Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2015

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Is it just me, or is the amount of fanservice-laden anime about cutesy girls doing cutesy things particularly rampant this season? I don’t altogether mind – I welcome the chance to catch up on my somehow ever-increasing list of older titles – but it does certainly limit the number of winter shows on my watch-list.

Unusually, I’m also still following four anime from the previous season. One-cour titles of 11 to 13 episodes have been the common standard length for several years now, and so over recent times, I’ve generally had only one or sometimes two carry-over shows at most. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about them, so I’ll also be including the ongoing Ronja, Yona, Parasyte, and Sailor Moon in this post (despite these all being far beyond ‘taste testing’ status at this point).

Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love!/Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
Score: 4/10

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I get that this is a parody series and I’m therefore not supposed to treat it seriously, but… meh. The thing with parodies is that they have to be either be really smartly written, or at the very least outrageously over-the-top, for them to actually be funny. If not, they just end up as a bunch of scenes that poke fun at other shows or genres to no particular purpose or effect, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened here. Sure, I get all the Sailor Moon references, and there were a couple of lines that managed to wring a smile out of me, but as yet I see nothing clever or audacious enough to be entertaining in the long-term.

Yuri Kuma Arashi/Lily Bear Storm
Score: 5/10

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This show is about lesbians, bears, and lesbian-bears. All of them have perfect breasts, and there’s a lot of licking going on. Welcome back, Ikuhara Kunihiko. Okay, truth time: I’m really not a fan of Utena or Penguindrum. I have a lot of respect for Utena, and I love both the visuals and naturally the penguins of Penguindrum, but as overall shows go I’m not wild about either of them. At what point does heavy symbolism become pretentious and/or completely nonsensical? Where’s the line between genuine social commentary and metaphors that exist solely for the sake of being seen as trippy or ‘highbrow’ entertainment? Yuri Kuma Arashi may well end up falling on the wrong side of that line for me, and as yet I can’t even figure out if I’m amused or not. (But hey, at least the thing looks nice.)

Death Parade
Score: 7/10

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Now this is a lot of fun. Overly dramatic, yes, and it also looks like it’s going to be a fairly formulaic and episodic kind of series that won’t be pulling any major plot twists; if you’re into understated titles that consistently surprise you or keep you guessing, you’re likely to be disappointed with Death Parade. On the other hand, if a gleefully dark atmosphere is what you’re after then you should definitely be keeping an eye on this one – from its wonderfully inappropriate opening sequence to its very distinctive visual style, Death Parade is playful, energetic, and creepy all at once. I don’t know that it’s going to be an especially clever series, but it certainly puts on a powerful performance, and there’s something to be said for an anime that gets right to the point and doesn’t pull its punches. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of what it has to offer.

Durarara!!x2 Shou
Score: 9/10

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Yes, I still firmly believe that Durarara!! is vastly superior to Baccano! in every way. No, I’m not going to argue the point – I’m well aware it’s not the popular view, and I’m perfectly happy to let other people have their own opinion on the matter. In any case, this sequel is shaping up to be much the same in terms of style as the first series; same quirky cast with a few new faces to keep things fresh, same slightly twisted sense of humour, same air of lively and mischievous fun. The studio has passed from Brain’s Base to the brand new Shuka, but as the latter was apparently formed by a producer of the original Durarara!!, and because the director, writer, and even composer all remain unchanged, I doubt there’ll be any issues around consistency or quality. While the opening episode didn’t give too much away with regards to overarching plot, it did a good job of briefly reintroducing the setting and cast (it’s been five years, after all), and I’m very excited to see how these lives and events will once more intersect.

Sailor Moon: Crystal
Original score: 7/10
Previous score: 6/10
Current score: 4/10

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I’ll be brutally honest – at this point, I’m only hanging on because I’m curious to see what events are going to be covered in this show’s second half, which we’re coming up to now. I was originally quite happy with Crystal’s decision to cut out basically any and all filler, but I take that back; it’s resulted in little (if any) meaningful characterisation for or relationship development between nearly every member of the cast, and dramatically lessened any chance of emotional impact the series might once have had for me. I’m also flabbergasted at the lack of care that’s gone into much of the animation, which has likewise taken a turn for the worse. I’d have thought more time and effort would have been put into the production quality of such a well-known franchise, and I’m thoroughly disappointed that it so obviously has not. Shame on you, Crystal – you were meant for greater things than this.

