The Season That Was: Anime in Japan, Winter 2011 Review

The Short And Sweet

Due to older experiments with spoiler tags, I’m using “more” tags now. Just go to the main link for my short, concise, minimum spoilers assessment of anime that ended at the end of the Winter 2011 season (not just the 12 ep quick runs). All aboard!

Infinite Stratos

This anime was highly inconsistent. Sporting modern CG assistance for the mecha action, it has a serious underpinning and a thick layer of camp all over it. Things like weapon safeties aren’t taken that seriously in this “guy surrounded by girls at a mecha pilot academy” type of plot, and really, you have some idea what you’re getting. It has high points, but some characters grate on me in ways that don’t come off, and… the animation and characterizations suffer from inconsistency. I’ll give this a 6, because it’s not like it was horrible, but it will never achieve greatness.

Incidentally, by far the best episodes come in the middle, when the pilot from France comes onto the scene. Anything else will be a straight up spoiler.

The flashes I’ve seen of what would seem to be more “novel” type content (IS was started in novels) suggests that I might personally care for the novels far more, and they probably have less campy slapstick level stuff, but at any rate… not worth dwelling on.

Freezing

There are those who are saying that this show, based on a Korean writer’s manga published by a Japanese publisher (in Japan, Korea and elsewhere), improved on the manga version. I bothered to look over the manga version several episodes before the end to find out if the manga was better. At the time, that statement would not have been true. By the end of the 12th and final episode, the answer is a clear yes, the anime was better because it modified a few things for a strong sense of closure (while not a finish to the world of Freezing) that is eminently rare with a) a 12-ep series, b) a continuing manga.

Anyway, the problem with this show is that the first episodes are the weakest and do not do a good job of conveying how eminently enjoyable the later episodes are, with face time for characters that should get it and a much more satisfying ending. However, this isn’t Shakespeare either, so I will give this a gentlemanly 7 because while it pleased me in the end, the weak start will stop a considerable amount of people from even seeing the better stuff.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Incomplete)

I include this show because I have seen ten episodes and people considering this deserve something very unusual from me: content warnings. Not about nudity or profanity; you’ll only see the small level of OP sequence nudity one comes to expect from a magical girl show (denoting purity). No, it’s not about that.

People, this magical girl show is dark. I mean, seriously, seriously dark.

A person watching the OP simply may not have any warning of how bleak and nightmarish the whole magical girl thing is under the surface. I’m not going to spoil about it, because it would annoy me even to relate the details with my own ten fingertips, but ten episodes in, there is no joy to be had in Madoka-ville. (Madoka is the main character’s name, to be precise, but anyway.)

Eps 11 and 12 have been delayed by the studio. The stated reason is sensitivity. That is, something viewers know is coming – massive urban renewal, or rather, simple naked destruction of a city – would seem a bit much this soon after the tsunami. The studio was working to push out a different show on time (which aired a short time ago) so, who knows if that was also a factor. Either way, even if there’s a happy ending – and I’m not betting on it – the journey is a particularly bleak and desolate one.

So be warned. And hey, some people think it’s great for the genre. But be warned first.

No rating yet, as it is incomplete.

To Aru Majutsu no INDEX II

(A Certain Magical INDEX II)

This sequel finally ended. When you’re animating a novel series, you are stringing together “arcs” in a way that is shorter and more decisive than say, long manga arcs in continuing series. If you’ve seen the first Index and “A Certain Scientific RAILGUN” (Railgun being the codename of a certain character who controls lightning psychically and can fire a common coin with the power of, you guessed it, a railgun), this show gives you more of the same with high quality animation and great faithfulness to the characters, which I commend.

The problem is, seeing this in a series form rather than separate novels jams some things together that may not really have been meant to be jammed together quite so. It also gets us too used to Touma’s FIST OF JUSTICE schtick (or as I like to call it, the Touma Paanchi (Touma Punch)). Women? Children? Old men? Touma’s an equal opportunity evildoer puncher. He doesn’t discriminate based on silly categories.

Having said that, the last two episodes are… special, in that they show that Touma may be a brave, idealistic kid with a power that is a massive equalizer against people with “real” powers, but a bunch of dudes with guns and he’s in danger of a short and violent death. His idealism is a poor match for a killing war. There are some acts of “heroism” which are better served by a brutal, violent, sadistic psychopath who’s somehow fallen through the cracks and wound up on the side of good guys.

Yes, that means you, Accelerator. You may bow.

I’ll give this show a 9 because it’s delivering on everything it intends to, but leaves a certain much loved character with very little face time, and Index herself gets a lot less involvement than she should, so there’s some plot muddling as a result of the novels’ zig-zag… but fans are getting served, and there will be more of this, I’m sure. The creativity is there. That’s important.

Star Driver

So, Star Driver ended. This show was… well, Bones is known for the high quality of its animation. Here, the problem was the plot. It went all over the place, did a lot of “character exhibition,” worked for a lot of predictable and unpredictable twists alike, showed us a lot of characters (ones to blink hard at, and ones to like), and was one of those “character porn” type shows, sacrificing plot in favor of a human interest story punctuated by earthshaking pocket dimension mecha action in the “super robot” style, with a possible-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type background.

OK, so that was a mouthful.

I’m going to give this an 8, in spite of the animation being clearly deserving a 10, but the fact is, I can’t get over the plot being a mess. It is, in the end, a “friendship conquers obstacles and barriers” type of show, without being all kiddy about it, but even so, this whole… shall we call it… “friendship triangle” (rather than love triangle?) setup is just weird, it’s distracting, and while this show had a lot of peaks, it also had valleys that could be lived without. That’s what you get for being artsy and “pretty boy” about it.

