It's been a couple of weeks since the season started and I've watched at least the first episode of everything I wanted to*, so I figure having a bit of a discussion about it all now would be timely.
First things first: this season is really good. Really good. I've picked up way more than I did in either the winter or spring this year, and have been enjoying a greater proportion as well! I haven't had this much consistent fun in a season for a long while. Feels pretty good.
So without further ado, here's what's hot and what's not:
HOT LIKE A BUNCH OF WET, MUSCULAR, HALF-NAKED HIGH SCHOOL BOYS
Or in other words, series that I've greatly enjoyed thus far, and have a good feeling that won't be taking a nose dive in quality any time soon. The picks of the litter, the cream of the crop, the really, really good cartoons, and basically just the series I reckon most others should be checking out.
It's a KyoAni show, of course I'm going to be loving it. But fanboyism aside, Free! is shaping up really nicely. We're yet to see the full extent of the characterisation of the cast, but from what there has been it seems well-formed, thought out, believable and not tediously simplistic. The relationship between Haruka and Rin does not appear straightforward at all, which is great considering it will be driving the plot for the most part. The other characters are alright, if a little unexceptional. Gou is a darling (and the perfect audience surrogate for all the lovers of handsome boys everywhere), Nagisa is fun (and thanks to being male, perfectly highlights how unrealistic the characters in these sort of s'life's usually are) and Makoto is kinda just there. But still, it's great fun, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack is fantastic (lol dubstep swimming races). Definitely one of the highlights of the season, and pretty perfect for the season.
And the fears that it will just be too gay for all the poor, ever-suffering heterosexual male anime nerds seem relatively unfounded. It's about as homosexual as Hidamari Sketch - you can read into it as much as you like and the show is perfectly happy to give you fuel for your imagination, but there's nothing inherent and concrete to support it nor anything that out-and-out denies it. It's exactly as gay as you want it to be. Except for the ED, I mean they're not even trying to have it be anything else there.
SERVANT X SERVICE
I've never seen Working!!, but after these first two episodes of Servant x Service it's jumped straight up my backlog. This show is hilarious. It's fast-paced, witty, clever, a touch offbeat and rather refreshing in its focus on adults doing actual adult work. It remains to be seen if the characters will end up being one-note walking archetypes and quirks, but so far I've got a pretty good feeling about this one. It takes a lot for anime comedies to produce genuine, out loud laughter from me, but this has nailed it without a problem.
THE WORLD GOD ONLY KNOWS - GODDESS ARC
It's more The World God Only Knows, it can't really go wrong. I really enjoyed the first two seasons and, while it's a shame that they skipped over what looked to be about an entire season's content in and of itself, the Goddess arc is apparently pretty good. Or so say the manga readers. It's probably a good thing that the skipped over all the other girls, because I could imagine it getting a little tedious. We already had two seasons of "girl of the week" type narratives, so having something a little more plot-focused and overarching could make for a nice change. Either way, it's more from a great franchise, so I'm not complaining.
This first episode really impressed me. Stylish, fast-paced, intelligent, subtle, funny, offbeat as hell, and with a ton of potential, it was really entertaining and engaging, and has me hungry for more. The presumed conflict between old and new in the context of traditional Japanese folklore, set in modern Japan, with a whole heap of craziness thrown in, is a prize-winning formula in my book. It's pretty clear that this is from the same author as Tatami Galaxy as well.
PRETTY DAMN WARM, BUT COMFORTABLY SO
Basically shows that I've enjoyed a fair bit for one reason or another, but either haven't quite hit the mark or are still in the state of being full of unrealised potential. Far from bad, at any rate.
Well this was bonkers. Tokusatsu on acid. Stylish, energetic, mad, imaginative, distinctive and just cool, I have to say I was impressed. Problem is, I have no idea what to expect from further episodes. I have no idea where it'll go and how it'll go about it, which fills me with a fair bit of caution. Also, the one character who was a ridiculous homosexual stereotype was rather off-putting. BUT I'd still say it's well worth checking out, if only for the sheer entertainment factor of it all. I have a fair bit of hope for this one, if it can keep up what it accomplished in this first episode.
GIN NO SAJI
After the disappointment of Moyashimon Returns, it's nice to have another anime about farming crop up that looks set to be great. The first episode was funny and engaging, although I can't say the main character left much of an impression on me. But I certainly sympathised with him - it's pretty obvious that he's going to be going through hell with his high school choice, especially with one so outlandish. The whole 'fish out of water' scenario is being made great use of, given that he's basically the only one who's completely unfamiliar and uncomfortable around everything he's surrounded by, but seeing that he's not entirely alone (his new friend fainting during the chicken beheading scene being the most prominent example) gives it a bit of variety. I can't say this first episode caught my imagination quite enough, but it was still very well done, and the sense of humour on display was not only really enjoyable, but it was also tastefully subdued and paced. Basically, it's good, and can probably only go up.