Sanzoku no Musume Ronja/Ronia the Robber’s Daughter
Original score: 6/10
Previous score: 7/10
Current score: 6/10

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I admit it, I’m torn between being charmed and being bored by this series. As I’ve said in my last two anime taste testing posts, Ronja isn’t a bad show by any means. Yes, the CGI does nothing for me but even that’s not really a concern for me anymore, and the solid writing more than makes up for it in any case. However, there’s also no looking past the fact that there’s precious little action of any kind whatsoever going on here. This is in part because the anime is based on a children’s book – it’s essentially a children’s show. Unfortunately, the aspects of Ronja that could easily make it a bit more exciting for older viewers, such as the actually pretty cool supernatural elements, are underplayed, and there’s only so much inactivity that I can take in one sitting. Still, I’m a bit sad that I’m apparently the only anime blogger on WordPress covering this title. Ronja might not be mind-blowingly fantastic, but it’s certainly worth more attention than its getting.

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu/Parasyte -the maxim-
Original score: 7/10
Previous score: 8/10
Current score: 7/10

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This is probably still the best carry-over title of the fall season, even if it’s not the one I’m enjoying the most. My enthusiasm has dulled a little thanks to the plot shifts, from pure body horror to covert government involvement and lashings of romance. I don’t have an inherent issue with either of these, but I do think they come at the cost of Kiseijuu’s previously tighter focus and better pacing. Migi is still by far the most compelling character of the series, and anything that takes away from his relationship with Shinichi and the pair’s uneasy coexistence means a dip in the show’s overall story as far as I’m concerned. That said, the writing is still solid enough, and having gotten this far I’m not going to give up now.

Akatsuki no Yona/Yona of the Dawn
Original score: 6/10
Previous score: 7/10
Current score: 7/10

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I know that the vast majority of anime bloggers don’t care for this show, but I don’t really care – I know genuinely good writing when I see it, and if other people want to brush Yona off as reverse-harem crap or ‘yaoi-bait’ (lol wat?), that’s their loss. While it’s true that Yona didn’t have the best opening couple of episodes, the series has since strengthened and held firm, and it’s wonderful to see the steady character development our leading lady has gotten. Yona’s still a long way from becoming the battle-confident leader that the opening credits suggest she’s eventually destined for, but she’s also no longer the pampered and helpless princess we started off with. Unlike many other viewers, I don’t think the romance is too much (in fact, I fail to see that much going on in this department at all), and the pacing has picked up considerably now that the team has grown in number. Of all the ongoing fall season titles, this is the one I now find the most enjoyable.

Question of the post: What are you general thoughts about the new anime season? Have I missed out on any must-see titles?

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22 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2015

  1. In strongly agree with you re Atsuki no Yona – it isn’t the star performer of the season YET but if it continues to improve it may just overtake Shirobako.

    (Mind you Shirobako just stepped up its game with some really clever foreshadowing in the latest episode)

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  2. I will be picking up Death Parade and a few of the previous series too. AnY might’ve been OK for me if I were younger but right now ehhh not really interested =( Also, their names bother me.

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      • Sorry, for the belated reply orz.

        I meant I didn’t like how they sounded Korean but obviously influenced by Chinese culture. It’s ok to reference other cultures but less OK to decide to combine them all together into one giant Asian-inspired country. For example, I liked how Twelve Kingdoms handled it better based on ancient Chinese culture.

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  3. I do want to check out Atsui no Yona now 😀 I still need to watch Death Parade. I’ve only seen Tokyo Ghoul and Kantai Collection so far. Its hard to judge on a first episode though. I’ve liked some of the designs for KanColle, but hope the story doesn’t completely suck >.<

