Demi-chan and Masamune-kun have been dropped. With series like these in a generic school setting, I zone out very fast when they revert back to the stuff you see everywhere, and the same old fanservice. I do not have time for that. Beyond that though, this definitely was an interesting month, full of twists and surprises. There’s some definite good stuff here, and I can see the ambition to get better from a lot of them.
Usual disclaimers: there be spoilers, arr. And these are just my impressions, influenced only by myself.
#10: Hand Shakers (05-08)
This list is based on my rankings for all episodes that aired in the past month, with my least favourite first and my most favourite last. Hand Shakers takes the spot of worst this month as a punishment for what it did for the past four episodes. Those who know me know why, and this series should also be well aware and it should feel bad about it!
I’m sorry Hand Shakers, but if you introduce a brother and sister and your first instinct is “incest!”, you obviously haven’t learned your lesson enough. This goes for the entire industry. Let’s first let a good number of years pass with series of siblings with actually normal relationships before we’re going to even think about this subject, mmmkay? This in particular was the perfect opportunity for that: a great way for this series to explore the strong bonds that siblings could have. It would have fit perfectly. Or just make them a regular couple. Heck, they acted more like one than 90% of all other couples in anime.
And this is a bloody shame because aside from that really big detail I’m really digging this series. I like how it explores hand holding, and this series has this warmth flowing across every episode that is really cute to watch. This is how you do chemistry! And look at how ambitious the animation is! Yeah it looks weird and all, but look at all the things they’re actually trying to animate! How crazy the camera sometimes gets, and how much it moves on an actual three-dimensional plane! This is incredibly difficult to do, and yet they keep trying, even beyond the first episode.
So yeah Hand Shakers: lay it off with the incest, and you have next month to redeem yourself!
#9: ChaoS;Child (04-07)
Oh boy. Episode seven. That was… quite something else. Really, I can see why they wanted to animate this show now. In the hands of competent creators, this really would have been the smash episode of the year, and I’m not kidding! The most disturbing single episode in years! Or at least, that was probably the plan. Oh god, in the hands of Tetsurou Araki this would have given me nightmares for months!
But yeah, let’s face it: the acting in ChaoS;Child is abysmal. It may not be the single worst acting of the season, but it is for what it’s trying to do. In episode one it already was quite clear how silly and over the top the gore was, but the real problems started to become apparent over this month: these characters can’t emote to save their lives. They’re all a bunch of cardboard boxes wiggling around and when things get dramatical instead of feeling with the characters, things just get incredibly awkward. Okay, so you want characters who pee themselves out of fear? You want characters who cry blood? Emote them! There was no way the creators would have been able to make that work with this execution, and that was apparent right from the start. What a good director would do in this position was just tone down the gore: make use of what you have, pull a few directing tricks here and there and pull off a more subtle performance that requires less time and budget.
Because it’s obvious that this series should have been 24 episodes long and it’s battling against time, but that’s no excuse. There’s another series this season in the same boat here: ACCA, having to bring thirteen different countries to life in just one cour. But there you can see that the creators are desperately trying to pull all kinds of tricks to make it tick and work. Chaos;Child simply animates the original story line by line without thinking about how to make it work best.
And that brings us to episode seven. Oh boy, I already tuned out a bit with the peeing and blood crying, but here? It was hard to watch what went on there, seeing these incredibly wooden characters trying to cope with the single most traumatic event in their lives, and it just got more and more awkward as it went along. And it just kept going! It felt like an eternity, and I was just hoping for things to stop, just to spare them for any more embarrassment. In more than 10 years blogging, I very rarely had to sit through an episode that was this difficult and awkward to watch.
And really: I dig the original storyline. The original game really was on to something. Before episode seven I could tolerate the bad acting because I was finding myself quite intrigued by what was going on: I wanted to learn more! I really don’t know how to rank this one. Good? Bad? Well, it’s certainly something.
#8: Little Witch Academia (03-08)
So, episode 08 was the best of the series so far, however I’m not sure whether that’s a good sign or not. I mean don’t get me wrong, episode 08 was good and all, and it gave some neat insights into Sucy’s character in a really creative way and all, but I’m more worried about the rest of the episodes. Basically: I expected a lot more from this series.
