Wednesday, October 16, 2013

President Dog Takes On... The Summer 2013 Anime Blitz!

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... Before I get started, a few bits of housekeeping:

  1. I apologize for the brief hiatus, life got in the way for a little while.
  2. The Kim Possible retrospective will be continuing and I promise it'll be the next entry.
  3. I've started watching about 8 different shows from the fall season, so expect highlights from them in the future.
  4. Scratch what I said I was going to do at the end of the Fantasista Doll review; we're going in a different direction, though if you're still interesting in Danaganropa, keep reading.

Okay, enough chit-chat, let's get down to business. The summer anime season of 2013 has been quite an eventful one and turned out to be an excellent time for me to jump back into the medium head-first. I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing the newest shows Japan has to offer over these past couple of months, but I haven't had the time, content or sheer patience to do a full review for each and every one, though I've certainly tried to give a few the full treatment. To remedy this, I figured I'd give you all a few quick hits and misses from the rest of this season, share why I liked or disliked them and give a little more insight into why they didn't get the full review I've provided some of the others. Also, for the shows I gave an initial review, I'd like to follow up on how they panned out and whether I recommend them after all is said and done. So strap in, listen up and get ready for...

President Dog's Summer 2013 Anime Blitz!

First off, let's knock out the shows I've already gone over in their own reviews (click the title of each show to go back to my initial review). I'm not going to recap the overall plot here, but pick up from where my initial review left off, as some stayed pretty consistent and other veered way off course, such as...

Wow, where to start on this one... Remember in my initial review how I went on that giant rant about Yura and the moment when she surrendered and got unjustly scolded by Sonora? Turns out that moment pretty much made our main character snap. No, she didn't go and shoot up her school or anything, but her mind pretty much warped around the fact that she showed weakness. This moment starts a gradual descent for Yura which lands her the dubious honor of being quite possibly my most hated character in all the shows I watched this year. Not only did I still despise her haircut (I will not let that go, especially when the OP and ED animations were inconsistent with it afterwards), it created a rather jarring tonal shift in the rest of the show. A few episodes after Yura's character shift it quickly becomes clear that the fun times are over for the viewer and serious, 'I don't want to play this if I'm not the best' Yura is here to stay. She becomes so obsessed with becoming strong that she pretty much takes over everything in the C3 Club, ignores her friends' needs and wants to have fun and eventually shuts them all out in her own personal quest to control every little thing around her. In doing so she alienates her team, breaks the rules in a tournament out of petty vengeance and even joins the rival team, though it does give the only moment where Yura gets some comeuppance for her attitude towards the game of airsoft and not knowing her role on a team. Therein lies the problem overall with this show, however; in the end, Yura truly receives no punishment for acting so horrible outside of her own guilt trip. No one gives her the scolding she really needs, no one acknowledges to her face how she's changed for the worse and when she finally returns to the C3 Club, they welcome her back like nothing ever happened. Even Sonora, the girl she was supposedly sharing a dorm with and the leader of the club, not only said nothing, but actively ignored Yura multiple times throughout the series. In short, every decision Yura made through the bulk of the series made me want to reach in the show, slap her and tell her to stop screwing up so much. Also, another big issue with the series is what I'm calling a case of show-stitching and this also goes back to my tonal shift issue. As I stated before, starting in the tail end of episode 3, the mood and tone of the show got considerably darker, focusing on Yura's downward spiral. Outside of a festival-type episode where the C3 Club puts together a shooting range, everything from episode 4 to the near the end of episode 11 is all one big shift from the somewhat upbeat mix of a new girl in a new school and cute girls doing cute things. However, once that ending for episode 11 happens, we're out of all the doom and gloom and back into silly fun. We even got a completely crazy episode 13 where all the girls in the entire series compete in an odd cross between an airsoft tournament and a beauty pageant! To be fair, it was the most enjoyable episode of the series, in my opinion, but still this whole setup reeked of Gainax either screwing with people's expectations or trying to have their cake and eat it too. If Stella Women's Academy could've decided whether it was a fun moe sports anime or a dark character study and stuck with that decision, it wouldn't have been the trainwreck it ended up becoming. I have to knock off a full point from my initial rating of 3.5/5 due to the inconsistent mood and for making me actively despise the main character, but as far as trainwrecks go it may still be worth a watch. Also, since I'd be remiss to wrap this up without mentioning it, here's the brilliant mashup between this show and the video game Spec Ops: The Line, an impactful, highly recommended military shooter that all the Call of Duty obsessed gamers need to play. Spoilers to both included, fair warning.

