Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2014 (Part II)

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Welp, already around the halfway point for most of these titles? Time really flies when you’re having fun following way too many shows for comfort. Nonetheless, I’m pretty satisfied with the line-up I now have – and if I’m still slightly unsure about a couple of them, the fact that all but two of these anime are set to be 12 episodes or less makes things a lot easier to juggle. (For people reading this who don’t know which anime I picked up to begin with, you can check out part one of this post here.)

Let’s get right down to it. Five titles have already been left to die a lonely death, so first things first – I’ll start with the honourably (or dishonourably) dropped.

Ao Haru Ride – Slow-moving, and the main love interest continued to be a jerk. Let me know when a more original (and less emotionally abusive) romance anime comes along.
Bakumatsu Rock – Amusing for a while, but the crack-tastic gimmicks wore out their welcome eventually.
DRAMAtical Murder – Meh. There’s absolutely nothing about this series that made it stand out either in a fabulous or a terrible way. I got bored pretty quickly.
Shounen Hollywood – Also slow-moving, and I never managed to get over my dislike for the character designs, music, or progressively more annoying voice actors.
Tokyo ESP – Messy, fanservicey, unintelligent, boring. It hasn’t scarred me for life or anything but there’s basically nothing at all here that I liked, either visually or story-wise. Easily the worst series I tried out this season.

And I have no regrets! So, without further ado, moving on to the better stuff.

Aldnoah.Zero
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 6/10

aldnoah zero

Still on the fence about this one. On the plus side, boy this show is pretty! I really like the character designs and the animation is beautifully fluid – aside from Zankyou no Terror, it’s probably the sleekest title out this season. Loving the soundtrack too; the OP and ED themes are both good, and composer Sawano Hiroyuki (Shingeki no Kyojin, Kill la Kill) does great work as usual. On the other hand, I’m still not sold on any of the characters, who for the most part thus far have come across as either hopelessly clichéd or else just plain dull. I’d like to see more of one or two of them, but with a sizeable cast, strong characterisation/development is quite slow to build up – and since I’m neither a sci-fi nor a mecha fan, there’s nothing much left to tide me over in the meantime. I’ll give it a couple more episodes to more firmly capture my interest, otherwise I’ll drop it.

Barakamon
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 8/10

barakamon

I stand by what I said earlier on – this may not be the most original of titles, and I typically don’t enjoy anime that get preachy with their stories (seriously, could these simplistic-yet-enlightened countryfolk get any wiser or more generous?), but Barakamon delivers enough humour that these aspects of the series come across as tolerably sweet rather than forced or overdone. Meanwhile, the characters themselves continue to impress; Handa makes for a refreshing main character simply by being a full-grown adult, and Naru actually looks, sounds, and behaves like a bright, lively 7-year old truly might – something that anime often seems to struggle with but gets just about perfect here. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Naru is also insanely adorable. It’s like a burst of sunlight appearing on screen whenever she shows up.)

Free!: Eternal Summer
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 8/10

free

I don’t know that I have much to add after last time. Although I will say that it’s really nice to have Rin not being an obsessive jerk this time around (having passed that baton to new character Sousuke and all). I feel like we didn’t get to see much of Rin’s real personality in the first season of Free!, and now that he’s no longer fixated on being a shark rival, he’s actually quite an engaging and sympathetic character in his own right. In fact, he might even have become a sudden favourite of mine, which I definitely never saw coming.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
Score: 8/10

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Okay, this is good – I’m really happy I picked Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun up after all, so thank you to those readers who recommended it! It takes a lot to make me truly enjoy romantic comedies, but Nozaki-kun both uses and abuses the normal character stereotypes and situations enough to make me appreciate what it’s doing with the story. In fact, I’m more comfortable approaching this as a good-natured parody than a romantic comedy, because although the romance is in the basic set-up, Nozaki-kun is mostly just light-hearted fun and unpretentious satire. A couple of the smaller jokes are perhaps a bit hit-and-miss, but since there hasn’t yet been an episode where I’ve failed to giggle out loud at one point or another, I can forgive these fairly easily. Much like Love Lab last year, I went in expecting tired slapstick and trashy fanservice, and what I’m getting instead is intelligent writing and a distinct lack of panty shots.

Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 8/10

kuroshitsuji

Victorian England and Creepy Circus really do go together beautifully, don’t they? I’m so glad Kuroshitsuji got a remake featuring this particular story arc, because the atmosphere practically creates itself – all you need is some half-decent writing and it’s ready to go. I’m not sure what Book of Circus is like for anyone who hasn’t already seen the first series – despite this not being a sequel, the individual story’s place in the grand scheme of things is a little awkward – but I’m having fun at least. It looks good, it sounds good, and the plot seems to be progressing without any major hiccups so far.

