Final Thoughts for Summer 2014

It's been a long Summer, but it's finally over. The Rainy Day staff have Fall to worry about next (COME ON, CROSS ANGE!), but we have a few final words left to give towards the Summer season. What follows are our final full thoughts on the shows we watched the whole way through, some second opinions, and finally, our picks for the best of the season, where we can pick from two cours and new seasons, along with shows that premiered this season.

But first, we need to put some things to bed.

Dropped Shows

DRAMAtical Murder (Thom "Tama" Langley)

I had high hopes for DMMD. I really did-after all, with a more interesting plot, less adult tone, etc, and a far more likeable protagonist than the acerbic Akira of sister series Togainu No Chi, this should have been a show to bring in the fans of mystery shows as well as the BL faithful. Alas! The curse of Nitro+Chiral strikes again! Our once interesting protagonist (Akira or Aoba) are shuffled at high speed through a condensed no frills version of the plot, through a “cast member of the week” format, until we end up at a smutless ending, a shadow of what we all expected. Avoid this lazy, by-the-numbers cash-in. Go play the game. You’ll enjoy it more. Six Episodes: 3/10

Himegoto (Jonathan Kaharl)

Himegoto is one of the most disgusting anime that has ever been my displeasure to watch. It reaches new levels of pandering garbage than most ecchi in just how transparent it is, and it manages to turn an entire gender struggling with finding identity in today's world into a lazy fetish meant to make sad otaku feel better about themselves for finding a male character attractive. I understood this was going to be a comedy about a crossdresser, but that's no excuse for such a level of depraved and unfunny "comedy" (the third episode was simply uncomfortable). The only positive quality Himegoto has is that each episode is only three minutes log. An absolute insult to anyone who struggles with gender identity, anime watching audiences, and the very medium of animation itself. Three Episodes: 2/10

Jinsei (David O'Neil)

Talking about Jinsei is difficult, because I only watched one episode of it. And even when I first watched that one episode it was difficult to talk about, because Jinsei was boring, uninteresting, unfunny, and lacking an any defining characteristics whatsoever. The episode I saw gave me almost nothing to even retain in my mind, but an empty, lifeless, half-assed slice of life that couldn't make the effort to be funny, well animated, or unique in any way. Unless you count it's horribly corny life lessons it couldn't have made seem more forced. So unless there was some immaculately huge leap in quality after the first episode, do not watch Jinsei, not simply because it is bad, but because it is boring. One Episode: 1/10

Momo Kyun Sword (Stephanie Getchell) 

It’s hard to write about a series you dislike when all you’ve seen is one episode and it was several weeks ago. That’s how bad Momo Kyun Sword is. I’ll admit that ecchi isn’t my cup of tea, but there are sometimes shows that I can at least moderately stand as long as there is good writing involved. Momo Kyun doesn’t even have that! What it does have is poorly written gags and characters that will end up frustrating you. The actual premise did seem interesting, but that’s all this series has to offer and even then it’s nothing even remotely complex. Just don’t even bother. One Episode: 2/10

Rain Wars! (David O'Neil)

Rail Wars! is a show about trains (Editor's Note: BWAHAHAHAHAHAH TRAINS, YEAH, TOTALLY). Now, to people who are fascinated by trains, the trains by themselves are enough to keep them interested, but to everyone else centering an entire show around trains and just trains could get pretty boring pretty fast. And while a better show would try to keep the average viewer's attention with strong characters, an interesting plot, or even some high stakes action, Rail Wars! chooses to take a different route. Fanservice. Whether it's tight skirts, swimsuits, changing scenes, shower scenes, up skirts, bath scenes, boob jiggle, more shower scenes, or the good 'ol "Girl accidentally falls on guy in provocative position or vice versa" scene, Rail Wars! is constantly trying to distract it's viewers from the complete lack of anything worth watching going on in the series with shameless, obnoxious fanservice around every corner. And from what I watched, there really was NOTHING else going on. Bland characters, nothing plot, uninteresting world, the best it ever got was some decent action scenes (which were rare) and some competent attempts at tension. But for the most part the show was just an empty slog, trying desperately distract from that fact with boob jiggle and up skirts. Six Episodes: 3/10

Samurai Jam: Bakumatsu Rock (Jonathan Kaharl)

I really wanted to like Bakumatsu Rock for the premise alone, it really is one inviting all sorts of weird fun, but the execution is just awful. The show repeats basic plots far too often, while forgetting to move forward its main story. The music is enjoyable, but shows are repeated too often and suffer from simply embarrassing use of CG models. Studio DEEN gave this project practically no money, and it's obvious nobody but the voice actors care about this project in any way. Just another bad videogame anime. Nine Episodes: 3/10

Final Thoughts

Akame ga Kill! (David O'Neil)

A lot of people, including myself, have jokingly described Akame ga Kill as an "edgy" show. Some may wonder, why is it that it deserved to be described comically and sarcastically as "edgy", but not other shows with equal amounts of gore and death, like Tokyo Ghoul, or even Attack On Titan? The answer to that is really quite simple. Akame ga Kill is so "edgy", because it WANTS to be like those other dark and violent shows, but doesn't actually have the effort, brains, or themes to back it up. I'm not going to argue shows like Attack On Titan are the most intelligent projects in anime, but at the least they stands out from the crowd and are trying to say darker, more interesting things than the average shonen series. Akame ga Kill desperately wants to be like that too, but fails at actually backing up it's edge with substance.

