This winter review includes thoughts and ratings on Ano Natsu de Matteru, Another, Bakuman 2, Black Rock Shooter, Brave 10, Chihayafuru, Danshi Koukousek no Nichijou, Inu x Boku SS, Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing, Mirai Nikki, Natsume Yuujinchou Shi, Persona 4 The Animation, Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle, Rinne no Lagrange, Senki Zesshou Symphogear, and Zero no Tsukaima F. Spoilers are included for many of them, so tread carefully.
My favorite aspect of Another was its commentary on death and grief, and though that message wasn’t directly addressed, the reason behind the curse of Class 3-3 and the actions of all classes afterward clearly reflect the importance of proper grieving. As is later repeated by quite a few characters, it is imperative to “…send the dead back to death.” Though this phrase is twisted in the ugliest way imaginable as an excuse for murder, the fundamental idea is correct. The original Class 3-3 should not have pretended the deceased was still among them; by doing that, people were unable to move on, to heal.
Though this suspenseful horror was beautifully drawn and animated, and I found the atmosphere spot on through most of the episodes, there was a clear disconnect between the main part of the anime, and the ending arc. Guardian Enzo points out how most of Another paces itself slowly like a mystery, then suddenly rushes forward in the last few episodes into a bloody horror. I could understand the fear that spread among the students, and even among the adults, that resulted in murder, but I couldn’t justify the unlikely number of accidental deaths. I did find the revelation of the “other” clever, since that person had never even crossed my mind. I only wish Mei’s ability to “see death” was less gimmicky–little explanation was given for her sight, and I only partially believed her reason for not acting on her knowledge earlier.
Final score: 7/10
Secret ingredient(s): The song and dance scene that caused such a stir among fellow anibloggers. The daydream was out of nowhere amidst all the eeriness and earned a burst of surprised laughter out of me.
Natsume Yuujinchou Shi
Though the season didn’t wrap up in quite the way that I had originally hoped, the ending still succeeded in satisfying and warming my heart in a new way than did the seasons that came before. Like San, Shi juggled both episodies focused on snapshots of various youkai, and on more overarching, multi-episode plots detailing Natsume’s relationships with his past and present friends and family and with exorcists of very different minddframes than him. However, I felt the transitions this time around to be much smoother, even finding the two beautifully melded at times (case in point: the Moon-splitting festival episodes). Through it all, Natsume continued to grow as both a “normal” human being and as one who can see, touch, and speak with the otherworldly.
As usual, the art is drawn with a definite stroke of gentleness. I can feel the love of both the original creator and the animators simply by watching the show–I don’t even need to hear the background music. That isn’t to say, however, that the music doesn’t shine; the truth is the exact opposite. Like the art, the recognizable melodies always bring a soft smile to my face, as well as a sense of coming home.
Final score: 9/10
Secret ingredient(s): Madara/Nyanko-sensei has long been my favorite character of the NY series, and the same holds true for this fourth season. Despite his constant claim of self-interest in staying with Natsume, it’s easy to tell from moments like below that he has truly come to care for Natsume and has developed more than a bit of fondness for his new “family.”
If a second season isn’t in the making, then there will be hell to pay, because Chihayafuru deserves more than its short 25 episodes. Although that doesn’t seem like a small amount, extra time was spent on fleshing out most of the characters, even ones who were only featured in one or two episodes. If anything else, I wish there had been even more time spent focusing on fellow karuta club members Tsutomu and Yuusei. Unfortunately, this meant we didn’t get too far in karuta rankings, with all of our beloved cast failing to win nationally both as a team and individually. The last episode was spent with our characters watching others fight for the King and Queen titles via national television. Despite the lack of winning satisfaction, Chihayafuru set a wonderful basis for our fledgling team to grow and there’s plenty of space for a 2-cours second season–gathering five more club members to protect the club room, Kana-chan and Taichi’s battle to Class A status, the team nationals, and the return to the King and Queen finals.
