October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 4

I think all around the world, heads exploded over this episode. In a good way.

Maria the 10-year old appears, apparently coerced by Yozora to give her control of the room. Yukimura, the stalker of Kodaka seen in Episode 2, is a reverse trap that wishes to be just like Kodaka – an opportunity too good for Yozora to ignore. Rika is a scientific genius permanently in heat that is smitten with Kodaka. Needless to say, a ‘harem’ of sorts is forming. Yozora and Sena don’t like it one bit, but both girls end up joining the club. And all the while, Kodaka’s relationship with other students is going downhill.

After reflecting for a bit – this is actually one clever episode. Sure, you have three new girls introduced into the mix, now making six girls all up when you include Kobato during Kodaka’s time at home. But despite the fact this episode spends a fair amount of time introducing and developing those new girls, this episode actually belongs to Yozora. Let’s examine what happens:

1. Maria is sleeping in the classroom. Yozora details – with a weird pleasure in her tone – how she was able to coerce Maria into giving her the room. After Maria tries to go back on the deal, Yozora engages in clever reverse-psychology to talk Maria back into to deal. Yozora steals the moment.

2. Yukimura is revealed as Kodaka’s stalker but has good intentions overall since she idolises Kodaka – in a rather twisted way…Yozora can’t pass up the opportunity to ‘educate’ Yukimura on how to fulfill her role of becoming like Kodaka and ends up making fun of the situation at Kodaka’s expense. Again, another character introduction ends up demonstrating more qualities of Yozora.

3. Kobato is barely in the episode for 30 seconds. Kodaka ignores her. Kobato fans get their moment for the week but she matters little in the overall mix – almost as if to prove it’s steering itself away from Ore no Imouto. Yozora is still the feature thus far this episode.

4. Rika’s introduction and display of her overly sexual nature ends up turning into a moment where Yozora reveals her jealousy and indirectly shows she cares about Kodaka because of the nature of the flashback material in Episode 3. Again, several minutes of another character’s introduction is used to fuel a Yozora moment to steal the show.

Thus this is an episode we learn more about Yozora – and her true nature. Yozora is a bully – something she denies but it’s there for everyone to see. Yozora coerces Maria, pokes fun at Sena, jokes continually at Kodaka, uses Yukimura for her own amusement at Kodaka’s expense yet again. Yozora loves to dictate how people behave around her and getting a kick out of the results. Yozora is definitely a bully. So it begs the question – why has Yozora set up this club to make friends when she’s really trying to control everyone? Does Yozora have a twisted concept of friendship due to past events? She clearly had a good heart when she was young. What has caused Yozora to go sour and be anything but the friend she was to Kodaka in their youth? Yozora clearly cares about Kodaka, but if she’s got any delusions of being with him or being proper friends with the others in the club, she’s got to stop hiding behind her shell and be real. Ironic that the person who created the club is the one person who is failing to achieve the overall objective of the club – to make friends. Episode 3 set the foundations for friendship between Sena and Kodaka. You could argue some form of a basis of friendship also exists towards Kodaka for Yukimura and Rika, since they’re at least trying. Yozora is way behind everyone in this regard and her jealousy is blatantly obvious. So it really begs the question – what caused Yozora to become so mean and kill her heart?

The concern for a lot of people was the introduction of these new characters in Episode 4 would detract from the main trio too much. Amazingly…that didn’t happen! Maria’s presence was brief, served as material for the relevant fan group and drifted out after serving her purpose. Yuki Igucha voices Maria with a childish, upstart nature but not an irritating one – which is somewhat admirable. Nozomi Yamamoto’s sedate voicing of Yukimura is a complete opposite of her voicing of Rie from UN-GO and shows some depth for a newcomer. Yukimura reminds me of Hideyoshi from Baka to Test considerably, but Yukimura is more amusing in my opinion. Misato Fukuen utterly revels in voicing Rika, portraying her hot-blooded nature and the maniacal narration of the ‘dirty manga’ damn well. Honestly, ‘mecha porn’ – that is gold! They all get their moments and then some – they were worth remembering. Yet the episode goes to Yozora and some well-executed development. And you just wonder how it is one of the most outrageous, simple shows of the season is slaying most of the competition when it comes to character development? Good writing and pacing I guess. It’s easy for secondary characters to steal the show sometimes. AIC had it happen in Ore no Imouto and they seem to have learnt their lesson. Let’s hope they don’t let it happen again and can give the three main characters continual development as they have done thus far. What is clear is that despite Yozora’s mean exterior, she does value friendship deep down – but never shows it. Hopefully we find out why.

Yet again, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai avoids going down the spiral and stays on track. Thumbs up yet again for this week. One wonders what it will pull off next. Either way, I can’t wait!


October 2011 Anime Season – Series ranking at 25/10/12

Okay, everything has offered at least 2 episodes now. Things are getting clearer.

And with that, some major changes on the preference order of my season viewings.

As I said in a previous post, I dropped Guilty Crown, reducing the number of titles I’m watching this season to seven. Look, it’s got potential but I’m not willing to wait ten years for something interesting to happen, for Shu to grow a spine and for a character that lights up the screen to emerge. Two seasons of this will be too much time lost to much ado about nothing, IMO.

So here is the new order for the seven shows I’ve continued with:

7.  (7) Squid Girl S2. Same old, same old but passable.

6. (6) UN-GO. The world setting is full of the tyrannical dystopian nightmare worlds I read in high school and it’s very effective in that regard. But its characters are very underdeveloped and we need to see more about them immediately or this show will have wasted its potential.

5. (3) Mirai Nikki. It’s still good but Episode 3 was rather light…Thinking Episode 4 will kick things back up a few notches, but Episode 3 was too sedate.

4. (2) Fate/Zero. It’s not that anything bad happened in Episode 4…It’s more the fact it could have been better…Lancer vs Saber should have been thrilling even if it was an introductory battle. Still, the constant cutting to a different character/scene and the sheer amount of dialogue just killed the flow within this episode and prevented it from being a thrilling fight. However, Rider stole the show in the final minutes as only this incarnation of Rider can!

3. (5) Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. I’m amazed at how THIS show is being far more effective at developing its characters while mixing that exposition in with events/action and also has a potentially interesting plot. It’s still light and nothing fantastic, but it’s ticking the right boxes. It’s funny, it looks good, its service is steamy but not sleazy. This show really couldn’t do much better so far!

2. (4) Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing. Truth be told, as I am a HUGE fan of the original Last Exile, I’m going to be harsher on this show more than anything else. Still, Episode 2 was the best thing I watched for the last week. Stunning CGI, the character mix is now balanced, the plot has emerged, the motivations of the heroes and villains are now apparent and some facts about EXILE and the like that we never knew from the original are finally explained! The amount of plot progression and character development that occured within this single episode while providing a good deal of action was pretty darn impressive. Keep this up, Gonzo. You may have a winner here.

1. (1) Chihayafuru. As much as Last Exile 2 and Boku wa Tomodachi have improved, Chihayafuru hasn’t put a foot wrong once yet. It’s doing everything it’s setting out to do thus far. While the subject matter isn’t the most exciting, in terms of setting up a feel-good coming of age tale and the bonds of friendship that don’t feel contrived, it’s excelling. I hope we go back to present day Chihaya in Episode 4 though.

