And that was November. The month without a beginning or end, most series are using this time to build up their setting and characters for added depth. Some shows got better, some started to show kinks. These are my impressions, in order from least liked to best liked, about all the episodes that came out in November, so some of the new episodes aren’t counted yet. As usual: there be spoilers. And I’m not sure whether I’m going to include ratings in these lists. For now I’m refraining though. Just note that #2 is way above #3 and #1 is miles above #2 again. #1 in particular just restored my faith in anime again.
Oh and I unfortunately had to drop 3-Gatsu no Lion. Not for a really particular reason other than time. I had to drop one, and it became that series. Was I right in dropping it? Dunno.
#9: Bernard Jou Iwaku (05-08)
Granted, the only reason I’m still watching this is because every episode is over within 3,5 minutes, but it says something that out of the entire onslaught of mini-shows this season, this is the only one I kept. This is what I expect when I watch one of these series: due to the dialogue it never loses my interest, it remains fresh, it makes me chuckle once in a while and it knows what it’s about: name-dropping famous novels.
I like how it’s both poking fun at the literary imbeciles as the snobs. This dynamic has been good for 8 episodes of fun, and I can pretty much see this show finish its run without too much difficulties at this pace. It’s interesting, fun and short. Nothing special of course, but short series should look here for how it’s done. They really need that because the amount of really bad shows really is getting out of hand.
#8: Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari (05-08)
Oh boy, this series. This was not a good month for Udon no Kuni. I will continue watching it, but this month the show headed into a really questionable direction that… I both don’t like it and I don’t get it to be honest. Over the past month I’ve been watching this guy slowly losing his mind by a shapeshifting tanuki. And if that was an actual plot point then I’d love that, but I’m getting more and more convinced that the creators are playing this straight: that the series really is going to end with Souta and Poco living happily ever after as a family…
In a normal series that would be fine and all, but at times this show seems to forget that we’re dealing with a tanuki here… Souta never seems to question where he came from, his origins, he doesn’t seem to find it weird that he basically is treating his pet like his son. He gave up his entire life in the city, not through careful consideration, but because Poco liked it there better, which takes away a lot of the power of the first episode.
It also doesn’t help that Poco is getting really annoying now. His antics… they’re a bit too blown up. He’s trying sooo hard to sound like a kid, and I get that he’s a tanuki and all, but it’s also the responsibility of the creators to create a fun series and all. Episode nine was especially cringe-worthy when he got lost in the most clichéd way possible. No meaning behind it whatsoever, just to get some development out of Souta. I also really dislike Souta’s coworker, especially now that the creators seem to have decided they want him back as a regular character.
They’re going to really have to step up their game for the finale here. And what happened to the Udon? I mean they eat it here and there and all, but this is supposed to be one of the major themes of this series. We don’t call Cross Game Napolitan Game for a reason.
#7: Cheating Craft (05-08)
Usually in a comedy, when the big rival is introduced it’s the moment the series goes south. I do not know why so many comedies want to be taken seriously all of a sudden, but you need good characters for that, and most comedies depend on stereotypes or gimmicks. Cheating Craft is basically one gigantic gimmick, so I was dreading this moment, and yet something really weird happened: the show actually got better.
The crowning moment definitely was episode 6, which just said “screw it” to linear storytelling and delivered a really weird mish-mash of scenes right intertwined with each other, held together in a theater play. That one episode succeeded in trying to sound like it was taking itself so seriously, yet it kept trying to get away with more and more ludicrous scenes. And it was fully aware of that by the way. It was magic!
After that followed two episodes of training arc parodies. A bit more conventional, but they worked. It had a bunch of neat ideas, it was fun, it made me laugh. I’m impressed in the way that the story of the show is actually progressing, and yet it does not forget that it’s supposed to make the audience laugh. This is the middle month in which series like this usually lull into a period of nothing really happening, and here Cheating Craft comes with a pacing that really is just fine.
#6: To Be Hero (05-08)
This series continues to be an excellent example of how comedy should be done. The fast pace makes sure that the jokes just keep coming and coming, the half episode length makes sure that it doesn’t drag, and in terms of inspiration it hasn’t slowed down in the slightest since it started, and it still feels fresh. It still manages to surprise me with how politically uncorrect it can get and every episode finds a new way to weird me out. It’s one of those rare shows where I just know that I’m going to laugh through the entire episode.
What also helps is that there are no bad characters. Sure, the characters are terrible people and all, but every characters has a point and purpose, and actually made me laugh. Even Gintama (or Excel Saga for a more concise comparison) had characters that got on my nerves and I wanted to just go away. Every character is also their own epitome of black humour. Some characters may have some annoying moments, but these are so rare compared to what I feared this show would turn into.
