it… nobody was expecting it. Nobody wanted it. Very few studios could have elicited more groans of despair.

JC Staff were adapting Little Busters!.

OH. And Yamakawa, the director chosen? He previously directed Kill Me Baby.

Well, fuck.

 Jun Maeda feeds off the tears of his fans – although they’re crying about something quite different this time

Jun Maeda feeds off the tears of his fans – although they’re crying about something quite different this time

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Tamako Market

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I’m a bit of a Kyoto Animation – AKA KyoAni – fanboy. Y’know, if that wasn’t clear already. The animation, the presentation, the direction, the sheer charm they imbue their series with, I love it. But something they haven’t done before – well, not since Munto but that doesn’t count – is trying their hand at making an original series. Something spawned from the creative minds working there, not just an adaptation of an existing property. And so when Tamako Market was announced as an original series being headed by a bunch of the staff that had made K-On! a success, well, I got pretty hyped.

Tamako Market is the story about Tamako Kitashirakawa, the daughter of a mochi shop owner, and her friends after a strange, talking bird called Dera Mochmazzi enters their lives. It’s a slice-of-life with some minor magical realism elements added, and there are some cute girls and they do some cute things but it’s not all about that. Either way, it’s good fun.

Behold, the face of mochi

Behold, the face of mochi

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I relate to stories of being a useless lazy piece of shit (notice how this review for a Winter season anime has been published in June) and I am also a fan of SHAFT’s output in general, so boy is Sasami-san@Ganbaranai the series for me! Well, at least in theory, anyway.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai focuses on the life of the titular Sasami, who starts out as a hikkikimori pampered by her enigmatic, siscon older brother, as she observes and occasionally tries to prevent all the weird shit that goes on with the help of the three Yagami sisters. One of whom is a robot. Another is a God (sort of). And Sasami herself certainly isn’t a regular human.

Weirdness ensues.

I mean, weirder than usual for SHAFT.

What do you mean all social recluses aren't this pretty?

What do you mean all social recluses aren’t this pretty?

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While I’ve never been much of a fan of the horror genre in general, I’ve always found myself appreciating such works in anime. It’s probably due to my aversion towards guts n’ gore and jump scares, which seem to be common in most western horror films. By contrast, most horror anime is more concerned with building an atmosphere of tension and psychological dread, focusing less on the ‘monster’ itself and instead developing sympathetic feelings towards the characters involved; instead of being scared by what’s happening, your feelings reflect those of the characters.

This is all just my personal experience however, and I would hardly call myself an expert of the genre. I could be completely off-base. But when you consider, say, Shiki, Mononoke and even Another to an extent, there seems to be some validity to it.

In this regard, one could easily call Shinsekai yori (or From the New World) the latest horror anime, but doing so would be something of a disservice. ‘Horror’ doesn’t quite encapsulate its complete nature – it’s a psychological post-apocalyptic dystopian supernatural drama, and while its tone and delivery lend themselves to the horror genre, its narrative scope is too wide to fit simply into that genre.

But this is all just a load of pretentious meandering. To put it simply, Shinsekai yori is a tense, claustrophobic, dark, thoughtful and intelligent series, and is one of the best anime I’ve ever seen.

And so it all began

And so it all began…

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Senyuu.

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The human world is under siege from the demons – it is up to an intrepid hero known only as “hero” to defeat the demon king and save… wait a minute, this is sounding awfully familiar.

Yeah, what were the odds that two shows in the same season would have more or less the same, awfully specific and fairly original premise? Unlike Maoyuu Maou Yussha, Senyuu. is actually a comedy, with a run time of about 5 minutes an episode. And it starts out pretty damn funny! By constantly riffing on and poking fun at old JRPG tropes and clichés, Senyuu. manages to elicit quite a few laughs. Even some of its original jokes – such as the impracticality of sending the descendant of the original legendary hero to defeat the demon king when it’s been generations and he now has hundreds of descendants (solution: call them “hero #x” and send them all out and see who succeeds) – are rather good. Not bad!