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 3

This certainly is one very…daring episode…

Sena is still in gaming mode, but for some reason she’s playing a H-game in the clubroom. Yozora can’t resist the opportunity to torment Sena and makes Sena read the dialogue of a ‘scene’ out loud. Sena stumbles through it then gives up and flees. Upon returning home, we get to see Kodaka’s younger sister, Kobato, who dresses up loli-goth style to mirror a character from ‘Full Metal Necromancer’. The next day, Sena makes the comment that she can’t swim. It ends up leading to a trip to a swiming centre for Sena and Kodaka so she learns to swim – so it’s the first time we get two see more than one member of the club outside of a school setting together. It goes well for Sena and there’s service in plentiful supply in this part of the episode – but nothing absurd. The conversation between the two over lunch reveals some interesting things – Kodaka’s dad and Sena’s dad were friends for a long time. Sena is actually fond of being called ‘Meat’ since it’s her first nickname.  While Kodaka uses the bathroom, Sena gets surrounded by a bunch of guys and her mouth further inflames a bad situation. Kodaka uses his ‘image’ to scare the guys away. Sena replies with her usual manner – and Kodaka doesn’t let her get off lightly. The severity of Kodaka’s words gets through to Sena and she temporarily shows a moment of indirect gratitude before going back to normal. But the effect lingers – Sena is finally able to see Kodaka as a person she values and not just another guy. Sena’s manner in the aftermath is smoother and grateful. There’s a service moment with Kobato shortly afterwards that’s appropriately censored (thank flock) and the scene quickly switches to a flashback. It is revealed Kodaka once had a dear friend in his childhood – and it’s Yozora…The preview to the next episode indicates the reverse trap and mini-nun characters will appear in Episode 4.

So…this was definitely a more loaded episode. The ecchi factor was ramped up for sure this episode and I think it will remain to be on a similar level of stimulation from now on. Still, no character got degraded. Sena’s swimsuit was revealing, but in all honesty, clothing that revealing at swimming centres, the beach and general garb during summer is quite revealing anyway. Sena’s attire isn’t cheap or demeaning. I actually found the scene to be fairly well animated. Rather than relying on the cliche effect of breast bouncing or butt-flexing, Sena’s movements weren’t exaggerated – she is naturally a looker. It also helps that Kodaka didn’t act like a lecher plus he avoided overreacting like a lot of generic males in the genre. And when he needed to be the man but not a prick when Sena needed bailing out, he pulled it off. The scene with Kobato was clearly to appeal to those who like their lolis (I sure don’t…) but it wasn’t creepy or anything and thankfully didn’t last long. Although it must be said Kana Hanazawa is a good choice to voice Kobato – she sounds naturally suited to the role and sells it well. Plus the heterochromia is a nice feature. As for game references, I hope they don’t pop up every episode or the Sena-Kirino similarity will be overemphasised and hurt Sena’s popularity.

About Sena – she definitely got some significant character development this episode. It is clear that while she acts superior generally, Sena does yield to Yozora rather easily and is provoked into a reaction soon after. Yet with Kodaka, we get to see the other side of her. The Sena that genuinely wants to have a good time, be happy and hang out with friends. The day out with Kodaka serves as a lesson to Sena that she can see males as potential friends/actual people rather than just typical guys who lust after her. Kodaka’s rebuke also serves to show he isn’t the typical guy or harem guy. He isn’t going to be their beat-up toy or plaything. He will demand their respect and make that clear. It evokes an interesting change in Sena’s persona when someone not submitting to her normal behaviour makes her realise it is that behaviour that has created the issues that prevented her from making friends. Sena now realises Kodaka does genuinely care about her – and Sena finally lowers her boundaries, daring to be nice to Kodaka in return. As hoped, Kodaka is not just excess baggage – he is an active participant and important to the mix. Now the dynamic is not just between Yozora and Sena. There is now a dynamic between Kodaka and both females. And in the case of Sena and Kodaka, it is now at a state one can call friendship as Sena now has openly acknowledged the fact she does want to spend time with Kodaka on a regular basis. This episode sets Sena apart from Kirino big time – for which I am grateful. Sena is able to communicate without being violent or majorly condescending – something Kirino could never quite do.

The flashback scene was very effective and allows Yozora to have her moment this episode despite getting little airtime during it. Yozora certinaly seems like the childhood friend from Kodaka’s earlier years. Okay, this plot point is fairly cliche, but the scene had impact because of the timing, execution and good source material to back it up. This was not your generic revelation scene. It allowed the viewer to feel for Yozora but realise her stubborn nature is a major hurdle and going to hinder her from being able to move forward. Five seconds was all Yozora needed to be able to match the impact Sena had over ten minutes. This scene sets up a key difference between Yozora and Sena. Yozora is unable to admit her feelings when it comes to the crunch – or at least nowhere near as easily as Sena can. The potential for romantic possibilities between Kodaka and either girl have been set up – and with that comes a lot of potential tension between the trio. Still, at this point, there are plenty of reasons to like both girls, which is a good thing.

Again, this show continues to do what it does well – provide some light, silly fun with a bit of steam. And the arrival of the reverse trap and the nun are bound to kick things up a few more notches! For being nothing out of the ordinary, it’s excelling at character development and key moments a rightside better than most series this year.

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 2

This series just continues to make me laugh in a way I’ve wanted to all year. It’s not pretending to be spectacular. It merely promises entertainment that is neither highbrow nor lowbrow.

The trio of Yozora, Sena and Kodaka are intent on determining how to find friendship. Yozora makes the suggestion of games as a method to strengthen friendship. Teaming up on their PlayingStates (Got to love those copyright-altering names!), the trio get into an RPG game. But the effects are not as intended – or perhaps they actually were! Yozora and Sena merely use this as a medium to beat each other up with amusing results. Their dislike of each other is more intent than ever, particularly with Yozora calling Sena ‘Meat’ on a regular basis while Sena fires back with ‘dumb witch’. After seeing the purpose of this exercise fail, Sena suggests playing a dating-sim. (I’m serious – it happens!) Perhaps the most amusing aspect is not that Yozora and Sena both see this as a way to learn how to makes friends with females – but that it actually causes the two to get along for a while! Their reactions to characters within the game and related events are virtually identical, although it could be argued Sena is more emotionally invested in it. Episode ends with Sena revelling in her ‘success’ and getting Kodaka to do his own playthrough.

Again, nothing spectacular, nothing truly original and definitely no shirking off the link to Ore no Imouto. But honestly, SO WHAT?! Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is a rightside better than that ever was! Firstly, the character dynamic is better. Kirino’s scenario was just too comfortable and she was made overly bitchy while Kuroneko was rather sedate and ‘safe’, but most of all, the concept these two got along overall didn’t really seem believable. In the end, Ore no Imouto geared itself to satisfy Kirino fans short term then provide the link for the Kuroneko-oriented series. I.e. It set the fandoms to war against each other and hurt the title – it was more a marketing tool than anything.

In the case of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Yozora and Sena may bicker – as all people do at times – but there are core issues that they agree upon, plus they share similar distrusts within people in general, which become apparent when they play the dating-sim. They both instantly distrust the overly nice girl and make the same slanders. They both like the intelligent girl and value intelligence as a quality more than anything. Both of them are fairly resistant to budge when presented the idea it could be them that are somewhat responsible for their failures to not make friends. The other key appeal is that it is actually quite fun to see Yozora and Sena argue. Yozora’s ‘Meat’ puns are genuinely funny and Sena’s facial expressions/barbs at Yozora/Kodaka are very effective dialogue. It’s not malicious – they’re natural human emotions that aren’t unnecessarily amplified to the point the two become unlikeable. The banter is great for the chemistry between Yozora and Sena. Thus far, I still have a fair number of reasons to like both, which is something that could rarely be said for the Ore no Imouto duo. Generally, people could usually only like Kuroneko or Kirino. This time, liking both Yozora and Sena is very plausible.

That said, there are noticeable differences between Yozora and Sena, though. Sena is more emotional while Yozora is generally somewhat cold. Sena seems to find the concept of having a male friend inconceivable yet Yozora doesn’t seem to have such an issue. Sena’s physical features are more extreme while Yozora’s aren’t and go for the zettai ryouki appeal. They’re distinct characters. They have valid reasons to dislike each other on some levels. But ultimately, it is rather conceivable they will get along in the long run.

There are several levels of appeal for me within this show. The art is pleasing – it’s not an overly-exaggerated moe style giving me diabetes. The animation actually looks like some effort has been put into it. During the battle scenes in the RPG section of the episode, weapon movements and effects were fairly smooth and somewhat detailed. Not on a Last Exile/Guilty Crown level, but the effort was noticeable. Costume/uniform designs were good. The reversal of clothes/roles during the dating sim was a very clever scene. The dialogue is very loaded and is entertaining throughout. There are fanservice moments but nothing over the top. There’s definitely an ecchi element to this show but it’s not overly exaggerated. It’s been dealt out in amounts that haven’t cheapened Yozora or Sena thus far. I hope that continues to be the case. Whether the inevitably increasing character cast changes that is another issue. Kodaka got little focus in Episode 2, but with the inevitable arrival of his little sister, the reverse trap girl that likes him and the science girl that tries to jump him – Kodaka’s airtime will increase soon. I’d like to find out more about him and see him progress.