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  4. I agree so much concerning Lily Bear Storm, which is sad concerning how the director in question clearly likes looking at things differently and that can make wonderful things appear in the anime world. It’s just too bad being different kinda consumes the whole production so much. I mean, I enjoyed Utena, but not in the “oh I wanna watch that more than once” kinda way. It was more in the the “this gives me a lot to think about and question and talk about” way. In other words, more educational than entertaining. But while I actually think the fanservice in Utena was often making a point (there was a lot of self-discovery, doubt and facing physical trauma going down in the story), in the case of Lily Bear… not so much. I mean perhaps they are leading in that direction, but I’m more inclined to think they’re just throwing out the lesbian card because girls-are-hot-more-girls-are-hotter. And I must say, I’m not a fan of that train. Which is why most of this streaming season appears to be a wasteland to me…

    I’m glad you mentioned Crystal too. I’m kinda confused on it.
    *warning! Long post!*

    I mean, a show like that had time, money AND fame going in. An original show like Princess Tutu had tons of time (in production for 11 years), but not nearly as much funding and zero fame before release (it was an original show) and it had decent and CONSISTENT art for its day. At the very least, when a character held something it looked believable. The first Sailor Moon animation also had little issue with just holding objects. But Crystal, while having the art style of the manga, seems to also have stiffness of manga paper. When they hold items it sometimes looks like paper dolls having something forced into their hands. It’s weird. Not to mention Luna often being filmed at an odd angle, looking more like two gumballs stuck together than a cat. I’m just confused how it came to this. And even more confused on how Sailor Moon is seen as all that feminist either. I mean, Tuxedo Mask doesn’t save her as often as in the original animation (thank goodness), but he’s still her main motivator and pretty much her world revolves around him for most to all of the show. In other words, if he was removed, she would lose most of her drive. And, no, power of friendship is NOT a big role in this variation, I don’t think (I actually think friendship had a bigger role in the original animation, tbh).

    Example:
    *spoilerALERT!!*
    When watching your friends get beaten to near death by the guy you like isn’t enough to convince you something has changed and you then ignore that those friends need you to protect them and the planet so you can tragically die with him, your priorities are hopelessly messed up. The male has replaced friendship in the top slot and thus the male has become the center of all the things.
    *SpoilerOVER*

    I keep hearing that Crystal is closer to the manga and that the manga is far more feminist than the original animation (I have yet to try the manga), but, at this point, I’m starting to wonder if I’m even watching the same show. Usagi may have more agency than some female characters, but if her whole world hangs on one male character, to the exclusion of friends and family… Well, color me confused on how this show is different from a love sob story with super powers thrown in. I’m just lost here. :/

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    • You put my concerns about Yuri Kuma Arashi perfectly. I’m certainly not writing this show off yet – one episode isn’t exactly sufficient to be able to make a statement about the intention and execution of the show as a whole – but like you, I’m worried that all this provocative imagery and incredibly on-the-nose symbolism isn’t really serving any greater purpose than entertainment and perhaps shock value. I do get that anime is of course an entertainment form, and there’s no reason why a title should feel /obligated to rise to something more, but coming from Ikuhara, I think people do naturally expect more than trippy and sexy scenes that are there solely for the purpose of being seen as cool or edgy. Like you, I didn’t like Utena per se but I did find it thoughtful and interesting – I genuinely think that show has a lot to say about concepts revolving around gender and sexuality. I’m sadly not convinced that this is the case with Yuri Kuma Arashi.

      That’s an interesting comment about Sailor Moon Crystal having the stiffness of manga paper, and now that you mention it… I wonder if this has to do with the creators being perhaps a little too resolute in producing something in very similar style to the manga. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud shows that strive to keep the integrity of the source material intact, but this could perhaps also stifle creativity if the people behind the television adaptation are too adverse to change, even if that change is potentially for the better. This of course goes double for manga that were created a while back like Sailor Moon; I certainly have nothing against older titles, but when it’s over two decades old, I imagine there are certain aspects which cannot be adapted particularly well thanks to cultural and social changes.

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  5. Unfortunately most fanservice anime are the financial backbone of the industry; so there will always be more made as long as the demand is strong and the otaku are willing to pay (which is nearly all of them). I have heard not all are bad (High School DXD does get good reviews for plot and comedy, despite its bountiful bosoms).

    Durarara: The most interesting plotline was the mystery of who stole the Irish ghost’s head, although I can’t remember if anything was resolved. I do remember her head was briefly owned by that sociopathic info broker, though. Never cared much for the teen gang wars.
    If you like Suzuhito Yasuda’s designs, you’ll see it again in an upcoming Spring anime; “Can’t I Expect A Chance Encounter In A Dungeon?”