But as it progresses, Senyuu. declines in quality, opting to make every joke “someone does something, hero shouts in disbelief” instead of anything clever. I get that it’s meant to be the whole Manzai comedy thing, but it’s not done well here and before long just gets tiresome and grating. The fast pace and fun parodies that characterised the early episodes get left by the wayside and everything just grinds to a halt. It still has some entertaining moments, but when your comedy has become tedious and annoying something’s gone wrong.

6/10

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Mangirl!

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…Well that’s an unfortunate title.

Mangirl! charts the comedic journey of a group of young girls as they create a new manga publisher! Or a manga magazine or something like that, I don’t know how the manga industry in Japan works which tells you something about how educational this series actually is about its chosen topic. Not that it really matters; the premise is nothing but a means to provide some context to drive some character driven comedy. And, well, it’s amusing. There’s some decent humour going on, even if it does get a little predictable at times – the characters are hardly massively original after all.

But that’s fine – at 3 minutes an episode it doesn’t need to be a comedic masterpiece. Just succeeding at being amusing is more than enough to have made it a worthwhile watch and the inclusion of a couple of good laughs here and there is a great bonus. That said, there really isn’t anything special going on here and the comedy, while perfectly adequate, is nothing to write home about. The art’s pretty good for a series of shorts, but you won’t miss anything by giving Mangirl! a skip.

6/10

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Kotoura-san

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First impressions mean everything. They can make or break a series: crap first episode, no-one will want to keep watching it; great first episode, and it can generate a ton of early positive buzz, even drawing watchers in who would have otherwise passed by it. Beyond this, that first impression will set the tone for at least the immediate future for the series and the discussion surrounding it. And to say that Kotoura-san left one hell of a first impression would be putting it all too mildly.

From the previews and synopses and stuff it looked like your standard after-school club s’life, but with a twist! The twist is psychic powers. Or to be more precise, the eponymous Kotoura’s ability to read minds. Nothing particularly remarkable, but no reason to be suspicious or anything.

And then the first episode was one long chain of tragedy and misery and depression and despair and oh god oh god oh god ;_;

Yeah, it got people talking. Hard.

Unfortunately, a first impression is just that: the first of many impressions, one that won’t necessarily last and is frankly unimportant compared to the final impression.

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Off to an upbeat start then

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Spice and Wolf’s lack of a third season has been hurting many anime fans for some time. Everyone wants it to happen, but with every passing day it gets less and less likely. So it was only a matter of time before someone else stepped in to try and fill that gap, or at least as best they could. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is the product of that, a story written by an impatient 2ch user and Spice and Wolf fan, designed to satiate the cravings of others like him as much as possible. In it we have a fairly reserved male with his enigmatic supernatural female companion (who’s body is a point of note in some regard), as they go around doing economics and stuff in a medieval European-esque fantasy setting. This adaptation even sees the two franchises sharing their two leading voice talents! It is influenced by Spice and Wolf to say the least.

It says something that even something as obviously derivative as this is still very much a breath of fresh air in the current anime landscape, but that’s a discussion for another time. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is about economics and politics and magic and demons and shit. It’s pretty alright.

I know we shouldn't be demonizing economists, buuut...

I know we shouldn’t be demonizing economists, buuut…

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Ai Mai Mi

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Nonsensical and non-sequitur based humour is incredibly difficult to pull off. Even Monty Python, the gold standard for this kind of comedy, could be incredibly hit-and-miss. But when something succeeds at it, the results can be hilarious in a surreal, subversive way; when they fail, it can end up resembling the worst kind of lolrandumb output of an internet-addled teenager.

Ai Mai Mi is, by and large, the latter.

Ostensibly, Ai Mai Mi is a series of 3 minute shorts about four girls in an after-school manga club – Ai, Mai, Mi and Ponoka – as they deal with all manner of weirdness in their day-to-day life. What we actually get is a string of incoherent and entirely disconnected skits that rely on their absurdity to get laughs instead of any actual, y’know, jokes. There’s no build up, no payoff, no characterization, no intelligence, nothing that could really be construed as comedy.

Not to say it’s entirely without merit or unwatchable – there’s a certain amount of amusement to be gleamed from its inherent strangeness, and there’s definitely a couple of genuinely hilarious moments – it’s just that Ai Mai Mi is more mildly confusing than actually funny.

Nice ED though.

5/10

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