1) Flowers of Evil (episodes 1-3)
School can be dull, monotonous, and horrible. This is the life that Takao Kasuga lives, a student with a crush on a girl named Saeki and an obsession with the real-life book Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire. One day, he steals Saeki’s gym clothes when no one is looking, except one girl notices him. Nakamura, an outcast with a dirty mouth, blackmails Takao into making a “contract” with him. No, she’s not asking him to become a magical girl, but she’s just as sinister as Kyubey.
Sinister is a great way to describe this show. The score is quiet and subtle, nonexistent at times and occasionally swelling into eerie strings and winds. The plotting is on the slow side; Takao doesn’t steal the gym clothes until the end of the first episode, and Nakamura doesn’t ask him for the contract until the end of the next episode. It’s planned for only 13 episodes, but the manga’s been going on for several volumes now; the pacing could become an issue, but the slow burn only adds to the show’s dark creepy atmosphere.
Okay, there’s no way to avoid talking about this; this anime is rotoscoped. For those who don’t know, rotoscoping is a technique in which the artists don’t create the characters from scratch; instead, live actors act out the scenes, and the artists draw over the live action footage to create animated characters. It’s a technique nearly as old as animation itself, dating back to the Betty Boop era, but it’s rarely used to animate an entire show, and for good reason; it makes the characters look weird. Cartoons don’t move the way people do, and when you see a cartoon moving like a person, it creates the uncanny valley effect. Personally, I’m not a fan of the technique; blame it on seeing Ralph Bakshi abuse the technique in several of his films and never making it work, but here? I have to give ZEXCS kudos for the sheer balls to take a popular manga like Flowers of Evil and completely change the artstyle like this, and yet it’s more faithful to the intent of the manga this way.
Flowers of Evil doesn’t want to portray the idealized moe version of school that we’re so used to in our anime. The characters actually resemble people, some of them even look ugly. Guess what, not everyone looks like a beauty model. It’s refreshing to see an anime attempt a realistic tone such as this. Now, one might ask why this wasn’t done in live action; in fact, the director wanted to do the manga in live action as he thought a typical anime adaptation wouldn’t suit the manga. The compromise of rotoscope was a double-edged sword; it was bound to piss people off for not looking like their moe blob schoolgirl shows or the manga, but on the other hand it’s created a huge reaction in which everyone must see this show for being so unique. I think the rotoscoping works primarily for two reasons: one, it is different, and anime needs variety, and two, it simultaneously creates a realistic and creepier tone for the story, thus enhancing the already realistic and creepy tone of the source material.
Someone has made an anime that no one else would dare to make, and the very idea of something truly new has excited me. Everyone should see at the least first episode of this show, if only to try something new and see how they feel about it. Variety is the spice of life, and this particular spice was fantastic.
Flowers of Evil is available streaming on Crunchyroll
2) Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (episodes 1-3)
Far in the future, humanity has advanced far into the stars and formed the Galactic Alliance of Humankind and a central colony called Avalon. While seemingly a utopia society, the Galactic Alliance is stuck in an endless war against the Hideauze, alien life forms that threaten the progress of humanity. In a battle against the Hideauze, Ensign Ledo and his sentient mecha named Chamber fall into a wormhole that leads them to a strange planet full of life: Earth. Specifically, he ends up on a fleet of salvaging vessels named Gargantia.
Mecha fans have it good this season; they have not one, not two, but three mecha titles to choose from this season, but this is definitely my favorite of the lot. From the first two minutes, I was hooked on the show. A mysterious narrator gives us the details on the Galactic Alliance in a way similar to a propaganda speech, referring to the humans as comrades and praising them while demonizing the hell out of the Hideauze. One might be reminded of the film Starship Troopers (the awesome one by Paul Verhoeven and not the animated films or sequels) with its similar usage of a human-alien war with its fair share of propaganda. However, that’s only a small part of the show, as the focus seems to be on Ledo ending up on Earth, which according to Chamber was supposed to have become inhabitable years ago.
The humans of Gargantia contrast well with the Galactic Alliance’s attitudes and even dress code. The humans of Gargantia tend to wear brighter colors and lack uniforms as opposed to the dark-colored and uniform Galactic Alliance, and they’re more laid back as opposed to the militant and rank-based Alliance. It makes for some conflict between Ledo and the Gargantia when he first arrives. Chamber himself is a pretty cool mecha; his method of propelling himself involves creating an energy orb of sorts above his head, similar to a float.