Okay, not as much to talk about here as there weren't as many major problems with the show from where I left off in my initial review. The big things that happened as the show went along were a somewhat meandering mystery plot between trying to find the cafe gunman who killed Kazuhito, which evolved into someone threatening Kirihime which in turn evolved into strange attacks by hypnotized civilians. Throw in some other crazy characters such as Kirihime's masochist editor who loves nothing more than to be tortured by her, Kazuhito's well-meaning, but equally off-the-rails sister who's obsessed with making curry and fights with a giant electric knife, a depressed, often suicidal young author who was behind the attacks by the hypnotized people (from reading hypnotic suggestions in her book, natch), a maid who loved showtunes but attacks anyone or anything that comes close to knowing her secret... the list goes on. The series didn't really have much of a conclusion, for better or worse, ending on an odd premise: what would happen if Kirihime got drunk? Let's just say it results in wedding bells, a trip to Hawaii and eventually a nice big off-screen blowing of chunks. Overall, this show was a lot of fun just to take in, despite its overarching aimlessness in the way of plot. The characters and situations they got in were enough to keep me going with pleasure and hopefully it receives a season two, as there appears to be much more that this world of young authors has to offer. I will have to knock off half a point in its rating for the lack of a real consistent plot, but it's still a 4/5 to me. Just an aside here, I feel at times I'm the only reviewer who didn't immediately write Dog and Scissors off as allegedly being garbage or a waste of the audience's time. I'll admit it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I can't deny having a lot of fun watching this show from start to finish. I'll recommend it personally, but I can understand if it's not followed through.

To make this short and sweet, I dropped this one soon after episode 3. All the issues I had with the show that I mentioned in my review took me completely out of it and frankly, any show that's going to take up until the fourth episode to actually start isn't worth my time and shouldn't be worth yours either. Also, by that time, the art style was far too grating with its constant lens flare and sunset lighting for me to tolerate it. Still think it wasted a brilliant setup, don't bother unless you have tons of patience to spare, moving on.

As I expressed at the beginning of my original review for this show, I went into it not expecting much, just hoping for a genuine old-school magical girl anime. What I got was a surprisingly pleasant little romp with just enough intrigue, interesting episode setups (including one all about playing poker, of all things) and character development to keep me invested, not to mention an active ongoing plot, especially compared to the other shows previously mentioned. There are a few nice little twists that I didn't see coming, plenty of action and humor, not to mention one of the silliest yet most awesome things in a show this season: The Friendship Cannon, where Sasara gets shot out of it like a human cannonball.

Uzume even gets a drum while the cannon is summoned to do a drum roll upon firing.

I'm somewhat inclined to raise my rating of this up a half a point to a 4, but as I said before it depends on how much you enjoy some of the tropes of this sub-genre of anime. Like I said before, it scratched an itch in my viewing habits and did so admirably. Another show of which I wouldn't mind a second season and I do recommend.


Now that the recaps are completely done, let's break a little new ground with some of the other shows from this season I didn't get to cover in full.

Blood Lad

What's it about: An action tale of a vampire named Staz who is obsessed with the human world whose life gets turned upside down when a human girl name Fuyumi wanders into his world, dies and becomes a ghost. He vows to find a way to resurrect her which takes him across the four corners of the Demon World.