This may be complaining that apple pie tastes like apple pie, but I expected a bit more than high school hi-jinks for this series. For something from Studio Trigger, you expect something crazy, and yet most of the episodes have been surprisingly tame. It may have big ideas, but they all feel… so inconsequential. Episode 8’s mushroom forest? Gone as fast as it appeared. Dragons! Cool! But not when they’re old farts that don’t really do anything. There’s a whole world beyond the school, which is fastly leaving magic behind! Cool if this show would actually focus on it!
It would also help if Atsuko wasn’t so epically bad at everything. I mean I can understand having good and bad subjects and all, but where’s the fun in watching her fail again and again and again. This show is called Little Witch Academia, part of it should be showing how fun magic is. And yet they don’t show any of the basics. They just expect you to point your wand at stuff and things happen, but there’s no depth to it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover this world of magic alongside Atsuko? Instead, we get a series of an incompetent hack who manages to summon incredible powers through sheer luck.
It seems to me that this show doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. Every episode tries to do something different and they don’t seem to mesh at all. For a while it seemed like this show was about the wonders of magic. Then episode seven and eight came along and portrayed in a much more negative light without any lead-up whatsoever. One episode Atsuko is determined to win, the next she gets distracted by everything and completely loses any sene of urgency.
In a series with a setting this expansive, you’re bound to want to cover a lot, but instead it feels like the balance is completely gone. There is just so much time devoted to Atsuko sucking that whenever this show wants to include something new about its setting, there is hardly any time to look at it, resulting in that it just feels like it’s continuously pulling things out of its ass. Jobs for witches are a neat idea, but not when episode 7 brought it up from out of nowhere, only to never talk about it again. Astrology? People can predict the future now? Diana also conveniently is good at everything for Atsuko to have a rival. It just doesn’t feel organic.
I’ll just say it: Studio Gainax was better than Studio Trigger. Not now, obviously, but I can see that Studio Trigger has Gainax’ wit and balls, but not in the right places; only when it doesn’t seem to have much consequence. I think even when you ignore Hideaki Anno’s works. I mean, one reason why they’re famous is the Gainax ending. Back in the day it was used as a bit of an insult, but I really wonder: is a Gainax ending really a bad thing?
#7: Piace – Watashi no Italian (04-07)
Now, two months in, it’s safe to remove the benefit of the doubt for this series: Piace – Watashi no Italian is a genuinely funny series. Its episodes may only be four minutes long, but it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet, in fact it’s only getting more enjoyable. There are many keys in this, the snappy directing that wastes no line of dialogue, knows how to deliver a punchline, and a cast of characters that is just lovable to watch. They are a bunch of stereotypes, but the creators keep squeezing new things out of them, within these stereotypes: they give them different stuff to do, put them in a different context, slowly make them change and acclimatize to each other. Continuity also deserves praises: a wall that is smashed in one episode still bears cracks two episodes later. It also helps that the lead voice actress really carries this series: everything revolves around her, and she is wonderful at keeping all balls into the air.
One thing that is surprising me as well is that this show definitely did its homework. You see that more and more: people actually just googling the things they’re writing about. I feel this happens more and more, so props to this positive trend!
#6: Onihei (01-07)
Onihei is a strange series. It tries to be ugly: it doesn’t shy away from gore, it shows humans at their worst, and its stories are filled with death, sex and abuse. Amongst that it tells stories from around the samurai era, usually centered around a really big moral. First of all I applaud this series for daring to be different. In this day and age of feel-good series which try to play things safe, it’s very refreshing to see a series that just throws a lot of taboos overboard. But how about the execution?
Every episode, Onihei tries to tell a story around a certain character, and this part is something it does really well. It loves the use of irony, and every episode plays around with it in a different way. Most episodes have big plot twists that aim to make you think. It’s also very good at creating its tension through its art style, music and pacing. This combination makes this show tick: well written major characters that make you think.