If there’s one area I felt could have used a bit more care, it would be the development of Chihaya. She hasn’t changed much from the little girl we saw at the very beginning, and she’s just as naive in love as she is about everything else outside of karuta. There were times where I wish the camera would turn to one of the lower class matches instead of just always following Chihaya. Thankfully, the later episodes served to prove to her just how much she still has to learn, particularly in controlling her emotions while playing. The art style did a wonderful job of playing on that atmosphere, transitioning quickly from Chihaya’s high moments with wind-blown hair strewn with flower petals, to those tense, sweat-inducing matches.
Final score: 9/10
Secret ingredient(s): Kana-chan’s decision to become a certified reader. Really, any scene featuring Kana was instantly lovable, as she pulled together contrasting elements to endearing effects–remember her hakama match where her soft, girlish figure was made graceful by both her clothing and carriage.
Zero no Tsukaima Final
Finally, this sad, overstretched tale has come to an end. Despite my mixed feelings about yet another season of ZnT airing, the anime served its purpose of tying up the loose ends left from the previous seasons and delivering to its fans what they’ve probably been craving for through all four series. The girls are just as lusty for Saito as always, for reasons beyond me, and plenty of opportunities are spared to ogle at their various fruit-sized chests. I was saddened to see both Queen Henrietta and Queen Tabitha throw aside their former pride chasing after Saito; though their stations understandably doom them to loneliness, their actions still smacked of an unseemly desperation that I would not have attributed to their characters. Saito and Louise’s love story is about as deep and detailed as the setting. The gestures are there, but the emotion is lacking. The main conflict of the Void Mages shifted from one pointless scene to another, and the last arc of the Ancient Dragon felt perfunctory despite being the supposed smash ending to this quadrilogy. But like a candy whose sugary fruit flavors all run together into an addicting series of handfulls, I kept on watching.
I admit to a feeling of satisfaction with having sat through all four anime series. With Saito’s brief return home, and later trip with Louise, we’ve made a full circle. All that official and fan art out there dressing up Louise and Co. in jeans and t-shirts are now justified, and I suspect there may be some specials in the making featuring Louise’s integration into Saito’s world.
Final score: 5/10
Secret ingredient(s): Maybe it’s sappy, but I do enjoy a good wedding. Knowing these two, though, the marriage blues aren’t too far behind!
As reverse harems are one of my guilty anime pleasures, I couldn’t pass up this bishounen rendition of the legendary Sanada Ten Braves. Part of what aids my enjoyment in shows like these is that I keep my expectations fairly low–as long as there is a nice variety of hot warriors and a passably interesting story, I’m good to go. It annoys me how many reviews I’ve read about this anime rate it poorly primarily because its genre wasn’t what the viewer expected. This isn’t Sengoku Basara. It’s more along the lines of Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox. Fan service catering to a female audience is a given, and I found the character designs fairly attractive. The story itself was admittedly below average, including bumpy transitions between arcs and some plot holes. However, I was never bored, and I’m more prone to drop a show due to indifference than because of anything else.
My favorite part of the show was definitely Sanada’s gathering of his 10 warriors. Because of the nature of these short reverse harems, the characters began with some very basic archetypes, including the tough, yet caring, Saizo and the loli-shota pyro, Benmaru. My favorite warrior remains the same from the very beginning to the end: Sarutobi Sasuke, the ninja with close ties to the earth and all its furry and winged creatures.
Final score: 5/10
Secret ingredient(s): Watching Sasuke and Saizo fight was always fun because Sasuke was always able to teach Saizo something new about himself. Despite their proclaimed hatred for one another, I thought their relationship was actually more understanding of one another compared to those of the other warriors.
Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam
Every time I turn my thoughts to this sequel, I can’t help but heave a huge sigh of frustration. When Fam was at its highest, it was spot on in intrigue and characterization, but at its lowest we were stuck with idealistic Fam as our protagonist and her equally ridiculous ability to sway everyone else to her perspective. This anime had it tough from the start, having to deal with the high standard of excellence set by its predecessor. At times, Fam seemed almost on par with the prequel, primarily when focused on Ades Federation’s political struggles. I found the generals, particularly Vasant, extremely interesting in their inner conflicts of loyalty. The airship battles, too, were beautifully animated, albeit lacking in emotional punch (think of Mullin Shetland’s battlefront mantra).