Love Stage!!
Original score: 6/10
Current score: 6/10

love stage

I still don’t care for the character designs – they’re tolerable, but that’s about it for me. Otherwise, I’m happy enough with Love Stage!!, which continues its unhurried pace through a story that’s predictable yet fun enough that I find I don’t overly care. As far as BL titles go, it seems to be keeping things pretty light, which works for me – there’s not enough of a plot to have things get too intense or angst-ridden to begin with, and it’s always nice to see an anime of this genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Of course, you can’t make it through any BL series without at least one molestation scene (I’m perfectly serious – I have yet to see a single BL anime that doesn’t involve sexual harassment, coercion, or assault… sigh, maybe one day), but then, I never expected any originality or innovation from Love Stage!! to begin with.

Sailor Moon: Crystal
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 6/10

sailor moon

Man, this fortnightly format makes it hard to make a judgment call on Sailor Moon: Crystal with any kind of strong grounding – I can already tell that I’ll need to wait… holy crap, nearly a whole year before the whole thing is done so I can re-watch the show at a more reasonable pace. Thankfully, Crystal appears set on cutting away most, if not all, of the filler so that we probably won’t have to wait two weeks only to be confronted with a generic beach episode or something; three episodes in and we’ve already got three sailor soldiers nicely lined up (which, to provide a comparison, took 10 episodes to do in the original). Otherwise, I have nothing in particular I want to say that I haven’t already said in my previous first impressions post.

Sengoku Basara – Judge End
Original score: 8/10
Current score: 7/10

sengoku basara

I’m mildly disappointed with Sengoku Basara this time around, although it’s thankfully not because the series is any less over-the-top – characters are still swinging around battle axes that are twice as large as their entire bodies, flying around on mecha-people, and swearing in English. No, it’s that the pacing is all over the damn place. This series jumps around more than a Game of Thrones episode, and often not even to the right locations; we’re getting an awful lot of Ishida doing nothing but looking ultra-broody, and surprisingly little of Date Masamune despite him easily being Best Character. Judge End is still a lot of fun – I wouldn’t dream of skipping an episode – but it’s simply not as well put together as the previous two seasons were.

Space Dandy 2nd Season
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 7/10

space dandy

I have the same sentiment this time around as I did with season one – some episodes are awesome, and others totally miss their mark. I always enjoy reading my blogroll on them either way though, because it’s pretty interesting to see which episodes people thought were good and which were a flop. I’ll often see two separate bloggers, both of whom I have a lot of respect for, having completely opposite opinions about a single episode. Anyhow, as you can tell by the score, I’m still enjoying Space Dandy as a whole – I just think that having so many episode directors, writers, animators, and storyboard artists constantly switching around is great for fostering creativity but predictably terrible when it comes to getting any kind of consistency.

Sword Art Online II
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 7/10

sword art online

Sword Art Online II feels like an entirely different series to the first season. I’m not even talking about one being so much better/worse than another – I mean that aside from the main characters (with the exception of Sinon, of course), they could actually be two completely unrelated shows. That said, I’m reserving any kind of judgment on this particular aspect of my viewing experience until I’ve seen the whole thing. But hey, speaking of Sinon – I really like what I’ve seen of her character so far! In-game, she’s tough and a bit of a loner but not bitchy in the least. Back in the real world, she’s dealing with some pretty heavy stuff that feels (mostly) realistic and also makes sense in terms of how it relates back to her online persona. Bring me some decent action and keep up this whole minimal (well, for SAO) fanservice thing, and I’ll be one happy camper.

Tokyo Ghoul:
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 5/10

tokyo ghoul

Okay, so now that things have had time to settle down, I can see that Tokyo Ghoul is clearly going for obvious and campy instead of mysterious and suspenseful. I don’t necessarily have anything against splatter-fests, but they’re just not usually my thing (in fact, the most recent splatter-fest I can think of that I thoroughly enjoyed was the live-action Battle Royale… and that was back in 2000). It doesn’t help that Kaneki is really starting to bug me. Why must horror titles nearly always feature protagonists that do nothing but make stupidly poor life choices? At this point, Tokyo Ghoul is mildly entertaining, but the only reason I’ll probably keep watching is because it’s only 12 episodes long and so I’m basically already halfway through.