It’s really bad at animation though. This show takes a good dose of suspense of disbelieve, because a lot of the characters just look silly when they’re trying to be funny. However the biggest detractor for this series is its cast of minor characters. You don’t see this being an issue often, but minor characters are there to fill a story. They are not the main focus, but they populate the world, and especially for this series they give the major characters their reasons for acting the way they do. And sorry, but the cast of minor characters here is just so full of Hitler-wannabes that it gets hilarious. Every single corner of this show is just filled with the exact same corrupt raping murderer that dies at the end that it’s really hard to see a threat in them. There is no look into what made them that way, and while this series is incredibly sympathetic towards its major characters, the minor ones are just ugly sword fodders who are evil just because the story needs it to be. Only episode 1 played with this, aside from that it could very well have been the same guy over and over again. No reason behind it. It’s like one of those stories that forgives a major hot character for committing a few atrocities due to being misunderstood, while at the same time having no qualms of the main cast killing off hordes of nameless goons who are probably only just doing their jobs.
#5: Youjo Senki (05-07)
I’ve compared Youjo Senki to Shuumatsu no Izetta, and that comparison still goes. Both series are set in a fictional Europe in the middle of a war, focused on a magical girl with huge powers of incredible strategic importance. Izetta is about a small country defending itself, Youjo Senki is about the biggest country expanding its territory. Both deal with politics, but Izetta uses a lot of espionage, while Youjo Senki meanwhile is big on the tactics. Objectively, Izetta portrayed its war in the most solid way. Its portrayal of characters was the most realistic and down to earth. And yet, why am I enjoying Youjo Senki far more?
I mean Izetta’s acting was rock solid, while the characters in Youjo Senki really are hamming it up. But on the other hand though, the actual war of youjo Senki simply is more interesting. Izetta was about the underdog and got its tension for watching to see how long they could hold on against all odds. But here’s the thing with underdog stories, in my opinion: there are so many shows about the underdog! It’s not special anymore, and after a while you have exhausted all possible ways to make it interesting. Youjo Senki meanwhile is different: her team already was on the winning side, but with her powers they might actually be able to do something even more crazy. Its tension comes from the weight of the decisions the characters take. Izetta showed on a personal level how terrible the tragedies of war are, and how it must be stopped. Youjo Senki meanwhile uses the tragedies of war to underline that yes: the characters are killing people. Both have their merits. And really, the war alone wouldn’t have done it for me for this series. At this point I was starting to get tired on Izetta, even though the stakes kept growing there. And the setting of Youjo Senki alone is not enough to excuse its lack of depth in the cast of side characters.
No, what I like best about Youjo Senki is its atheism vs theism themes. When after episode 1 I hated the whole setting, it just took a minute of being X to just sell me on it, and its subsequent appearances have toyed with some really interesting ideas, with this tug-of-war between the lead character, and trying to get her to accept that God exists. It’s really different from the Jesus you usually see in these types of stories, and being X is the one who throws in the irony to keep this story interesting, the extra kick and layer of depth that this series needed.
#4: ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (05-08)
From the start, it was obvious that ACCA would be a slow burner. With a setting this huge, it first had to do its share of building up. It’s still a bit weird, considering at the same time that it’s trying to rush its storyline into just one season. The result is that we just flew past 13 different countries and we’ve already gotten to the part where everything is starting to come together.
And that’s my opinion of ACCA: taking these constraint into consideration, it is doing a really good job here! A complaint you usually get with these series is that they don’t put in any thought in how to make their story work best for the anime format. The writers of ACCA clearly put in their hours. They did their homework in order to make sure that ACCA works as an anime.
This show is here to present its story, and episode eight made all of the scenes that felt a bit weird in the earlier episodes make sense. When the big twist was first announced, it felt far-fetched, but at the end of the eighth episode, they got away with it for me. Meticulous is the word here, I think. The more I think about it, the more I see that this show didn’t get any scene go to waste. Every scene was there for a reason, even all of the cakes, sweets and deserts were very deliberately put there to flesh out the identity of the different countries here. It’s actually very clever of the creators. And beyond that, every scene is just meant to either flesh out a character or country more, or to advance the main plot. It’s an excellent example that aspiring writers can look at for writing compact stories.
