My Favourite Anime of 2011

Probably a bit late but oh well.

I didn’t see much anime TV from the spring season and didn’t watch anything that started in the summer so my options are a bit limited. Based on clips and some write-ups about the show I think I would have liked Usagi Drop, but I decided to read some of the manga it’s based on first. And, I didn’t enjoy the first episode at all so I dropped it straight away, but Tiger & Bunny went on to get such a warm response from a lot of fans and critics that I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point.

My favourite anime TV show from last year was a drama called Wandering Son. The series is based on a manga of the same name and tells the story of a group of classmates at a Japanese middle school, a couple of which are struggling with confusion over their own gender identities. The show had a distinctive visual style that was quite simple and quite beautiful. The plot was obviously melodramatic but still maintained a firm grasp on reality and the story was interesting. The characters seemed improbably mature for their young age but were pleasant enough. The ending of the series wrapped the plot up in a disappointingly derivative and neat way, seeming a bit out of context, but not ruining it entirely. In general I liked the fact that the show was mature and calm, yet sensitive and warm.

A close runner-up was Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which presented a deliciously dark and slightly bizarre take on the classic magical girl genre. Like Wandering Son it felt fresh and I was more than satisfied with all the elements of its production. Unfortunately, also like wandering Son, the series had a disappointing ending. Both shows ended just before the spring and sadly I think the Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan and the immediate aftermath had dramatic effects on the shows productions.

Film wise, as ever not a lot was released in the UK last year, and the assumed 2011 date of release is arguable. I thought that Arrietty, the story of miniature people living in secret in an old house in rural Japan, was in some way a welcome return to form for Studio Ghibli, delivering a simple but excellently realised family adventure. My favourite anime film last year though was the much hyped Redline. The film portrays the events of an illegal futuristic alien automobile race between the fastest drivers in the galaxy as well as the relationships between a couple of the top competitors. The edgy story and extreme characters are straight forward and obvious, but they’re not standard cut outs and there’s no pretentions of depth, so there’s not a problem. The story, characters and fictional world are never boring and along with the fast pace there’s more than enough to hold viewers interest. The reason this film will be remembered, and I assume the main reason it’s got such a strong positive reception in the west, are the visuals. While it’s not quite unheard of (unseen in this case) the explosive, lurid, madcap scrawling style of this artwork has rarely been done like this, and perhaps never to this extent. The detail and almost organic dynamism squeezed into every frame is brilliant. My only real criticism though is that with so much bizarre opulence onscreen it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what’s going on. Indeed probably because of this, I found it hard to fully engage with this work, and so, was not as blown away by it as some fans seem to be.

I’m not entirely sure what anime TV shows are coming later this year, but I’m hopeful I’ll get to see the new Hosada film and the third Evangelion title.

Wandering Son is still available on CrunchyRoll, while I downloaded Puella Magi Madoka Magica fansubs from [gg] I think. Arrietty and Redline are available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and I believe you can rent or buy Redline in SD and HD on PSN.

Previews: C, Tiger & Bunny, A-Channel, Toriko, and AnoHana

C – Control – The Money and Soul of Possibility

ANN (synopsis): http://www.animenewsnetwork.co.uk/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=12400

I wanted to watch C first as it was the show I’d been most excited about prior to the season (despite the fact that the trailer looked awful) because the director, Kenji Nakamura (Mononoke, Trapeze), is one of the interesting creators working in anime at the moment.  Alas, I found this very difficult to follow, the first episode had a very bizarre structure, and while this may have been on purpose, I felt confused.  I’d say it was trippy but I think it was deliberately set-out to feel disconcerting. On top of this the animation was disappointingly poor and I had a hard time maintaining interest.

If this wasn’t a noitamina show by Kenji Nakamura I’d give up on it, still though, I’m hoping for some clever anime twists on the murkier side of the Japanese finance industry.

C 01

Tiger & Bunny

ANN (synopsis): http://www.animenewsnetwork.co.uk/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=12198

I checked this out because I’d heard a few good things about it, but I just didn’t like it.  The idea of superheroes in some kind of over-commercial city, fighting crime for ratings and points on a popular TV show, is clever and an apt comment on modern society, but that aside, this is clearly set to turn in to a silly, unfunny, buddy comedy.  Maybe I’m wrong and it wont be as cliche as I’m assuming, but nothing impressed me about it anyway.  And the show has blatant product placement and advertising smartly woven in to the very structure, but as obvious, and yet sharp, as this is, it’s still in your face advertising and it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Tiger&Bunny 01

Read on for: A-Channel, Toriko, and AnoHana…

Continue reading Previews: C, Tiger & Bunny, A-Channel, Toriko, and AnoHana

Final Thoughts: Wandering Son, Fractale, Bakuman

I want to try and do something a bit different from the standard previews and reviews (for series at least), because, frankly, I dislike writing them.  So I’ll try and develop a slightly less formal, conversational style, and just give my thoughts and perhaps a score.

