Saturday, April 13, 2013

Crunching the Numbers: Winter Wrap-Up

I'm a bit late with this one, mostly because I've been busy checking out the new spring anime. Don't worry, you won't have to wait long for the next Crunching the Numbers where I give my initial thoughts on the spring season, but you'll be happy to know that I'll have a lot to talk about. But first, I have to give my final thoughts on the winter season.

My overall thoughts on this season are disappointment. I didn't even think that'd be possible given my low expectations for the season, but some shows had given me hope that this season wouldn't be a waste. Truth be told, the season wasn't a complete waste, but not counting Chihayafuru 2, a sequel to an already great show, I ended up liking only 2 shows, and even then I wouldn't be in a rush to rewatch those shows. Well, no point in delaying, let's take a final look at the anime of Winter 2013.

1) Chihayafuru 2 (episodes 11-13)

Actually, I can't give final thoughts on this anime, because it will be continuing into the spring, which I'm really happy about. I won't spend much time on this show in this particular article because of that and I want to focus on my final thoughts on the other shows, but I have a few new things to say about Chihayafuru 2.

The recent karuta match has actually felt slow for once. A fan pointed out that the team was done with the team matches at this point in season one, yet we're still stuck in semifinals. I don't mind the slower feel of the match, as the tension and mindgames are still really high, but some time is wasted with flashbacks, making me wonder if the show is padding. This does make me worry that season 2 won't cover as much story as season 1, and with the manga still not over and the chances of a season 3 up in the air, I hope season 2 ends on a good note. The show's still great, it's Chihayafuru, but there are the occasional flaws.

2) The Unlimited: Hyobu Kyosuke (12 episodes)

So who knew that the best new show of the season (Chihayafuru's a continuation) would be a spin-off of a show I'd never seen? Chalk it up to competent writing and pacing.

While this is by no means an instant classic, it's a perfectly likable little series which has the benefit of being watchable by fans of Zettai Karen Children and people who've never heard of the franchise. That's a hard task to pull off, and I appreciate it when writers can pull that off. I may even check out Zettai Karen Children  at some point because I enjoyed the characters in this so much, though I know it'll lack Andy.

The main selling point of the show, besides the awesome psychic fights, are the characters of Andy and Hyobu. You may recall that I criticized Hyobu for being a bit of a bore at the start of the show, being an unstoppable badass with little else to characterize him, but thankfully the show goes out of his way to explain him and flesh him out. Even though the show is about him, the show smartly makes Andy the character the audience follows for the majority of the series. He's a character who is neither truly human nor ESPer, making him an outcast even among PANDRA and therefore a good point-of-view character for the audience. He doesn't need everything explained to him thankfully, but he's enough of an outsider that his acclimating to his new environment mirrors our own, making the new reveals feel natural. Both him and Hyobu play off each other nicely, and in the final episodes they make for a badass battle couple.

The final episode of the show doesn't change much, which is understandable given the spin-off nature of the show and the fact that the original manga is still on-going, but it ends on a good note with the characters having gone through a pretty good story and some changes. Nothing life-changing or epic, but it's a fitting and satisfying ending, and the overall show is just that, satisfying. If you're looking for a good anime with super-powered fights but don't necessarily want costumed heroes, this is a good choice.

3) Love Live: School Idol Project (13 episodes)

There was some concern that the show was going to end on a downer. I didn't think it would, and thankfully it doesn't, as it really wouldn't fit the show's upbeat can-do-anything attitude.

Love Live is proof that moe as a concept can make for good wholesome entertainment. It's very much like K-On in its themes and characters, having girls doing cute things involving music, but what separates this from stuff like K-On is the driving inspiration of the characters to save the school and meet their goals of being idols. It's still very much cute fluff, but it's fluff with energy to it.