Yami Shibai 2nd Season
Original score: 7/10
Current score: 7/10

yami shibai

See, where Tokyo Ghoul is horrific by dint of all the gore, Yami Shibai is actually creepy, which is what I personally look for when it comes to horror. Not every episode works for me, but at least I know when I watch any of them that the horror factor will depend on the storytelling rather than the blood ratio. I probably wouldn’t recommend Yami Shibai to anyone who didn’t have some interest specifically in Japanese mythology, but I still say it’s a remarkably solid series, particularly given its non-conformist art style and 4-minute episode time constrictions.

Zankyou no Terror
Original score: 9/10
Current score: 9/10

zankyou no terror

My sole complaint with Zankyou no Terror is that Lisa isn’t getting enough screen time for my taste just yet (and if episode 4 is anything to go by, even that looks to be about to change). Other than that, I got nothing – Zankyou no Terror is well-written, tightly executed, visually gorgeous, and sounds fantastic. I don’t want to jump the gun and proclaim that Zankyou no Terror will hands down be the best show of 2014, but… well, it probably will. Bless you, Watanabe Shinichiro. You just keep doing what you’re doing, and I’ll just keep my unashamedly biased adulation alive and kicking.

Question of the post: Have any of your opinions changed significantly since the first couple of episodes? Are there any titles you’re still undecided on?

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10 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2014 (Part II)

  1. Ao Haru ride: Let me know when a more original (and less emotionally abusive) romance anime comes along.

    Sadly, it seems that’s exactly the point with romance, to serve as comfort food by not innovating :<

    3 of the “fanservicey (to girls) shows” dropped

    Damn girl, you’re wasting the fanservice spent on you! But yeah, most fanservice shows, for either gender, suck. Guess they need to get these out of the system first before delivering something worthwhile, or will they? This sort of show, meh, seems to be what’s mostly given. Then again, Sturgeon’s Law says this is how it’s always been.

    Aldnoah.Zero is slow and uneventful

    Most characters don’t really get much screen-time, and being a split-cour show, it’ll probably develop things pretty slowly, no doubt about it. Not too sure about how fluid it is, but it’s certainly a really pretty episode. This last episode in particular was a feast for the eyes, with great backdrop designs.

    Handa makes for a refreshing main character simply by being a full-grown adult

    Though part of the message is that he still has growing up to do 😉 Episode 4 told us he’s a “Chuuni”, and episode 5 really hammered it home, heh. I guess none of us ever finishes growing up. Even the old lady who’d fight over her mochi 🙂

    Nozaki-kun

    Yeah, calling this one a RomCom is a bit of a stretch. It’s the setup, and what’s being made fun of, but if it actually had any RomCom, I might have stuck with it. I think my biggest issue with it is that it feels too long – the jokes are drawn out to fill the episode, and thus lack the punch when they arrive, and it just feels sort of “tired” for me.

    Sailor Moon, Waiting, Cutting Out Filler

    Yeah, it’s not filler, but “monster and sailor of the week” are too much for me, especially with the bi-weekly schedule… I’m more likely to watch when all the sailors are together. It’s not “filler” per-se, but seeing the same thing each week for 4-5 weeks still feels wasteful to me. Heck, 4-5 episodes, more like 8 weeks. Ah well, I can always put it on hold and marathon it when it’s done. I’m a patient man, just like how I waited for Monogatari Second Season to finish coming out on BDs, which it just had.

    SWord Art Online II – Different show, other than Kirito.

    That’s how it’s going to be. Kirito is the constant, and most of the other characters appear in their arcs, and then barely appear afterwards. Asuna gets some more screentime, being the girlfriend, but you may as well forget about characters once their arc’s done.

    Questions:

    I’m never 100% decided on anything, sadly, heh. I still plan to watch Ao Haru Ride and Free! when they end. I’m still not sold at all on Sailor Moon, and the whole pacing doesn’t make me like it more.

    Aldnoah.Zero, I think what we got thus far was pretty good, but far from perfect. I still want to see where they plan to take it, but that means that as always, I may only pass true judgment when it all ends, in 2015.

    Doesn’t feel like my opinion on anything really changed, but once we form an opinion, we’ll likely use further content to reaffirm it. That’s how humans work.

    P.S., isn’t this like a week and a half premature? About half the shows reached episode 5, and the other half will in the next couple of days.

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    • Yeah, maybe that’s why romcoms are so seldom my cup of tea. I don’t have anything against them, but I either need to feel like something‘s being done to break the mold a bit or else I need to be rolling around on the floor laughing – otherwise, it probably just doesn’t interest me enough.