Wandering Son

ANN (synopsis): http://www.animenewsnetwork.co.uk/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=11875 – ‘Shuicihi Nitori appears to be a shy and quiet preteen boy, when he transfers to a new school he quickly makes friends with the tomboyish Yoshino Takatsuki who sits next to him. It soon becomes apparent that both Shucihi and Yoshino are more than simply a sensitive boy and masculine girl, they both are transgendered. Together they decide to take the first steps toward becoming the people they want to be.’

When this series first started I said this was exactly the sort of narrative that interested me these days, and really, I stand by that. It was fairly slow paced, although it managed to cover a lot of ground in a small number of episodes (as far as I know, it cut a lot from the manga source). It was sweet, capturing quite simple, awkward little moments from childhood and presenting them as naïve melodrama. It was relaxed; none of the characters, save one bubbly girl, ever seemed particularly enthusiastic, and it gave the “action” softness and a sense of subtlety. And above all, it felt natural, despite the fact that the main characters (middle-school children) often seemed impossibly mature. The artwork managed to suite that narrative; simple and understated, yet beautiful. While thematically the show deals with quite a complex social issue (transgender and transsexual feelings) in a simple and caring way, never making light of the subject nor becoming too heavy.

Read on for more on Wandering Son and Final Thoughts on Fractale and Bakuman…

Continue reading Final Thoughts: Wandering Son, Fractale, Bakuman

Review: Mitsudomoe

In the Summer television season of 2010, Mitsudomoe, a shonen comedy anime series directly based on an on-going gag manga, aired in Japan and was legally simulcast on the Crunchyroll website.  The anime had an original run of 13 episodes and returned for second, shorter, season of 8 episodes in Winter 2011.  Both seasons are directed by Oota Masahiko, whose most notable previous work was Minami-ke (which unfortunately I’ve never seen), and were produced with the same cast and crew by, relatively new anime studio, Bridge.

The story follows the misadventures in the everyday lives of three troublesome sisters in the 6th grade of elementary school, the Marui triplets,as well as their single father, their eclectic classmates, and their unfortunate teacher, Satoshi Yabe.  Each of the girls has wildly different personalities; the greedy and not so subtle, Machiavellian eldest, Mitsuba, the simple but lovable, insanely active middle child, Futaba, and the quiet but scary bookworm, youngest, Hitoha.  As it’s based on a gag manga though, there’s no real overarching storyline, instead small arcs and tropes associated with individual characters reoccur and develop throughout the series.

Continue reading Review: Mitsudomoe

2011 Winter Season Anime Update

I didn’t watch any anime for a week or 2, so I already fell behind and am in the process of catching up. Not much has changed for me though. The problem I’ve had with A-1 animation production (I still intend to elaborate on this at a future time) has proven not to affect my enjoyment of Fractale too much, and the show has grown in my estimation. Conveniently for me both Noitamina series (Fractale and Wandering Son) didn’t air last week, so I don’t have to catch up on those. Wandering Son is still my favourite new series of the season. I switched my optioned fansub group for Bakuman to [Mezawari], they seem to have an issue with timing their subs, a small number are too long to read in the time their onscreen. Other than that though they seem fine and they’re very fast. As I said in the roundup, Gosick is proving to be less intelligent then I thought, though it’s still moving along well. And, I finally decided to drop Yumekui Merry (or at least put it on hold), as I mentioned in the previews, it’s fine and definitely shows promise, but it’s my least favourite of what I’m watching and I wanted to save some time.

Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part three)

Fractale: Again I didn’t preview this show so I’ll keep my comments brief for now.  I had a few minor problems with the story and large issue with the animation that’s complicated to explain and can be traced to the animation studio, so I’ll talk about it in another article in a couple of weeks.  Overall though I enjoyed it, its imaginative, enjoyable and the fantasy world it’s set in is very interesting.  I’m sticking with this, for the time being at least.

fractale 02

Wandering Son: I gushed slightly in the preview of this, but this is definitely my favourite show so far this season.  While the second episode lacked the brilliance of one particular emotional scene in the first, it showed that this series has authentic seeming characters in an authentic seeming setting, displayed with pristine animation.  My only doubts/criticisms of the show are that it seems likely to over-sentimentalise or sweeten the drama, an issue highlighted by the white, faded, light colourisation of the visuals, and the narrative might be better suited to an OVA or even a movie, we’ll see though.  Like I said in the preview, Wandering Son is very much in tune with my current tastes, it’s subtle, engaging and high quality, I’m more excited by this than I’ve been in any new anime series for some time.

wandering son 02

Next: Season Overview

Continue reading Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part three)

Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part two)