All in all, this series is the light-hearted entertainment with a bit of steam I’d been hoping all year. This won’t be for everyone and it’s nothing that new. What is giving Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai its edge is a more balanced character cast, sharp dialogue and proper execution. I will never have high hopes for it but reasonable ones. If it continues to entertain with a bit of cheek, a bit of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of flesh and a bit of heart – I’ll gladly give it my time but remember that there are better shows out there this season.

The October 2011 Anime Season Preview

Well, after a long wait and with just about every title from this season being available on streaming, the October 2011 season is finally up and running with all major series slated for airing runs to start in October making their premieres. Yes, this is a bit delayed, but when you have 23 titles to investigate – TWENTY-THREE – not to mention several series airing Episode 3 by the time I finally get to see Episode 1 of the ones that aired later, it’s been quite a time consuming process and there’s been several facts I’ve wanted to clarify first. Now that I’ve re-watched a few, had time to reflect on how I feel about each title and ruminate on what they intend to achieve, I now present my summation of the October 2011 season thus far – in my humble opinion. You’re certainly free to disagree with any of my thoughts.

Now I honestly thought it would be best to look at this season with the intention of ending this preview on a good note. So the way this is going to work is I’m going to list off the twenty series in ascending order. I.e. Starting with the one that I considered the worst at #20, then gradually going up until we hit #1. I will also make predictions on which titles I think will be the big sellers.

*drum roll*

#23 – C3 – In my eyes, while there are several shows that were in contention for the wooden spoon, this was easily the worst of them all. It has the feeling of a show you’d expect to have the female lead voiced by Rie Kugimiya. Except it’s voiced by Nanoha seiyuu Yukari Tamura. And the whole show feels like it never got out of draft stage, never receiving any refining during the lead-up to its premiere and feels more like a prototype version of the show than an actual show itself. There are so many things that feel missing or splintered, it feels wrong to call the show a train-wreck, because that would imply there was a train to begin with. C3’s story is hardly original. The female lead, Fear, rocks up on the male protagonist’s doorstep as a cube. A minute later, she transforms into a girl in typical ecchi fashion. Apparently Fear is staying with the guy because he lives in a house that is spiritually cleansed and would benefit her since she’s cursed. And that’s where any form of story or plot ends. What follows is a mess of random events. An argument between typical tsundere Fear and textbook yandere in , aka protagonist’s childhood friend. (And the clichés just keep on rolling!) Fear wrecks the guy’s house after wandering through town and doing next to nothing. And that really is just about all that happens. Seiyuu wise, Yukari Tamura seems way out of her depth. Her roles are normally of the nice girl type – she sounds like she’s forcing the tsundere style out of herself and it sounds incredibly uncomfortable. Fear just feels far too much like Shana, so one gets the feel they have seen this kind of show before. Dialogue between characters happens as if they’ve all known Fear for years – which is bewildering. The attempts at fanservice are terrible. The attempts at humour are even worse. In a nutshell, this show fails at anything it tries to achieve. I have only one piece of advice – DON’T waste any time with this show! You’ll wonder where those 20-odd minutes went and want them back.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Predictions – 1-2k. I can’t even see most tsundere fans liking this enough to fork out.

#22 – Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere – Sunrise are doing THREE series this season. It shows. Because none of them are particularly good and this is the worst of a bad lot indeed. It’s said that too many cooks spoil the broth. The Horizon staff would have done well to learn from that saying. Horizon’s most noticeable flaw is that it has an incredibly large cast within the first 5 minutes and spends the entire first episode trying to cram them all into limited time – and it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t help that none of them are particularly interesting except for the teacher that leads the class on a pursuit. She has spunk and flair while the rest are typical archetypes of the modern era. The animation is incredibly poor, the character designs generic, the music is cheesy. Fanservice attempts are very crude. The chase is nothing remarkable at all – it’s merely a device to shoot each character into focus momentarily. One character moment was so absurd where the character – while running across small rooftops – somehow found close to a minute to hover without jumping or changing altitude and aim a shot with a chibi computer guide – which makes your typical ‘Won’t I get creamed by the time I say all this’ scenario look plausible in comparison. Furthermore, Horizon is arrogant enough to explain the world setting and plot for the first time during the ED theme after wasting an entire episode on its large cast doing stuff all. Horizon was potentially interesting but never expanded on. Sunrise seem more intent on using this as a training ground for certain staff and gave it the dregs of this season’s budget. Don’t waste your time with this. I can’t understand how Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu wasted their time lending their divine voices to this junk.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Doubt it would even reach 1k.

#21 – Maken-ki – There’s a fair swag of H-game adaptations this season and Maken-ki is the bane of them all. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that its façade of a school based around combat duels using powers is an actual plot. This is your typical dating-sim harem, swarming to the male lead for no inherent reason, other than the fact they all want him despite the fact he’s a real sleaze and maybe pity for the pact he doesn’t have any of that power himself. The childhood friend is your typical tsundere. Throw in varying breast sizes and usual personality types. Arrange the plot so that the male lead must live in the same room with the females vying for him. Apply mediocre animation, particularly when drawing bodies.  Add a snowstorm of censorship of the major fanservice moments and you have a show that is pretty lame but likely to profit in sales. What more can I say? Considering the ecchi element is the main reason to watch this show, the fact it’s censored big time on TV airing kind of kills the point of watching it before DVD release. I doubt it’s worth watching when uncensored anyway considering the low standards of the character designs. But meh, tits sell – it worked for Mayo Chiki last season. I wonder whether anyone else will realise how painfully this series is to another generic harem/ecchi title from 2004 called Maburaho, which also involved a male protagonist who had stuff all magical powers. This is not the only title to rip off another series from years past. You will see more as I continue this preview.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Will sell around 5k/profit due to censorship = $$$ strategy

#20 – Maji Koi Samurai Girls – Another title based on a dating-sim and adapted with mediocrity. Huzzah…Well, it’s not all bad. It’s a studio doing their first title, so this would be the kind of title for a minnow studio to start within, I guess. The animation is actually passable – particularly compared to a lot of other series this season. But the clash of colours in some scenes is harsh on the eyes and something they need to avoid doing in the future. Shizuka Itou puts in another good performance as Christine. There’s not necessarily a lot of big things wrong with Majoi Koi, but there’s plenty of little things that add up to a collective quagmire. The battle scenes are pretty lame. Seeing a person just leap in and barely flick their weapon to take out 5-10 people over and over is rather cheap. The silver-haired girl has one of the most annoying voices of this season. A black racist character half-way through the episode is anything but funny…when will anime finally learn how to draw people that aren’t white or Asian?! One of the other characters, Chika, is a dead ringer for Milly Ashford from Code Geass – the identical aesthetics are mind-boggling. As for the battle system, it seems to be class-based for rank and prominence but it is barely expanded on, making it feel much like the system seen in Baka to Test. Furthermore, generic childhood romance and censorship fanservice = $$$ on DVD release seems to be the main focus of this show. I don’t expect much to come of this show, but it may get a new studio going for better things in the future.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Will sell around 5k/profit due to censorship = $$$ strategy

#19 – Gundam AGE – This easily ranks as the most horrifying thing I have seen from all the titles I have watched this season. I can’t believe this has happened to Gundam…REALLY?! Look, I’m not a fan of the franchise but I know how important it has been for anime and its importance in improving animation and general sales of anime. Gundam is a title most anime fans know about in some form. Gundam was quite manly for a couple of decades, then it hit the ‘Pretty Boy’ era when SEED, Destiny and 00 were made, but they jolted sales, so you can’t knock that move financially, even if it was a stab in the back to the old school fandom. However, this PG-era treatment of Gundam in Gundam AGE is a monstrosity. It’s not Gundam at all! Okay, I get you’re doing this to appeal to a new generation! I really do. But Sunrise, why this way?! Didn’t Gundam Unicorn teach you that appealing to the old school yielded tremendous success?! You give them a little hope then kick them in the balls with this…Okay, basically Gundam AGE is a PG-era version of the Gundam universe. Suppoesdly the lead characters are 15 but they barely look 10…I refuse to believe Flit and co. are 15. Lacus Clayne’s super-annoying robot ball Hiro from SEED is back as Flit’s…thing. You know the rest. Mysterious enemy forces are ready to blow the place to smithereens. Flit pilots Gundam and saves the day. This is about as formulaic as it can get and it’s clearly going for the pre-teen crowd only. If you like what Gundam has stood for up until now – particularly Manly Era Gundam – DON’T WATCH THIS! If you get a kick out of PG-Era or are 12 or younger – this is probably for you.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Please don’t sell….PLEASE…Sell less than Turn A! That’s all I ask for!