The big danger with being so compact is of course that the characters will feel more like plot devices than anything else. But even there this show pulls a number of tricks to try and avoid that. First of all the cast is just huge. There are so many characters, to the point where this series feels alive, and all characters are just part of it. I also want to praise this series for how it really tries to avoid overacting, and still makes the characters feel sympathetic. I still felt along with the characters, due to how good the writing was. The voice acting in the meantime was still able to offer colour to the cast, but without the overacting there is always something subtle behind them.
#3: Kuzu no Honkai (04-07)
Kuzu no Honaki has firmly established itself as “Unrequited love: the anime”. The whole set-up is carefully crafted to show many different perspectives, many different flavours in different contexts, intertwined together. Some parts are a bit exaggerated; played up in order to be able to tell a coherent story that fits within 11 episodes. Others through…
Like seriously at times this show completely nails it! Since the original Honey and Clover we haven’t gotten unrequited love this well depicted, and this show goes deep within the cast of characters. To show exactly how they feel, and why it sucks so much. The characters are all gradients of self aware: they know full well of what they’re doing, but all of them are desperately trying to find solutions in how to cope with their feelings, gradually finding them over the course of this month. And all characters do this, so this show just can keep juggling its characters around to prevent one story thread from getting too stale.
And all that lead to a number of great emotional punches, and every episode so far had at least one. Just one of those moments where a character learns to accept the situation they’re in, they cave in to their desires and move away from the ideal world they created in their own minds. It has now reached the point where every time I start an episode, I just know I’ll be getting the feels. This consistency deserves applause.
Oh, and one final thing: Youjo Senki, thank you for not including any awkward fan service like what Izetta did. Good lord being X this felt refreshing once I realized this.
#2: Classicaloid (17-20)
Remember how last month, I said that nothing happened in this series? Well, for February, things DID happen, and it hasn’t screwed up!
This usually is the point for comedies where the storyline kicks in and the jokes are much less of a priority. However Classicaloid’s advantage is that it has an amazing cast of characters with some amazing chemistry. So when these episodes tried to be serious, even if the comedy WOULD have been abandoned this still would have worked. And the thing is that these past four episodes were just as hilarious as ever, my favourite being the love-episode. That episode was all kinds of amazing and had me in stitches from start to finish, more than any other Classicaloid episode so far. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done: continue with the priority of being as entertaining as possible, while in the meantime pushing the story and the characters further.
Because of this I have high hopes for the finale. This series seems to know what it’s doing. Even though the final month is usually disastrous for comedies, if this series actually has the balls to screw conventions and do what’s best for the characters then it will be able to stand as my top pick for the past three months. It IS the show I’m most anxious about ending though, because if it doesn’t do that the potential for a mellow ending is the largest here, and a show of this caliber really deserves to go out with a bang!
#1: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (05-08)
As funny as Classicaloid may have been, and as touching as Kuzu no Honkai was, I cannot give my favourite show of February to any other than Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu; something really special happened here.
The thing with fiction is that over time, stories just keep getting written and written. They pile up about all kinds of topics. The first stories have it easy because there is a wide variety of different topics and techniques that haven’t been done before: originality is easy. However, at this point pretty much everything is a derivative of something. To get something truly original, you’d have to venture into territory like “a 13-legged octopus travels to Vermont to watch paint dry”, but that’s just faux originality: the story itself also has to be good.
What we got here, in the past month. Closer to something truly original is probably never going to happen again, especially in the realm of anime. And not only that, it did not sacrifice emotional impact, in fact this was higher than ever. This is the month where everything starts coming together for this series, and the past starts linking to the present. With Yakumo’s failing health the past comes above again, just like what happened with his master. I love how in-depth this show got at how hard it is for him to accept his own old age, how his passion for rakugo has evolved. They’ve built this guy up to such a beautiful walking contradiction. And the rest of the cast was brilliant too! Everybody had their own motivations that while all the same, they all came together from different directions to the same conclusion in not wanting to give up Yakumo’s rakugo.
Also, from out of nowhere, this show suddenly got incredibly good at doing plot twists. Like every time I’m just struck with surprise, but the big reveal really was something else. At the end of season one, when IT happened I remember how I found it a bit underwhelming. the scene was a bit weird and it just didn’t feel right. At that time I saw that as a fault. Well consider my ass kicked and I take all that back. I have been beaten. Praise the glorious rakugo overlords!