The main problem with Fam? Why, the issue is in the very subject of its title! I enjoyed Fam’s character for about a third of the way through. I thought that at some point she would finally learn something about the realities of war and desist in shoving her ideals down the throats of much older and rationally-minded people. And yet, we were treated repeatedly to her declarations of love and peace, and for some strange reason the adults all seemed to be charmed, no, mesmerized by her words. It’s like Fam had some sort of silver tongue able to persuade everyone but me. She was even somehow able to get through to Luscinia, whose actions at the very end still perplex me. I kept returning to Fam in hopes of a deeper plot and character development, only to hit my head on the bottom of the shallow end.
Final score: 7.5/10
Secret ingredient(s): On top of my interest in Vasant and Co., I looked forward to the episodes where Millia stole the spotlight from Fam. Millia is much more interesting by far as we actually witness her growth from naive girl to capable young woman able to shoulder the weight of her royal station.
Ano Natsu de Matteru
It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but I fell head over heels for Ano Natsu in a remarkably short amount of time. It reminded me a lot of AnoHana in that the show overflowed with the anxieties of young love and friendship. Also like in AnoHana, I was more interested in Ano Natsu’s characters, their relationships with one another, and their emotional struggles, than with the main plot. A gorgeous alien girl dropped into the lap of an average high school boy isn’t an original idea in the slightest, and the high school and summer break settings are also fairly typical in anime. This show was able to take those conventions and make them sparkle once more. To a certain extent, the love circle and height of emotions displayed by the group felt utterly believable. I remember being that young and feeling everything intensely as if I would never feel that way again. I may have laughed at the naive promise of eternal love between Ichika and Kaito, but deep down I wish I could go back to the time when I actually believed in it. Ano Natsu immersed me in that dream briefly once more, making it all the more precious.
The side characters outshone the main duo easily, and I was particularly fond of scenes featuring Lemon-senpai and Kanna–especially if those two were in a scene together. Kanna’s love for Kaito felt more much real than Ichika’s, as it built over the long time they had known each other. Her endearing mix of energy, sweetness, shyness, and jealousy also made for a fun twist to the girl-next-door archetype. I didn’t come close to crying at Ichika and Kaito’s separation, but Kanna’s loss of control after her confession had me shredding tissues.
Final score: 8.5/10
Secret Ingredient(s): Lemon-senpai was the number one character I looked forward to in each new episode. I had my suspicions about her very early on, what with her uncanny amount of knowledge and very adult-like maturity mixed with mischievousness.
A favorite aspect to Ichika and Kaito’s relationship was the way in which their glasses would clink whenever they would bring their faces close together. The sound is both mood breaking and endearing at the same time–as someone with glasses, I couldn’t help but notice the noise and smile at it.
Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou
Affectionately dubbed Nichibros by its ardent fans, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was a bit of a wildcard. It skillfully mocked the characteristics of high school anime and slice-of-life, for example, with the running to school with toast scene and the hilltop moments with literary girl. Only here could our cast of males treat such mundane interests as playing kick the can with ball-busting rules with complete seriousness and produce such hilarious results. The pure genius of this show was its applied earnestness to conventions of high school anime like romance and brother and sister relationships.
I also found Nichibros a bit more relateable than Nichijou (an anime whose humor I would consider at a similar level) as it mocked a genre that I watch a lot. I was able to pick up on more of the jokes.
Final score: 8/10
Secret ingredient(s): Any segment with literary girl was instant gold, though I do prefer her earlier, nonverbal scenes more than the ones where she actually speaks/yells. I about died in laughs when her classmates pegged her for her chasing down Hidenori–you always have love chase scenes in romantic comedy and the characters are never called out on it.