One place where Akame ga Kill really fails is that while it isn't afraid of killing off characters, it doesn't do so well when it comes to making me care about those deaths or giving their deaths a purpose. Two major characters who were killed off were actually, at the time of death, my favorite characters. For better shows, a moment like that often has an effect on me, probably stir up some emotion. But with Akame ga Kill, in both instances, I barely even cared. It just came down to poor execution (pun somewhat intended). The deaths, while fairly competent in how they were handled, just didn't really go that extra step to really make them hit hard. The second one especially just sorta happens and is over with as fast as it began. Plus, both felt pointless when it was all said and done, again, especially the second one, which was brushed off so quickly and with almost no reprecussions in regards to the plot and characters I was almost sure I must have missed an episode.

Another issue that kept Akame ga Kill from really being as dark and interesting as it wanted to be came down to it's ability to live up to it's own ambitions from a moral standpoint. It's clear throughout the show that Akame ga Kill really wants to be morally ambiguous, it wants to be all "woah man life isn't so black and white WHO ARE THE REAL VILLAINS MAAAAN". But the problem is, moral ambiguity doesn't work when all your villains are bat-shit insane satanic psychopaths who seemingly like to murder for fun. Throughout the show, maybe a total of two villains come up who aren't pure unadulterated evil, the rest are absolute maniacs who are about as easy to sympathize with as The Joker. Being possessed by the devil. Yet at the same time the show is like "WE'RE KILLERS WE'RE NOT HEROES MAAAAN", but when you're stacking up killers against a bunch of blood thirsty wackos, it's hard to see Night Raid as the morally ambiguous anti-heroes they clearly think they are.

Now all that isn't to say Akame ga Kill is a terrible show. It is sort of fun a lot of the time. It's well animated enough, has some good humor (even if it clashes like hell when they're mixed with the darker parts of the show), and it has some cool action and music. Even the characters are pretty likable for the most part, even if growing to attached usually results in them being offed with out much of a good reason. The problem is, Akame ga Kill doesn't want to be seen as another dumb fun shonen action show. It wants to be darker, it wants to be more violent, and it wants to be more complex. So it throws around gore, and brutality, and major character deaths, hoping that will be enough, but it has absolutely none of the substance to back up. So instead it ends as an edgier version of every other cliched, corny shonen action show out there.

Mid-Season Score: 4/10

Aldnoah Zero (Jonathan Kaharl)

My Aldnoah Zero reviews are a great example of why seasonal reviews can be tricky; the end result can be radically different than what the start promised. Said reviews also cement the importance of research on my end. Aldnoah Zero was the brain child of A-1 Pictures, Studio TROYCA, and Gen Urobuchi, who was responsible for such recent classics like Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass and the anime adaptation of Fate/Zero. It was meant to be a Gundam killer of sorts, taking a similar premise to that franchise and giving some new angles on it. The show is pretty popular, but something really hit it hard during production; Urobuchi only gave the basic idea for the series and wrote only the first three incredible episodes. My reviews were incredibly positive after those initial three, but as I hit the final three episodes for the season (a second season has already been confirmed), a lot of my enthusiasm died. There's a reason for this.

Aldnoah Zero is an incredibly pretty mess. It's seriously one of the best looking shows this year, with top notch direction and incredible CG work. It's almost seamless with the 2D animation at times, and that is incredibly difficult to pull off. The action is well framed and explosive, especially with the stranger Aldnoah mechs. The sheer atmosphere could be cut with a knife at times, and the music here is some of Hiroyuki Sawano's best work (if a bit too similar to a lot of his Kill la Kill composition). From a solely technical view, Aldnoah Zero could be one of the best shows of the entire year. Unfortunately, the story holds it back and can't really back up those amazing visuals towards the end. The story of Earth being completely crushed by invaders of almost godlike power is a great one, but the show starts to forget that was the original premise and starts to go into old Gundam and Code Geass tropes, to its detriment.