Brought to us by Brain's Base, the studio that gave us Baccano and Durarara!!, Blood Lad is the obvious choice for the dedicated action show of this season. The aesthetic of the show quickly reminds me of another supernatural action series that I particularly enjoyed, Soul Eater, though without the bigger set pieces and as many dark colors. However, outside of a few interesting characters and unorthodox fights (Including a boxing match with Staz's rival and ally Wolf and a strange portal-hopping fight with the eccentric Hydra Bell), this was really average action fare that never really had the time to get its feet under it, more than likely due to this show being only 10 episodes long, making it significantly shorter than most shows this season. Action shows generally need a longer run to really be impactful, to build their world and set up the powers of the main characters, much less the characters' personalities overall. Going back to my previous comparison to Soul Eater, that series took the first 3 episodes introducing the main cast gradually and in small groups, taking the time to establish a personality for each character, motivation to why they're in the story and built some enjoyable action around them. Blood Lad, while not having as many protagonists, still has to be forced to get its setup, very rough framework for character personality and motivation out in one episode and even then we only really get it for Staz. The final episode of the show does end on a cliffhanger though, so there's possibly more to come beyond this initial 10-episode run. Frankly I'd hope it gets more time and episodes to build up the mythos and details of the Demon World. At a bare minimum there is an OVA coming at the end of the year, so if supernatural action is what you're yearning for, you could do a lot worse than Blood Lad, though I'd stick with Soul Eater overall in this type of show. 3/5 from me.

Gatchaman Crowds

What's it (supposedly) about: In a modern, yet futuristic Tokyo, a team of superpowered people in personal armored suits fight evil anomalies to protect the city.

What I just wrote above is basically the same thing I originally read when scouting out shows to watch this season. Combine that with the name Gatchaman, which immediately brings to mind memories of the classic Battle of the Planets/G-Force style Gatchaman of the past and needless to say I had some decent hopes for a fun action romp. What I got, however, felt like something completely different and in my opinion, not for the best. There are some novel ideas at work in this show, especially on the matters of advancements in social media and people's decisions to help their fellow man in a technology driven society, but the core concept here seems far removed from the product we received. The main team of heroes is as loose a collection of people as you can get for a show like this, with none of them really standing out in a positive way. Even the suits the main Gatchaman team have are all completely different from each other in the style and structure, no theme or connecting elements between them at all. The most egregious offender, character-wise, is the show's lead, Hajime. Now let me get something straight here: I absolutely love the energetic, downright crazy girl archetype in most of my media. Haruhi Suzumiya, Harley Quinn, Izzy from the Total Drama franchise and yes, even Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic all rank in as some of my favorite characters to watch. Hajime, however, is probably the first character of this type that really turns me off. It's just the particular eccentric habits of this character that grate on me, like for example, whenever a character calls out to her or tries to get her attention she commonly answers back 'Yes, I'm Hajime!' like either she doesn't know the person calling out to her or the other person doesn't know her. She also tends to get along with random strangers uncommonly easy and vice versa. Normally, silly aspects about characters of this type endear them to me, but not these traits and not this character. Worst of all, the show tend to focus on Hajime's eccentricities for the bulk of the early going of the show, even taking away from the fighting and action to give us an extended scene of Hajime making friends and doing arts and crafts projects with people she randomly met up with on a train through social media. If you wanted to do social commentary on how things like Facebook and Twitter affect modern life, that's fine, I think it's actually a clever idea. Just don't made it a priority in a new entry into a longtime classic action franchise, especially when it keeps the viewer from what they came on board to see: sentai-style superpowered action. I can only muster up a 2.5/5 on Gatchaman Crowds; personally, I dropped this about 4 episodes into its run for lack of action and the annoyance level of Hajime. It may still be worth it for the previously mentioned implementation of social media to the story, but I expected far more from an iconic franchise than that.

Danganropa: The Animation

What's it about: A group of 15 teenagers with different special talents are mysteriously gathered, and subsequently locked inside, a state-of-the-art high school where the only way to escape and graduate is to murder one of their fellow classmates and not get caught.

