I spent the last week playing Castles II, lamenting the lameness of my fantasy NFL team, and watching anime. I don’t think anybody is interested in reading about the first two but perhaps people might be interested in the anime I watched.
Perhaps the most anticipated show of this season – at least for a large segment of the anime-watching audience – I watched this show with scant familiarity with the Fate/stay night franchise and almost no preconceptions as to what this anime would be about. And yet, my heart sank during its first few moments. It opens with a melodramatic, almost cheesy scene replete with heavyhanded angst and artificial tension. Things get worse during the next scene, where two guys deliver an utterly tedious lecture – while synchronously pacing in a big circle. For some reason – cultural, I would guess – many anime makers are completely clueless when it comes to the principle of “show, don’t tell”, and Fate/zero’s intro sequence is a prime example of how detrimental extended narration can be. For a moment, I remembered all the things I didn’t like about the Fate/stay night anime and I cringed at the prospect of rehashing all its worst points.
Fortunately, things pick up from there and despite the episode’s double running length, the pacing quickens, remaining brisk while the plot becomes engrossing. The other contenders for the Grail are introduced, with Kariya and Waver undoubtedly being the most interesting. They display the most humanity – Kariya in the selfless and agonizing sacrifice he makes to protect Sakura, and Waver in the selfish and deceitful manner in which he enters the contest – and their actions demonstrate the significance of the Grail much better than dialogue can. I thought Kiritsugu was interesting as well, mainly because of the legend surrounding him (narrated, of course, rather than shown) and also because it’s hard to imagine how a chump like Shirou could be his kid. He’s also the only character to have a hot partner. The remaining characters are rather wooden, but given the limited screen time allotted to each, it’s too early to negatively judge them.
The artwork is beautiful, with gorgeous environments and appealing character designs. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the actual animation, which is sparse, given that much of the episode consists of people standing around and talking. The music is equally effective, and I hope that the remainder of the season can maintain these production standards – though more animation would be nice. There will be fighting in future episodes and I’d much rather watch action scenes than listen to people talk during what should be an action scene.
As I said, I’m not very familiar with Fate/stay night, having not played the game and having given up in disgust on the anime. I think that works to my advantage here; Fate/zero’s first episode is geared towards people like me, as it carefully introduces the plot background and setting. In addition, as I don’t know many of these characters at all, it’s refreshing to be able to watch this show without prejudging them. And although we see Ilya at the start and Saber at the end and Rin throughout, I didn’t find myself thinking of the older show once the opening scenes were done with. That’s just as well – Fate/stay night’s biggest flaw is Emiya Shirou and his absence is already one big advantage in Fate/zero’s favor. Saber in a killer suit, no boneheaded Shirou to be found anywhere, and the intimation of tragedy, deceit, evil, and valor all portend a great series. I hope it’s as good as it looks like it can be.
Oh, and uhh, that scene with little naked Sakura being “violated” by thousands of larvae was pretty damn hot. Just sayin’.
Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon
Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon is the show that proves my earlier statement wrong, as it is almost all show and almost no tell. We are dropped straight into what appears to be a mixed high-tech and low-tech world with gigantic airships and ramshackle shantytowns. We meet Makiko Oriotorai, an instructor in this curious world, as she promptly orders her class to try to hit her her while she runs off to beat up a criminal. The rest of the episode showcases the members of the student body and their distinctive abilities. It’s a fun episode. I like the instructor a lot, particularly how she spends the whole show wearing a big smile.
The students are a bizarre bunch. The girls are all shapely and wear tight bodysuits. There’s also a slime. And a ninja. And a completely naked incubus. Hopefully there’s a plot somewhere in this show. And hopefully the titular and presumptive main character gets some lines; we hardly even see her in this episode. The show is based off of a light novel and perhaps it’s assumed that viewers have some foreknowledge of its premise, but while the quirky characters are great, I don’t think they’re enough to carry the series. Denpa Onna had likable, quirky characters but I stopped watching it after a few episodes – it just didn’t seem like there was any sort of story in there.
Random trivia note: I wonder if this is the first anime season to feature two characters named Hassan.