There hasn’t been much action outside of the opening battle, but Gargantia is so far a good example of sci-fi writing, presenting neat ideas of the future and a great setting and story, and coming off of the recent sci-fi anime Psycho-Pass, it’s nice to know that Gen Urobuchi isn’t repeating himself with his major themes, at least not for now. The visuals as provided by Production IG are stunning; the main colors of Gargantia are bright oranges and blues, which pop nicely among the endless sea and rusting vessels. Overall, Gargantia is a solid package, sure to suck in mecha enthusiasts and general sci-fi fans in.
Gargantia is available streaming on Crunchyroll
3)The Devil is a Part-Timer (episodes 1-3)
Its demons vs knights in a fantasy realm ruled by none other but Satan himself! In an epic battle at his castle, Satan and his loyal minion Alsiel are forced to flee, but they swear to conquer the land once again. Cut to them warping to where else, Earth. Stranded and unable to use their magic, they’re forced to live like normal people and get part-time jobs. Satan swears to eventually conquer this world as well once he’s earned enough money, but has he grown accustomed to his new life as a human?
If someone weren't aware that this was supposed to be a comedy, you might mistake this for a serious show at first with the fantasy war. It only makes the shift to the human world all the more hilarious. The concept of Satan working at McDonald’s (well, they call it MgRonald’s instead, but you know what it is) alone is funny, but the writing and pacing of the show is witty enough to have you laughing every minute. Jokes come and go at a moment’s notice, and the show never slows down. The story’s no slouch either; as of episode 2 Satan (going by the name of Maou in the human world) encounters a hero from his world who’s come to slay him; hilariously she’s lost her magic as well and is working at a phone company, and she’s making a lot more money than Maou.
The problem with reviewing a comedy is that merely repeating the jokes does the show no service, but trust me when I say this is the funniest show of the season. The art and animation hold up as well; it’s not uncommon for anime comedies to look cheaper than their action and drama counterparts, but it looks just as nice as those other shows; the battle at Satan’s castle in particular looks like it were ripped straight out of a high-quality action show. If you’re looking for a high concept comedy that actually lives up to the premise, this is your show.
4) Chihayafuru 2 (episodes 14-16) (-3)
Remember last time when I talked about the pacing being a bit on the slow side? Well, the semi-finals lasted THREE episodes. Mind you, by shonen tournament standards this is nothing, but for Chihayafuru, it’s weird to see them take this long to get through one match. It’s a good match, one with lots of tension and a surprise victory for one character near the end, but given the amount of flashbacks used in the match, this could have easily been two episodes instead. Hell, in episode 15, most of the time is spent hyping up the final match, and while it does help us get into the mindset of the opposing team and lend itself well to humor, the show doesn’t have much time left and we’re still at the national team matches. The individual matches haven’t even started yet!
Don’t get me wrong, the show is still great; every character is likable in some way and you really feel their struggles, but knowing that a season 3 is highly unlikely, I’d love to know if the show will end on a satisfying note and not a “read the manga” ending. Also, episode 16 is a recap episode. Yep.
Chihayafuru seasons 1 and 2 are available streaming on Crunchyroll
5)Attack on Titan (episodes 1-3)
Far in the future, instead of reaching the stars humanity lives in a medieval style city surrounded by 100 feet walls. There is peace so long as the humans don’t leave the walls, but this changes when the Titans attack and finally break through the outer wall. Well, I’m sure the titans won’t harm the humans, right? They can be reasoned with, or not, as they try to consume every human in sight.
Attack on Titan was perhaps the most anticipated title of the spring, and I’m glad to say it’s not a disappointing show so far. Thanks to the bombastic direction by Tetsuro Araki, who previously worked on the similarly energetic though not as action-packed Death Note, Attack on Titan aims to please the audience with an overwhelming sense of scale by introducing the titans as major threats from the first episode 1. The designs of the titans are a bit weird; some of them have rather dopey faces, but they become downright creepy when they’re chomping down on a human. Some of the titans lack FLESH, as if it had been burnt off, which is truly unsettling.