The series has solid pacing for most of it, but it tries to really speed things up around the time Inaho and Slaine, the two leads, meet. A lot of developments get rushed at this point, like the princess revealing herself, while several supporting characters and sub-plots are simply dropped or given unsatisfying endings. Marito, the single most interesting character, ends up serving absolutely no purpose in the plot and could be removed with no differences, while the spy plot-line abruptly ends in a very dull way with little impact on anyone (other than setting up a possible way to bring back a certain character for season two). The main villain also has confusing motivation, like the writers couldn't decide what angle to go with, and Slaine is mostly wasted for the longest time. The school kids get it worst of all, as there is absolutely no development for any of them (beyond the blonde girl who joins the deck crew) and none of them react like human beings at a certain point. The girl with a crush on Inaho may be the single most pointless and lifeless character I've ever seen in any media, quite the accomplishment. The finale doesn't make good use of any of the more interesting elements or ideas, and even the villain's mech is just a cobbled Frankenstein that has the powers of all the Aldnoah the heroes fought earlier, like a bad videogame boss with easily exploited weak spots.

The finale really left a mildly sour taste in my mouth. It's a very obvious series of developments that tries to pass itself off as surprising, and most of what occurs will probably be undone in some form next season. It's like Code Geass without the steaks at that point, and none of the massive cast get any real development or even defining to get me to care about any of them. Inaho, Slaine and the princess are the only characters that constantly work, while the series major themes are left a little confused. That may be the point, but considering the tone set in the first three episodes, I somewhat doubt that. I don't hate Aldnoah Zero, and I'll probably watch the second season, but I am very disappointed in it. This had the promise of being a game changer in the mech genre, but the loss of the creative mind who came up with it in the first place really hurt it. That said, I would recommend it if you're looking for a good, explosive action show, just don't expect anything particularly interesting.

Final Score: 7/10

Argevollen (Joe Straatmann)

At the mid-series break, this grade is going to seem extremely harsh despite the show actually making some serious improvements and looking to be on the upswing for its second half. I just want to emphasize how truly botched the first eight episodes are. Argevollen starts with mass confusion and every time it tries to straighten itself out, it stumbles even harder. A small introductory narration gives way to the series trying to give plot information without properly introducing anyone, making it very hard to tell who we're following and what they're doing. They really needed to watch the first episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes before pulling this in media res crap.

Even when the story and characters start to fall into focus, there are inconsistencies in behavior, events that happen and then get dropped from the collective memory of the people, and just plain bizarre writing choices. People waltz in and out without the audience ever truly knowing who they are. The mech battles slow to such a crawl after the initial skirmish that the intro even takes out 75% of its action and replaces it with the grimacing faces of the cast. My favorite example of the odd choices this show makes comes from a supposed plot twist for the end of an episode. The mech Argevollen is the creation of a civilian contractor and tested by the army of our heroes. At the end of one episode, a general of the army who's testing it is handing over Agevollen's data to the head of the corporation, and this is treated like a sinister and foreboding event. Everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing! Those... fiends?

Somewhere along the line, it feels like somebody put their foot down and decided they were going to do this the right way no what matter what they needed to do to fix it. This means extensive scenes of exposition, but keep in mind this is after eight episodes of knowing the bare minimum to be able to follow the plot. At the halfway episode, it takes place almost entirely in a flashback where we know who the people are and get to see how they evolved to where they are, and it's free to be a very good episode without feeling like the viewer is behind or missing something. I can't tell you how much of a luxury this is for this show.

That said, it still feels like at its best, it's an average series. Everyone is culled from the the same well of archetypes everyone else gets their characters from and does little to deviate from individual formulas. The mechanical designs are unimpressive, the animation cuts every corner it can get away with, and the character designs are at the baseline of passable. Even when the plot is working, it is standard stuff where the details lack any interest. I had to go to the information they gave to the press before the show's release to find something unique about the setup. Apparently, this world used to have climate weapons that were so devastating, they shifted the world's axis and brought down centuries worth of nature's fury. Who knew? Given the absolutely generic locales of this shows, apparently not even the writers.

Mid-Season Score: 4/10

Barakamon (Stephanie Getchell) 

At the start of the Summer season, FUNimation announced what some people see as an odd choice of licensing. I say odd, because of the recent track record of licenses they have picked up these past few seasons. It’s been a long time since they went for a Slice of Life series, and I will say that not only was this licensing a surprise but it was also the right choice. Barakamon has something that I haven’t seen in quite some time, an innocent charm. How this charm was accomplished is through the writing of the story as well as our cast of characters.

Barakamon just has charm in spades. The story is really easy to follow and manages to be relatable to viewers to a similar extent. At its core, the story is a simple “finding yourself” premise as Handa begins to find himself and his work while living on this island and going through every day life. While some stories similar to this can do well on their own, Barakamon adds in children as characters for Handa to interact with at varying ages. This helps add a little extra touch to the series as our main character gets to experience things in a brand new way, seeing as how he never really had that chance to be a kid himself while growing up. It’s that child like innocence that is conveyed throughout the series that makes this something special.

Of course, this can’t be done without likable characters to attach ourselves to. There is not a single character in this series that I disliked or found to be annoying, and the writing of this series is what made the characters benefit from this. Handa is easily relatable and you can’t help but wish for his success. Meanwhile, little Naru is full of life and energy that is just what Handa needs in order to start moving in the direction he’s meant to go. Add on the other kids like Hina, Miwa, Tama, and Hiro and you get a chance to learn from these kids and the point of view that they offer. I’ve mentioned this before but, I’ll say it again, I find that kids can have a very enlightening perspective on the world we live in. This series just helps further that point.

