It’s been about two and a half months since I last did one of these things. My “Where Things Stand” blog entries are meant to be an interim status report card on the various anime shows that I am currently watching: The good shows, the bad shows, what I have dropped and what I have finished up since the last update. For those of ya’ll interested, my last “Where Things Stand” post was back on November 18th, and the last one before that on October 7th. Anyway, without further ado, on with the show!
- First is a look at continuing shows that I am currently watching. This only include shows that I have watched two or more episodes, which would include stuff from the Winter, Spring and Summer 2011 Seasons, but exclude stuff from the Fall 2011 Season (because I am still sampling the first episodes of those shows at this point). This will be ranked from “best” to “worst”.
- Second is a look at shows I have completed since the last time I did my last “Where Things Stand” post. This can include continuing series or feature-length movies, and these shows receive a Final Letter Grade that sums up the entire experience.
- Third is a very quick look forward at what comes next, so you will have an idea of what to expect over the next couple of months.
1. SHOWS I AM CURRENTLY WATCHING:
Mawaru Penguin Drum (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
Earlier I had said that Mawaru Penguin Drum might not be the best show of the season, but so far it is the most enjoyable show of the season. Even though I still don’t have a clear idea of exactly where this show is heading, I am enjoying the journey on getting there. All of the characters are interesting, even the super-psycho stalker girl, and the antics of the penguins are a nice touch of comic relief. My only concern is that not a whole lot seems to be happening so far, so I hope a clear plot emerges soon. (Current Grade: 9 out of 10)
Usagi Drop (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
On the other hand, I would be safe to tag Usagi Drop as the best show of the season. Not only is it an effective social commentary on the way current Japanese working society views personal and family obligations, but I am finding the smaller story of the interactions between the totally-adorable Rin and the lovable-yet-clueless Daikichi more fun than any moral it may be presenting. Take note, Japan, *this* is how you should be doing d’awww-cuteness shows instead of yet another derivative moe clone. (Current Grade: 9 out of 10)
Ano Hana (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
Surprisingly, at least to me, is to see how this iyashikei (healing) anime series has bubbled to the top of the list. While it is clearly a blatant tear-jerker meant to play heavily on your emotions, it does it so well. And, sure, while some of the characters draw upon some standard character stereotypes, the all have proven to be more complicated than initially meets the eye, and have undergone some honest-to-god character growth. (Current Grade: 8 out of 10)
Nichijou (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
It’s a hit-and-miss comedy show, but I think I am starting to “get it”…or it may be hitting on all cylinders. In any case, I often realize that I’m unconsciously grinning while watching the sublime antics. Perhaps what makes it work so well is that the people producing this really seem to be enjoying themselves, and it really shows. They’re in the groove, and I think I’ve been sold on this unique blend of overstated/understated humor. (Current Grade: 8 out of 10)
No. 6 (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
I will admit that I am a little bit of a sucker for dystopian future sci-fi stories, and this feels a whole lot like an updated anime version of Logan’s Run (it even has a pseudo-seventies sci-fi feel to it, too). The story is moving along at a brisk pace, and so far my fears of blatant b/l overtones has been mollified. But the continued naivete of the main character is starting to get a bit annoying, so I hope he’ll get a grip on reality and grim up a bit. (Current Grade: 7 out of 10)
C – The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
While this has not turned into the epic, thought-provoking series I had hoped it would be, there are still some interesting ideas about the balance of power, with the power of money and the power of the future. The “battles”, however, still have the feel of an overblown Pokemon melee, and it really does get overly introspective as the main character has the tendency to overthink things which leads to indecision and inaction. I really, really hope that this ends up going somewhere in the end, I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time watching this. (Current Grade: 7 out of 10)
Natsume Yuujinchou Season 3 (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
It’s a light-hearted and light-weight show — and unlike so many other multi-season shows out there, I’ve been able to jump right in the middle without the overbearing requirement of watching the previous seasons. So far it’s been more about mood and feel rather than a straightforward plot with a clear direction, and I wonder if it will continue with a monster-of-the-week episodic format, or if it will grow into something more substantial. (Current Grade: 7 out of 10)
Steins;Gate (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
Six episodes in, and I feel like this show is painfully crawling along, revealing one tiny morsel of story at a time. So far, it has been held together with the brilliantly over-the-top mad scientist routine of Rintarou, as well as the still-distant promise of a potentially mind-twisting sci-fi time-travel alternate-dimension story. But the barbed wordplay and personality clashes are starting to wear a bit thin, I hope we get out of the first act soon. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Deadman Wonderland (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
Ah, this is best when you just throw reason and logic out the window and enjoy it the same as you would a mindless action flick. Put yourself in the mindset of Demolition Man, or The Running Man, or Total Recall or Escape from New York and you have the right frame of mind. I guess this might serve as a good antidote to the cerebral inactivity of Steins;Gate. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Hanasaku Iroha (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