However, that's not to say there aren’t problems. The character designs have thick outlines, a look that normally doesn’t stick out in comics but can look odd in animation, and it’s a bit distracting here. The animation is amazing in places, but when the action isn’t happening the characters are largely static, sometimes relying on camera pans over still images. Also, there isn’t much to the characters yet. Eren’s our protagonist, a young boy who wants to join the Survey Corps and stop the titan, but he mostly spends the first two episodes yelling about the titans and being angry. There’s also his sister Mikasa and his best friend Armin, but they haven’t had much to do yet either. Given the nature of the first two episodes, which is mostly world-building and action, this is forgivable.
Episode 3 thankfully takes a break from the action to focus on the characters, as they begin training to become soldiers. We’re introduced to more of the supporting cast as well, and already relationships and rivalries are beginning to form, which will no doubt affect the rest of the story. By far my favorite character in the show so far is Sasha, a trainee with an obsession, and no, she’s not just a typical big eater given her backstory.
So far Attack on Titan is looking to be a fun fantasy romp with some grisly imagery for good measure. I’d say the hype for this show has been well-deserved.
Attack on Titan is available on Crunchyroll
6) Devil Survivor 2 (episodes 1-3)
It’s an ordinary day in Japan for our three high school students. Get on subway, get an email video showing you how you’re going to die, a demon attack, you know, another day in Japan. It turns out that a group known as the Septentriones are invading Tokyo, but fortunately our three young heroes receive their own demons via cellphone, and they fight back. A government agency known as JP’s that knows about the demons appears to protect the city and assist our main characters, but not much is known about them.
With a name like Devil Survivor 2, you might think this is a sequel and would thus not qualify for Crunching the Numbers (ignoring Chihayafuru 2 because I love Chihayafuru). However, it’s actually an adaptation of the video game of the same name, which was a sequel but had a standalone story, and that’s the case here. The show is not shy about its video game roots; the monster summoning mechanic is as old as Pokemon, and between commercial breaks it shows off the status and bio of each character much like a video game stat screen. To the show’s credit, this never gets in the way of the plot; exposition happens but it never slows down the story and I never feel like I’m watching a game tutorial. In one episode, a character purchases a demon on his phone through an auction, which seems to be straight from the game, but it casually happens during a scene without exposition and doesn’t slow down.
So far the characters are pretty likable. The main character, Hibiki, fits the hero archetype pretty well, but it’s clear he has a personality unlike the mute protagonists of many RPGs; it helps that he speaks of course. His friend Daichi plays the role of lovable loser well, and everyone else is fine. The animation is pretty good, and seems to be better than previous Shin Megami Tensei adaptation Persona 4. As an action show, it’s very solid and has enough variance in the demon designs to keep you engaged. I should note that the character design is being done by Suzuhito Yasuda of Durarara fame; most of the characters have that thin stylish look to them, and the opening sequence for the show is also reminiscent of Durarara, introducing each character with their name on-screen.
Normally video game adaptations aren’t worth watching (oh hai Devil May Cry), but this one seems to be pretty solid. I haven’t played the game it’s based on, but it does a good job of welcoming new viewers in by not overloading them with info from the game and letting them settle into this setting, and I’m sure fans of the video game will enjoy seeing their favorite characters competently animated.
Devil Survivor 2 is available on Crunchyroll
7) Mushibugyo (episodes 1-3)
Japan is being invaded by giant bugs! Luckily there’s the Edo Bug Magistrate Office, which has the strongest warriors in all of Japan! Our main character, Jinbe, wants to be the strongest warrior ever, and joins the Office as a way to get stronger, but he gets no respect anyone. See, new recruits never last more than week, so there’s an air of elitism among the Office, but slowly Jinbe is growing on them with his tough attitude and need to prove himself!
Welcome back to Shonen Land, where the heroes are hot-blooded and the hairstyles are crazy! Mushibugyo has no pretense about being a dumb shonen action series, but thankfully it’s very competent at being one, a trend that seems to be strong this season. While the characters all fit neatly into their little shonen archetypes, they’re all likable for the most part. In the second episodes, there’s actually a bit of development between Jinbe and the ninja Hibachi, who bond over their mutual like of the Office’s greatest warrior, Mugai; it’s actually kind of adorable.