Barakamon is the kind of slice of life series that everyone can relate to who is in a difficult position in their lives. I may have taken to this series a lot because I am in a similar position in my own life. The charm that this series has is so infectious that there is no way you can end it without a smile on your face. As much as I would love to see more, I think this is the best way to end a rather brilliant series.

Final Score: 8/10

Bladedance of the Elementalers (David O'Neil)

Bladedance of Elementalers is a bad show. Just wanna get that out of the way nice and early. But what really made the series so difficult to continue watching through to the end, episode by episode, is that it's just so boring.

I don't think Bladedance of Elementalers brings a single new idea to the table. Like, I don't think it features a single original thought. Just about every aspect of it is borrowed from other fantasy series, harem series, and anime series in general. The personality-less protagonist, in a generic fantasy world with generic magic powers and spirits, has to attend a school entirely populated by girls because he's so awesome he managed to contract a spirit even though that's not a thing males should be able to do, and- though he is constantly called a pervert by his fellow classmates for usually suggestive misunderstandings, one by one they all start to fall for his wooden plank of a personality.

There's the hot headed tsundere girl, who despite usually acting hostile to the protagonist grows to have feelings for him, the sword spirit who turns into a young girl (naked more often than not), the pretentious rich girl who cares more about her comrade than she lets on- you see what I'm getting at? This series is littered with cliches, and tropes, with just about nothing to offer whatsoever. I know even unoriginal stories can be good or even great if the execution is strong enough, but this is not the case with Bladedance of Elementalers. The animation is lazy, and it lacks any style to make up for it. The characters are bland and often inconsistent. It's so littered with fanservice and harem cliches I wouldn't be surprised if the entire script was just bits and pieces of other harem shows copy and pasted into one whole boring result. The closest thing the show has to a positive aspect is almost building some decent relationships between characters, which is often ruined when it devolves back into it's usual harem antics.

I would not suggest viewing Bladedance of Elementalers to any audience It is not just a bad show, it's simply an unpleasant show to watch. Nothing about it is unique, and nothing in it is well executed. It's just a bore to watch.

Final Score: 2/10

Blue Spring Ride (David O'Neil)

Blue Spring Ride is a "shojo" romance anime from Production I.G., the studio responsible for mostly high quality shows ranging from Psycho Pass to Bunny Drop. Honestly, the best way to describe most aspects of the show, from it's visuals, to it's pacing, to it's story, is "it was at it's worst in the middle.

What I mean is, Blue Spring Ride both begins and ends on high notes. The first few episodes effectively introduce the relationship between the two leads, Futaba and Kou, two high schoolers who were each other's first love but were separated and grew apart until being somewhat reintroduced to each other in high school. It uses parallels between the past and present effectively themes on how people can both change, and not change over time and how relationships can grow apart over time. The little arc about Futaba's friends being jerks was sort of a waste, but even it ended up being somewhat important when the final stretch came around. And those last few episodes were very good as well, exploring Kou's guilt and pain surrounding a tragic moment in his life and how it affected how he treats people and his relationship with his family. The transition as Futaba helps him to overcome the conflict he had locked inside of him was natural and resulted in some impressively heart wrenching moments.

Unfortunately, the middle part of Blue Spring Ride on the other hand was a bit of a drag. It's as if there was that strong beginning arc and ending arc in place, and then they just filled the rest with uninteresting nonsense and contrived romance cliches (oooh, the misunderstandings). It's not terrible, it's just sorta uninteresting and uninspired, especially in comparison to the much stronger beginning and end. The pacing moves to a slog, spending far too much time on really flimsy conflicts that had little bearing on the character's overall arcs, along with being fairly predictable. In addition, while the show looks high quality for the most part, it's in the middle where the series looks the worst, having the most stiff animation, off model faces, and overall the least striking visuals. But when the show looks good, it does look pretty good, especially in flashbacks during which the show switches to a watercolor-like style which is a treat for the eyes.

Blue Spring Ride in it's beginning and it's end, was nearly a great show with some legitimately compelling character arcs that culminate into some really satisfying moments, but unfortunately between these areas is a much weaker, less interesting stretch that's slower and less well presented than the rest of the show. But still, as a whole Blue Spring Ride is still an enjoyable romance with nice animation and some sweet moments that's worth a watch for fans of the genre.