#18 – Kimi to Boku – Now this is the weirdest concept of the season. Someone out in the wilderness must have thought it would be funny if you took the atmosphere and aesthetics of a moe show, but instead of the moe high school girls, it has fujioshi-bait high school guys instead! There’s a reason moe and fujioshi material have two completely different types of atmospheres, moods, character sets, etc. – they target two different markets altogether. And this weird mix just doesn’t target either effectively! In fact, this show doesn’t try to be anything except fujioshi bait in a moe context, full stop. There is no humour whatsoever. The constant stream of cherry blossom petals landing on their heads, sleepovers, flashbacks and lunches are just pretty darn bland…I can’t believe J.C. Staff even took this on. Surely, this lifeless show won’t sell. Surely….

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – It shouldn’t sell much…but it just might…

#17 – Shana S3 – Let’s make this quick…Normally this would be virtually bottom. I’m not a Shana fan at all. I’m repulsed by it. But I’m not putting it below the shows already listed because they are simply that bad. J.C. Staff are doing their usual medium budget, medium treatment for everything in this show as they always have. It’s not great but not bad in terms of aesthetics, which is more than can be said for titles already listed. But the content – as was the case in Season 2, is weighing it again in Season 3. The show seems far more interested in focusing on that boring love triangle again. Hell, even the hardcore Shana fans I know are getting sick of it. However, there is a hint Yuji may be coerced into turning evil, so perhaps something of interest will come. But at this point, this is one for the existing fans, particularly the Rie Kugimiya fandom. If you’re not, just pass this by.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Profit but not five figure territory like Season 1 did

#16 – Working!! S2 – Again, another show I just don’t like. Look, does it do what it should do to be that show you can flake out to and laugh at if you like this kind of humour and pacing?! YES. But I just don’t like it and never will. The characters drive me insane – especially that manager Kyouko *shiver* – as does the music. It’s just one of those shows that needs you to like how it rolls. It’s more of the same from Season One, so if you liked that, keep on going. If you didn’t, find something else to watch.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Over 10k units again, but not as much as Season One’s 18k

#15 – Hunter x Hunter (remake) – Look, I’m going to be brief. I liked the original Hunter x Hunter. It avoided being the typical shounen series, stuck to its guns and reflected why the original manga was so popular way back then and still is now the manga-ka has re-commenced it. (700k+ sales in these times is pretty darn impressive!) But this just feels like the original has been given a makeover to make it more like Pokemon or Naruto – which just kills what made the 1999 series and the manga cool. It may win over new fandom, but I’m just not sure…It’s PG-era animation, music themes and character behaviour at its most typical. So it’s simple – if you liked the original, you probably won’t like this remake. If you didn’t or haven’t seen it, maybe you’ll like this version. All in all this is a grab for more fans. Whether it will pay off remains a mystery – for now.

Conclusive Action – Dropped (*sigh*)

Sales Prediction – Low. The original anime didn’t rake in anime sales – it was for manga sales. I don’t see how this version will be different.

#14 – Mashiroiro Symphony – In any other season, this could have been close to bottom. Yet it’s in the midfield because so many titles are studios putting the cue in the rack this season. Honestly, I’m disappointed in Manglobe. Not because they adapted a dating sim. Not at all – if done properly, they make good money! Here’s the problem – Manglobe haven’t adapted this properly! Not in the most crucial section for a dating sim adaptation – AESTHETICS! The animation and character art is just weak…and that’s just not on when you do a moe series. You need the visuals, the mood and that key moments to mix in and cultivate the adoration you want from your target viewers. When the visuals are off, the effect is lost and Manglobe have really dropped the ball here. But not on all fronts. The music is reasonable, the characters are kind of cute, even if they’re typical archetypes for this genre. But what really kills this one for me is how painfully slow it goes. Essentially there are only two scenes across the entire first episode. The first half takes the lead male on a search in the rain to find his sister who has a habit of getting lost, the gentle conversations they have and the third party who also happens to get lost. *facepalm* The second half covers the brother/sister duo and their best male friend, who are part of a trial merge between their old school and an elite girls-only school. Throw in a disty maid at the entrance, a girl with an amusingly deformed cat, a female teacher who’s scared of men, a hot principal who loves her drinkies. Then the money shot moment – the girl who got lost last night who is actually the principal’s daughter and refuses to accept the merger between the schools in typical tsundere fashion. The characters are okay, but the problem is that too many are reminiscent of characters from other moe shows in the past. The sister acts a lot like Kotomi from Clannad and causes him to be on a chase in the elements like the opening moments of Kanon. The purple-haired girl and cat combo seems eerily like Kyou and Botan from Clannad but in a more sugary way. The male friend almost seems reminiscent of Sunohara from Clannad. The principal’s daughter seemed a bit different originally then does a reversal into typical tsundere territory as the episode nears its end.  And there lies Mashiroiro’s biggest weakness – almost none of these characters feel original, except  for the male lead not being a prick or hopeless fool (not yet, anyway), which is a relief. This really is a show that will sell itself on mood and whether one of the females on hold ticks the boxes for you – like most VNs do. But with mediocre aesthetics and clichéd characters, Mashiroiro Symphony just doesn’t have the edge that a decent dating-sim like Clannad did. It may profit, but it won’t be memorable.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Loss to break even.

#13 – Persona 4 – Well well…here’s the one Westerners were pretty hyped up on. Thankfully, asummed prior knowledge of the franchise doesn’t seem to be an issue. The scenario of the game’s roots are replicated onto the screen. But unfortunately, so are the visuals. What works in a game doesn’t always work in anime and unfortunately that is the case for Persona 4. The animation is mediocre in look and clumsy in motion – when there actually is any…There’s a joke going round about Persona 4 being the still-frame anime of the season and it’s fairly accurate. The music choices are weird – they don’t fit the mood of the show, nor do they sound like themes that will resonate with a Japanese audience much, making me wonder whether they were hoping for more sales from Western countries. The story has potential – typical high schoolers about to get sent into a hellhole alternate reality and the seemingly generic male lead has hidden powers that allow him to own whatever monsters come their way. The character mix seems okay – female with a bit of spunk, clowny guy and serious guy who ends up being ownage when required. Pity that said dynamic isn’t present more often. But all that I have said may end up being irrelevant as it was revealed on Twitter that the majority of the staff responsible for producing Persona 4 have quit due to not being paid for their work. In the second episode there was an apology saying it is likely the show will be cancelled. Swell…is there really much point in having hope for a show that has the majority of its staff jump ship and admit it will likely never finish – or at least be sub-par quality? I don’t think so. Well, at least I now have an example of Episode 10 of Paranoia Agent actually happening in reality. I’m sure the late Satoshi Kon would have found this twist amusing.