    Cute Defense Club: Maybe it needs more time to prove itself. It did take a few episodes for people to warm up to Free! Although I’d tell them to keep their Love Sticks to themselves; they’re violating several anti-obscenity laws as it is. 😛

    Parasyte: I heard there was a live action version released in Japan; how does it compare to the anime?

    What are your personal thoughts on Kuroko, Kamisama Kiss and Garo?

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    • Quick PS. Yona: The composer’s an ethnic Korean raised in Japan; I recall he performed at the closing ceremony of last year’s Sochi Olympics (the handover was from Russia to South Korea, the 2018 hosts).

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      • That’s an interesting fact about Yona – I didn’t know that.

        I don’t have anything against fanservice in and of itself. Some shows have proved that it can even be used quite creatively and thoughtfully – I’m thinking of works like Yamamoto Sayo’s Michiko e Hatchin and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine here, but that’s just a couple of examples off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are others. However, this particular season doesn’t exactly seem overflowing with thoughtfulness (least of all the fanserivcey kind); mostly it just seems unoriginal, cheap, and tawdry to me.

        No, they never did wrap up the storyline with Cely’s head. I enjoyed pretty much all the storylines of Durarara!! in the first season, including the teen gang wars, and I’m looking forward to seeing whatever the sequel decides to go with.

        I can’t really say anything about people warming up to Free! – whether this is true or not, I liked it immediately. Regardless, I will be watching one or two episodes more of Defense Club, because while doubtful, it’s perfectly possible that I’ll change my mind.

        Sorry, but I haven’t seen the Parasyte live-action film, and I doubt I’ll make any particular effort to do so. While I do watch a lot of films, I tend to be wary of those based on manga or anime. At very best, the majority I’ve seen can be said to be average, and at worst… well, perhaps the less said the better.

        I’ve seen only two episodes of Kuroko and think of it as silly, harmless fun. I’ve seen maybe three episodes of Kamisama Kiss and think much the same. And I haven’t yet seen anything at all of Garo, so I can’t comment at all on that.

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        • Live-action anime movies: I agree on its averageness. For some reason they never quite reach the visual and cinematic heights of its peers from Hollywood, China and Korea.

          For example, I found the latest Rurouni Kenshin movie’s visuals rather “flat and uninspiring”. For a historical action epic, the sets don’t really evoke the glamour and detail of Meiji-era Tokyo and Kyoto that you’d expect of a movie of this scale (for comparison, Chinese movies have been getting better & better in giving life to a historical movie set). Even a bit of VFX showcasing views of old Tokyo would have sufficed.

          What are your opinions? Is it due to small budgets, lower expectations for production values, or something else?

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          • I haven’t watched the newest Kenshin live-action movie, but I have seen the first one, and that’s actually one of my favourite live-action Japanese movies I’ve seen to date. It for once doesn’t look cheaply produced and the acting also strikes me as pretty good.

            To my eye, many live-action Japanese movies, but particularly those based on anime or manga, are terribly acted. Much like the majority of J-dramas I’ve seen, they’re utterly over-the-top, with poor scripting and poorer production values. I’m guessing I feel this way primarily because a) there are indeed lower budgets in general and b) they’re explicitly made to target people who also loved the anime/manga, and who therefore would probably go watch the movie regardless of it’s quality. No doubt the people behind the movies know that people who aren’t fans of the source material won’t go to see it regardless of how much time and money goes into it, hence they simply don’t even bother.

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  6. Although I am a big fan of Utena and Penguindrum, I can’t say I’m a loyal enough fan to look into a yuri-fest just out of faith in the director. : / There needs to be a lot more going on than just the journeys of symbolic self discovery of a particular nature–part of the strengths of Utena and Penguindrum were stylized settings and characters than felt unique and were accommodating to some level of ridiculous non-realism. I wouldn’t have watched Penguindrum if it was all about the penguins (maybe that’s an unpopular opinion), and if the bears are only there for shock value, I’m probably out. / :

    I might save the second season of Durarara for when I need another anime that eats like a full meal, but for now I’m highly enjoying Akatsuki no Yona as my indulgent dessert. Now that they’ve attained enough cast and development to accomodate some new running gags in addition to new fanfic bait (not limited to yaoi ff–there’s now delicious potential for all kinds of fandom participation), it is my guilty pleasure I now pine for between episodes. Do you have any favorites in the cast so far?