Final Score: 7/10

Glasslip (David O'Neil)

From the start, my expectations for Glasslip were high. Studio P.A.Works had earned a significant amount of good will from me after high quality shows like The Eccentric Family and Nagi no Asukara from last year, and I expected that tend to continue. At first, it seemed like it was going to meet those expectations. The set up was solid, if a bit odd, it had a pleasant cast of characters, and some quality visuals. It seemed as if the show was just on the brink of exploring it's characters ideas, and themes. It just had to get past that set up. And continued to set things up. More. And more. And more. And then, after 11 episodes of, meandering, confusing, and uneventful build up, the conclusion turned out to be about as anticlimactic (and still confusing) as it could have possibly been.

I will admit Glasslip does a some things right, but for everything it did right it did something equally or more so wrong. I really do like the cast of characters for instance. All of them, on the surface have unique personalities and a lot of charm. Similar to in Nagi no Asukara, it's only a matter of time before love triangles and conflict arises between the group of friends. But unlike in Nagi no Asukara, the characters weren't well developed or interesting enough to make me care. The arcs of each character were just so thin, to the point where it's difficult for me to tell if they even had character arcs at all. At the end of the show, a character says "You haven't changed" and immediately after "Have you?". That sums it up pretty well. Everything that happens to them is so trivial and poorly executed I had trouble telling what any of the characters were thinking, or what they actually wanted.

The story also has the issue of somehow managing to have to little and too much going on at once. On the one hand, it's too cluttered, filled with magical powers, relationship dramas, future predicting, yet at the same time it doesn't really do anything of note with all of these ideas. The show feels aimless, moving from episode to episode with none of the themes or plot points coming together effectively and leaving me wondering at the end "what was even the point"? It doesn't explain any of it's weird magical nonsense either, both from a logical standpoint or from the standpoint of it's purpose in the story. The show has nice visuals, and as is expected with P.A. Works shows is well animated. The show's gotten some criticism for it's use of still frames, but I stand by my belief that it's a stylistic choice (if a sort of poor one) as it's mostly used in shots that would require little to no actual animation in the first place.

Early on, I felt that Glasslip was just biding it's time, setting the stage for something great, like many of P.A. Work's other great shows did in the beginning, but unlike those shows, Glasslip bided it's time too long. When it did try to explain itself it was so unfocused and so confusing it all felt like too little too late. In addition, the show's resolution was absolutely baffling in just how nothing it was, that after all the build up just to result in such an insignificant development that lacked any emotional effect or thematic consistency whatsoever. Glasslip isn't so much a train wreck, but a sloppily constructed train that never even managed to leave the station.

Final Score: 5/10

HaNaYaMaTa (Joe Straatmann)

I will try very hard not to oversell this thing. If you're not into the slice-of-life genre, I won't count on this changing your mind, but as a modest series about five middle school girls of various personalities learning to work together through modern Japanese dance, it is about as good as I could've wished for and surprisingly way more entertaining, funny, and touching than perhaps it has any right to be. It's not an exact fit, but I compare it to a great underdog sports movie. The conclusion may never be in doubt, but with the right characters, the right music, and the right narrative angle on the subject, it can be just as involving as the most critically acclaimed drama. It's one of those series where I can predict point-for-point how the final episode will go and it features the lazy line, "You've really changed, haven't you?," but it doesn't matter. I cried when I was supposed to, cheered when I was supposed to, and the best way to describe my feelings as it ended is complete satisfaction.

It starts with the characters. These are fully developed individuals who have their own personalities, are completely lovable, and their repartee with each other brightens the day. They never feel like pandering stereotypes to otaku, but rather individuals trying to work through their problems and working off of each other for better or worse. Naru is an introvert who wishes to be a dazzling person, and Hana is the kind of unapologetically brash and determined person to help her break through. However, since Naru lived vicariously through her friend and rock band drummer Yaya, her vanishing hero worship changes Yaya as well. And so on. Everyone works off of each other realistically and at a relatable level to the audience. It still has many comedic anime trappings and antics, but they enhance the series rather than force it into a box of cliches and expected characters. There's rarely a moment where someone gets introduced and I immediately know everything there is to know about them because I've seen them in thirty other shows.

The later episodes do tend to get a little repetitious in that each one centers around a plot that could potentially destroy the yosakoi club, but since it's a 12-episode series, this span is fairly short, and the individual scenes still  remain mostly strong. That's not to mention everything comes together beautifully. Also, while the animation isn't spectacular, it has its wonderful moments and never ceases to be appealing to look at. My final grade may seem very high, but I haven't felt this good in simply watching an anime every week in a long time. It's my treasure of this season, and I hope you find as much joy in it if you choose to seek it out.

Final Score: 9/10

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? (Jonathan Kaharl)

This was a weird season. Everything I expected to hate was either good to great, and everything I had high expectations for after the first episode ultimately crushed all my hopes and dreams. Even Terror in Resonance is a bit of a disappointment, although definitely one of the best disappointments I've ever seen. This was the season that had me rating a superpower slugfest lower than a mostly average harem comedy, and that just confounds me. Why does Invaders manage to work as well as it does, when it does so much wrong? Well, two reasons; the premise is a strong one that actually gets used a bit, and the presence of a single amazing character who actually caused me to give this one point more than it probably deserves.