Super Robot Taisen Original Generations – The Inspector

(a.k.a. OG Season 2)

Let me put this in its proper context: Season 1. This second season is far better, with vastly improved mecha/ combat animation and much more satisfying resolutions. This is not the style of show that will get a 10 for being a masterpiece, but I give it a strong 9 because by the end of the show, and even by the middle one might say, it’s hitting on all the proper cylinders and is one continuous stream of awesome.

Note that it is not a perfect clone of what’s in the games, but that’s fine, and it has a huge helping of faithful and spectacularly done game content, so hey, it’s fine. It really is.

One thing to note is that this show started with three animation directors, and one was in charge of character animations. And he was bad and really had to go. I mean, insultingly bad. The lazy “comedy faces” he used well, I don’t want to even think of them. ^^;

That was long forgotten when the continuous stream of awesome was in full bloom. Besides, the mecha stuff never suffered. Best of all, just like the original Original Generation 2 game, a lot of characters get tossed up (including from Season 1) and a lot of plotlines got resolved appropriately.

Fans should be happy.

Content at the start of the final episode makes clear there will be a third season.

Wolverine

This is the version of Logan we saw in a cameo in the Iron Man anime last season. He’s in control of himself, on the cynical and worldly side, and in civilian clothes, not in his classic X-Men uniform ever. (For that, please see the brand new and glossily animated X-Men anime that just started.)

Long story short, Logan is in love with a girl and finding peace in Japan, and well, we know there’s no way that can last, so the girl gets nabbed by minions of her father, a huge crime boss with super samurai skills, and she’s slated to be married to a different crime boss who’s the current big cheese of an island nation of hardened criminals… and much, much mayhem ensues.

This is a good Logan story. People who know the comics should know what I mean. For a good Wolverine story, check out the X-Men anime. This is a Logan story, a good one, but still… not an overly complex one. The best part is absolutely the characters; it’s like a crime drama, and that works here, but the animation, while not flawed, has lowered aspirations that the X-Men anime is absolutely smashing past. So, an 8 without any regrets for watching it. Logan/ Wolverine fans shouldn’t hesitate. Watch, enjoy.

Dragon Crisis

This series was memorably described to me by a friend as “cute-service” (as opposed to fan-service). In Japan, a “service” is a freebie. Fan service means free panty shots or such things. Here, we don’t get a lot of that – rather, we get a lot of cute and a lot of colorful characters, with the amusing straight man (or boy) at the center being the most overtly boring, but a “comes through when the chips are down” sort who is no total loss.

This series is very nicely visually presented for the most part, but the problem is, this show is at its best when it’s ignoring any concept of big plot. It’s novel-based, and like other novel-based shows, this exposes it to the ups and downs of particular arcs and results in a short of “jumping around” problem that can be… choppy. More to the point, the ending was weaker than what preceded it, though it ends on a fine note; it’s just that what leads up to the ending was the sort of artificial crisis that these 12 ep shows often manufacture. This one just includes dragons.

I’ll give it a 7 because, hey, I liked the characters for the most part, it was amusing… but let’s not reward a plot trail-off. And yet, this is far from a bad show to me.

Koreha Zombie Desu Ka

That’s the official romanization. Of course, it should be “kore wa” but.. who cares, right?

This is another show that was really well presented visually, well, I’d say even more so than most, but far more importantly, the pure craziness of the character designs was awesome and the plot was very appropriate to such a setting. You can get the basic skinny from just watching the OP but, the main character is a zombie (who looks his normal plain self superficially) brought back to life by a necromancer after his own murder. So he starts out in a world more mysterious than that in which he resided before, hoping to find his own murderer, but… eh, well, it gets much crazier after a sort of magical girl shows up.

Who hunts demons with a pink chainsaw and a frilly magical outfit.

What happens next cannot be properly described. It must be seen.

This show is… awesome in a lot of ways that would be spoiled in multiple senses of the term if I tried. It’s not a show afraid of fan service, but it’s not as… cheap? as in some places. The bottom line is, the plot feels more meaningful than most and deserves the rating of 9 that I will give it, for high overall entertainment value and not sucking or leaving a bitter aftertaste. I appreciate such things.

GOSICK (ongoing)

Just to mention, GOSICK is still airing (and it’s still pronounced like “Gothic” in Japanese as I’ve explained on this blog). The animation is absolutely wonderful, the characters are very memorable, the “detective” type work is a joy to watch, and even though these are very much fallible characters, well, what’s wrong with that? Watching perfect people can be boring, and the fact is, our leading hero and heroine, who aren’t physically imposing people in the slightest, have a lot of genuine courage and a lot of genuine feeling for each other (as thick as the denials of how deep it runs might go).

It’s ongoing, but I think this show is a shoe-in for a 10 on pure win.

One quibble: this is probably from novel stuff and also from time constraints, but some of the mystery stuff, on occasion, happens at breakneck, whiplash-inducing speeds. This is occasionally necessary but, still, the more reasoned pace this show usually sticks to is far better for the viewer.

The real bottom line is that Victorique is, as her name implies, pure win, and is a treasure to be enjoyed.

J Sensei

About J Sensei

Blogger, writer, linguist, former Japanese> English translator, rusty in French, experienced in Japanese, fluent English native. Writing for Technorati.com and various blogs. Skype: jeremiah.bourque (messages always welcome). E-mail: [email protected]
This entry was posted in Anime, Art, Culture, Japan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.