    The disappointing thing about SMCrystal is that the original SM was the guilty pleasure that spurred years of life-altering fandom for thousands around the world, and besides a few squeal-worthy scenes that actually had some effort put into them, SMCrystal is more like a dose of morbid amusement with how bad it can be. The tragedy can only feel comic due to how high the expectations were. Granted, for what I read of the manga years ago, I remember being astounded by pacing issues and how bland a lot of the cast felt in comparison to what I knew even without watching much of the anime. It’s a story that requires some embellishment to work, and I hope that following seasons might have more character building to salvage the cast they’ve already introduced. Can Chibi Moon somehow save this series!? I shall continue to stay tuned in solidarity with Moonie friends who have been whipped around on this emotional roller coaster.

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    • Does this mean you’ve now watched the first episode of Yuri Kuma Arashi, or are you going by what you’ve heard? I admit I did wonder what you’d think of this series, as I know you enjoyed both Utena and Penguindrum, and maybe you could see something in the first episode of Yuri Kuma Arashi that I just completely missed out on. (Although episode 2 didn’t do much to change my mind, that’s for sure.)

      Hmm, favourite cast members of Akatsuki no Yona… either Ki-Ja or Shin-Ah at this point. The former because I have A Thing for white-haired bishounen, and he’s just so earnest that it’s laughable but also adorable, and Shin-Ah because I also have A Thing for vulnerableness when paired with the strong but silent type of persona. However, the character I have the most respect for is Yona, if only because it really has been that long since I’ve seen any anime female lead with solid and long-term character development.

      To be fair, there are a couple of things I like about Sailor Moon Crystal. Like the hair porn, and also the really stylish eyecatches. … Yeah, I’m reaching here, I know. I honestly don’t think anything can really save this series – least of all Chibi Moon – but I guess you never know? Stranger things have happened.

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  7. Nope! Being so behind on the anime scene lately, I had not even heard of Yuri Kuma Arashi until I saw that screenshot you posted, and that made me mentally respond with “Nope!” But I suppose it’s worth a shot, I could be pleasantly surprised by some Ikuhara creativity and find I have a high tolerance for lesbian bears. I guess I can give the first two episodes a shot and then give you thoughts rather than knee jerks.

    Kija is easily my favorite for each of the reasons you mentioned. Now that I think about it, I guess I have A Thing for white-haired bishounen as well, but I also figured out I have A Thing for hetare characters. Kija reminds me so much of how much I like cool-yet-not-really-cool characters that I might write up a squealing LJ post on the topic soon. I’m very split between a lot of the rest of the main characters so far, as I like them all but am not quite yet hopelessly attached. So long as it continues like this, it’s bound to happen at some point.

    Indeed, SMCrystal does have stylish eyecatches and floaty pig tails. Um… surely there must be more going for it than that. The Blu-Ray art looks nice, at least there’s that! Unless you count the wonky anatomy on the covers that people are making fun of… sigh… Toei, you’re really making me nervous about what to expect from Digimon.

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    • I’ve tried two episodes of Yuri Kuma Arashi now.

      Nope. Nope nope nope. Not doing this.
      Indeed, it screams Ikuhara, but it feels like I’ve already seen the stylistic elements–it’s like they took some of the weirder elements of Penguindrum (and a hint of Utena) and slapped new paint on them, and then really had to stretch for new elements. Shock! It’s so copied from previous success that it feels like it’s making a mockery of my beloved Penguindrum, sniffle.

      Otherwise, it’s nothing special, fails to draw me in with a sense of mystery and strength of setting like Penguindrum had. There’s symbolism, yes, but it’s so painfully obvious–at least Penguindrum and Utena left some room for thought and interpretation.
      And apparently I don’t have a high level of tolerance for sex-hungry lesbians disguised as bears so as to be not totally obscene. I really wanted the prosecutor to throw off his bear gloves in frustration and march out from all that ridiculousness.

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