Winter 2011 (+Star Driver, Bakuman, & Index II) Final Impressions

Apologies for the delay. With all of the delays from the natural disasters keeping things back far enough that Madoka’s announced finale just had me put the whole thing off, it took a while to get around to this. It also took me a day just to sit down and watch Madoka and another to find the time to get around to this. Such a pain.

Starting with this season wrap-up, I’ll formally announce my show of the season. Usually I just mention it in the reviews and it just sorta gets lost in the walls of text. From here on out, it’ll be explicitly stated.

As usual, we’ll start with carryovers from the previous season.

Star Driver – Star Driver was kind of an oddball. It really didn’t amount to much more than a monster of the week formula for a long time, but around a third of the way into the series it started to get into this thing where it explored some very interesting concepts and character backstories and it changed into this show that focused on deeper content than the simple flashy robot fights it had before. It still kept that, though, and continued to remain fabulous, but there was suddenly more to it. I found myself rather engrossed in the world and taken with its characters, always wanting to see what kind of interesting backstory they had. Despite being the antagonistic organization, there were a lot of members in there that I found myself cheering for. There was a great duality in the natures of both sides. Bottom line: Watch it if you think it looks like it’ll be up your alley and pass on it if you don’t. This is definitely a love it or hate it show. There’s not much room for middle ground. I personally loved it. It was a great original series.

Bakuman – Man, what a ride this one ended up being. Not knowing anything about the manga going in, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. The show itself had a lot of ups and downs with its inability to choose its focus, but once it settled on manga creation above all else, it really got to be a great show. The second half was quite impressive. It’s already lined up for another season and I can’t wait. Bottom line: I would definitely check this one out. It’s not as flashy as a lot of series, but it’s definitely interesting. The characters are well done and the concept is great. It’s really easy to find something to like about this series.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II – Ah, the second season of Index. Fun stuff. This time, we got a lot more of Accelerator, a lot more of the sisters and Last Order, and a lot more of Touma punching girls. What more could an Index fan ask for? Well, maybe some more gripping material. The thing about the first season was that it had low lows, but really high highs. The second season just seemed rather middle-ground the entire way through. The last arc was certainly the most interesting (the last real arc, not the one from the side novels) and I’ve been told that the next part of the novels spans about 10 of them and is easily the best part of them all so far. It’s pretty much inevitable that the show will end up with a third season, so hopefully we’ll get around to it sooner rather than later. I can’t wait, for sure. Bottom line: If you liked the first season, there’s more of the same here. There are also plenty of appearances from some great VAs like Rie Kugimiya and Norio Wakamoto, so that’s worth looking forward to, too. However, if you didn’t like the first season, it’s just what I said: More of the same. This season isn’t really going to change your mind.

And now onto the stuff that aired in this season.

Haiyoru! Nyaruani ~Remember My Love(craft-sensei) – Well, there isn’t a whole lot to say about these. They’re just tiny little flash episodes and they’re only four minutes long including the theme song and preview. They were a lot of fun (way better than the first set), but there just wasn’t anything satisfying about watching them. I really do want to see a full adaptation of this series instead of these little shorts. The theme song was great, though, and I found myself laughing a lot, so I guess I came out of it with a really good impression. Bottom line: If you think moe Lovecraftian horrors is a great concept, check it out. You’ll probably get a good laugh. I’d try watching the first set of shorts first, but they’re really not that good. You’d probably be okay following these without seeing them. If you’re looking for anything with substance, though, you’re going to be disappointed.

Rio: Rainbow Gate! – Why in the hell did I watch this whole thing? You may remember in my initial impressions that I said that the first episode had a good concept but the second episode fell short by dropping it completely and the show’s ability to entertain would be dependent on it being able to produce likable characters every episode. Well you know what? It failed hard on that front. It really did. It fell flat on its face and then the ground collapsed under it as it tumbled into a bottomless pit of terrible mediocrity. Then it somehow got even worse than that by infusing the show with way more angst and boo-hooing than it should ever have had. And then they have the nerve to put a sequel hook in at the end, like anyone wants more of this crap. Bottom line: Avoid at all costs. Worst show I watched this season and one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. I just kept waiting for it to get better and it only got worse. I should have just dropped it instead.