As I've stated before, Invaders set up is like the wonderfully weird Is This A Zombie; a normal guy somehow becomes a magnet for supernatural women, shenanigans happen and people get cut up with chainsaws. Wait, that's just Zombie. Invaders isn't that nuts, and it's not very interested in playing with the genres it brings up either (pretty sure the writer has never actually watched a magical girl show before), but it does use the set up on occasion for some fun. The second episode stands out in particular, as every character is trying to scheme against each other and make use of their various magics and technology. The first episode also starts the series off on the right foot by having the entire second half devoted to the main character meeting all the "invaders," which almost ends with the entire destruction of the planet. If the entire show was like that first episode, I would have made it a personal favorite. Unfortunately, the animation is not really made for physical comedy, killing a lot of possible humor, and it eventually plays around with harem tropes too much.

On the bright side, when the show starts going harem in episode three, all the characters start getting development, and it's all pretty solid stuff. Everyone of the four girls gets their own two episode arc with a villain related to their genre, allowing the series to throw in some solid action at a few points, something Silver Link is really good at on a constant basis. Tulip, the tsundere alien princess, actually becomes tolerable, while Sanae becomes surprisingly adorable due to how strong her back story is and how the show builds on that. However, the real shining jewel in this otherwise amusing shrug is Yurika, the magical girl. Yurika is one of my favorite characters, period. Everything she does doesn't really match this type of show, and even when she does start going with the harem, she's trying to get the main character together with her and her best friend. Yurika's constantly entertaining as the universe's favorite toy, but she also gets to rise above those moments and constantly manages to save the day in just the nick of time, even if she almost never gets the credit she deserves. Her arc makes for the best moments in the show especially with how she fights with the main character (legitimately one of the coolest uses of magic I've ever seen). I've said it before and I'll say it again; Yurika deserves her own show.

There's still a lot more wrong with this series (I still don't understand what the joke is in Ruth's beetle freakouts), and it could have done a whole lot more (plus drop a lot of the gag inducing harem stuff, especially in the last episode's incredible level of otaku baiting), but I enjoyed it a solid bit. This was one of those shows I just knew I was going to despise, but it managed to win me over a little. Not especially good, but you might just get something out of it, assuming you can stomach harem cliches.

Final Score: 6/10

Locodol (Jonathan Kaharl)

I'm still amazed this was one of my favorite shows this season. Locodol is one of those series that isn't especially memorable in the usual ways, and it doesn't really wow, but while you watch, it stamps a smile on your face. It was that for me, at least. While I have some major issues with the Japanese idol industry, not the least the workaround of child labor laws and the strange fetishism of it, Locodol mostly manages to avoid pressing those buttons for me and keeps things simple with a cute story about some girls just trying to help their town in a really strange way.

The characters really make this series. Nanako is hilarious in just how constantly awkward she is, but that quality becomes her greatest strength as an idol. Yukari reminds me of Akari from Chaika the Coffin Princess in some ways, mainly in how she has a constant personality at all times (this time conserved happiness instead of focused and monotone) that becomes funny whenever she says something weirdly out of character. It was usually related to a subtle hitting on Nanako, and the joke was held back just enough to make it work for a chuckle. The mascot operators make solid characters that Nanako and Yukari can bounce off of, while the manager is simply incredible the moment she's introduced.

I love that the series didn't feel the need to shove down the same few jokes over and over. There's a lot of regular gags, but they're well paced out between little vignettes of the cast talking about their plans, hopes, and the troubles of being local idols. These moments give the series a peaceful mood and are used for some character development, and not just for the main cast. The town itself is a character that changes and grows as the Locodols become more and more popular, and there's a lot of attention paid to the girls interacting with various business owners and young children. That's good, because the town is central to the motivation of Nanako, and to the show's running theme of community pride and the rewards of genuine effort.

The show even looks very nice, with lots of bright colors and really amusing faces. The catches during and after commercial breaks are also very lovely, and I have the urge to hunt all of them down right now. Add in all the subtle little touches, like the low quality of the sound system in town events, and you can really feel a warmth from this show. I think this series will stay in my memory with Miss Monochrome for a good while. Each series may have had different senses of humor, but they ultimately had the same core message, and it's one I want to hear more of; effort can be its own reward, and you can't let yourself be discouraged.

...and now my brain is screaming about child labor loopholes again. Gah.