Rinne no Lagrange
It’s to be expected that there isn’t really any closure to this show as a second season has already been promised for later on in the year. Lagrange was one of the strangest shows of the winter as almost nothing happened (Inu x Boku SS and Mouretsu Pirates, as well), or went as the beginning hinted. The excuse of a second season doesn’t really help the cause either. I thought there would be more action, a.k.a. mecha battles, but what we got instead was a lot of high school romping around and girl friendship drama. They were admittedly entertaining, but not very memorable.
Perhaps it was meant to endear the characters to us, which worked to an extent for Madoka and Lan. Poor Muginami was just presented in the most annoying way possible until almost the very end. What we know now, though the first five minutes of each of their introductions was enough to set their shallow personalities, is that Madoka is a genki do-gooder who loves everyone and everything. The whole premise of the Jersey Club perfectly represents her as a person. Lan is that awkward friend who wants to be closer to Madoka but isn’t quite sure how to get there; Muginami comes in as the girl with a traumatic past who just wants to be loved. If you’re looking for complex characters, don’t expect it out of Lagrange.
Final score: 7/10
Secret ingredient(s): While I did enjoy Madoka and her excellent VA, Ishihara Kaori, my main pleasure stemmed from the color scheme. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a perfect water color array in an anime, or in any series or movie, and the effect was very calming.
Inu x Boku SS
Similar to Lagrange, Inu x Boku SS set a very strange pace through its short 12 episodes. Although I highly enjoyed the slice of life in both Ayakashi Kan and Riricho’s high school, my expectations for the story went absolutely no where. This turned out to be less a story about the characters’ spiritual abilities than about their emotions and relationships to one another. I thought more time would be spent on discovering different types of spirits and their whole supernatural side of life. Instead, the show focused mostly on the bonds of family and love.
Another strange aspect of this anime was that I found the side characters much more interesting than Riricho and Miketsukami’s interactions (like how I felt with Ano Natsu). The whole group of Karuta, Watanuki, Zange, and Kagerou was extremely amusing to watch. Even the employees of Ayakashi Kan were given quirky personalities–their appearances never felt like filler, but more like savory sides to an otherwise so-so meal. The chef/bartender and his son cracked me up with their back and forth repartee, all to the rhythm of Joutarou’s shaking.
Final score: 7/10
Secret ingredient(s): Roromiya Karuta-chan and her bottomless stomach!
More driven and enthralling than its preceding season, Bakuman 2 was one of my favorite shounen of the winter. Part of why I enjoyed it so much was because of how the anime itself reflected the style of Ashirogi Muto: serious and outside the boundaries. It isn’t your typical shounen, but it includes much of the same ideas with battling and defeat before triumph. I do teeter on whether or not I found there to be a bit too much defeat; I was surprised at their continued failure to grasp the coveted 1st place ranking. Coupled with the depressing arc of Tanto and editor Miura, it seemed like our protagonists were doomed to failure. Their gag manga experience and head butting with Miuru seemed to go on forever–but maybe that’s what made their frustration all the more believable. I was frustrated along with them and wanted nothing more than for them to move on to a new project with a new editor.
Despite the disappointment that was Tanto, they and their editor still managed to learn something from the ordeal. Perhaps in a similar way to how shounen heros get beaten down and grow stronger from it, Ashirogi Muto went into their new project with a clearer vision of who they were as writer and artist. Even Miuru eventually swallowed his pride and sought help when it was needed. Their drastic climb after such a huge decline then plateau made for an intensely satisfying finish to the series.
Final score: 9/10
Secret ingredient(s): I always looked forward to Niizuma-sensei’s uncanny insight into various mangaka’s abilities and pieces. When he announced that he had stopped following Tanto, that was the red flag that Ashirogi Muto was heading the wrong way. The combination of him and Iwase cracks me up.
Persona 4: The Animation
Persona was a strange addition for me. I haven’t played the video games, and the premise sounded a bit off from the start. All the hype from fans of the franchise is what convinced me to give it a try. What started as a mediocre battle anime actually turned into an enthralling weekly addition to my anime line up for the winter. Where shows like Mirai Nikki and Black Rock Shooter started to lose my interest midway through, my liking for Persona only increased.