      I do get what you mean about the jokes in Nozaki-kun feeling too long. So far it feels like there are two main gags per episode, one for each half, and while that doesn’t bother me, I can see how it might not be the ideal set-up for some viewers. (Episode 4, particularly the second half, felt especially inspired to me. When the jokes work for me that well, I like that they go on for a while.)

      I really wish that Sailor Moon wasn’t on a bi-weekly schedule. I’d rather not put the series on a hold, but I also think the wait between each episode does the show absolutely no favours.

      Yup, I figured that’d be the case with Sword Art Online. And I find I don’t really care – despite its glaring flaws, I’ve always enjoyed the series (in a completely non-sarcastic way, no less). However, it’s a series I don’t feel the need to take overly seriously, so if other characters basically just disappear once their arc is done, that doesn’t get me feeling especially indignant. I’m perfectly happy approaching it as a popcorn show.

      I’m perhaps a little early, yes. Some of these shows are slated to be only 10 episodes in length though, so while for some titles it’s a little fast, for others it’s already mid-season.

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  2. I’m still undecided on Sailor Moon Crystal. I don’t think it’s very engaging and if it weren’t part of a famous franchise, I probably would have already dropped it.

    I actually have pretty much done a 180 on Aldnoah.Zero; it took me until the fourth episode to get over my Gen Urobuchi bias. Rail Wars! and Tokyo ESP have also gone from hoping for basic entertainment to offensive and boring, respectively.

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    • I quite like Urobuchi Gen and don’t particularly care for either mecha or sci-fi in general, so weirdly enough, I’m the exact opposite – I started watching Aldnoah.Zero because Urobuchi’s name was attached to it and am now getting politely bored. I suspect that if the show didn’t look and sound so good, I would have dropped it by now. I don’t dislike it, mind you – it’s just that by and large, it’s not really my thing. Still, I may end up keeping it if certain characters (*coughSlaine*) get more screen time.

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  3. book of circus actually. I thought the first episode wasn’t quite explosive as I was expecting. Started loving from the second episode, was madly in love from the third ( blame Sebastian and his tiger 😉 )

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    • I adore the atmosphere they’ve got going on in Book of Circus – and the OP and ED are perfect in that regard too. But yes, Sebastian and his cat fetish. XD

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  4. Some of my opinions have changed since the first episodes. Out of all the shows my biggest change has mainly been Barakamon – I thought it looked adorable (Naru still is) and ‘healing’ in the way Usagi Drop was, but while staying with that theme it’s digging a bit too much into tropes like fujoshi fetishes and crude humor. While I feel that humor has its place I was just hoping it wouldn’t pitch up in Barakamon. I’m still enjoying it nonetheless, it just seems that none of the subsequent episodes can quite capture the sentiment of the premiere.

    I’m basically decided on what I’m watching now – the titles I’ve kept are pretty much certain to continue in the same fashion or get even better. Good choice on taking up Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun! It’s been my surprise of the season and has an appealing cast performing genuinely funny satire.

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    • I see what you mean about Barakamon. It doesn’t really bother me too much, because I’m not sure I ever thought of the series as a ‘healing’ anime – I’ve always thought of it as more or less straight comedy, albeit an adorable one – but I get why it might be something of a disappointment to other viewers who wanted a bit more Usagi Drop, a little less humour.

      Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is definitely my surprise of the season as well. I would probably never have tried it were it not for some of my readers recommending it to me personally, but I pretty much love it now. 🙂

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  5. I don’t think my first impressions of the season have changed too much now that we’re halfway through a lot of series… Though, I think that dropping Ao Haru Ride is probably a good move, since (having read some of the manga) the romance and main guy largely continue along the same path. For me, my main issue with the show is how grabby he is… I didn’t notice it as much in the manga, but now that it’s animated, it’s making all the difference. There’s also some stuff that happens later on that I’m really not a fan of… That said, I’m still watching it, though my initial excitement has since dulled.

    Zankyou no Terror has also slipped a little in my eyes, especially since I’m not into the “bomb of the week” scenario it keeps going though every episode. Not that it’s bad, mind you! I just need a little more character development and I’ll be happy. Loving the music, and I can’t wait to see how all the little pieces will come together in the end.

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    • Oh yes, the music in Zankyou no Terror is excellent. I’m still loving about everything else about the show too, though. I was beginning to wonder when we’d get some more screen-time for some of the characters, but then the perfection that is episode 5 happened, and now I’m ridiculously happy and excited.

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