Oh, the bloom is off the rose. For a show that started out so very strong in the first two episodes, it has sort of squandered much of its potential by devolving into a by-the-numbers situational comedy. Mind you, that lowers it down from “wonderful” to “just plain good”, since the characters themselves are what drive this show, and the characters (especially Hana) are delightful to watch. But I cannot hide my disappointment that this is not turning out to be the gem of the year, and I had hoped. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Yondemasu-yo, Azazel-san (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
Nothing special, just a slapstick wacky comedy and I’m glad that it’s not chock-a-block with lowbrow distasteful perversion jokes that torpedoed Hen Zemi. Well, it’s still lowbrow humor, but at least I find myself occasionally chuckling at it rather than making faces at the screen in disgust. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Hyouge Mono (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 6
When Hyouge Mono starts to get caught up in the weeds of internecine political squabbles based on centuries-old Japanese history, it really drags. But when it returns back to our antiheroic main character as he stumbles through some of the biggest events of his time, that’s when it shines. The more we see of Furuta’s vainglorious naivete, the better. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Kamisama Dolls (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
I haven’t yet figured out whether to take this show seriously, or to view it as more of a comedy. And part of the problem is that the show itself doesn’t seem to have figured that out, either. On one hand, we have silly moments of Utao’s moe clumsiness, and then a moment later we have Kyouhei icily spitting daggers at Aki about some dark, deadly event in the past. And let’s not forget the overabundant distraction of Boobino. I’m on the fence with this one. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Kamisama no Memo-chou (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
I would hope that this would be a bit of a more serious action/adventure/detective show, but it’s hard to take it seriously when the characters themselves seem like they are playing a game…even when dealing with some pretty heady topics like suicide, extortion, money laundering and the yakuza. I don’t like the softer direction this is going. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Nurarihyon no Mago Season 2 (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
The first season was somewhat juvenile, but not bad. The good news is that with the second season it looks like they may have kicked it up another notch, which is a welcome development. I especially like how the most plain vanilla boring character of the first season, Yura, suddenly turned into one of the most interesting characters. So far I’m sticking around to see what happens next, but I’m not expecting greatness. (Current Grade: 6 out of 10)
Ikoku Meiro no Croisee (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
So far this has mostly been an exercise in putting the most “moe” character in the history of anime on a pedestal so that everyone can coo and purr over how insanely cute she is. But that’s hardly something you can base an entire series upon. Oh, there’s also the interest of what nineteenth century France was like, and also the culture clash between Japan and France — again not enough to carry a full-length season. So…where’s the plot? Give me a reason to keep watching this, please. (Current Grade: 5 out of 10)
Gosick (Winter 2011 Season) through Episode 12
Speaking of shows that took a long time to get nowhere, Gosick really didn’t live up to my expectations, so I’m dropping it at the halfway point. It was best when it was just Victorique and Kujo playing off each other, and at its worst when they were caught up in Scooby-Doo mysteries, or when Kujo or Drillhead behaved like blithering idiots. Far too many facepalm-worthy moments for my taste. (Grade: 5 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
Tiger and Bunny (Spring 2011 Season) through Episode 5
What I wanted from this was a somewhat satirical look at the commercialization of superheroes in a modern society, and we did get some of that. But mostly, it usually devolved into Kotetsu behaving unbelievably stupid and being all hard-headed about it. It’s hard to keep watching a show when you hate every single character. (Grade: 4 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
Dantalian no Shoka (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
I was hoping this would be a smarter version of Gosick, and it did have some things going for it. First of all, the ingenue character was not an exiled shut-in, and the male lead turned out to be an intelligent, capable person. Furthermore, they replaced implausible mysteries with supernatural action and adventure. On the other hand, Dalian turned out to be the tsundere of tsunderes (ugh), and swapping out the mysteries for adventure did not eliminate ‘teh stupid’. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic, but I was quite pissed after the third episode. (Grade: 4 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
Nekogami Yaoyorozu (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 3
Oh, I wanted this to be funny, and the first episode showed some potential, and I mused it could have “sleeper hit” status. But the second and third episodes left me stone-faced. Can’t really put my finger on it, but nothing was clicking at all. (Grade: 4 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
Blood-C (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 2
Clamp at its Clamp-iest! And that is NOT A GOOD THING. Two episodes, and each one is divided (literally) into night and day. First you have the most recent version of Saya acting all dopey and clumsy like the ditzy schoolgirl that she is. Then at night she’s the vicious monster hunter; the dichotomy is so jarring (as it is supposed to be, I understand) that it is off-putting. I’m fine with the grim and gritty parts — after all, that is what I expect from Blood — but the doofy giggly schoolgirl stuff was just painful to endure. (Grade: 3 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love 1000% (Summer 2011 Season) through Episode 2
