Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Crunching the Numbers: Houston, We Have A Problem Child

Spring is upon us, which means in a few weeks a brand new season of anime will greet us and the anime of winter will vanish into the aether. You’ll notice that Problem Children isn’t on the list proper this time; this is because the series recently concluded, and thus I’ll be giving it a final review and ranking separate from the shows that haven’t finished quite yet. Next time the list of final analyses will be much longer, but let’s not worry about that yet. It’s time once again to Crunch the Numbers and find out what anime are positive and which ones deserve to be factored out.

1) Chihayafuru 2 (episodes 8-10) (no change in ranking)

Yaaaaaaay, more Arata!

Yes, after teasing us with Arata all season, we finally get an episode with focus on Arata, and it’s pretty good, building on questions asked about the character since the season started: why doesn’t he want to make a karuta team of his own? Episode 9 has a good set-up for exploring this question, and it’s a welcome change of pace to delve into Arata’s mind instead of Chihaya’s team.

That’s not to say that Chihaya’s team hasn’t had some great moments as well. Episode 8 is probably the funniest yet, pitting the team against a bunch of foreigners who love karuta as much as they do. There’s a little bit of Japanese racism involved (Tsukuba in particular), but considering Japan’s track record of treating non-Japanese people, this is relatively benign, and more importantly hilarious. There’s a fun bit of Engrish exchanged between the two teams that had me cackling like mad.

The national tournament arc is still going strong. With some appearances from Arata and another certain rival, and a really funny match, Chihayafuru still refuses to be anything but great. 

2) The Unlimited: Hyobu Kyosuke (episodes 9-11) (+2)

Holy shit has this show been on fire lately. After the relatively slow flashback episodes, the pacing for this show has been perfect. It very much feels like the end of a second act of a badass action movie; everything as we know it has changed forever, alliances are broken and reforged, and the plot has been sprinting towards the finale without missing anything important. Mind you, it is all conventional action anime stuff, but it’s done thoroughly and impressively enough that I can’t take points off for a lack of originality. There’s plenty of talent and care going into this series.

There’s a particularly great fight sequence featuring Andy and Hyobu in episode 11. It’s mostly just cool fighting and shots, but there’s a little moment between the two of them that neatly sums up their relationship. There’s definitely going to be some dumb shipping coming out of this episode (though I imagine there was some already), but that’s not going to hurt this show at all. I don’t want to say more for risk of spoiling the story, as the point of this column is to help you decide whether these shows are worth watching or not, and since I think this show is definitely worth watching, you should watch it to find out what happens. All you need to know is that this is perhaps the best paced action show this entire season, with good character writing and visuals to boot.

3) Love Live: School Idol Project (episodes 9-11) (no change in ranking)

Now that Muse has all of its members together, all that’s left for the team is training for the Love Live competition and increasing their ranking among the other idol groups. There’s not much else necessary for this plot, and the show could have easily relied on a few filler episodes. In fact, episodes 9 and 10 could have easily been confused for filler if you were to look at their plot summaries. One’s about one of the girls having a side job at a maid café and the other is a beach episode. Both are conventional anime filler episode plots, but Love Live is smart with its storytelling. Sure, there’s plenty of cute fluff in these episodes; after all, the show in itself is very cute and fluffy, but its economical with its fluff.

At the end of the day, these episodes help flesh out the characters and strengthen the bonds between the group of idols. They come up with new songs inspired by their achievements, they play with each other, they help each other overcome obstacles. It’s all endearing and moves the plot and characters forward, and that’s good writing. Sure, nothing new is being said here; girls becoming idols to save their school isn’t exactly high art. However, credit must be given to just how well this simple premise has been used to create an adorable and heartwarming show like this. It helps that the show isn’t above putting the characters through some hardships. So much goes wrong for Muse in episode 11, to the point where they’re on the verge of crying, and yet they persevere, and the perseverance is super sincere and not at all contrived. Only the most cynical of anime fans would not find this cute. 