Endings are the bane of comedy’s existance, but with Nabeshin at the helm I actually have confidence that he can pull it off. The key is have a climax while still being funny, and using that climax for extra tension for the jokes. 90% of all comedies make the mistake of just completely scrapping the jokes, or putting the jokes on second place for the sake of wrapping up the story. That’s bad! Ideally, you’d use your entire series to one gigantic joke of a climax at the end, and there are very few series that understand that. Is this series one of those that do? Find out next month!
#5: Shuumatsu no Izetta (06-09)
This show, it’s got a lot of major things right, and a lot of minor things wrong. So overall, I’m happy. My biggest praise is how well the creators thought about the plot. There are no really big cop-outs, the tone is consistent, the setting is very solid. A good story just writes itself, and that’s exactly what happened here. This month we saw the war between the two main nations here evolve further, and with what it was given, it makes sense for things to have happened the way they did. Characters are no morons, Eylstad did what they could in order to hold out as long as possible, while Germania took its time to find a way to deal with the white witch: a powerful weapon, yet ultimately too fragile to win an entire war with.
And I realize how rare this is now that there is a series that actually doesn’t do that: but the deaths actually surprised me. I’ve seen so many series that copped out at the last minute: pretending to kill off characters only to find some way to revive them again, or pulling completely ludicrous leaps in logic to prevent certain characters from dying. Not here: when it felt logical for them to die, they actually did. They underestimated the situations they were in and paid for it. I love that! These deaths have meaning, it’s not like this is a trigger-happy show that just kills for the sake of killing. Hats off!
Now the bad: first of all the fanservice. An sich I don’t mind that (hell, there are some series this season where there is far, far more), but it’s the context in which it’s used. This is a series that takes itself very seriously, the light-hearted moments are very limited, and there are nearly no jokes. The only jokes are the really bad boob jokes that you see in every single series. THAT’s is what I take offense to: if you’re gonna do fanservice: make it flow well into the storyline. Don’t come across like the only way you know to flesh out characters is grabbing each other by the boob. I’m sick and tired of that.
Now, episode 09 finally brought in the second witch. It was a major episode, and I loved what it lead to… except the new witch herself feels kinda iffy. The revelation that she was cloned feels… a bit out of place in the setting. For the first time in the entire series. It was built up, but still it felt a bit weird. But okay, it’s their series, if they want a setting reminiscent of the first world war with a few details changed here and there, like witches and cloning, I can buy it. But then the witch started talking….
Look, what also made this series so good is the believable characters. There were a few things here and there, but most of all the characters here: you can believe that these people all fit, and their acting was all down to earth and business. There was a lot of cold and serious acting, but Izetta and Fyne balanced that out by also showing the human side of the cast, and when they did they also knew their place. And then that new witch came and started acting like a supervillain in an action flick. It was… jarring…
#4: Natsume Yuujinchou (05-08 + special)
I’m not entirely sure what to think right now. On one hand, episode 08 was the best episode involving Natori and Matoba so far. The other episodes have been really excellent as well. But that Nyanko-sensei special was the single worst episode of Natsume Yuujinchou, ever. It’s really rare how consistent Natsume Yuujinchou is, so any episode that isn’t up to its standards immediately stands out, to the point where the episode was just hard to watch.
Let’s talk a bit about brevity in storytelling. Ideally, a story should progress at a logical pace, and it should end at a place where it fits best. This is not an attack on filler episodes, because these can serve a very good purpose in fleshing out characters and getting to know them, however we are already more than 50 episodes in right now. Series should not try to pad out their length and go on as long as possible, because that will eventually just diminish the impact. Telling a story is a delicate balance between taking your time at the right moments and hitting hard and fast at the right moments. The timing of that special felt completely out of place, and the creators knew it so they aired it as a special outside of the main series, so I’m not really sure whether to hold this against the series or not. I mean most specials are either just for background information, or some silly side-story… however specials always air when a show is finished. Not when you’re right in the middle of a story.
Because it seems that this series is addressing my concerns I voiced right at the beginning of this series: there’s been lots of character development of the major side characters this month. Whereas season four was all about Natsume and his family, this is about his friends and Natori, Matoba and Reiko. Since for these episodes, the series depends on something other than the powerful closures of the episodic stories, so it took a while to build up, but with episode 08 it all came together quite nicely.
Now ideally, there should come one more season after this. ONE. Entirely dedicated to wrapping up the story and closing off all threads that the series laid out. I really think that any longer than that will be too long for Natsume Yuujinchou By then it will have been able to say everything that it wanted to say.