The 2-cours show spent a lot of time on the individual characters and succeeded in getting me attached to almost every one of them, particularly little Nanako and quiet Yuu-senpai. Persona 4 evolved from battle anime to more of a mystery, and that’s when I liked it best. Unfortunately, near the end when things started wrapping up, I found myself caring less about any real sort of resolution. I can’t really put my finger to it–perhaps a subtle shift in atmosphere to more of a thriller ruined the laid back pace the middle had turned into. As odd as this may sound, I had come to enjoy the slice of life nature that show had taken on.
Final score: 7.5/10
Secret ingredient(s): I loved the look of all their glasses (or sunglasses). I particularly liked Yuu’s and Yukiko’s black and red, and Chie’s frame design, so if I could somehow combine those three, I would have the ultimate pair of glasses.
I would also like to point out how fantastic I found the soundtrack to be. The opening theme song was probably one of my favorites of the entire winter season.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear
There was a time when I refused to drop an anime, no matter how terrible I thought it was, but after increasing my number of currently watching anime by an insane amount, I could no longer justify keeping them on when there were so many other good ones to watch. I should have made that cut with Symphogear, but a deceptively decent opening and an entertaining amount of suspension of disbelief had me returning again and again to this horribly flawed show. Not only is the whole premise of the singing and the relics completely nonsensical, but the monsters that look like jello are turned to ash by a trio of high school girls who are as shallow as a puddle of rain. We don’t even get quickness in the move executions, as the artists decided to throw in title screens for almost every major attack the girls made (“Destroyer: Blue Flash” and “Mega Deth Party”). I wasn’t sure whether to gape or laugh at the visual circus.
I didn’t even get the satisfaction of a somewhat believable ending after Hibiki, Tsubasa, and Chris sang their group swan song and supposedly died. I knew that somehow this show would pull in yet another resurrection of our heroes, but I hoped so desperately that they wouldn’t. What little depth I felt in the scene where Miku visits Hibiki’s grave was banished not too long after when Miku was saved from the attacking Noise by the friend she thought was no more. The anime tried to create an illusion of complexity with the twist on the story of the Tower of Babel, but really just ended up sounding like a weak attempt at fan fiction.
Final score: 4/10
Secret ingredient(s): I complained about the named moves from the first episode, but I had no idea has much more gloriously outlandish this show would get. Throw away your common sense; it doesn’t jive with this show! Just imagine this entire anime as a relic to be absorbed and you’ll be ready to punch the moon to smithereens.
Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle
My feelings about Phi Brain are all over the place. I was always reluctant to get around to watching the next episode, but once my eyes were on the screen, they stayed there for the duration of the adventure. I even kept telling myself that I could drop it and focus more on other shows with actual substance. I’m tempted to believe that the very inspiration for the show, puzzles, is what pulled me in time and time again. The sad truth is, however, that Phi Brain never gave you the chance to honestly try the puzzles out for yourself; a brief explanation of each Sage Puzzle was given, followed by some random shots for the setting, and WAH-LA! Kaito had the solution in record time and the audience was expected to “ooh” and “ah” over his hyperspeed brain functions. Since the viewer was never allowed to look the puzzle over and try to either determine its difficulty, or even solve it, any sort of emotional connection to the plight of the Givers and Solvers was almost non-existent.
The show attempts to bridge this gap with several segments along the slice-of-life nature, where we follow along with Kaito and his high school friends during regular school days and events. This was another spring anime where I preferred the side characters to the main, all of whom are considered Children of the Phi Brain along with Kaito and Rook. Each gifted in his or her own way, his friends formed the support beam that connected Kaito to his humanity when the armband of Orpheus would have had otherwise. I always enjoyed scenes featuring Ana Gram “Da Vinci”, who had an uncanny ability to see to the hearts of people–even puzzles–and their true desires. The season finished with tentative closure, and I would have been satisfied with the lackluster end to the hunt for the Divine Revelations. However, a 2nd season has already been announced, and the last episode revealed a sneak peek at a villain who looks like a sibling or clone of Rook.
