A new anime season is here! Which means it’s time for pleasant surprises, deflating disappointments, and waiting for shows to go flying off the rails in glorious third act train wrecks. Of course, it also means it’s time for wading through a host of new shows and picking out the worthy from the rest of them, and then putting those findings into list form.
I’ve separated the shows I’ve watched so far into 3 categories: “The Good Stuff,” “The Bad Stuff,” and “The ????? Stuff.” Bad stuff has been dropped, good stuff I’m watching enthusiastically, and the rest I’m watching but still making up my mind on. Shows in each category are listed alphabetically by English title. If it’s not on the list, I didn’t watch it.
The Good Stuff
Chaika: The Coffin Princess – Avenging Battle
Back in Spring, Chaika‘s first episode impressed me more by what it *didn’t* do. Namely, it introduced a fantasy world, its characters, their backstory, and (most impressively) a system of magic without resorting to long, awkward monologues or exposition tangents that drown the audience in completely extraneous detail and bring the progress of the story to an sudden halt so that the writers can dump information they couldn’t figure out how to gracefully integrate with the action. That kind of awkward storytelling is endemic in anime, especially anime like Chaika that are based on Light Novels and made squarely for the worldbuilding-loving otaku audience. Of all the fantasy anime on this list, Chaika is definitely the most otaku-y, from the moe-girl title character to said title character’s magic anti-tank gun. But as the first season of Chaika proved, the quality of a show has far less to do with who it’s aimed at than how well it’s made. If the plot is compelling, the characters are charming, and the storytelling is strong, then you don’t have to be a member of the target audience to find it entertaining.
Like with the previous season, Avenging Battle‘s first episode strikes a balance between giving all the necessary details while still getting on with the action. It recaps the past season’s events, reintroduces the characters, and tells a fun story all at once. And Chaika is, above all else, fun. It’s first season was a well-told fantasy adventure yarn with a likable cast of weirdos at its heart, and based on its first episode the second season will be more of the same.
The word I’ve seen people use most often to describe Garo is “metal.” Which makes sense. It’s quite possible the only reason we ever started using the word “metal” to describe things was so that we would one day have an adjective with which Garo could properly be described. Witch burnings, magic armor, evil demons, boobs, bloody medieval executions, man-eating vaginas… Garo is what you get when a Ronnie James Dio song performs an occult ritual to transform itself into animation, and then jumps on stage to shred an epic guitar solo on a Flying V carved from the bones of dead rock stars.
Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. But Garo is definitely rude, violent, trashy fantasy, and it’s a lot of fun. I have a weak spot for dark and bloody fantasy ala Berserk, Game of Thrones, and Attack on Titan, and Garo seems like it will scratch that itch just fine.
What do you get when you combine a living, emotionless doll, a down-and-out fox spirit who decides to move in with her, and a very dry, sardonic sense of humor? You get one of the genuine surprises of the season. Kokkuri-san doesn’t have much of a plot beyond the above description, but so far it doesn’t need one. Gag-driven comedies often have a hard time maintaining momentum even over just one episode, let alone a full season, but Kokkuri-san‘s first episode is strong enough all the way through that the show appears to have a strong enough grasp on its material to carrying itself to the finish line. It has just the right mixture of odd couple character friction, absurdism, wryness, and a slight edge of cutting mean-spiritedness, and all of them in just the right amounts. It also has what may be the best end credits gimmick imaginable: promising the audience cat videos after every episode.