Anybody who’s looked through this website would guess that I’m a big fan of fanservice and a big fan of action girl anime. They’d be right, of course, but there are actually very few contemporary action-oriented fanservice shows that I like. I’m not a big fan of the Ikkitousen anime, I didn’t care much for Zettai Shougeki Platonic Heart, I thought Freezing and Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls were completely awful, and I didn’t care to watch High School of the Dead or Infinite Stratos (not sure if the latter is actually an action girl anime; I’m thinking it probably isn’t). This isn’t an indictment of the genre itself; it’s an indication that most of those series simply suck ass. Maken-ki! doesn’t look to improve on any of those – it’s yet another one of those shows where a clueless male lead goes to a school where all the girls alternately wish to berate and fellate him. I’m trying to think of anything else to say about this show but … that’s pretty much it. You’ve seen or heard of this premise before. There’s nothing new here and I don’t think there’s much reason for me to pay much more attention to it.
Oh wait, there’s one unique thing: the main character has the worst haircut I’ve ever seen in anime. At least it’s distinctive.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai
After Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko got an anime adaptation, it didn’t take much intuition to guess that Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai would be next. I like the manga and so I was looking forward to the anime. And I still am, I think, because the first episode starts off quite slowly. We get introduced to blonde-haired transfer student Kodaka Hasegawa, the quirky, friendless Yozora Mikazuchi, and the super-popular but still friendless Sena Kashiwazaki. And that’s pretty much about it. Most of the show’s energy comes from the force of Yozora and Sena’s personalities bouncing against each other and we only got a small teaser of that, so I’m excited to see future episodes.
Comparisons between this show and Haruhi Suzumiya are easy to make. Both feature low-key but appealing male leads, alpha females, and a clubful of weirdos. I had thought that this show was likely to have the same type of mainstream success as Haruhi Suzumiya, but in a season that features Fate/zero and Persona 4, perhaps that’s not going to happen.
Haruhi Suzumiya does have one big advantage over this show: a much better opening theme. Even Denpa Onna has a much better opening theme than this show.
Random trivia note: my grandmother’s maiden name was Hasegawa. I wonder what it means?
Possibly the other most anticipated show of this season, though there is plausible reason for pessimism, as the track record of RPG to anime adaptations is decidedly depressing. However, as a very well-regarded game, Persona 4 has an easy path to success: just stick to the game’s plotline. And it does – perhaps a little too closely. The first episode mirrors the opening moments of the RPG, even incorporating many of the overlay graphics from the game. I thought they were distracting, to be honest, since they served to remind me that the main guy wasn’t somebody I’m controlling; rather, he’s now Yu Narukami. And unfortunately, while this guy looks very much like the game character that I named after myself, we learn very little about him, and he doesn’t do much more than grunt and mumble through most of the episode. It’s an uncomfortable feeling; seeing Chie, Yosuke, and Yukiko feels a little like meeting old friends again, but Yu is a complete stranger to me.
Nonetheless, I still liked the first episode a lot. It’s interesting to compare this show with Fate/zero; both are based on existing properties and take a very similar approach with their first episodes in establishing the setting and laying out the plot framework. They even end with virtually identical sequences. I don’t think my unfamiliarity with Fate/zero was a problem with enjoying its first episode, but I’m not sure if my familiarity with the Persona 4 RPG isn’t detrimental to my enjoyment of the anime. While it’s very nice to see these characters again, I already know how the story goes. I already know which characters I like and don’t like. I’m hoping that the protagonist isn’t simply an oddly-named stand-in for the player character, but I’m expecting to be disappointed. Even so, I can’t deny that even the show feels a bit too familiar, I think I’m going to enjoy it.
Some admissions: I haven’t beaten Persona 4 yet. I got to a point where you could get a bad ending and I got just that, and haven’t resumed playing the game yet. I do know how the game ends though, because there’s a spoiler in the artbook you got from preordering the game (thanks Atlus). I like Persona 3 a lot more than Persona 4. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like Persona 4; I liked Persona 4 a lot. However, Persona 3 is among my five favorite RPGs of all time – despite hating it whenever the party AI busted out Marin Karin. And a last admission: I really do not like Teddy at all.
Random trivia note: I played the game with English voices, of course, and so it’s a bit strange to hear the characters speak in Japanese. I generally prefer to play Japanese games with Japanese voices, but Atlus did a fine job with the English voicework. That wasn’t always the case, however. Some years back, there was this game called Stella Deus that was about to come out. The game’s character designer was Shigenori Soejima, an artist I had never heard of, but I thought the characters were beautiful and that was the main reason I was interested in the game. I posted a message on the Atlus forum asking whether the Japanese voices would be retained, and I mentioned that their inclusion would be a factor in deciding whether I would buy the game. An Atlus rep responded by suggesting I ought to find a new hobby if the Japanese voices meant that much to me. After the game came out, it got middling reviews and many critics commented on the lackluster English voiceovers. I bought a used copy at Gamestop a couple years later.