Some of that energy does go away in the final episodes, when the characters realize they don't need to be idols anymore, and there's a lot of moping around and fears that the girls won't be together anymore, but it comes right back as the girls have an epiphany and realize what they want to do and for what reasons. It's super cute and charming, and leaves the viewer with a warm feeling.

I think what I like most about this show is that even though it's not meant for kids (it's meant to sell CDs to otaku who love idols), I could see kids enjoying this show. It lacks the creepy male gaze that other moe shows tend to have. To those not paying attention, they might assume that based on the short skirts on the costumes the show would go for a more sketchy tone, but actually watching the show destroys that perception. The dance sequences are gorgeously animated.... half of the time when they're not using awkward CG, but it's worth it for when the animation is great. The production values are good.

There's not much complexity to Love Live. None of the girls get much development, but they're all likable regardless. The plot is simple, but at least there is an on-going plot that leads to a conclusion. There is room for a season 2, but like The Unlimited, the ending is fitting. I didn't care for idol anime before this show, but Love Live proved that with enough effort and charm, even I can like the genre. It's not a must-see, but if you're looking for something cute, competently made, and lacking the calculated creepiness of other moe shows, Love Live fits the bill.

4) OreShura (13 episodes)

And now on with the disappointment. I didn't expect to be disappointed in a harem show, but OreShura had the advantage of not being a true harem for the first half of the show, and then they added Himeka and Ai, two completely useless characters who only exist to fill in harem archetypes. What's worse is that they drag Chiwa down as well into Harem Land, to the point that Masuzu is the only engaging girl in the main cast. Even Eita manages to be overcome with Harem Protagonist syndrome, stupidly unaware of his harem for most of the show's run and unable to commit to any of them. The plot of the second half of the show is basically "Eita must decide if he really loves his fake girlfriend or one of the three other girls who love them", and I do mean three other girls as they basically just become competition for Masuzu, who is the clear choice for Eita and the show makes it very obvious.

What's sad is that while I did want to see Eita get together with Masuzu, changing the set-up like this makes it a hollow victory. Earlier on, the writing was actually clever, making Chiwa a full-fledged character and making the main conflict be her and Masuzu fighting over Eita. It was very balanced, avoided most of the harem stereotypes, and most importantly funny. There's nothing clever about Himeka and Ai's characters. They're inserted into the story as girls from Eita's past that were never mentioned before and are extra baggage weighing the show down. Worst of all, despite the first half of the final episode seemingly have Eita make a choice about who he loves, it ends with the status quo being reset. Nothing is accomplished!

This show used to have balls. It did such a good job at avoiding the typical rom-com harem problems, and then it tried really hard to be meta about it but only ended up falling into the same stereotypes it once mocked. I can only recommend the first 4 or 5 episodes of the show, because not only are those episodes funny, the production values are some of A1 Pictures' best, but after that stop watching because it goes nowhere. Speaking of going nowhere....

5) Maoyu (12 episodes)

Maoyu, you have some splaining to do. Actually wait, don't explain, you already talk too much.

Maoyu is a great example off "good concept, poor execution". I was taken with Maoyu at the start because it had a fresh idea for a show, a fantasy show that delved into the economics and politics of war. Initially I was able to get over the lack of dynamic characters, and even the long talks about farming techniques and trade, because I thought the ideas presented were pretty good. There's a limit to just how long a show can run on having good ideas without going somewhere with those ideas, and sad to say this show didn't know what to do with itself. It has a non-ending, ultimately not having a satisfying conclusion at all and instead just stopping at a weird point. The show kept introducing new ideas and characters each episode up to the very end. We even finally got to meet the Mage, who I thought was interesting. She has some weird multiple personality thing going on, yet the show never delves into her character. Instead she has the cure for small pox! Yup, she delivers the cure for small pox to the king, and then it's never spoken of again.