Mushibugyo’s not going to win awards for plot and character this season, but it caught my eye with its stylish presentation. The opening colors the characters with some thick shading around the outlines, to the point that they resemble characters straight out of Redline, and each episode opens with a preview of a scene later in the episode presented in black and white. It’s as if someone saw Rurouni Kenshin and thought “yeah, I can make that, but I’ll make it look cooler and not go on for 100 episodes”. This is Seven Arcs Pictures first time doing animation production (to my knowledge), and if this is what they can do, I’d love to see what they could do with a stronger script. I don’t expect much from Mushibugyo, but the stylish direction and unabashed love of the shonen genre definitely put me in good spirits.
Mushibugyo is available on Crunchyroll
8) Valvrave the Liberator (episodes 1-3)
From Sunrise studios, it’s yet another mecha show! Are you surprised?
While Gargantia is my preferred mecha show of the season, Valvrave has managed to carve a nice niche for itself. The plotting is standard mecha fare; it’s the year TC 71 (a fancy term for THE FUTURE), and Earth has been split into several space nations, two of which are the Dorssian Military Alliance and the neutral nation JIOR. Haruto is a normal high school student living in Jior when suddenly the Dorssians attack in an attempt to annex Jior. Luckily, Haruto finds an experimental mech called Valvrave that allows him to fight back. Oh, and it turns him into a vampire. You know, like mechs tend to do.
So far Valvrave comes across as the dumber but more fun cousin of Gundam. Plot-wise it’s not much different (young boy fights invading army with mecha), but the twist of him becoming a vampire (okay, not really a vampire since he can go into sunlight, but he is essentially immortal and bites people on the neck) is kind of fun. Dialogue and character-wise the show’s nothing special; Haruto has some understandable angst at least, and the Dorssian spies are a bit of fun, particularly the headband kid who’s enthusiastic about killing. The opening promises that there will be more mechs like Valvrave, and the show has set up a decent rivalry between Haruto and a character named L-Elf (yes, only in anime would a person have that name).
It doesn’t have anywhere near the same ambitions as Gargantia, but as a stupid but ludicrous counterpoint to it, it has a reason to exist this season. The gimmicky nature of it could rub off fast, but it’s certainly better than the last mecha show of this season.
Valvrave is available on Crunchyroll
9) Arata the Legend (episodes 1-3)
Have you ever had a friend who turned out not to be your friend? This is how Arata Hinohara’s first day of high school begins, as a bully from his middle school days convinces Arata’s last friend to betray him. Meanwhile, in a fantasy world, another boy named Arata has been chosen to be the next ruler of the realm. However, the ruler must be a princess, so Arata crossdresses to overcome this problem and hopefully avoid detection. The plan goes awry when the current princess is assassinated and Arata is blamed for it. As he runs from the guards, he ends up in a magical forest which switches him with the Arata of our world. As if Hinohara’s day could get any worse.
Based on Yuu Watase’s manga of the same name, Arata the Legend shares much in common with her previous works, particularly Fushigi Yuugi with the normal person trapped in fantasy land plot. What sets this apart from her other work is the intended audience: the pretty boys will probably still get the girls to watch, but this is meant to be a shonen series. The main character’s (we’ll refer to the Japanese Arata as Hinohara to avoid confusion) more active than the female protagonist of Fushigi Yuugi; already in the first episode he’s obtained a magical sword called a Hayagami and managed to fight back against his pursuers. To draw one more Fushigi Yuugi comparison, the fantasy world invokes a magical Chinese look, with ever character wearing elaborate and beautiful robes.
So far Arata is a decent entry in the “trapped in another world” genre. Hinohara’s angst is understandable, and he’s not completely useless as a character, and if you like Watase’s designs then you’ll like the look of the show. It looks a little old among the slicker shows out this season, but you'll live. Not much else to say at the moment, but it’s entertained me enough to keep for now.
Arata the Legend is available to watch on Crunchyroll
10) Muromi-san (episodes 1-3)
Takurou, nickname “Takkun”, is a high school boy who loves to fish. One day, he catches an annoying mermaid named Muromi who can’t leave Takkun alone. She mentions being thousands of years old and being responsible for events such as the Kamikaze that saved Japan from the Mongols. Takkun doesn’t show much interest in her, but she keep coming back, and sometimes with friends.