Conclusive Action – Dropped (Inevitable)

Sales Prediction – Major loss (if it even finishes!) unless Western sales somehow exceed expectations

#12 – Tamayura – I’m actually rather disappointed in how this has turned out in series form. I must confess that while my resistance to moe is generally higher than the average fan, I actually liked the OVA of Tamayura. It got to the point. It explained why Potte loved photography so much, had amusing moments between Potte and her friends and had key moments to fit the melancholy of Potte’s dead father with the love of memories. It had atmosphere, it had beauty, was animated well and had good music. Yes, it was slow, but it got the job done! This series version…does not. I just don’t understand how this show went from an OVA that was a good watch and sold well to a series that is just bland in comparison. The pace is too slow, the animation quality has gone down, the content is far less interesting, the key moments just don’t have the impact the OVA moments did. This feels like an inferior version and the magic of what made Tamayura watchable in the first place is now gone. Which is a pity, because I thought the old-school photography Potte prefers and the bond formed with her mentor in the OVA could have been good hooks. Maybe enough fresh material was already used up in the OVA. *shrug*Tamayura is another moe series that will sell on its atmosphere, aesthetics and whether people will go for the characters. Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think they will this time.

Conclusive action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Break even. It will have a target base but not a big one.

#11 – Ben-To – Again, this is another title I had big hopes for.  People fighting tooth and nail for half-price bento – that does sound rather amusing. But ah, what a difference execution can make, not to mention subjective humour. Our dear male protagonist has been sent to hospital, not remembering how he ended up there or why, except that he was going for a bento since he’s living by himself in a dorm. Then things gradually come back to him. The cute chick who speaks at a frenzied pace went with him and now the class rep is ready to murder him for befriending her. And he got his butt kicked by the ‘Ice Witch’, the mysterious white-haired girl who goes to his school and always gets the bento she wants. While this does sound cool overall, certain elements kill the humour and the fun of the scenario. ‘Ice Witch’ is rather indifferent but willing to show our dear protagonist the ropes. The class rep is just violent full stop without rhyme or reason. The cute chick accompanying our protagonist has little personality too. Therein lies a key flaw with Ben-To – none of these characters are that remarkable at all. I have trouble remembering any of their names because this show has one hook – you either find fighting over bento over and over amusing or not. Because the fanservice attempts are just bad and not stimulating anyway. The class rep just reminds you why tsunderes are overused and usually in the wrong way to boot. But most of all, the idea this show could rely on that one hook of bento duels for a full season?! I’m not buying that. Nothing remarkable or particularly funny happened for me in this episode and anything that did was re-used less than 5 minutes later. Pity because this series had potential – but we all know what execution can do to kill any good story or plan.

Conclusive Action  – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Loss. It doesn’t have a secondary hook, standout character or merchandise potential that a show like this needs.

#10 – Chibi Devi – I can’t believe this show ended up this high on the list…That says a lot about what came before it. Chibi Devi is a series of 5 minute shorts about a girl who lives alone and is picked on by her peers for being alone. One night, her dream of no longer being alone is granted, but in a twisted way. She is sent a baby to take care of, which she adoringly does. But there’s a catch – the next time her peers slander her, the baby incinerates them. Yep, it’s a devil baby. It’s been less than a year since Beelzebub started airing and now we have another series about a devil baby? Mind you, this one is more watchable than Beelzebub. If I really didn’t have better things to do, perhaps I could will myself to watch it, because for a 5 minute short, the animation is generic but acceptable and there are a couple of sweet moments. But…yeah, I can think of better things to do with 5 minutes. So I’m passing on this one.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Loss.

#9 –Phi-Brain – Now here is the one series I was almost ready to continue watching. The third of the three series Sunrise are doing this season along with Gundam AGE and Horizon, this one actually had a decent hook and potentially good character cast. Solving large-scale puzzles with potentially fatal consequences if you fail? That is intriguing. But again, execution can be a real downer sometimes and yet again, Phi-Brain is a victim of it. The animation is definitely sub-par – then again what can you expect with Sunrise spreading out budgets over three series in the one season? There is an element of needing to switch your brain off to be amused in order to accept a whole section of forest being able to slide up and down mechanically. But really, what gets to me are two things. Firstly, this show is trying too hard to be cool. It seems desperate to be like a Shounen Jump title, which just kills the thrill factor because when you’re getting someone being rational with logic problems yet breezing through it with the air of a smartarse and prancing about like he’s too good for this planet, what’s to be impressed by? There’s a difference between being cool and being a massive prick and Phi-Brain allows its protagonist to drift into the latter too often. Then we have the female lead, Nonoha, being spunky and a decent puzzle solver in her own right. But when she kicks the crap out of the male lead for typical tsundere reasons or gets incredibly sulky and whiny when the lead acts cold to her, it just doesn’t endear the viewer with reasons to like Nonoha either. So when you don’t like the protagonists or feel thrilled by their plight much – what’s to like? The most irritating factor is how the first episode ends. It spends close to five minutes of static behaviour after a very energetic lead-up all episode, which again negates the thrill that should be obtained from a cliffhanger. All in all, a good concept and a slick OP by May’n aren’t enough to save this show. Poor writing and obnoxious character traits hinder what could have been breath-taking and reduce it to a zephyr instead. Sunrise putting the cue in the rack for two series in one season is rather bewildering.

Conclusive Action – Dropped

Sales Prediction – Loss to break-even. Is training day material really worth this project?

Okay, now we hit the portion of the season that I will be continuing with – for now. Some of these remaining shows barely made the cut and I’m leaving room to drop a few of these if they don’t lift their game.

#8 – Squid Girl S2 – Yeah, Squid Girl stays on my watch list. Not enthusiastically, but it continues on providing that 7/10 level of entertainment Season 1 did. Squid Girl still fails at her delusions of conquest. Chizuru still goes yandere at appropriate comic relief moments. Eiko is still the reluctant mediator of this oddball situation. Sanae still has a hilarious crush on Squid Girl. The Animerican scientists still make for the odd laugh. Really – it’s more of the same. Except Season One’s hilariously infectious and apt OP theme has been replaced by a cheesy one that just doesn’t have anywhere near the fun and impact the original did. Plus the character animation doesn’t seem as clean either. But meh, minor quibbles. Squid Girl still does what it does well – providing light-hearted comedy entertainment that’s good to watch with your mates.

Conclusive Action – Continuing

Sales Prediction – Reasonable profit around the 7k mark.

#7 – Guilty Crown – Now here is the show that no one can agree on. Will it be the smash hit of the season or colossally fail? Is it refreshing or is it doing what series in recent times have done? One thing that is clear is the world setting – which is a big relief considering few shows have established that well within their first episodes this season. Ten years before the setting of this show, a meteorite containing the Apocalypse Virus landed in Japan and the resulting pandemic left the country reeling. The international organisation GHQ intervened and restored order to Japan but at the price of their independence. In the present setting of 2039, Shuu, a high school boy, is compelled by idol singer Inori to join a resistance group whose motives are unclear. In the process, Shuu is exposed to the Apocalypse Virus and has powers awakened within him with the help of Inori that allows his arms to turn into combat weapons.

Well, what can be said is Production I.G. have pulled out all the stops to make this show look good under director Tetsurou Araki (Death Note). The animation is perhaps the best of the season – it’s slick, detailed and the characters look gorgeous. The background art is a feast for the eyes as well. Plus the seiyuu – particularly Yuuki Kaiji as Shuu and Ai Kayano – are in great form. The story is intriguing, the music is okay (one scene where Inori sings ‘London Bridge’ is just pricless) and a lot of content is covered in one episode, progressing the plot to a good point to end the inaugural episode on.

But I have a major issue with this show. Despite its brilliant aesthetics and potentially good story – there’s just something nagging at me virtually every moment I’m watching this show. And it’s happening to a lot of other people as well. Aren’t there a lot of things that are similar to Code Geass in this show? Let’s detail them.

  1. Shuu and Lelouch are both teen boys that want to change the current state of things and bring down the ruling power.
  2. Shuu has his power awakened within him at a near-death experience with the aid of Inori in a subliminal scene. Lelouch has his Geass power awakened within him at a near-death experience with the aid of C.C. in a subliminal scene.
  3. Inori and C.C. are both sought after by the ruling power and captured. Shuu and Lelouch rescue their respective female compatriots before episode’s end.
  4. Inori seems to work for Gai, who seems to head a secret organisation – people Shuu stumbled across by chance. Lelouch stumbled upon Kallen and what became The Black Knights by chance.
  5. She hasn’t appeared yet, but Guilty Crown has a brunette female character in a wheelchair to be voiced by Kana Hanazawa. Code Geass had a brunette female character in a wheelchair called Nunnally.