The final episode's main conflict deals with the Demon King performing a ceremony that's supposed to "renew her license" as the king, whatever that means. She ends up becoming possessed by a past Demon King, who's kind of a dick and attacks Head Maid, but Hero easily snaps her out of it. Conflict gone, let's party and blow up a mountain! Wait what? No no no, all you guys did was talk about the glories of potatoes and the exchange rate throughout the show, but you never actually ended the war. You know, the goal that was driving the show in the first place?

Even as an action show Maoyu kind of fails. There's a couple of battles seen throughout the show, and they're perfectly fine, entertaining even, but for a show about war it shows very little of the war. I know it's about the economy and trying to fix the kingdoms so they have no reason to fight anymore, but you'd think there'd be more of the war on display. The show alludes to the Hero having several fights off-screen, and they sound cool, so why couldn't we see them, and if you cut those fights out, why didn't you have time to wrap anything up?

A bunch of cool ideas which go nowhere and get old and lack of any real characters really sour the experience. I wanted to love this show, but in the end it's very lacking. Stick to Spice and Wolf for your fantasy economics.

6) Kotoura-san (12 episodes)

If the second half of OreShura has the balancing of an elephant on a teetering plank, the entirety of Kotoura-san has the balance of a drunk manic-depressive. I don't get this show; it never seems to know whether it wants to be a heart-breaking melodrama or a comedic slice-of-life show with a psychic, and it fails at both of those things. Let it be known that drama and comedy can work together; Trigun completely shifts from comedy to drama halfway through its run, but it effectively foreshadows the drama and uses the comedy to warm you up to the characters before horrible things happen to them. Ouran High School Host Club is mostly comedy, but it occasionally dips into melodrama, and does so believably, again because you really like the characters and know how they behave. The characters in Kotoura-san? Well, the ESP Club for the most part is tolerable, but I never felt particularly endeared to them. Actually, the couple of Yuriko and Daichi was sort of likable, and their conflict, the boy not noticing the girl liking him, is an old plot but it affected me more than the main couple of Kotoura and Manabe. Actually, Yuriko's sub-plot of trying to prove ESP is real because her mother, an actual psychic, committed suicide because no one believed her. That's far more probable and sympathetic than Kotoura's arc in the show. Why didn't the show focus on her and Daichi instead?

Instead, we get Kotoura, who never develops as a character despite the first arc of the show being about her moving on, and Manabe, who is supposed to be a likable pervert but is mostly just the butt of the show's one running gag. I've complained about the overuse of Manabe's perverted thoughts as a running gag, because the show rarely does anything funny with them. I wasn't disgusted, I was bored. I like perverted humor, when it's done right, but repeating a joke to death is a job for unfunny Internet comedians. The one good thing I'll say about Manabe is that his heart is in the right place for the most part, and he did stick up for Kotoura as early as episode 1, so that's commendable.

But we have to talk about the main problem with the show, and that's Kotoura herself. You know, now I know why she would get bullied, and it's not for her ESP. It's because she's such a doormat. She eventually sticks up for herself in the final episode, in a brief rewarding moment where she pushes her bitch of a mom, the woman who need I remind you abandoned Kotoura when she was a young girl. This moment of self-respect goes flying out the window when Kotoura reads her mother's mind and realizes her mom regretted leaving her years ago. Sure, this could be a touching moment. It almost was. But Kotoura's conclusion? "It's my fault for not understanding you". No. No no no. You were a little girl who didn't know how to shut her mouth, that was your only problem. The fact that your mother ABANDONED you gives you the right to be angry with her, and it is in no way your fault. The entire point of episode 4 was that you got over this idea that your psychic powers were the cause of all problems, and yet now blaming yourself is what solves this conflict? So victim blaming is apparently okay. There was an earlier episode where someone with multiple personality disorder was attacking people, and when Kotoura confronts her, she comes to same exact conclusion that it's somehow her fault! Did this girl learn nothing from the show?