4) Maoyu (episodes 9-10) (-2)

What I like about Maoyu is that it’s been able to dip its toes into a multitude of things and do pretty well with itself. It’s balanced economics, action, and romance fairly effectively throughout the show, but I’m starting to think it’s a jack of trades: proficient at everything but a master of nothing.
Episode 9 mostly deals with the Church calling the Crimson Scholar (the Demon King’s human name she has taken) a heretic and putting her on trial. What follows is a rousing speech which empowers the people who listen to it and gives a good middle finger to the Church. It builds on previous episodes with effective flashbacks and gives nearly every character a part to play. But it makes one thing very clear: this is the Demon King’s show, not the Hero’s.
At least that’s how it comes across. Pardon another Spice and Wolf reference, but that show was true to its name: both Holo and Lawrence were equally important. Hero in this show is ostensibly the muscle and important to the plan the Demon King has, but his accomplishments compared to hers are astonishingly lacking. He gets nothing in these past couple of episodes. Instead, the focus is on the Demon King and the economics of the country. Most of episode is discussion on taxes, which while sort of interesting if you’re like me and into that kind of thing, but it’s a dull episode otherwise. Oh wait, there is a bit near the end where we learn the reason why the Demon King “loves” the Hero, and it’s disappointing. It cheapens the romance by essentially boiling it down to the “Chosen One” trope. The romance was rushed at the start of the show, but I could sort of buy that the love was genuine. Now it just feels forced, and does not sit well for me, especially after the Lady Knight’s romance was portrayed well earlier in the show.
Is this show running out of steam? I’d say it’s still good, but it’s in an extremely small niche that’s dominated by a much better-written and compelling show, so it’s always going to seem lacking in that regard. We’ll see if this show has anything left to offer.

5) Oreshura (episodes 9-11) (-1)

I was too easy on this show last time when I ranked it. I admitted that the show had seen better days when it didn’t have a full harem, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m not enjoying the show much at all. The core of the series is still there; it’s still about Eita’s childhood friend and his fake girlfriend fighting over Eita, but it’s been buried under crappy harem tropes and badly written characters.

Fuyuumi is just awful. She’s a generic tsundere character with a generic childhood marriage promise plotline, and yet the show thought it was necessary to give her as much screentime as possible. Himeka didn’t get nearly this much screentime when she was introduced. Look, no one cares about these two characters. The character balance was near perfect when it focused on Eita, Chiwa, and Masuzu; Himeka and Fuyuumi exist solely to pad the series out and to fulfill harem tropes, tropes the show cleverly avoided up until now.  Not only is the plot getting dumber, Eita seems to be getting dumber as well. He’s gone from naïve to just plain stupid, unable to realize that these girls are in love with him despite them outright fighting over him.

In the most recent episode, it tries hard to be meta by having Eita’s aunt working on a visual novel which mirrors the plot of the show. There’s a funny bit or two here, even some mocking of Fuyuumi that I liked. There were even a few scenes where Eita and Masuzu talk about their relationship in a serious manner, one that suggests actual character development for the two. Its moments like these that remind me of how good the show was when it was starting out. Maybe the show can salvage what good it has left, but after a slew of mediocre episodes, I won’t get my hopes up.

6) Kotoura-san (episodes 8-10) (no change in ranking)

You know, after weeks of dullness with Roman and Problem Children and being subjected to the stupidity that is Vividred Operation, this show doesn’t seem so bad any more. I will be fair to the show and say it’s not bad; it’s just not very impressive.

My major complaint against Kotoura-san is that it’s too simple for its premise. Psychic girl reads the minds of other people and causes problems. Yeah, that happens, but it’s trying to make that premise funny... when it’s not trying to be dramatic. The tone is never consistent, and when it’s trying to be funny it’s pretty lame, and when it’s being dramatic it’s hilariously lame. Kotoura’s mother is an over-the-top villainous bitch to her daughter. If it were better written, they could get some genuinely good drama out of the stressful relationship between Kotoura and her mother who abandoned her. It seems like the show is trying to be serious about this. The first time Kotoura and her mother meet is hilariously inept, reminding me of the show’s infamous first ten minutes of ultra-tragedy. It’s not as ridiculous, but the meeting essentially consists of Kotoura’s mother being dismissive of everything her daughter has accomplished and trying to be as horrible as possible to her.