What’s unique about Muromi-san is that it’s the only anime this season that airs in 12 minute episodes as opposed to the usual 24 minute episodes. This was probably a wise choice on the part of the creators, as the show doesn’t have much going for it. It’s purely a comedy, relying on slapstick and jokes about Muromi’s age and status as a mermaid, and not all the jokes hit home. Episode 1 made me laugh a few times (“don’t ask me, I’m just a starfish!”). Episode 2 was a bit duller, introducing Muromi’s friends and some historical in-jokes, but otherwise not as funny as the first episode.
Still, in small doses, it’s an okay show. Probably the best part of the show is the opening sequence, in which Muromi and her mermaid friends try to protect the Earth from a meteor. For the few laughs it gave me, I’ll keep it for now.
Muromi-san is available on Crunchyroll
11) The Severing Crime Edge (episodes 1-3)
Kiri Haimura loves cutting hair more than anything, to the point that it’s practically a fetish for him. As if fate were on his side, he meets a girl named Iwai Mushiyanokouji, who is cursed with long hair. Nothing can cut her hair except for Kiri’s scissors, which turn out to be a special item known as the Severing Crime Edge. It seems like Iwai’s problems are fixed, but things only get worse when serial killers who possess similar tools to the Crime Edge known as Killing Goods start attacking her. It’s up to Kiri to protect her with his own Killing Goods.
Okay, first I have to mention that having to say “Killing Goods” over and over again is rather silly, and the same goes for the other made up terms in the show like the Insteads. As for the show itself, it feels like a weird blend of a standard shonen fighting series and Mysterious Girlfriend X (yeah, that one anime with the “romantic” drool fetish). While not as creepy as MGX, it definitely has that same vibe of “does the author have some weird kinks?”. Kiri’s obsession with hair could be considered acceptable, but the level at which he expresses it is borderline psychotic. Iwai is a moe character through and through; innocent, needing to be constantly protected, and appeals to the main character’s interests. Whether this bothers you or not will tell you if you’re the target audience for this show.
As it stands, so far I can’t quite say Crime Edge is good; rather, I’m transfixed by just how strange and stupid it is so far. The characters don’t act like real people, and the premise is incredibly ludicrous and a tad convoluted. It’s definitely more interesting than something like Mysterious Girlfriend X (once you get past the spit in that show, it’s a dull rom-com). The uncertainty of where this show is going is enough to keep me watching.
Severing Crime Edge is available on Crunchyroll
12) Karneval (episodes 1-2)
The first episode kind of reminds me of the first episode of Baccano; it involves a train and it’s really confusing. I got the basics of the show down; there’s an organization called Circus, basically a bunch of superpowered people with a circus theme that combat superpowered criminals and monsters. They happen upon a thief named Gareki and a young white-haired boy named Nai, and due to their special skills, they take an interest in them and bring them aboard their flying ship.
When I first heard of the show, it was described as a josei series, but it honestly feels more like a shonen series based on the set-up. The female appeal seems to lie mostly in the art direction, and I must admit there are some pretty men in this show, but the art should appeal to both genders; the color design is very bright and stands out, the characters are all very distinct, and the animation is fluid where it matters. It makes the first couple of episodes easy to swallow despite their otherwise confusing nature. We’re not really sure of the motivations of the characters just yet aside from their occupations; Nai and Gareki are the biggest mystery of the show. Hopefully later episodes will flesh them out; there’s nothing wrong with being ambiguous for the sake of mystery, but more info up front would be nice.
It goes to show that being pretty does matter when it comes to holding my attention. Had the art design not been nearly as good, I might have considered dropping this early, but for now I’ll keep watching.
13) Henneko – The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat (episode 1-2)
I recall an anime from last summer being about a perverted high school student who was open about his pervertedness. This show takes that one step further by prevented us with a perverted main character by the name of Yokodero Yoto who wants to be able to talk about his pervertedness. Thankfully for him, there’s a cat statue that can take away his mind’s filter, thus letting him freely talk about the things that come to mind. However, this backfires when he starts saying perverted things in front of everyone without any control, and he ends up being labeled “the Hentai Prince”. He wishes to have his façade back, but the cat statue already gave it away to someone else who needed it. Lucky for him, he’s not alone as a girl named Tsukiko, who lost the ability to make facial expressions to the stony cat, decides to help him find the person who has his façade if Yoto can help her get her facial expressions back.