Not only is Kotoura herself kind of unlikable, the show is really fond of characters doing mean, villainous things and then instantly forgiving them. Moritani, a girl with a crush on Manabe, had some goons BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF HIM and send him to the hospital, which was all part of some convoluted plan to get rid of Kotoura. For the rest of the show, she's part of the ESP club and friends with the main cast. That attacker I mentioned earlier? Police easily forgives her. Kotoura's mother? I don't even need to elaborate on how easily forgiven her character is. Is the show serious or not? It's comedy half of the time, so is its usage of easily forgiving characters just part of its weird sense of humor? Well, I don't think it's funny. I think it's lazy.

While this is not the worst show of the season, it's easily the one that aggravated me the most due to its inconsistent humor and drama and deplorable implications when it comes to the "growth" of its title character. For every time I actually laughed at a joke or found a character moment touching, the show found 5 ways to piss me off.

7) Vividred Operation (12 episodes)

I hate the power of friendship so much. Yes, friends are a wonderful thing, and I'd hate to live without them, but do I want to see an entire show about preaching friendship that doesn't understand what the power of friendship actually is? Hell no.

The finale of Vividred Operation is both painfully dull and painfully sweet. The Alone (I finally get why they're called that, and it's really dumb), have unleashed their ultimate monster, and Rei, who's revealed to be not of this world, has been absorbed by it. Our heroes are told they have no chance to defeat the monster and save Rei, but they know they'll win because of their friendship with Rei and yadayadayada. They beat the monster, save Rei, and everyone's happy the end.

Truth be told, I should have dropped this show ages ago. I only kept it because I thought it might get hilariously bad, and there are a couple of moments like that, but the show is mostly just two-dimensional girls showing off their butts and talking about how wonderful friendship is. You could replace all of their voices with Tea from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged and the effect would be the same, in addition to feeling like Chris Hanson's watching you. Even the magical girl fights aren't fun, ruined by the fact that no one cares about the heroes because they have such stock personalities. The show wallows proudly in cliches, offering nothing new and exciting for the viewer. I won't lose any sleep over telling you not to watch this.

Since I finished and posted my final thoughts on Problem Children weeks ago, there's no review for it here, but if you're curious as to where it would rank among the shows I finished this season, I'd put it just below Vividred Operation and right above Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman. Though the difference in quality between these shows isn't much. They're all pretty colossal wastes of time if you ask me.

9) Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman (12 episodes)

I will, however, probably fall asleep if I have to talk about this show anymore.

I never thought Monkey Punch would be a detriment to a show, but he actually is. The designs are fine, don't worry, but when you see those character designs, what do you see? You see Lupin III, and when I see Lupin III, I expect fun shenanigans and great adventure. Roman tries to have some fun shenanigans... try being the key word here. Most of the show is pointless one-shots about Roman trying to find or steal something for a client. Lupin was built around one-shot adventures as well, but it had insane plots and lovable characters to make that format work. Roman lacks the charm and creativity of Lupin.

Eventually Roman tries to have an ongoing plot near the end. It sort of set it up near the beginning of the show, but it was quickly forgotten for lame adventure and dull characters. The plot itself is pretty dull too, which is disappointing because it's about Japan meeting American for the first time. That was kind of a big deal. I will say one thing in defense of the show: Cyborg Admiral Perry. It's really stupid, but it's the only time I've seen Cyborg Admiral Perry. I guess that counts for something.

I recommend skipping to the last episode just to see that. If you're thinking of watching Roman, go watch Lupin III instead.

All the shows reviewed this season are available to watch on Crunchyroll.

There you have it, the winter is over. I'll continue to watch Chihayafuru, but next week I'll have a ton of new shows to talk about, and I actually like quite a few of them. Will it make up for a season of mediocrity? Find out on the next Crunching the Numbers!

1 comment:

  1. With the exception of Roman, Vividred, and Chihayafuru, I'll probably watch all these shows anyway. Besides, the bipolar aspect of Kotoura-san interests me.