The story of a teenage boy and his relationship with his right hand gone terribly wrong, Parasyte makes an incredibly strong first impression by pouring on gobs of goriness and body horror grossness right out of the gate. It’s all stunningly animated by Madhouse, but just as important as the animation is the sound design for Migi, the alien creature that’s taken over a part of protagonist Shinichi’s body. The noises he(?)/she(?)/it(?) makes are simultaneously disgusting and hilarious, and the voice used by voice actress Aya Hirano effectively straddles the line between disturbing and cute. The combination of the two is incredibly off-putting, and not at all what I imagined the creature would sound like when I read the first volume of the manga many years ago; it’s also pretty much perfect. A show like Parasyte can get by for awhile just on shock and premise, but to keep from sputtering out it needs more than that. From the standout production design to the smartly updated story, Parasyte has a lot more than just gross-out spectacle going for it. And Parasyte‘s gross-out spectacle is pretty great to begin with.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
Bahamut is the third stand out fantasy series this season, and the second by studio Mappa (the other being Garo). Not only is it unusual for there to be this many good fantasy shows at one time, it’s also noteworthy that all three of them manage to have very distinct identities that distinguish them from one another. No one is going to confuse Bahamut with either Garo or Chaika, and vice versa.
Unlike Garo‘s boobs n’ demons low fantasy stylings, Bahamut is a swashbuckling adventure, starring a roguish hero whose careless bragging gets him roped into a situation much more dangerous and grand in scale than his usual bounty hunting and boozing. Bahamut effortlessly combines comedic antics with a looming high fantasy backdrop, and the first episode dashes along at a breezy pace while promising more serious turns in the future. But regardless of how serious things may get in the future, as of now Bahamut is one of the most fun shows of the season, starring the season’s most memorable lead, the brazen, drunken, yet somehow charming ass, Leone. Despite ostensibly being marketing for a card game, Bahamut keeps the magic system/card mechanics as background details and instead favors the cast of likable and entertaining characters. If they keep that balance where it is going forward, Bahamut will probably the most pure fun show this season.
The ????? Stuff
Celestial Method is a show where the production makes very clear exactly what emotion every scene is supposed to inspire in its audience, and yet it’s never clear why the audience should be feeling those emotions. Not only is the premise so far incredibly vague (girl with dead mother, forgotten friend with magical powers, swirly UFO thingy in the sky), but the character relations are far too ill-defined to sustain the intensity of feeling the show wants to make people feel.
By the end of the first episode, Celestial Method‘s evocative animation, soaring score, and tearful reunion confessions have cranked the Feels Meter up to “end of Makoto Shinkai movie” levels, which is an oddly high peak for a show’s first episode to end on. Where do you possibly go from there? We the audience barely know the characters and we sure don’t yet understand what the hell’s going on, but we’re already being asked to turn on the water works and believe that the barely established friendship has truly touched our souls. It’s a bit disorienting, but also strangely intriguing. Whether or not Celestial Method will ever manage to solidify the vague, etherial relationship at its center isn’t yet clear, but it’s good enough at being evocative that I’ll give it a couple more episodes to find out.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
If the first episode of Fate/Stay Night makes anything clear, it’s that UFOTable can animate the hell out of a duel between mythical heroes. The first episode was a bit of a slow build with perhaps a bit too many instances of teenage sorceress Rin telling herself things she already knows in voiceover, but the fight scene payoff at the end was more than worth it. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the episode didn’t have anything worthy in it: it introduced the conflict in a way that makes it seem intriguing and compelling, and establishes an amusing and charming relationship between Rin and her magical servant Archer. Unlimited Blade Works‘ first episode (technically episode 0) is a strong debut that makes a great first impression.
That said, I’m still not entirely sold on the show. I do have a lot of hope for it. I’m a fan of UFOTable’s previous Type/Moon adaptation, Fate Zero, and I’d love to see it get a worthy sequel/continuation. But while my experience with the visual novel version of Fate/Stay Night isn’t complete, the bit I’ve seen was more than enough to give me a less than stellar impression. While the idea of a battle between mythical heroes over the holy grail is a compelling one, the VN is full of overwritten and awkward prose, and also spends far too little time on the Grail War conflict so that it can pad itself out with directionless scenes of characters eating, endless prattling about every extraneous detail of the world’s magic system, and protagonist Shiro complaining about how he feels threatened by women and describing all the ways the women in his life should change so that he can feel better about himself (which basically amounts to “be more demure and submissive, and also have sex with me”).