KAMISAMA NO INAI NICHIYOUBI
There is so much I already love about this show. The premise, setting and style - a post-Judgement Day world where God has left humanity, leaving humans unable to die by anything other than the hands of an undertaker, but still decaying away - is frankly excellent. It's an Abrahamic religious fantasy without the trappings of an Abrahamic culture creating it, resulting in something that feels both quite European and still distinctly east-Asian in its attitude towards spirituality, which is hitting the spot superbly for me. The atmosphere built in the first episode was similarly excellent, being wistful and poignant (as befitting the world) and yet still somewhat innocent and hopeful, thanks to our protagonist being nothing more than a young girl. It's fascinating. The main problems are that the story wasn't exactly set up in the first episode, leaving the question of how it'll progress very open, and the flitting between very dramatic and very light-hearted tones. The latter in particular could really damage the narrative, but I didn't feel that it was a particularly bad issue in the first episode, so I can only hope it will remain as such.
Oh my god this show is just too darling and adorable and cute and oh my goodness. Most of the first episode is set in England, and it is the most ridiculously, goofily English thing ever. A Japanese schoolgirl comes over on a homestay and it is WONDERFUL. And then she moves back to Japan. But then the daughter of the family she stayed with comes to Japan! And it's still wonderful, but not quite as much. Whatever, it's been leaving me grinning from ear to ear these past two episodes. It's like candy floss - sweet as hell, light, easy to consume, a pleasant treat but really insubstantial. But it doesn't need to be anything more than that. If it can just keep doing what it's doing, this is just going to be lovely.
Yuyushiki ending left a hole in my heart, and I was desperately seeking something to replace it, if only a little bit. Love Lab is that series, although it bears closer resemblance to something like Yuru Yuri instead. Either way, it's a cute-girls-doing-funny-things-with-some-yuri-undertones-which-in-this-case-get-canonically-squashed-later-on-apparently show. And it's pretty funny. First episode had me laughing, second episode not as much, but I was still amused, and I get the impression it's going to be able to keep it up. It's pretty shallow, and a little pandering - not a surprise given that it's a bunch of girls teaching each other about romance - but it's fun for what it is, and has a fairly sharp sense of humour.
MONOGATARI SERIES: SECOND SEASON
It's more *monogatari. Does more need to be said? Ok, the first episode was alright, albeit unimpressive, and the second episode felt pretty monotonous, so I was feeling a bit negative on it up to this point, until a discussion online really changed my opinion. The second episode really gave a surprising amount of insight and development into Hanekawa's personality, and could represent a pretty important stage in her character arc. It's a pretty big deal, all things considered, but I was just impressed that it was done pretty cleverly and subtly. Really raised my esteem of this show.
I mean, there's still a ton of fancily dressed-up ecchi, but that's kind of a given.
ROZEN MAIDEN: ZUR CKSPULEN
There was a bit of confusion prior to airing about what this series would actually be in the Rozen Maiden canon, but ultimately it is just an adaptation of the second manga series, the one that was started after the mangaka abruptly stopped doing the first one. It essentially follows Jun in the timeline where he circled "do not wind" at the beginning, but only after going through basically the entire first series over again. As such, the first episode was a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood like deal, where it just (very) quickly goes over the same ground. But in this case, the pace was such that it was a little off-putting. It was a necessary evil though, and the second episode was far better paced and far more interesting, showing unwound Jun's adult life. Spoiler alert: it's depressing as hell.
I like what I'm seeing though. The style, presentation and palette are more muted and dark, and a little stylised in a watercolour-esque fashion, which lends itself wonderfully to the material. It just looks more depressing, more hopeless and gloomy, and the initial tone at least is exactly that. It even gives it a more gothic aesthetic too - again, complementing the nature of the series just fine. And as for the plot so far? The second episode was actually quite fascinating - we see Jun, somehow, start making Shinku from a subscription based hobby magazine, and his increasing obsession with the doll makes for some interesting viewing. Gets a little goofy once he starts getting the texts though. But otherwise, this has me hopeful for this new series, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
SENKI ZESSHOU SYMPHOGEAR G: IN THE DISTANCE, THAT DAY, WHEN THE STAR BECAME MUSIC
This is dumb and big and stylish and kickass and bloody good fun. So far it genuinely feels like the creators have learned from the mistakes from the first series, and know exactly what Symphogear should be. The entire second episode is basically one long, awesome, over-the-top musical fight. It's certainly not clever, but I am enjoying the ever-loving-hell out of what I've seen so far.