Final Score: 7/10

Love Stage!! (Thom "Tama" Langley) 

…if DMMD is a masterclass in how not to carry out an adaption…Love Stage!! is quite the opposite-but it’s more than just a good adaption-it’s arguably one of the best shonen-ai series we’ve had since the heyday of Loveless and Gravitation. No, seriously. First things first-let’s look back at Izumi and Ryoma’s story so far. Soo... *Deep breath* Izumi Sena is this series’ geeky otaku would-be manga-ka protagonist, from a family in showbiz-as a young child, he appeared in an advert with Ryoma Ichijou, at this point an aspiring actor-Ryoma, thinking Izumi is a girl, falls head over heels with him…fast-forward about a decade, and the company behind the advert want to make a sequel. Cue hilarity, with Izumi’s reluctance about crossdressing, his nerves, his wishes to become a manga-ka rather than follow in his family footsteps, all whilst dealing with the fact he might have fallen for another boy. The animation is great, the characters are great, and the comedy is pitch-perfect at points, complete with Magical Girl parody, Lala-Lulu, and a surprisingly restrained take on the typical BL tropes. Honestly, it’s my show of the season.

But do the final two episodes of Love Stage make an amazing series even better? Well…of course it does. With Izumi now famous, and the subject of much media focus (again well-executed in faux news footage style), and by way of the most blatant bit of fanservice so far (hi, showering and then in a towel Ryoma), Ryoma is rather jealous of his lover being public property, and fawned over. Rei, meanwhile, is in full keikaku doori mode, but Izumi is...well, "researching" and by researching, I of course I mean buying a tonne of Ryoma merchandise. Cue Rei telling Izumi that his love for Ryoma is perfectly fine, but that he shouldn't rush into things. Meanwhile, even Ryoma's collegues note how cute Izumi is, whilst Ryoma is knee-deep in denial, going protective when Izumi turns up...and then drags him off into a backroom, only to begin to confess his feelings, including his fear that Izumi will be stolen away, and promptly kisses him...or would have if Ryoma hadn't fainted from overwork. Oh, and Izumi has been...researching again. BL this time. Better to be trope savvy, I suppose? Rei gives Izumi "the talk" again, and Izumi's off to visit the recovered Ryom-or not. Nope. Manga festival. Hello Izumi's friends. Goodbye Izumi's friends. Oh, and Izumi's glasses, the thing stopping him from being recognised, are promptly broken. Oh dear. Double oh dear, Izumi has just run into thugs..and not very nice ones at that.

Fiiinal episode! ...Aaaand Izumi turns everyone into a rampant seme. Even if you're straight. Oh, BL. Even when you're as good as Love Stage, you do sometimes fall back on the old tropes, though Love Stage does it better than most. Izumi promptly beats up his three assilants, (no, seriously) and runs back into his clubmate. More hilarity from the manga-club of whom has been working for the LaLaLuLu creator all along. Oh. Who reveals just how much Ryoma went to get Izumi's manuscript signed...And Izumi's off to do the do with Ryoma! Or something. We get one last bit of LaLa LuLu inspirational dialog,we're off to Ryoma's aaaaaand hugging! And then kissing! BL! IN A BL SHOW! (and tasteful BL at that!). Oh, and Shugo and Rei are shagging. Oh. Yeah. Um. Season 2, pplease!

Love Stage. Adorable and pleasing to my eyes! I ship it! And so should you. Even if you're not a die-hard fujoshi or fudanshi, this show has something for everyone-comedy, a sly sideward glance at the idol industry in Japan, a parody of the otaku culture. Secondly, it might not be the prettiest, the most conplex or the best plotted series around, but DAMN does this series have heart, and it's this heart that's won me, and so many others over. A new classic of the BL genre.

Final Score: 9/10 (Staff Pick as well!)

Majimoji Rurumo (Jonathan Kaharl)

It's been a rough ride, Majimoji Rurumo, but now that you're finally done, I feel like it was a ride worth taking. Out of every show this season, not one has divided me as much as Majimoji Rurumo. When it's good, it's really good, but when it's bad, it's barely tolerable. However, there was one factor that finally pushed this series into positive territory; it's heart. I'm being completely serious here, no other show I watched this season had the same amount of heart and soul as Rurumo did, all those terrible sex jokes be damned.

When you cut out all the obnoxious "BOYS ARE PERVERTS LOL" gags and sheer ridiculousness that is Rurumo, what you're left with is a heartwarming story about a guy and a shy witch growing a relationship, and all the highs and lows that entails. The two really do make a cute couple and complete each other in different ways. Kota helps Rurumo become more open around other people, while Rurumo keeps Kota's lesser side under control and eventually gets him to mature as a person (at least somewhat). They even have similar effects on the people around them, like their interactions with the hall monitors. Quite a few characters have sad back stories of some sort, even supposed bullies, and how the show has these characters develop and get over their various issues is surprisingly effective. There's no long winded speeches or even deep understandings beyond Kota understanding Rurumo's crippling shyness. Just people interacting and showing they're more than first impressions seem is enough to help most everyone grow in some way. Rurumo's friendship with Masako is my favorite relationship in the series by far, as the two basically help each other overcome their issues with expressing themselves around others in a really sweet way.