In other worse, Fate/Stay Night is material that is begging for a great adaptation. With just the right amount of tweaking, the heavily flawed source material could become a great starting point for something much better that can still please its existing fans and bring in newcomers (and maybe even convert skeptics like me). It’s still too early to tell whether or not Unlimited Blade Works will pull this off. But if the first episode is any indication, it’s on the right track.
Gundam Reconguista in G
I already talked about the first 2 episodes of this show in a previous post, but after watching episode 3 I’m even more confused than I was before. It’s not surprising that a Tomino show is messy, tonally inconsistent, or has baffling moments strewn throughout it (episode 3 is notable for, among other things, random shots of what seems like every other wild animal within 20 miles of the main characters running/flying/swimming across the screen). But even expecting Tomino-brand oddness didn’t prepare me for the pilot seats inside G Reco‘s robots being actual toilets, or for an episode ending with the main character quite literally taking a shit in the Gundam’s cockpit.
G Reco, in other words, is really weird. Weird in a way that makes me want to watch more simply so that I can see where the hell it’s going. The rambling and unclear dialogue certainly isn’t very good at giving any indication of where this is all headed, nor is the wildly inconsistent tone. It’s still too early to tell if G Reco is just aiming to be a freewheeling and somewhat irreverent take on the standard Gundam war story, or if all this strangeness and sloppiness is the prelude to it being a baffling train wreck. I don’t know. My money’s on the latter, but I’m really not sure. But I am interested in finding out.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
This season’s 3 minute gag anime with a title longer than its episodes, So I Married An Otaku has so far been pretty charming. Some of its jokes feel like they go by too quickly to have full impact, but when it comes to a show with as basic a sitcom premise as “woman marries a nerd,” struggling to fit in all the material is a much better sign than stretching jokes too long and too thin in a desperate struggle to fill time every week. My Little Husband Can’t Be This Nerdy also seems to have found the perfect position for pulling back the curtain and poking fun without being malicious and degrading to its subjects. The jokes come from a place of genuine sympathy and genuine criticism alike. It understands otaku, has sympathy for them, but also isn’t afraid to point out how silly they are. It’s hard to get much of an impression from one 3 minute episode, but Recently, My Marriage Has Been Super Dorky seems to have potential.
A show changing hands between two distinctive and different creative voices is always a tricky proposition. Psycho Pass season one’s head writer, Gen Urobuchi, has an incredibly distinctive voice and some very particular writing ticks, and the show’s identity was very firmly rooted in them. It’s flaws (a somewhat meandering first act, a few too many digressive conversations about philosophy and literature) and its strengths (using genre fiction as the foundation for an exploration of the relationship between individuals and society, a fictional world built on moral ambiguity and existential cynicism that still contains a small kernel of hope that its characters struggle to navigate themselves toward) all came directly from its writer. But for the second season, writing duties have been passed off to Mardock Scramble‘s Tow Ubukata, a much different writer than Urobuchi. Both writers obviously love their sci-fi, and both of those series have their share of philosophical tangents (Mardock Scramble‘s 30 minute segment in a casino where two characters discuss game theory is more of a momentum killer than any of Psycho Pass‘s “Have you heard of Phillip K. Dick?” and “What would ____ philosopher say about this?” conversations), Ubukata isn’t so much interested in using genre as the launching point for explorations of the place of hope and morality in an uncaring world as he is in using it as a launching point for sick-ass shootouts with future-tech guns, talking about how much he loves cyberpunk concepts, and badass lady heroes being badass. Both approaches have their merits, but it’s not hard to see how the two can come into conflict.