See why some people are very concerned Guilty Crown has been too similar to Code Geass thus far? And there are some other concerning factors. Inori’s character is heavily sexualised. The opening scene where she sings she’s naked while draped in a black scarf then kissing a fairly phallic skull. Her general outfit reveals a lot of cleavage and midriff and makes the fanservice invoked up Kallen look tame in comparison to a point. Plus some of her behaviour is a bit concerning. Her words during Shuu’s awakening almost hint that Inori is willing to be submissive and to be used like an object for Shuu to achieve what he needs to. That is something that doesn’t impress me. One of Code Geass’s strengths was that C.C. was never inferior to Lelouch – she was the one person who truly commanded his respect and was not weak or submissive. Plus her outfits never made her look cheap or slutty. I’m worried Inori will be treated cheaply in this series – I hope that doesn’t eventuate. There are hints either Inori or someone related to her was in Shuu’s past, but that is not clear yet. It’s also unclear what Gai and the group he leads are after and how they operate. Plus it’s not certain how Shuu will react to having this power, but I doubt it will make him initially power-crazed like Lelouch was. My final concern is that the nationalist rhetoric is being evoked again within the otaku fanbase by the anime industry and it’s getting a bit weary. Japan – we get you have been the victims of adversity, natural disasters and the consequences of war imperial rule. But you can’t use that as an excuse forever. You can’t always play the victim card to inspire national pride. Wouldn’t working to improve the country, the aspirations of its citizens and gain the respect of your neighbours be a better thing to aim for?

All said, there’s a good foundation for Guilty Crown to start from, but it had better set itself from Code Geass and do it quickly. I doubt most people are willing to watch a show try to replicate what it achieved a few years back because back then it was relatively different and exciting. This time, it’s feeling somewhat cliché. I’m giving Guilty Crown two more episodes to forge its own identity or I’m dropping it.

Conclusive Action – Continuing (tentatively)

Sales Prediction – Profit if it stops being like Code Geass, loss if it doesn’t.

#6 – UN-GO – Now here is what has to be the quirkiest of the shows on offer this season, based on a novel written decades ago by the late author Ango Sakaguchi, who was a very vocal author well versed in Buddhism and Indian philosophy . Shinjuurou Yuuki aka ‘The Defeated Detective’ and Inga – a very oddball crime-solving duo – are on-hand to witness the murder of a highly-respected business figure who was under investigation for embezzlement. Also on-site are the feisty Rie, representing her famous crime solving father Rinroku, as well as the severe public prosecutor Izumi.  Shinjuurou and Inga work to reveal the culprit – albeit by very amusing and mind-boggling means. It is hinted that Shinjuurou is working for Inga under some form of a contract stemming from a near-death experience.

Director Seizi Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist) has created a good atmosphere. The use of funky colours, straying from primaries and focusing on blends and subtle colours has an intriguing visual effect. The music is ambient but pleasant while the OP and ED themes are both good. Shinjuurou is a reasonable, humble lead male who is clearly designed for bishounen appeal and hoping to rake in fujioshi fandom. Inga is quite hilarious – after spending most of the episode as an eere-looking boy (or perhaps tomboy), Inga morphs into a knockout babe who is very provocative and ‘persuasive’ with her ability to obtain a confession. Aki Toyosaki – mainly known for her work as Yui in K-ON! – excels at being the oddball, quirky yet insatiable persona Inga is. Rie seems rather capable in her own right and that she’s in this story for the long run, along with good voicing by relative newcomer Nozomi Yamamoto. How these characters will interact/work together in the future remains to be seen.

Now there’s what’s good about UN-GO. It’s got some glaring problems too. Now while the characters were intriguing, the whodunit within this first episode wasn’t. It was rather simple by any crime scenario – this had better not continue, as a whodunit needs a good mystery to hook the viewer in. The quirky crime-fighters are there. The tension between two opposing sides vying for the win is there. Intriguing back-story is there. Just give the characters some good mysteries, please! The other concern I have is the world setting. It wasn’t made clear whether the war mentioned that the murder victim helped Japan to recover from was World War II or one more recent in an alternate timeline. In fact, it’s not clear what year it is and what the state of Japan is at this time, although the state of technology seen in this episode would lead me to believe it’s set somewhat in the future. I’m also wondering what the aim of UN-GO is. Is there a political, social or philosophical aim to this title that Ango Sakaguchi wrote? And what market is Bones aiming for with this series? I’m not certain on what audience they are aiming for specifically despite it being a noitaminA series, suggesting early adult.

That said, it’s early days. Seiji Mizushima is known for his slow starts under what he directs. Hopefully things become clear soon, because there is an air to this show that is quite unlike anything else this year. I just hope that its difference won’t alienate potential viewers to the point of harming its sales, as Bones have struggled to regularly claim financial success with their productions. I’ll give it a few more episodes but I won’t be overly lenient. I sincerely hope Siren Visual’s pre-emptive licensing was based on seeing much more than this beginning episode.

Conclusive Action – Continuing (for now)

Sales Prediction – Loss unless bishounen and quirky factors are utilised to full effect.

#5 – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – If there was one title that performed better thus far than I expected it to, it was this one. Not by much, but still, it had my interest. The story is fairly simple – Blond-haired Kodaka was instantly, but unfairly, labelled a delinquent on his first day at high school and has been alone ever since. One day he crosses paths with Yozora, an equally alone and abrasive girl who speaks to an imaginary friend to negate her loneliness. The two decide to band together and form the Neighbours Club to make friends and learn how to be sociable. Their first new member is Sena, a high-achieveing, daughter of the chairman, beautiful second year that the boys swoon over but the girls despise, who desperately wants female friends. Yozora and Sena instantly dislike each other. And thus, the Neighbours Club is born.

Okay, now I need to point out something right off the bat. This is not going to be a series that takes that serious a look into how to make friends. Partially, maybe, but nowhere near fully. This series is being animated by AIC and remember what they produced exactly one year ago?! Ore no Imouto – and its scenarios and character styles are all over Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. Heck, even Kumi Ishii’s character designs from Ore no Imouto are back, although that would be the only staff member that was present for both series.  The character dynamic between Sena and Yozora is very reminiscent of the chemistry between Kirino and Kuroneko from Ore no Imouto. Sena’s traits and physical features are very similar to Kirino, right down to the trademark fang, except for Sena having blond hair and bigger breasts. Yozora is composed and has the air which Kuroneko did. Kodaka has the mediator role just like Kyosuke did. In a nutshell – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is being marketed the same way Ore no Imouto was last year. But hey, considering it sold 22k units per volume, of course AIC are going to try something similar again. However, looking at the list of oddball characters that are still to come, I get the feeling this will be fun trope-filled fluff if nothing else. Ore no Imouto knew it was absurd to have been made into an anime and even made a joke of the fact. It never tried to hide the fact it wasn’t special, but it was marketed very effectively. Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is doing the same. Sena merchandise is already available. The OP and ED themes are very amusing and catchy. The animation and background art is pretty and to the standard a show relying on moe needs to be – in fact, it looks more polished than what was on offer in Ore no Imouto. Marina Inoue and Kanae Itou work well together as seiyuu for Yozora and Sena.

All in all, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is not doing anything new. But it isn’t claiming to or hiding its similarity to Ore no Imouto. This is a series designed to be amused and occasionally moved by – nothing more. Take it or leave it. Myself, I know not to expect nothing spectacular but that it will be amusing so I’ll continue for now since it has the honesty to not pretend about where it will go.

Conclusive Action – Continuing

Sales Prediction – Significant profit, will compete with Fate/Zero for top sales for the season.