It’s over the top on purpose, and I wanted to watch this to laugh at how ridiculous it was. But even I have my limits. (Grade: 3 out of 10) SERIES DROPPED
2. SHOWS I HAVE RECENTLY COMPLETED:
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (Winter 2011 Season)
If you had told me at the beginning of last year that I would be singing the high praises of this show, I would have thought you daft. After all, “magical girl” shows are not exactly my forte, and the first two episodes were pretty run-of-the-mill. But with the third episode OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE THEY DONE twist, I sat up and started paying closer attention. It is actually quite smartly written, very tragic and makes you want to pull out a bazooka and shoot Kyubey through the screen. Perhaps the promise to “deconstruct the magical girl genre” was a bit overplayed, but this was certainly a unique twist on the genre that kept me yearning for the next episode. In the end, it did return back to its magical girl roots, but it was a satisfying and conclusive finale that does not leave me wanting a sequel (in fact, anything more would only lessen the original). FINAL GRADE: A
Hourou Musuko (Winter 2011 Season)
And just like Madoka Magica, if you had told me at the beginning of 2011 I would be praising this show as well, I wouldn’t believe it. After all, it’s a show about underage gender-confused kids, far from something I would ever want to think about. But where Wandering Son shines in how it portrays the characters as honest, real, believable people. Nothing is definite, nothing is straightforward or black and white (hell, even the artwork is a diffused watercolor style), we don’t get some moralizing tale of acceptance, but just the blunt uncertainty of gender dysphoria among confused adolescents. And even though it is but a slice of a much larger story (told with many chapters before and after in the manga), this actual slice of it felt whole and complete. This is just another example that it’s not so easy to judge a show by its premise alone; part of the reason I’m sampling everything under the Sun is to uncover gems like this. FINAL GRADE: A-
Just a little bit disappointing, with the two Eden of the East movies not quite meeting up with expectations. When it Eden of the East started out in 2009, it was positively dripping with potential, but it seems to have exploded into an unnecessarily complete spaghetti mix of storylines, and in the end it was all sound and fury signifying nothing. FINAL GRADE: C+
This is actually the eighteenth Crayon Shin-chan movie, and just like any extremely long-running franchise, you pretty much know what to expect at this point. For the hardcore fans, this is definitely interesting to get a peek at what the (alternate) future holds for all of the characters. But for non-fans like me, it was pretty meh, and twice as long as it needed to be. The combat brides were amusing, though. FINAL GRADE: C
Fractale (Winter 2011 Season)
It is literally the anime show that destroyed a promising director’s career (well, actually, he destroyed his own career when the world did not recognize his obvious geeeeeenius, so he picked up his toys in a huff and went home). Why, Fractale, did you tease us so at the beginning of last year? Fractale was easily the most anticipated show of the season, and it started out decent enough. But then it lost focus, drifted around with meaningless side stories, and then rushed to a headache-inducing finale. Ultimately, I was not happy that I wasted so much time on Fractale. It was a cool idea that was executed extremely poorly. Don’t bother, watch something else instead. FINAL GRADE: C-
Yumekui Merry (Winter 2011 Season)
And here is another show that started out with somewhat of an interesting idea, but wandered in the wilderness for far too many episodes and ended on a low note; but unlike Fractale there wasn’t the heavy burden of expectations weighing on its shoulders. It was confusing at times, directionless, with choppy animation…but hey, at least we were treated to several dozen shots of Merry’s navel! This was another show I mildly regret watching to the end. FINAL GRADE: C-
3. COMING UP NEXT:
Just like previous times, I’ll keep this pretty short to wrap this up, because this is becoming very, very long:
- Winter 2011 Season – Hooray, I’ve completed the last of the television series! It only took me a full year, too! In the mean time, I’ve sifted through all the torrents out there and uncovered about ten more assorted movies, specials and shows to review from this season, which I’ll tackle on an irregular basis as I get around to them (low priority).
- Spring 2011 Season – After six episodes, I’m still watching eight different series. Now with the Winter shows out of the way, priority turns to finishing these off as soon as possible.
- Summer 2011 Season – After three episodes, I’m still watching eight different series, and I plan to keep chugging along with the reviews here as well.
- Fall 2011 Season – I’m still in the process of “Round One”, where I watch and review the first episodes, giving them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I’ve just about finished up with the episodic television series, but I still have a bunch of specials and OVAs to tackle over the next month or so.
- Winter 2012 Season – I’m ready to provide my preview of the current anime season, which will probably see the light of day in the next week or so.
- 2010 and Earlier – There’s still a dozen or so shows from 2010 that I’m slowly reviewing (low priority) as I get around to them. Once finished up with that, I’ll go back and re-order by “Best of 2010″ and “Worst of 2010″ lists, which could use some revising.
As for my timing, I gave up on trying to give “timely” reviews a while back, and I really don’t care if I am weeks or months behind the date of the actual broadcast. I’m still going to keep plugging away at this at my own pace, and that’s that. But starting in 2012, I have some ideas on how I can streamline my operations, which will result in about half as much work (and half as many reviews), while still covering everything. The awful truth is that I’m spending far too much time bitching about the shows compared to how much time I spend actually watching them. I need to even out that ratio somewhat.
And that’s it! Until next time!