The change between the first two writers is already somewhat evident. The first episode of season two has far more scenes of characters posing stylishly with sci-fi guns and slow-mo shootouts with Ghost In The Shell-esque robotanks than season one ever had, and protagonist Akane has changed from the morally conflicted and existentially overwhelmed Urobuchi character she was before to a laser-focused, ice-cold badass who doesn’t blink in the face of moral decisions or sweat a single drop when bullets and wreckage come flying directly toward her face. It makes sense for the character to have grown in the time between seasons, and it’s definitely nice to see Akane being more confident and certain, but in some ways the change feels less like natural character development and more like two different writers morphing the same character to match their own personal peccadilloes.
But other than these surface elements, it’s still far too soon to say just how different Psycho Pass‘s two seasons will really be. The world is still the same place, and the conflict for this season seems like it will be much the same as the first (Akane discovers a plot to undermine the Sibyl System and has to choose between letting it happen or defending the status quo). And while the first episode is passably entertaining, it doesn’t give much indication about whether following episodes will be anything more (or less) than that. It took quite a few episodes for the first Psycho Pass to grow into itself and fully reveal its hand, and it seems like Psycho Pass 2 will be much the same. What that’s going to look like, and how much the two seasons will resemble each other in the end, is still very much up in the air.
The Bad Stuff
Akame Ga Kill
Akame Ga Kill was my “this show terrible, but I’m watching it anyway because I make terrible life decisions” show of Summer 2014, and it will be losing its place in my viewing schedule now that it’s Fall. AKG certainly had a few moments of ironic amusement, and I was able to write a post I’m proud of thanks to watching it, but the show’s “angry, hacky rantings of a sexually frustrated 14-year-old boy with violent fantasies and a video game obsession” aesthetic has exhausted all its entertainment value and learning opportunities. Though it was very polite of the last episode that I watched to provide further evidence proving my thesis about it correct.
Two episodes into Terraformars, it’s already obvious that this show never had a chance. Word was that the production was troubled from the start, with episode two begun only weeks before its scheduled air date. Having now seen the first two episodes, I can believe it. The director gamely tries in at least a few scenes to cover up the abundance of shortcuts and rushed animation with something approximating stylistic flourish, but it doesn’t take long for it to become clear that all the tilted angle closeups, heavy shadows, and conspicuously out-of-frame faces aren’t there out of artistic consideration. And nothing can cover up the ugly, occasionally malformed character animation or how flat and boring the show’s largely gray and brown color scheme is. To put it frankly, the show looks pretty crap.
But more than just looking bad, Terraformars is boring. Even the show’s selling point, the violent encounters with unfortunately designed neanderthal bug men (when they eventually happen), have so far been pretty dull (partially because of such censorship bars so intrusive they dilute most of the impact). The characters are boring and impossible to care about, the concept is sub-Attack On Titan survival horror that has yet to distinguish itself in any way, and the story is plodding and padded out with boring dead childhood friend backstories and uninteresting characters telling each other which other uninteresting character’s naughty bits they’re interested in touching. It’s hard to say how much of Terraformars‘ problems are due to its rushed production and how much are from sub-prime source material (I haven’t read the manga, and I don’t have any active plans to do so), but whatever the source of the problems as of two episodes in the show is a total dud.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
This is the one that I had the hardest time putting in the “bad” section. But I couldn’t really put it in the “I have no idea what to expect from this/who knows how this will turn out” category, because Supernatural Battles is the kind of show where you know exactly what you’re going to be getting before the first episode is over: a group of high school weirdos sitting around in their clubhouse acting silly and getting into mildly genre-aware magic-related antics. Sure, there will probably be some other plot laid on top of it, but “wacky antics” is clearly this show’s main selling point, and I just didn’t find the characters’ antics amusing. I don’t really have any critiques to level against the show aside from “I didn’t find this very funny,” but that’s more than enough reason for me to drop it one episode in. If “slightly self-aware anime high school antics with magic” sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably enjoy it. If it doesn’t, the show doesn’t really have anything else to offer.
And that’s it! I may check out more first episodes later, but seeing as I’m currently watching 10(!) shows my platter is for now quite full.
Think I’ve missed something? Think I’ve made some sort of terrible mistake? Just have something to add? Let me know in the comments!