#4 – Last Exile: Fam The Silver Wing – Okay, confession. The original Last Exile series is my #1 favourite title of all time. It was THE title that made me love anime and want to see more of what was out there. So when I heard Gonzo were going to dare to finally do a sequel, I was filled with a fair sense of foreboding as well as anticipation. Gonzo had fallen on hard times due to their own incompetency to properly target audiences over the last five years and almost perished. Well, they’re back. And Last Exile: Fam The Silver Wing is their big gamble to try and regain a standing on the anime scene. Kudos to Madman Entertainment for streaming this as of 9:30am local time this morning. We showed it before Funinico! 😛 And for free!

Okay, quick rundown. Same world and universe as the original Last Exile series but different factions. It’s a fair way into the future and the world of Prestel seems to have recovered thanks to the heroics of Claus and Lavie. From the sound of things, Sophia is still Empress of the Anatore faction and seeking peace. But unfortunately, there are factions who think otherwise. The Ades faction seeks war under the leadership of Luscina and seek to obliterate the Turan kingdom while capturing their leaders, Princesses Millia and Lily. However, the young and spunky Fam Fan Fan of the Sky Pirates is not about to let that go down and devises a plan to save the two princesses from capture. With the ever-hilarious ex-Guild member Dio back in tow and crazy as ever, a masterful escape is executed. The race begins for the Turan princesses to get back to their kingdom before Luscina sets it ablaze. With the aid of Fam Fan Fan, Dio and the rest of the Sky Pirates, of course.

After seeing this episode, some of my fears about what might happen in this sequel have been quelled. The animation, backgrounds and character art are what they should be. Range Murata’s designs have been faithfully replicated once more and are just stellar. Only complaint I have is the shadows seem heavier on the characters than they were in the original, which is a little distracting. The CGI use is far more impressive than what has been used by any other series this year – which is nice for a change as CGI use within anime has been rather sub-standard in recent times. The Dolce Triade are back in control of the in-episode music and it’s as good as ever. Seiyuu/singer legend Maaya Sakamoto provides a good OP – perhaps not as epic as Shuntaro Okino’s in the original but better suited for the native audience. Hitomi Kuroishi once again delivers a pleasant ED theme of her own production. Aki Toyosaki (seiyuu for Yui in K-ON!) might have seemed a crazy choice for voicing Fam Fan Fan, but she’s able to provide that spunky, zany, infectious energy that the character possesses without being too sugary. Lily is a rather elegant, charming princess while Millia is very feisty and resistant. Junko Noda excels at being the wacky, enigmatic bishounen that is Dio and he lights up the screen with his insanity.

The real question is – what is going to happen overall within this second Last Exile series? Last time, it took five episodes for things to become clear. Is the war between Ades and Turan going to be the primary focus or is there something bigger in play? Will Gonzo’s shift towards a primary focus on female characters and some moe elements alienate the original fanbase too much or will it be able to generate significant domestic sales this time? And what the hell is the giant golden nutcracker supposed to mean?! It’s back in Episode 1 and we STILL don’t know what it is! Still, more than enough has been done for an opening episode. There’s a lot to build on from this good start. Just don’t blow this one, Gonzo, or I will NEVER, EVER FORGIVE YOU!

Conclusive Action – Continuing

Sales Predictions – Domestic profit this time, surely….maybe not in the West this time, though.

Last Exile is currently streaming in Madman’s Viewing Rooms found here.

#3 – Mirai Nikki – 2011 has been crying for a good thriller. We may finally have it! Teen male protagonist Yukiteru is a loner, spending all his time entering events of the day into a dairy on his mobile phone and occasionally chatting with the seemingly imaginary entity Deus ex Machina. Then one day, things begin to go haywire. The events of the day are mysteriously present on his phone and are all coming true. Initially, Yukiteru uses it to excel with his grades and to avoid getting beaten up. Then one day, the phone predicts his death. His only hope of living lies with an insane alliance with the hilarious adoring stalker female classmate Yuno. With the aid of Yuno, Yukiteru is able to slay his would-be killer…by destroying his phone?! Deus ex Machina then summons Yuikteru, Yuno and nine other people to explauin they are now in a game of life and death where the one remaining survivor becomes Deus ex Machina – a god-like entity with near-unlimited power. Their phones – now diaries –can be used to alter reality at will to bring about their desires. If their diary is destroyed, the die with it. Yukiteru is anything but comfortable with this scenario.

I have to say this was a darn good watch. After Deadman Wonderland’s adaptation underperformed, 2011 has been desperate for thrills. And here they are. Not form a studio you’d have expected though. Asread have mainly done moe titles in the past, yet here they are doing something different. The aesthetics are mainly fine – the animation isn’t stellar but it’s not bad. The music doesn’t do much to heighten the atmosphere which is a pity. But then again, it doesn’t need it. When you’ve got Norio Wakamoto – the master of villain voices – as seiyuu for Deus ex Machina, you’ve already got a lot going for you, as he once again thrives as being the bad guy. Relative newcomer Misuzu Togashi does an effective job of voicing the awkward, frightened Yukiteru – almost to the point she sounds like Romi Paku voicing Edward Elriic from Fullmetal Alchemist. Another newcomer, Tomosa Murata, is delectable as the crazed yet loyal stalker Yuno. The concept is a very intriguing one and has the potential to be utterly entrhralling if it continues to deliver.

But within that concept lies a signifcant flaw. This isn’t original – or doesn’t feel that way. Yes, it’s based on an original manga by Sakae Esuno, but there’s just a few coincidences that are unsettling. Twelve competitors in a game of life and death where winner takes all. Their phones become everything they live by. Am I the only person that doesn’t think this scenario is too similar to the one in Eden of the East?! Which happened to have twelve competitors that used their phones to buy help to bring about their ends to win the battle to change the world. This eerie similarity kind of kills the magic. Still, since Mirai Nikki is going on a much more macabre, twisted route rather than Eden of the East’s altruistic, social path, perhaps this can be forgiven.

So far, Mirai Nikki has the elements of a good thriller. Whether it holds its steam to the end and remains thrilling is the big question.

Conclusive Action – Continuing

Sales Prediction  – Profit if the tropes and thrills remain as good as they were so far.

#2 – Fate/Zero – I have been fortunate enough to see three episodes of this by the time Last Exile was finally streamed that I do have enough faith that Fate/Zero will deliver in the long run. In this prequel to Fate/Stay Night, we go back in time a few years to the previous Holy Grail War, over one which wasn’t real but had the same consequences and fatal participation. It is clear right away that ufotable’s adaptation of the source material novels that is far more loyal than what Deen’s adaptation of Fate/Stay Night was. There are a lot more men present – moe is not the primary selling factor anymore whereas it was in Fate/Stay Night. Fate/Zero is darker, crueller and more troll. In the extended 45-minute first episode and second episode, we are introduced to most of the major participants in the third Holy Grail War, implications as to why they are participating and their motivations. Kiritsugu Emiya – the mentor of Shirou in FSN – is shacked up with the Einzbern family, married to Irisviel for convenience and reluctantly fathering Ilyasaviel, who was a participant in the FSN Holy Grail War. Kitsurugu seems very regretful he has condemned Irisviel to an early death but there is an air of necessity, determination and justice that drives him with the faithful, kind assistance of Irisviel. Whereas Kirei Kotohime, the priest who appeared in Fate/Stay Night, is shown in what caused him to become his FSN version – a person driven by despair and anger, virtually the exact opposite of Kiritsugu. Tokiomi Tohsaka, the father of Rin and Sakura, is one of the more sane participants of this Holy Grail war and seems like a good father. One can make a guess about his fate based on what we know from Fate/Stay Night. Waver, a young magical student from England, stumbles upon info about the Holy Grail War and flukes getting selected, but he is clearly out of his depth. Ryosuke is a serial killer and perhaps the most unlikely person to be part of these proceedings, but once you see the servant he receives, you realise what a macabre, twisted fit he is for this title. Kariya, a member of the Matou family and a long time friend of Rin sand Sakura, is mortified at Sakura being taken by the Matou family and doomed to a life of hell, which compels him to make the sacrifice to bear the burden of the twisted, evil mechanics of the Matou family’s power to save Sakura. And as usual, whoever is contestant #7 will be revealed late in the proceedings.