Given the premise and main character, the show is on the raunchy side. The opening sequence features close-ups on the girls’ boobs, butts, and navels, and there are some fanservice shots, but the show’s not nearly as offensive to women as one might think. Yoto’s a pervert and he knows it, and he does like to leer at pretty girls, but on the scale of deplorable perverts, he ranks pretty low. The fact that he doesn’t want to be spewing out perverted things 24/7 shows that he’s not a complete idiot and has a little decency, which is a bit refreshing. Tsukiko’s lack of emotional expression in both her voice and face could get tiring, however. It makes sense that Yoto would have a character who suffered a similar fate to him to talk to, but a character lacking emotion doesn’t sound fun.
The main problem with the show is that the concept might not be able to fill out a single cour; by the end of the episode they’ve already figured out where Yoto’s façade has gone. Thankfully, there’s enough humor in the first episode to give me some hope for this show. The ending in which Yoto gives a ridiculous love confession to a girl is worth a few laughs. It’s far from a masterpiece; it doesn’t do much to stand out from other sex comedies out there, but the concept is neat enough and the jokes hit often enough to make it onto my list for now.
Henneko is available to watch on Crunchyroll
14) Majestic Prince (episodes 1-3) (Dropped)
So okay, have you heard this one yet? A bunch of teenagers are training as mecha pilots and… oh wait, you have heard this one? Good, I can keep this short then.
If Gargantia is smartly written and Valvrave is dumb fun, Majestic Prince is the dumb mecha show trying to be the smart show. It takes itself mostly serious with some lame comedy thrown in. However, the setting is all too familiar. Our teenage protagonists really not likable; they don’t get along well with each other, and while that could be used for some interesting exchanges, it’s damaged by the generic archetypes. You have the leader, the nerd, the pervert, the cute girl, the serious girl, blah blah blah. It doesn’t help that the character designs (done by Hisashi Hirai of Gundam Seed fame), aren’t appealing. The character have this weird squareness to their faces, often lack noses or have huge noses, and somehow manage to look bland despite not being typical anime designs. Apart from the “what’s wrong with your face?!?” moments, I could barely pay attention.
Look, we’re blessed to have three mecha shows of different flavors this season, because we can pick whether we want something like Gargantia (good science fiction story) or Valvrave (stupid fun gimmicks). With those two shows existing, there’s not much point to watching Majestic Prince.
Majestic Prince is available to watch on Crunchyroll
15) Zettai Boei Leviathan (episodes 1.5) (Dropped)
Yes, that episodes 1.5 thing is intentional. Why? Because I could not make it through the second episode of this, which should give you a hint to my feelings on this show.
Based on a mobile Japanese game of the same name, Zettai Boei Leviathan is the latest show from Gonzo. Man, remember when Gonzo made good shows like Ganktutsuou and Welcome to the NHK? In the magical land of Aquafall, there are three dragon girls who hang out and do cute things, until a fairy shows up and tells them that the world is in danger, and she’s recruiting people with magic to form a defense squad. Naturally, the dragon girls… continue to do to cute things and not care about the world’s safety. But hey, the girls are cute, right?
This show is painfully dull. The fantasy setting is completely wasted on the slice-of-life stuff. I imagine the girls are part-dragon (they grow wings and tails when they want to), probably to appeals to someone out there, and some people might like that the show is nothing but cute girls doing cute things, but there are better shows with cute girls out there, like last season’s Love Live. You know why Love Live was entertaining? There was actually a reason to give a damn for the characters beyond “cute girls doing cute things”. Even K-On, the poster child for the genre, had more urgency than this. There’s far better fantasy shows out this season, no need to watch this one.
Zettai Boei Leviathan is available to watch on Crunchyroll
These aren't on the list, but I also checked out Photo Kano and My Teen Romance Comedy is a SNAFU. The reason I don't talk about them more is that I just didn't think they were interesting enough to talk about. I also did not check out Date A Live because everyone unanimously agreed it was horrible, and I simply never got around to watching Red Data Girl because my list was already big enough.