#3: Yuri!! on Ice (05-09)
Well then. Sayo Yamamoto’s series have always been incredibly sexual, all in their own unique way. Her masterpiece Michiko e Hatchin seamlessly blended the sexiness in Brazilian culture with its plot and characters, while Lupin the Third… I’m still surprised that they managed to get away with everything they did. Now Yuri on Ice is here for the Yaoi fans. The thing with fanservice is this: there will always be people who will not be attracted to what you’re showing. So, if you focus too long on that, or make it incredibly stupid you will alienate people. This is a rule that a lot of anime fail to understand. Yuri on Ice was awfully close to that line this month though. Especially on the orgasm skater I was like… “do I really want to watch this?” And yeah, the first episodes still were a bit ambiguous, but this month made no mistake: Victor is gay and Yuri is bisexual, and we’re getting a romance here. It feels forced. I don’t buy it. I have that with most romances though, but it’s a shame that the romance in this show does not form an exception.
Because damn, the characterization in this show is so good! This month this series had the challenge of blowing through two major matches, each showing 6 contestants performing two routines. Usually a series would then focus on the main character and one rival, degrading the other characters to a bunch of cardboard boxes who are just there for filler, but not this show! Because so much time of these episodes is focused on showing actual ice skating performances, every single one of the characters gets his own personality, story, background, antionality. And with the exception of the above-mentioned orgasm skater they were all incredibly well done for how little time they got. You remember them, they’re all fun, they all drew me right into their performances. They made for four really riveting episodes that just sparkled with personality.
However, one big problem remains: Yuri on Ice really is about its characters, and therefore it really is putting logic a bit on the second place. The world of ice skating is huge, and Yuri just basically reached the world finals in a best of six tournament, even though he finished fourth and second once. I get why they do it: the creators really does everything it can to spice up this show, and for the characters it works! For the story though… do not watch this for the story.
#2: Classicaloid (05-08)
Can I also give a shout-out to the producers of this series? Every single episode features a new awesome cover of classical music, used both in the climax as the ED. And don’t forget we’re dealing with 24 episodes here! This is something you have to consciously decide to go after, certainly with how good all these songs are. And on top of that there is the “Pain! Pain!”-song of episode nine, which too was just incredible in its own way.
I’m not sure how much on the radar this show is, but I love everything about it. Seriously, I have nothing to really criticize here. Perhaps only really minor nit-picks like jerky animation here, and some coincidences there, but that’s nothing. This is my idea of a sitcom. Every single character here is completely adorable, and their chemistry is just amazing. These guys can be incredibly annoying, but every time they do something that gets on your nerves, it also gets on just about every other character’s nerves, and that all just continues to build up, to the point at which I just can’t stay angry at these guys. The most notable example of this is episode 07: on paper this episode is terrible. It’s a gimmick that spelled the downfall of so many series yet. And yet at the end the only reaction I could muster was the same that Kanae, the female lead had: just shake your head and give up.
The plot moves slowly, but it does move. And the way it does move! It’s always either in ways you don’t expect, or the most obvious way imaginable. Things happen and characters act like it’s the most normal thing in the world, so it takes a while to really digest what happened. Or in the incredibly obvious cases it takes a while that yes, they really are going that way. There are very few series I had as much fun with as this series. This is no longer just a comedy, this is just a show with awesome characters.
#1: Fune wo Amu (04-07)
Fune wo Amu is my favourite series this season, but even that isn’t indicative of just how good this show is. This is just a completely different level, it blows just everything away with its execution, and it would stand at the top of nearly every season this decade. That’s how incredible this show is!
And it didn’t do so with the biggest story, the most epic setting, dramatic conflicts. Instead it’s so simple, yet everything it does is perfect. Aside from throw more budget so that some drawings can be more high-resolution (not even better animated, just give the artists a bit more time to animate everything in the right resolution) I would not change anything so far about how these episodes have played out. The way this series manages to breathe life to its characters with such a simple story of writing a dictionary. And sure, there is drama. But it’s everyday drama: corporate issues of management that’s looking for ways to have their way, cocky professors. It all just feels so real, like you can touch these characters.
And the romance! Holy crap the romance! Let me tell you that this show has the best romance out of any series where romance isn’t the main focus. Like I can’t even think of any show that tops it. Especially episode six, it hit me like a truck, that’s how well built up and acted it was, and it has been many years since an anime hit me as much as that single episode, even many years before my writer’s block started.
Like finally a show comes in and does everything right. Majime is socially awkward, and yet. No silly drama, no characters behaving illogically for the sake of creating drama. No bad overreactions, no misunderstandings that create terrible drama because characters refuse to talk to each other, no main character who is too scared to even confess, no generic forced resolutions. Nope. Majime just needs a few episodes to gather courage, but the bugger actually goes ahead and does it! And not just that, Nishioka himself kicks ass too. He has a stable relationship, and while this has its ups and downs, these ups and downs are realistic: they’re about the small things. I absolutely adored how subtle the end of episode 07 was. Where in every other series there would be a huge drama, the very small gesture of him planning a date was so much more powerful.
And I know, these are so simple. And that makes it al the weirder that this series is the first to actually get everything right. THIS is the romance I want to see: scrap the bullshit, the whiny drama about nothing, the refusal to communicate, giving such a skewed portrayal of reality. THIS should be the standard!