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season – More of the same from the first season. There’s not a lot else to say. Kazehaya is still refreshing and Sawako is always blushing. At least the plot manages to get to a good cutoff point in this season. Even if there’s never another season of this show, I’m happy with where it ended. Based on what I’ve heard about the rest of the manga, there isn’t really much to look forward to anyway. Bottom line: Watch it if you liked the first season. It’s still really good, but it’s unfortunately only half as long.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – What can I say here that you probably haven’t heard already? This show is amazing. It’s got an all-star group in charge of the story, music, character design, enemy design… Everything is top-tier. It’s engaging, interesting, extremely well written, and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the anime that cynical anime fans have been waiting years for. The one to bring Japanese animation back to its former glory. It’s 2ch’s most talked about show ever during a show’s initial run, beating out the juggernaut that is Haruhi Suzumiya by a considerable margin a mere two thirds into its run. No seriously. Haruhi, during its initial run and up to three months after, failed to garner as much attention as this show did only two thirds in. That should give you some idea of how good it is. Bottom line: If you pass this up for any reason, I hate you. if you drop it before episode 3 or 4, I hate you. If you think it’s cliched or girly, I hate you. If you don’t think any of those things, then you have great taste and are clearly capable of realizing just how good this show is. Watch the hell out of this show, then watch it again ’cause the staff said to.

IS: Infinite Stratos – What a snoozefest this ended up being. Typical harem nonsense. The best parts were the fights, which were frequent, but ultimately very short. The cast was decent, but the one person that got the most screentime was the most boring one in it. I initially watched it for the fights, then the character from France showed up and became the main reason I started watching. Then the German character chilled the hell out and I started kinda liking her, too. Then the ending came and sucked. And it sucked hard. Bottom line: Enjoyable, but very, very standard. Ending sucked and most of the show was only passable. Watch for the characters, but be aware that you’re in for what pretty much just amounts to a typical harem show. Japan ate it up, though, so a second season is pretty much guaranteed.

Dragon Crisis! – Eh. This was something I kinda regret watching. It wasn’t bad, but it had very little to carry it. Really, the only thing I came out of the show enjoying was Kugimiya as the lead and Ai, who was quite delicious with her heterochromia and those lovely spats. The rest of the show was cliched, if not downright bad, and wholly uninteresting. Bottom line: I’d probably just not go near this one. It may have simply gotten DEEN’d, but who knows. It could have just been bad source material. I don’t know and I don’t care. You probably won’t either.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? – Wow, this ended up being such a surprise. I really didn’t expect a whole lot from this one but it ended up being one of my favorites this season. Man. Such a great show. It loved to be silly and exploit cliches for comedy and the cast was fantastic. It also had some great conflicts and confrontations. There was also a rather morbid sense of humor that I found myself rather enjoying. The show was just so different from most of the stuff that’s out there because of its execution. I really hope we see another season of this. Bottom line: One of my favorites this season. Definitely worth checking out. You’ll almost definitely find something to love about it.

Fractale – Another show that surprised me. It was off to a rather slow start for a while there, but by the end of episode 3 I was hooked and in it for the long haul. It did have this strange feeling of wanting to be a Miyazaki film (and for all intents and purposes, it would have fit right in if you had just slapped his name on the project) and that never really changed. The characters and plot were great, and I was really hooked on the thing after getting involved in the world. Bottom line: One of the best shows from the season, though some may say otherwise. Such a shame. The director bet his job on this show and quit when it failed to meet expectations in Japan. It seemed to be better received in the west, with Funi even picking it up for dubbing and distribution, so there’s still a good chance you’ll enjoy it.

Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko) – I didn’t read the manga for this, but I know that this skips a few volumes into the manga. The manga readers have been incredibly vocal about this and have used it to denounce the series since episode 1. But everyone who hasn’t read the manga doesn’t really give a crap and most of them enjoyed it anyway. I thought it was a compelling story with some great lessons and interesting characters and I was able to pick up information along the way just fine without needing the first few volumes worth of content. I was even able to understand a lot of what had happened in those volumes based on little bits of information presented in the series. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s bad or that you won’t understand it because it skipped a few volumes. It’s still easy to comprehend and it’s still entertaining. Bottom line: Good, but nothing exceptional. It’s a nice, relaxed story with some great coming-of-age content and it tackles some taboo issues in a very mature way. Don’t go into it expecting more than a quiet look at the lives of some troubled students.

Yumekui Merry – I really enjoyed this one. Apparently a lot of it was filler, but most of it didn’t feel like filler. There was apparently no good place to end the series if it followed the manga for the length it was set for, so it had to be padded out. The only part that really felt like filler was the ending. I was honestly very disappointed by the entire last episode. The animation was subpar, the voice acting seemed strained and unnatural, and the plot and fights just got boring. Maybe it had something to do with a rush to keep up after the disasters, but the episode was lacking at best. Other than that, though, the show kept me entertained with a great cast and some interesting conflicts. Bottom line: Recommended. It’s shounen action, but it’s not quite as generic as most of the genre tends to be.

Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu! – One of the best things I watched this season, despite its short 8-episode run. It was thoroughly entertaining and had me laughing a lot. It’s more of the same from the first season, though. Just don’t go expecting any more than this. The season was cut short because the first season just didn’t do very well. Eight episodes was the best they could manage on the funds they had. I don’t expect this season will pull it out to set them up for a third. Bottom line: Absolutely hilarious and you should definitely check it out if you liked the first season. If you didn’t watch the first season, I recommend going to do so as soon as you can. This show is great and deserves some attention.

Onii-chan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! – Eh, this one was alright. It never really became exceptional at any point in any way. It was a decent watch, though. I liked some of the jokes near the end. The censorship in the TV version was so stupid, though. Even panty shots were censored like they were nudity and they were censored so inconsistently that you could never tell what was apparently a violation and what wasn’t. Bottom line: It’s not bad, but I won’t go out of my way to recommend it. Watch it if it looks like your kinda thing. Just make sure you watch the DVD/BD version instead of the TV version. The censorship will drive you nuts.

Houkago no Pleiades – Not a whole lot to say about this one. It ended up being the equivalent of one episode done in a webcast. I did like what I saw and I kinda wished that there was more, but I wouldn’t really expect it for a weird partnership anime like this. Gainax might consider it, but I doubt Subaru would. Bottom line: If you think you might want to watch it, just go ahead and watch it. It’s Gainax and it’ll take less than half an hour of your time.

That’s it for this season. Gosick is the only show I have going into the next season, so expect it to be reviewed then.

I really wish I could have added .hack//Quantum to the list of reviews, as it concluded itself within the season, but unfortunately it’s taken so long for subs to come out for the third and final episode that it simply couldn’t make the list. Rest assured, though, that I did thoroughly enjoy it. I may cover it at the next season review if I don’t forget.

And lastly…

Pick for Show of the Season: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Surprise, surprise, I know. If you read most of that junk I posted above, you could have guessed by the way I bragged on it that it was my favorite show this season. Even if I hadn’t waited until the finale aired to write this, it still would have been my show of the season. It was that damn good. Leagues above everything else. It’ll probably be the best show I watch all year.

Now normally I’d say that my show of the season is subject to change due to ongoing shows, but… yeah. Gosick’s not bad, but it’s not that great and nothing from this season will ever beat Madoka. That one’s a sealed deal.

No immediate plans for my next post, so it’ll probably be a while before there is one.

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