Level E: It seems I was indeed wrong about this.  In the first episode I hadn’t really caught on to the humour, this is no laugh riot, but there’s a playful sense of amusement.  The problem was that, as though the hijinks had been turned up in the second episode, it came across as quite silly, however, the upside was that the playfulness made the characters far more enjoyable and likeable.  The second episode highlighted the negatives in the visuals though, the bland cell animation was horrible at times and the once again poorly integrated CGi was awful.  Although better and more promising than I originally thought, and after all, the story remains interesting, I wont be sticking with this.  The show has to many issues to make it memorable.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  I don’t like magical girl anime, they’re always silly and rely on being cute and whimsical, everything I don’t like.  But this is such an unusual take on the genre it’s won me over.  From the lot of opening episodes this was my second favourite show this season, after Wandering Son, and the second episode only continued its high standard.  I didn’t write a preview for this, so I’ll just briefly comment on 2 things.  Firstly, the show is from Akiyuki Shinbo (ef – A Tale of M~, Bakemonogatari), whose oddly stylised previous work, as well as this, have made him a favourite anime director of mine. Secondly, the show has been criticised by some because the style of its character designs look out of place, and though this is true, it works and I like it.

Next: Mitsudomoe and Beelzebub.

Continue reading Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part two)

Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part one)

I’ve decided to split this round up in 3 as it’s longer then expected.

I’m continuing Bakuman from last season and watched second episodes of 9 shows from this season: Wandering Son, Gosick, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fractale, Yumekui Merry, Beelzebub, Mitsudomoe, Freezing, and Level E. I decided to be quite strict with my eventual selection as I don’t want too much on my plate.

Bakuman: In the second half of its first season the show continues to develop as expected, its dull and poorly produced, but I’m interested in industry aspect of the story and have grown quite fond of the characters. (note: I switched to following the [SubDesu] fansub as they’re faster then Tomodachi [TMD] whilst the quality seems fine.)

Gosick: I was less impressed by episode 2, there were a couple of moments of rough animation (character facial animation especially) and sentimental sequences that made me inwardly groan.  I think it will lack depth, won’t be as intelligent, and could become a little more predictable than I hoped.  Still though, it looks quite good, I like the style, I like the atmosphere, and the story and characters still seem interesting, so, I’ll be sticking with this. (note: I switched to using the [Victorique] fansub, which I think is a solo project from a member of Unlimited Translation Works [UTW] fansubs group.  It’s using a 720p raw and Crunchyroll’s subtitles.  Normally I’d be against using a fansub that rips its subs from a licensed vendor, but the image quality seems better and I don’t feel so guilty because crunchy gets my subscription fee regardless.)

Next: Freezing and Yumekui Merry

Continue reading Winter 2011 Preview Roundup (part one)

Winter 2011 Previews: Yumekui Merry, Freezing

Yumekui Merry

Based on a manga, Yumekui Merry follows high school student, Fujiwara Yumeji, who has the unusual ability to see the colours of the persons aura to reflect on their dreams.  One day he meets a strange girl called Merry, who apparently can travers between dreams and reality.  Together they will explore the nature of dreams.

I was fairly sure I’d dislike this.  Seemingly silly story, characters, and character designs, put me off, but it was surprisingly “cool”.  Visually it’s high quality, in the real world portions at least, and I like the obvious difference between the real and the dream worlds.  The plot actually seems like an unusual take on the magic/fantasy genre and some nicely scripted sniping from some secondary characters, who, while barely featuring seemed interesting.  The combat action in the opening episode was disappointingly stunted but otherwise nothing really bothered me and the great sound in particular leads me to hope for a Full Metal Alchemist style contemporary shonen anime.

Interest: none low mediocre some yay

ANN: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=11765

AniDB: http://anidb.net/perl-bin/animedb.pl?show=anime&aid=7725

Fansub by [gg].

Next: Freezing

Continue reading Winter 2011 Previews: Yumekui Merry, Freezing

Winter 2011 Previews: Oniichan!!, Level E

Bit behind schedule again, sorry!  Admittedly I over-praised Wandering Son somewhat in its preview, but it was very good and I’ve even pre-ordered the first 2 manga volumes in the UK.  Also my excuse for the write-up of said preview being riddled with even more mistakes then usual is that I wrote it quite late.  Anyway, here are 2 more previews.

Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!!

Nao is middle school girl overwhelming attracted to her perverted older brother.  However just when she discovers they aren’t blood relatives and realises they can legally have a relationship, an old flame returns to his life to complicate matters.  The series is based on an online web-manga.

This type of show annoys me, the sexual element is devoid of any eroticism but its always in your face (there are about 20 entirely unnecessary “panty shots” just in the first episode) and the audience already knows the tension won’t go anywhere.  It plays the subject matter for crude unfunny jokes that have been run out umpteen times and it simply feels forced and boring.  Add to that, weak animation and an ugly visual style and it’s doomed for me.  I’m not sure how it will be received by fans of the genre, but, I think I said a similar thing about KissxSis last year, the siscon/brocon thing does nothing for me, so, once again, this show is simply not meant for me.

Interest: none low mediocre some yay         (dropped)

ANN: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=11947

AniDB: http://anidb.net/perl-bin/animedb.pl?show=anime&aid=7978

The fansub I watched was a joint release from Ayako and Shikkaku, [Ayako-Shikkaku].

Next: Level E

Continue reading Winter 2011 Previews: Oniichan!!, Level E