Now I have to admit, while there is a very solid, enthralling story to be found within Fate/Zero, it is VERY testing on one’s patience. Episode one’s double-length is purely dialogue save for a few summoning scenes in the final two minutes and one utterly mortifying scene 14 minutes in that Sakura is a victim of. In fact, I was rather repulsed by its inclusion and found it hard to continue after that, because seeing such a chilling, evil act inflicted upon young Sakura and the Matou family head laughing his face off at her hellish predicament. However, after speaking to a good friend who has read the Fate/Zero novels and played all routes of Fate/Stay Night, I now understand WHY this scene is here. If you ever see what happens in the Heaven’s Feel route of Fate/Stay Night in the game, you will understand the importance of this scene. Still,  I feel a lot of Fate/Stay Night fans might find it hard to continue past that scene – at least the first time around. Once Episode 2 swings around, we finally get to meet some of the servants. Rider is the complete opposite of the dominatrix-styled babe we saw in FSN – in Zero, Rider is now a gigantic male, full of charisma and bravado. He’s actually quite amusing and one of the better aspects thus far, but it gets rather infuriating with how much air time he gets in Episodes 2 and 3. He is amusing but rather troll – he can only be taken with good grace to a certain point. Although seeing him virtually being the master of Waver instead of the other way around never gets old. Caster is paired with Ryosuke and is equally sadistic and evil with fish eyes and a lust for killing. In a twisted way, they are pretty much the one pairing that gets along – albeit even more troll that Rider. Tohsaka receives Archer, just like Rin did in the future – except the father receieves the Gilgamesh version, who is far more independent and wealth-hungry. There seems to be a running joke within Fate/Zero that most of the Master/Servant pairings will not get along – i.e. The exact opposite of Fate/Stay Night pairings. Kotohime receives Assassin but strangely tries to fake losing out of the Holy Grail War proceedings very early. As to whether he is still on the same side as Tohsaka is unclear – I’m assuming he’s not. Kiritsugu and Irisviel receive Saber as they had intended to, but are stunned to learn that King Arthur was really Queen Arturia. (That hilarious but true fact about the FSN creator changing Saber from being male to female and Shirou from female to male in the closing moments of the game’s production when he realised players would probably prefer being the one doing the screwing rather than being screwed NEVER gets old!) Kiritsugu feels even more guilty and there is a cold distance between himself and Saber. However, Irisviel and Saber get along so very well. Saber is very much a knight to Irisviel and is incredibly charming. The black suit outfit Saber sports while escorting Irisviel around in Episode 3 is perfect for her, as is Irisviel’s white dress. So far I’ve found to the interactiom between Saber and Irisviel to be the most interesting – perhaps because they’re the only ones not being troll about all of this. Ayako Kawasumi is in her prime once more voicing Saber with dignity and elegance while Sayaka Oohara provides the warm, loving maternal edge needed to make the viewer connect with Irisviel and feel empathy for her imminent tragic death that the series seems intent on implicating from the get-go. Rikiya Koyama is the most impressive male seiyuu for me thus far – he accurately portrays the clinical, cold yet heartfelt justice that Kiritsugu embodies, which is effectively the rare breath of fresh air amidst a sea of madness and decay. Kiriya hasn’t appeared since Episode 1 – Beserker is surely his Servant. You know it is. One could assume that the FAB-ULOUS bishounen looking Lancer that appears to attack Saber and Irisviel at the end of Episode 3 is from someone rather outlandish since pairing the FAB-ULOUS servant with Kiriya doesn’t sound right. From the beginning, it is clear how much better the visuals and music ufotable have used is better than what Deen provided for FSN. In terms of aesthetics, Fate/Zero is be far better. Another thing worth noting is that while most of anime seems to have forgotten to draw or portray males beyond generic means, Fate/Zero is able to portray them in a variety of personalities and looks. It’s about time a series actually had some men this year rather than generic high school boys for the millionth time.

But there are siginficant hurdles for Fate/Zero. The constant spam of dialogue which is excessive by any means and very static scenes for the first episode is typical of Nasu’s writing, but he is testing in general. This could potentially alienate a significant about of the Fate/Stay Night fanbase, as a lot of people were into that show for Saber and Rin and the feminista they provided along with the moe cast on offer. Fate/Zero is the opposite – it is manly, chilling and very troll. However, this is an accurate adaptation according to my Type-Moon friends. Content-wise, it has the goods to succeed. But whether its long dialogue (Nasu), darker side (Urobuchi) and troll nature will test too many viewers is the real question. Not to mention whether a current generation that seems to thrive on female characters being the focus will handle a series dominated by men and that there isn’t much moe on offer. Perhaps Fate/Zero will be a litmus test for whether the new gen wants to see males in anime once more. Let’s hope this series succeeds, because things are getting rather stale within the industry and something has to change. Then again, can we really have hopes for that to happen when Urobuchi is part of the creative/writing power?

On a final note – any predictions for who wins this war? My guess was very damn close, according to my friend. What I do know is that Type-Moon fans generally consider this the best adaptation of anything they’ve ever seen. I can only hope that the new gen can find it within themselves to appreciate girls aren’t all that matters within anime anymore. They managed to do it for Garden of Sinners. Please appreciate Fate/Zero, Japan!

Conclusive Action – Continuing

Sales Predictions – Competing for top spot sales with Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai.

#1 – Chihayafuru – And thus, we finally come to the #1 spot. For me, this is the clear winner of the season. I’ve seen two episodes now and it is just brilliant. Based on a manga by Yuki Suetsugu, we see the world of karuta, a game of memory and traditional Japanese poems. Chihaya Ayase, is one spunky, determined female. She doesn’t settle for others bullying on people or acting high and mighty. She doesn’t care about being popular. She just wants to live, be a good person and follow her dream. Through flashbacks, we learn this all came from her time in middle school, where she befriended transfer student Arata Wataya despite her peers trying to ostracise her for doing so. From their friendship, Chihaya learns that her previous dream of seeing her sister become a model is not a dream of her own and that she needs one. Seeing Wataya-kun’s amazing skill at karuta, she aspires to be as good as him. Throw in Taichi, Chhaya’s childhood friend, who can’t stand Wataya-kun – you get a dynamic trio which eventually learns to get along through their passion for karuta. Come to present day and Chihaya encounters Taichi in high school and starts a karuta club in the hope of finding Wataya-kun once more as she aspires to become Japan’s best female karuta player in the process.

The visuals are simple but beautiful. Kunihiko Hadama’s character designs are crisp and delightful. The OP – ‘Youthful’ by 99RadioService, is my favourite theme song of the year. It’s light but bouncy and infectious – a perfect choice for this show. The use of colours within this show is the best I’ve seen this season – they’re nostalgic, atmospheric, almost sexy. The characters are easily the most solid of the season and have one heck of a dynamic. The cultural aspect of karuta – traditional but no longer popular – provides a rare cultural insight that is very welcome and that I otherwise may have never learnt of. Asami Seto’s voicing of Chihaya sounds more like a veteran than someone who started in the industry this year, brining Chihaya to the forefront with passion, youthful zest and charm. Veteran award-winning seiyuu Mamoru Miyano (Light in Death Note amongst many others) aptly portrays the struggle within Taichi to contain his jealousy of Chihaya being friendly with another boy yet prevent himself from being hated by the girl he admires.

This is a series driven by characters and culture – you’ll either be charmed by it or find it boring. I find it utterly fascinating. Veteran Madhouse director Morio Asaka (Cardcaptor Sakura, NANA) is able to properly execute an adaptation once more. The pacing is spot on. The characters invoke empathy, admiration and revulsion when they are supposed to. This is storytelling at its purest and not relying on tropes or shock values to win you over. It’s the most honest show of the season. And it excels at what it sets out to do.

Chihayafuru will not be for everyone. But for those who value good writing, a good character dynamic and visuals that aren’t reliant on moe to be beautiful, this will be a very refreshing title you need to see immediately!

Conclusive Action – Watching and sweating on when the next episode is available!!

Sales Prediction – Small profit. It deserves to profit!

And thus ends my VERY FREAKING LONG analysis of the 2011 October anime season thus far. Hope you gained something from it and that you find something to like this season! Peace!