Spring 2013: Round-up

Well now, this has been an interesting season and no mistake. For me personally in that I've ended up dropping things I thought I would love and watching things I thought I would hate, and in general because it's impossible to ignore the internet's reaction to Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan (pictured above). Thus with absolutely no more ado, let's jump in.

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru.

Or, as the internet has taken to calling it, "My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU" which is great because everyone loves saying 'SNAFU'. I didn't give this one too much credit in my first episodes summary but it ended up being one of the season's better offerings. The series revolves around Hikigaya who is seemingly sick of the social cliches that exist in high school life and in the world in general, and as such takes pride in being a loner whose very existence goes unnoticed. When he is dragged into participating in the Volunteers Club he then finds himself helping to solve people's problems by employing his unforgiving pessimistic outlook to deal out a healthy dose of realism, or defeatism as some see it.

I'm slightly torn when it comes to rating this series. I have to say that it is certainly entertaining - with some great one-liners, fantastic comedy, the fresh perspective of the protagonist showing that not every issue can be resolved through a basic can-do attitude, and some of my favourite internal monologues since Kyon - but that's probably the best thing I can say about it. When it comes to the overall plot it seems the show is trying to demonstrate that even Hikigaya can have a good time enjoying his school life with friends or some such like that, but it's hard to see any real development. In fact Hikigaya's character remains essentially unchanged from the start of the series and is regarded by most in the school as the lowest-of-the-low. Sure he might have picked up a couple of friends along the way but no real lessons are learned, even by those around him who have their fair share of problems. The tennis club captain was fantastic though.

Hataraku Maou-sama!

Now I'm not picking winners, but if I was then this series would be the odds-on favourite. As described in my summary of the first episode the series is about the otherworldly Dark Lord Satan and his subordinate finding themselves trying to earn a living and to just generally get-by in modern Japan, under the constant watchful eye of their arch-enemy the Hero. As the series progresses they are joined by, and participate in various hijinks with, multiple other characters from their home world of Ente Isla, including Lucifer (pictured above) who ends up becoming a typical teenage NEET ordering stuff from the internet using the oh-so-small pot of money that the Dark Lord has accrued. Dealing with such issues as well as trying to maintain a working lifestyle, all the while attempting to find a way to recover their lost magic and return to their world, become the priorities of the Dark Lord and company.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable series that in my opinion strikes a perfect balance between depicting the everyday mundane realities of city living, naturally cast in stiff contrast against the characters and their previous setting, and showing the fantastical elements of another world start to creep in and effect the world and people around them. Some of the plot and character motivations were a bit contrived or half-baked, but this series could almost have been carried through on its premise alone; thankfully they do add to the originality with some outstanding situational comedy, not to mention the satire - of both our modern world and of the demon-lord-fantasy genre - that is generously applied and always hilarious. Occasionally misses the mark with some of the events/scenarios, mostly in an attempt to follow the mainstream a bit more, but definitely worth a watch.

Devil Survivor 2 The Animation

This series had one of the more interesting first episodes of the season. As stated previously this is an anime adaptation of the game (which I haven't played) and sees a small group of students and shady government officials represent humanity's last hope in an all-out battle against demonic/alien/confusing invaders. Allied demons can be summoned through the use of a phone app and the "good guys" fight it out against a predetermined series of frightful enemies in what can only be described as an apocalyptic scenario. But mere survival isn't the only concern for some, as whoever makes it to the end of this "trial" of mankind may be granted one wish by a godlike being to potentially make the world a better place.

Mixed feelings about this series really, as a lot of its components didn't seem to work for me. Firstly, despite the fact that they were clearly trying their darnedest, they just couldn't create the appropriate sense of threat. I mean the human race and the planet Earth were facing imminent oblivion yet this wasn't really carried-off. For the most part the series just exuded a "another day another giant monster attacking Japan to defeat" feel with no obvious ultimate consequences - even when these consequences were being carried out on screen in the form of deaths and an evil black void engulfing the world - and of course this wasn't helped by the inevitable deus ex machina ending. I'd warn for spoilers but let's face it, the moment it's established there's a wish-granting event at the finale there's always going to be a "RESET: Everyone's fine" conclusion. But not even that was handled right! The protagonist reset everything back to the exact way it was to "give humanity another chance to redeem". He didn't, you know, wish away the impending apocalypse or anything.

And just to go off on a further tirade here, the big antagonist's grand plan for the world after they'd overcome the judgement period was to turn society into a meritocracy. Seriously? Right off the bat, in case you haven't noticed, that's pretty much how most of the world functions already. It's either that or nepotism really, and one of those systems seems a bit fairer than the other, no? Throughout the entire series they were shunning this guy for even CONSIDERING the idea of installing a meritocracy: the EVILLEST possible form of civilisation. Maybe something was lost in translation, I don't know, but it was felt ridiculous to me. Naturally this heinous condition was cured through the power of friendship as well.

All that being said, the battle sequences were animated really well and the series is generally fairly pretty even for an environment mostly consisting of rubble. The mechanics and structure of the plot, not to mention the cast of characters, makes me think that it could be a really good game on the plus side, so I may check it out at some point.

Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan

Oh man. I was only planning on discussing in detail the series that have actually concluded but I can't NOT mention Shingeki no Kyojin; watching the world's response to this show is almost as entertaining as the show itself. So the series itself chronicles how humanity is backed into a desperate corner by these giants (whose goal is naturally to eat humans) and the counter-offensive to save civilisation from this menace. A seemingly straightforward premise but there are many unknowns and boy are you in for some twists and turns with this one. Even after just the first episode I resolved not to read the manga until the series ended because the show both looks and feels so amazing I wanted to hold on to that for the duration - the animation quality is super-high and all the action is accompanied by a consistently epic soundtrack. Throw in the setting and the artstyle and this gives the series a really unique atmosphere.

So why is watching people's reactions so interesting? Well firstly I would reply by listing all the amazing fan-made content that has come out of the series, which started pouring out even after the first episode. This ranges from Minecraft mods to cosplays to actual working models of the 3D manoeuvre gear, and it's all incredible - naturally this all came about because everyone immediately fell in love with this anime. The setting, the characters, the tension, the battles, everything is amped-up and hits you right in the face from the get-go: you can't NOT find yourself absorbed. But then what has been really interesting to watch is the shift in public opinion after the initial rush of big-budget action and first wave of shock twists wore-off.

Once events in the show slowed down a bit to allow for some exposition amid the tide of action, people who had been avid fans since episode 1 began to turn against the series for one reason or another. The foremost complaint has been that, despite insane reveals and quite frankly devilish cliffhangers, the show has failed to deliver its trademark beautiful, fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping action sequences for as many as THREE EPISODES. This is quite clearly an outrage and the series' writers deserve to be shot, or so you'd think from reading through people's reactions online. "If it doesn't do something next episode I'll stop watching", "It needs to pick up and stop wasting episodes" and so on, all in response to the presence of exposition, drama or really anything else that's not bloody violence. Now I can agree that some of the pacing decisions don't make complete sense to me as a viewer (though obviously make quite clear business sense given the audience they've managed to accrue) but the series is generally very well put together. This show has been amazing and involving and I pity anyone who stops watching at this point because there was, god-forbid, DIALOGUE in a couple of episodes. I need to know what is going to happen.

Aku no Hana / Flowers of Evil

One of the weirdest/creepiest/most horrific things I've ever seen. Everything kicks off in a perfect, quiet town when our protagonist Kasuga takes his female classmate's gym clothes home in a panic when he thinks someone is about to discover him rummaging through them. It turns out there was a witness to his "crime" however in the form of Nakamura (pictured above) who proceeds to use this knowledge to blackmail Kasuga into "forming a contract" with her in order to, as she puts it, "tear down the walls around his heart" and reveal him to be the true "deviant" she believes him to be. She then puts him through hell in a whole list of horrifying scenarios. As to why she does this the frank answer is that she is a disturbed individual and a self-proclaimed "deviant", although towards the end of the series it is implied that perhaps she was just a lonely misunderstood child who wanted company. This image is sort of shattered in the final episode though when it is revealed through reading her diary that she basically started it all because she was bored.

This is an interesting case actually. Every week my housemates and I would gather in front of the TV to watch Aku no Hana together - collectively laughing, crying, cringing or most often yelling at the screen - and I have to say it was an enjoyable (to an extent) experience. If I had been watching this series on my own I probably would have chickened-out fairly early on, but as it was we were driven as a group presumably by some kind of morbid curiosity, or even schadenfreude, and perhaps that's the author's intention. The series itself has quite a few problems (in terms of its construction rather than the obvious psychological issues) though. Putting aside that it's naturally painful to watch a lot of the events, its impossible to compute some of the character reactions and developments - specifically those of the main character Kasuga. Regardless of his initial "deviant" status, by the end of the series he has been reduced to a quivering, illogical wreck. So much so in fact that he even sympathises with the sociopathic Nakamura and by the looks of things tries to form some kind of relationship with her. I don't know whether this seemed like a realistic outcome to the author, or if it was intended as some kind of Stockholm syndrome type occurrence, but it's certainly hard for me to swallow.

All I can say is that if you're a person of the curious persuasion, who has a strong constitution, then you may want to check out this series. Preferably with like-minded company. A second season was teased in the show's finale which somehow looks even more messed-up and twisted than the first, so we'll see whether I can cope with that if/when it comes out.

Other series

I've covered most of what I ended up watching but there are a couple more things to say. Perhaps most notably is that I dropped Karneval fairly early on and yet am still watching Mushibugyo. I had high hopes for Karneval and yet found myself with little-to-no interest in it after 4 or 5 episodes, whereas Mushibugyo (which I can't say I had a great first impression of) has kept my attention - the actual action sequences are pretty well done, and the main character's innocent demeanour which I initially found grating has somehow become charming in a way.

I also watched Aiura (pictured above) which was a series of short episodes (about 3 minutes each) of your typical schoolgirl slice-of-life comedy. Whilst the characters and setting are immediately forgettable there were some decent gags in there, and as each episode was bordered by surprisingly long opening and ending sequences there was only a bitesize minute and a half or so of new content to watch each week which actually worked in the series' favour I think. Loving the seemingly irrelevant crab-bonanza in the opening as well.

And that's that! Aside from staying engrossed in Uchuu Kyoudai / Space Brothers and finally getting to a couple of series that I've been meaning to watch for a while (Durarara, Eden of the East, etc.) that's everything I've seen this season. Am looking forward to some interesting shows in the next season which is about to get going, so keep your eyes out for some typical first episode summaries from yours truly!


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