This show would work better if it were to make the comedy and drama more consistent. It doesn’t grasp how to mix the two, so instead we get awkward portions of both. The actual jokes aren’t particularly witty; at best, they’re not annoying, and at worst they’re extremely repetitive. I could take a shot for every time this show relied on the “Manabe is a perv” gag and get drunk relatively quickly, and that might be the preferable way to watch this show, drunk as a skunk. It’s not a good drama and it’s not a good comedy, but a mediocre hybrid of both. You can watch far worse this season, but that’s faint praise.

7) Vividred Operation (episodes 8-10) (+2)

This is nothing more than a commercial to sell figures. That should have been obviously clear from the get-go, but I need to address this fact because the show has little else going for it. I actually have a nitpick about this; if the purpose is to sell figures, why can the girls only dock and fuse with Akane? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the girls dock with anyone to increase the amount of figures you could sell, or are those going to be exclusive items or something?

Well, regardless of the commercial aspect of the show, the rules of docking are pretty lame. It’s one of the unique aspects of the show, yet there’s an episode where this element is completely removed by having Akane in the hospital for the entire episode. The idea of having the rest of the team take down the monster without her isn’t bad, but it makes it abundantly clear how dependent they are on Akane, and that’s disappointing.

There’s another really dumb character moment between Akane and Rei in which Rei freaks out when Akane discovers her true motives. Rei comes up with the dumbest assumption about Akane that she can possibly come up, because it relies on Rei not knowing that Akane has been taking down the Alone since the start of the show. Considering how much time Rei and Akane have spent with each other and the earlier implications that Rei knew what Akane was doing (hell, she should have at least noticed Akane taking down the Alone considering she was present for every fight), this is idiotic.

That’s the show in a nutshell. It’s a dumb commercial to sell cute girl figures to otaku.  When we finish this show for the next column, I doubt that will change. At least there's stuff to talk about, unlike...

8) Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman (episodes 9-11) (-1)

Call me lazy, but I really don’t want to talk about this show right now. Should I just sum up the plot of the last few episodes? It’s a basic “hero is defeated but comes back better and stronger” story. The show is otherwise still really dull and safe, so I have nothing new to talk about. It ends next week, so when I do my next article, I’ll give a final review and a more complete summary of the show, but I’d rather not waste my time this week by going any further with the show than necessary.


Problem Children Are Coming From Another World, aren’t they? (10 episodes)

This is supposed to be an overall review of the show, but there’s not as much to talk about as I’d like. This is because I’ve realized what my main problem with this show is: it’s a tower defense game in anime form. The only structure this show knows is to throw new demons at the No-Name community, have an arbitrary game with ill-defined rules that ultimately don’t matter because our main characters is essentially Superman with less personality than a brick, and then rinse and repeat. There’s no actual end for the show, essentially just stopping with enough room for a second season, but that’s because there’s no actual plot to end.

Not only is the plot nonexistent, the characters barely qualify as characters. They’re most defined by their power-sets and fantasy tropes. You have the flying brick, the mind controller, and Animal Man as a girl. There’re a few other characters like a bunny girl, a vampire, a Pied Piper with Emma Frost’s wardrobe, etc. They’re all stock to the point of boredom and have little to no motivation or development.

Basically all the show has going for it is a bunch of fantasy tropes that some nerds will eat up, but ultimately it’s not worth sitting through the dull tower defense structure of the show. The animation’s mediocre, characters flat, and overall the show is forgettable aside from the somewhat catchy opening theme song. You can safely skip this show without missing anything.

3/10 (Very Bad)

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