Final score: 6/10
Secret ingredient(s): The staggering scale of the Sage Puzzles always surprised me (alliteration!), as the sheer size of just one of them could take up multiple football fields. It’s funny to me that the public isn’t more aware of these puzzles that are supposedly hidden yet defy all attempts at concealment.
Black Rock Shooter
BRS struggles to tell a tale of the inter-connected worlds of adolescent females by juxtaposing their apparently cheerful high school life with a battle-fraught dream world. Following an OVA from two summers ago, this TV series takes 8 episodes to provide us with visionary graphics , an interesting premise, and an utterly mundane story.
I give props to the character design and animation, which were extremely appealing with their contrast between clean lines and grunge patterns. The lighting and color schemes, as well, set clear boundaries for the intended atmospheres for each scene. If anything else, it’s the art that pushes my score up to where it is. I only wish that whatever amount of precious time spent on the art had been divvied out a bit to the storyboard and script. I can only hear the story of the bird and the color worlds so many times before I go insane. Or maybe that‘s the true reason for why all those girls around Mato went crazy? :p
The production values for BRS would need some serious overhaul to fix the mess that the story created for its audience. My main confusion stemmed from the poor arrangement of information; it’s not until almost more than half way through when we finally discover the true nature to Black Rock Shooter’s world, and her role in it. Up until then, the back and forth scenes between Mato and “her other half” didn’t feel like they had any relevance other than what felt more like a coincidental similarity in her new friendship with Yomi and friction with Kagari. I still have a hard time justifying Yuu and Saya-sensei’s roles in all of this, as their history felt tacked on for the illusion of creating some sort of depth in hopes to appease the more demanding viewers.
Final score: 6/10
Secret ingredient(s): The art and music, particularly during Yuu’s (the real one in BRS’s world) battle with Black Rock Shooter. That whole sequence and map had my heart thumping.
I also adore the character designs for Dead Master and “Strength”. If I were to have figurines for BRS, it would be either of them over poster girl Black Rock Shooter.
For both better and worse, Mirai Nikki provided us with overflowing creativity. More unstable than any other show of the winter season, it made it almost impossible to predict the next event, a deception that lasted all the way through to the end.
Part of what I admired so much about this anime was its ability to surprise me with not only an unexpected turn of events, but also with its occasional solidity in plot structure, character development, and dialogue. Take for instance Marco and Ai’s arc. By timing that encounter with the rockiest point in Yuki and Yuno’s relationship, we had a striking comparison for defining love. In a way, both relationships began out of necessity; Marco felt an obligation to atone for his absence, and Yuki needed Yuno to survive. However, one couple has grown beyond that initial duty, finding the true give-and-take type of trust that so many couples and individuals lack. Yuki’s lack of trust was understandable given what we’d seen of Yuno thus far, but that missing piece meant the different between both of their lives and deaths.
And then there were whole episodes and arcs where, surprise none withstanding, logic failed to explain much of anything. I think I saw a double-digit amount of tweets the day of episode 19, “Delete All Messages,” where Yuki handled control of a car as if he had taken years of defensive driving, despite not even being old enough to have a license. Extend this illogical turn of events to the ending–we spent the majority of the season in and fighting for the 2nd world, only to receive our happy ending in the 3rd instead. I suppose we’re to be comforted by seeing the 3rd-world versions of the characters we have come to know receive the better outcome, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not the same. The only one who truly gets the joy that she deserves after all the pain is Ninth. I do find her union with Nishijima raises some questions of identity, especially when you reflect on Yuki and Yuno’s final decision. Yuki realizes the love he bears results from all his experiences with Yuno #1, ones that cannot be truly replicated. Yet, Minene opts to be with Nishijima #3.
Final score: 8/10
Secret ingredient(s): Yuno, the poster child of MN, made the anime what it was: terrifying and thrilling all at the same time. I might even apply her yandere nature to the entirety of this show. The constant jabs and spins had me on the edge of my seat, as if at any moment the show would yank the chair from underneath me.