Based on a visual novel/mystery game of the same name, Danganropa is basically what you'd get if you merged the board game Clue, the Phoenix Wright video games and the movie Battle Royale together. The main character of the show is Naegi, a lucky, optimistic but otherwise normal guy who just got accepted into the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy, the school for the crème de le crème of the high school world. The moment he sets foot on campus, he blacks out and when he comes to, he's assembled up with 14 other talented teens by the bizarre, creepy and silly plush bear/supposed principal of the school named Monobear. The ground rules for graduation are laid down (as mentioned above), the gears of murder and mystery are set in motion and it's up to Naegi and whoever he can align himself with to escape and survive the despair. Now the main reason I backed off from doing this as a full review is simple: it's a mystery story and doing anything in detail would ruin the show more than typical spoilers. In its most basic form, this is the main structure of the series: student get murdered, survivors investigate the crime scene, students have a class trial to determine the culprit, accused gets punished in a crazy yet fitting way to their super awesome talent. The brilliance is in the execution (no pun intended) of that framework with these characters and the motives for murder. At the beginning we get a somewhat disguised scene where in order to motivate the students towards playing his little game of murder, Monobear gives each one a message or video of something or someone they hold dear. We see Naegi's, as he's our protagonist and in the game the player character, but we never know the others. Combine that with the growing friendships and alliances between students, an overarching mystery of how they were trapped inside the school in the first place and the brilliant payoffs for those found guilty, there's a lot to keep the viewer motivated to watch. Another smart touch is that unlike typical shows, there's no 'next episode' preview after the end credits which gives even further incentive and debate as to what will happen next. The characters are varied enough to butt heads or work together nicely, as they take archetypes from all ends of the spectrum of teenagers and works well for this kind of show. We don't need to know everything about a given character for them to work here, just enough to keep us guessing about their motives and understand in some detail their personality. From what I know of the original game, the show follows the exact same plot, so fair warning. If you want to truly experience this story in the most immersive way, I'd seek the game out, but for someone like me who doesn't want to go through all the mess of figuring everything out on their own, this series is well worth a watch. It's well-paced, exciting, and like any good mystery, has enough twists and turns to motivate you to press on. 4/5.

Watamote (No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!)

What's it about: The life of a teenage female social outcast named Tomoko who laments how despite her success in dating sims and online life, she's hopelessly friendless in reality and vows in her own odd way to change that.

And now we've come to possibly the most divisive series I have run into in a long time. The main anime reviewer/writer on Kotaku recently called this show 'the most mean-spirited anime [he'd] ever watched.' Honestly, I wouldn't quite go that far, but it's pretty uncomfortable and awkward to watch in my opinion. Others share my sentiments, others find it hilarious, others still even bond with the awkwardness. But let's get one thing straight: this is not the typical depiction of an obsessed otaku we normally see as a character in modern anime, far from it. This isn't like Konata from Lucky Star whose otaku nature is played for being silly and cute and quirky. Tomoko is basically all of the horror stories we were warned of before getting into our own nerdy hobbies and then some. She constantly has deep bags under her eyes from lack of sleep, she has an extremely pessimistic view of the people around her, frequently calling her peers unsavory names in her own internal monologue, has a crippling level of social anxiety so severe that she makes a personal victory out of being able to order fast food, for example, and constantly has life dump misfortune on top of misfortune upon her head. Now I've always believed in the concept that humor is a subjective thing and that there is no one joke or moment that is funny to everyone, but this is certainly not something I end up laughing at or feel anything outside of an odd mix of sympathy and awkwardness. I both want to help Tomoko, but realize, even at just being a teenager, she may be too far gone to help her get out of her warped mindset. There's being an introvert and then there's her. In the end, that's all this show is: a slice of a life we don't usually see portrayed in anime boiled down to its most exact and frankly unpleasant detail. I guess the only other thing I can really say is that it's at least important to give Watamote a shot. Who knows, you may find it funny in a schadenfreude kind of way, you could bond with it if you've been on the wrong side of the cruel hand of fate, or you could be like me and find it overrated and not funny. One final thing, the opening sequence and music are probably the most interesting thing I can find related to this show; though it really doesn't fit with the subject matter, outside of a lyric or two, it still rocks pretty hard and makes me wish it was being used for some psychological trip into the mind of a serial killer or something. But it's not. 2/5.

There's one last series I want to talk about from this season before I get absorbed into the massive blob of shows that makes up the fall anime season (49 shows!), but I actually want to give it the full review treatment, mainly because it's deserving of it and also deserves to be called my favorite anime of Summer 2013. Get ready to learn the science of the heart when next time, President Dog Takes On... Love Lab.