TAMAYURA: MORE AGGRESSIVE
Well, it certainly has lived up to its subtitle!
Just kidding. It's as cute and gentle and warm and kind as ever. Which is all I really wanted from it.
Trigger voicing another zero-budget ONA series, this time about a bunch of eccentric adult women. It's hilarious. Hot and cold water have never been so shippable.
WATASHI GA MOTENAI NO WA DOU KANGAETEMO OMAERA GA WARUI!
I'm usually not great with cringe comedy. It can be painful, all too painful, to the point where I just can't watch. But Watamote is surprisingly good about this - it's cringe-inducing, but never to the point of unwatchability. My pain often just comes about by bracing myself for what I think Tomoko is about to do, which in most cases doesn't happen! And thanks to that, it ends up being pretty damn funny. It's a good comedy, touching a little closely to home (what with her being an asocial geek, but fortunately far worse than I) that makes it easier to empathise with Tomoko. You just have to feel sorry for her, even if a lot of it is her own fault. The only reason I didn't consider this higher is that, with only one episode available as of writing, it could easily slip in quality and get, well, bad. I'm not that confident in it, not yet.
BEGINNING TO GET A LITTLE TEPID HERE
Now we're getting to the stuff that's on the borderline. Half-baked ideas and poorly executed concepts are on display here, and the series present may well be at risk of getting dropped soon. There may well be room for improvement, but it's a bit touch and go.
While certainly not bad, it hasn't really engaged me in a worthwhile way yet. I'm largely enjoying its eccentricities, which make everything feel either unhinged or, well, stupid, but it isn't building tension effectively enough yet. Has a great amount of energy though, so we'll see how it fares.
GENEI WO KAKERU TAIYOU
I can't say I know what to make of this show yet. It shows a certain level of promise, sure, but the first episode was just a mess of stuff happening with little effective communication as to why or how it was all linked, and the second episode felt far too fast, with progression moving at a blink-and-you-miss it pace, while also heaping on the drama pretty heavily without the necessary build-up. The action sequences have been lacking too, and it's just proving hard to get engaged. It's not looking good, in other words. I'll probably be giving it another episode, but I don't see much of a future beyond that (see what I did there?).
STELLA JOGAKUIN KOUTOU-KA C -BU
How the mighty fall. This does feel like the final nail in the coffin of Gainax's legacy. Not to say that it's strictly bad, but this is a show that could have been made by anyone. There's no studio personality here at all. As for the show itself? The first episode was good fun and pretty charming, but the second episode felt a bit lifeless in contrast. Not to the extent that I'm writing it off, but you'd expect weird girls playing airsoft to be a little more entertaining than this, wouldn't you? And the dip in animation quality was pronounced and hilarious.
I don't know. It had a promising first episode, but the second episode failed to deliver on expectations. Hopefully it'll pick back up.
EVEN THE PENGUINS ARE SHIVERING
Humour that falls completely flat, lazy animation, boring action and annoying fanservice seemed to be all that this generic shounen could really offer. It had some style and a fairly cool presentation, but just failed to engage me at all in the first episode. And when the main female character gets introduced in a scenario that has some pretty rapey undertones, gets hit on a lot, and then winds up naked on the main character's bed, all before we even learn her name, you're not in for a classy experience. Dropped after the first episode, I have no interest in watching more.
KITAKUBU KATSUDOU KIROKU
While the first episode had some enjoyment to it, my fears that the sense of humour on display here would get pretty old pretty quickly came true within a few minutes of episode 2 starting. I mean, the whole straightman reacting angrily and confused is fine, if a little uninspired, but when said straightman is interject almost every other line FUCK does it get tiresome. Dropped after the second episode.
So on the whole, yeah - this is a good season. So much stuff that's really entertaining and remarkably little that isn't! And even the stuff that isn't that great could easily improve. Sure, there's not a lot I would call outstanding or necessarily memorable (nothing that will be reminisced in the years to come as an important work in the medium), but there are a lot of well-crafted, well-delivered series that hit the right notes and are damn enjoyable as a result. I can't wait to see how everything turns out as we go!
*You've probably noticed that Kimi Iru no Machi is not included here, despite my prior intention to pick it up. A few facts came to light: 1) It's being made by GONZO; 2) It's starting somewhere in the middle of the manga; and 3) I made a joke during my guide to getting into airing anime to the effect that if Doki and Hadena were your only fansub choices for a show, you're better off not watching it at all. Well guess what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING?! I must be fucking psychic.
So no, I'm not watching it.