Of course, there's also the humor, the show's double edged sword. When Kota is the focus of comedy, the show comes crashing down as it indulges in incredibly unfunny (and a tad creepy) perverted antics, brought to the ultimate low in the first half of the beach episode. Kota lusting after whatever female is in the immediate area is not funny and never will be, and his two idiot friends becoming involved just makes these scenes all the worse. Thankfully, the show starts to learn its lesson after awhile. The final few episodes cut these "jokes" out in exchange for more character moments and Rurumo based comedy, where the show really shines. Rurumo is just so utterly ignorant to human culture that just about every interaction she has is a hilarious series of misunderstandings and awkward situations. Rurumo trying to deliver a package to Kota out in the country is seriously far more amusing than it should have been, especially when we learn Kota taught Rurumo that the magic words to getting out of trouble were "I'm a cosplayer." There's also the magical shenanigans that breathe untold life in the show, like Rurumo finding a magic swimsuit in the woods, which managed to turn that horrid beach episode into comedy gold. The timing is a bit off early on, but the show finds a groove for these scenes pretty fast and keeps with it the whole way.

All this aside, there are about three moment that I will always remember from this show; the endings of three episodes where Kota tries to find abandoned kittens homes, the gang form a band, and the mystery club investigate a fountain that turns people into wolves. These three scenes all stand out more than just about anything else I've seen all year, up with the surprisingly strong vacation episode of Super Sonico. The emotion packed in these endings simply amazed me, helped by some incredible acting from Suzuko Mimori as Rurumo. I don't think I've ever come as close to crying at an anime before than I have in the kittens episode. This series has a surprising understanding of human relationships and uses that understanding to do amazing things at times. If the show could just get its head out of the gutter, it could have been something incredible. But what we got is still beautiful, and I'm glad I got to watch this series. Here's wishing for a second season.

Final Score: 7/10

Monthly Girl's Nozaki-kun (David O'Neil)

Every once and a while, a show that know one really saw coming suddenly takes everyone by surprise and becomes one of the most loved shows of the season. This season, that show was Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Prior to the Summer's start, I'd heard just about nothing about it and only decided to watch it because I was bored at the time, waiting for other shows. It ended up being one of my favorite shows of the season, and in addition, has built up a pretty decent fan following in the east and the west, and with good reason. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is a well made, clever, and consistently funny comedy series.

It focuses on the daily life of Chiyo Sakura, a high  school girl who in an attempt to confess her love for her crush, Nozaki, not only discovered that he's a well known author of "shojo" manga, but she also ends up becoming his assistant. Where the show really shines is through it's characters, and the way it revels in messing with shojo tropes and archetypes. First, the entire cast is just a joy to watch. Every character is oozing with personality allowing them keep the show interesting and entertaining, despite there not being much in the form of an actual plot going on throughout the show. Through the character's likability, comes great humor, and the humor their delivering is strong as well, bringing me to the second great part of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, how it takes shojo tropes and turns them on their head. This is often shown through the characters themselves, Mikoshiba may on the surface seem like the suave, handsome love interest character from shojo, but in actuality he's more akin the a protagonist, being shy and often embarrassed by his own actions. Or Kashima, the smooth talking, tall, "prince"-like character, a common love interest in shojo manga, who's actually a girl. In addition, the show deals with a lot of the tropes themselves, from dates, to sleep overs, to confessions, Nozaki-kun is always finding fun ways to put a twist on the norm.

It is too bad that the show is categorized under many other twelve-thirteen episode romance/comedy series of a similar nature, in that it doesn't really conclude, despite a second season having yet been confirmed. In the end, neither the main romance at the center of the series nor do any of the side relationships reach a proper ending. That aside, as far as these non-conclusive conclusions go, Mothly Girls' Nozaki-kun's is one of the better ones. Even if it didn't really wrap anything up, it was a sweet, and fairly satisfying conclusion to this first season that subtly summed up how far the characters really had come since the show started, despite seemingly not progressing much at all. Sorry if it sounds contradictory, but it really was a contradictory ending, feeling oddly satisfying and conclusive, despite really not concluding anything at all. Which is a good thing. I guess.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is just plain fun. If you're looking for a romance story, this probably isn't the right show,  nearly every scene resembling an actual romantic moment between characters just ends up being set up for a joke, but for many that'll be just fine. Because those aforementioned jokes, along with it's great cast, and clever new spins on shojo tropes, make for a show that's absolutely hilarious. Every episode is filled with memorable moments and quotable lines, it's a shining example of a comedy series excelling at simply being flat out funny from beginning to end, with enough sweetness and personality to keep it from getting stale. Now let's just hope a second season is around the corner.

Final Score: 8/10

Nobunaga Concerto (Joe Straatmann)

I get the feeling the makers of this series were put into an impossible situation. The ongoing manga is currently ten volumes long and the anime itself was only given ten episodes to cover that ground. Added to the massive amount of history in the life of Oda Nobunaga, and you have something that feels frustratingly rushed. There is talent at work here. Despite the jerky CG rotoscope of the characters that feels weird in full anime style, their surroundings are lovely and the graphics used for character introductions and maps are cool. While the series has pretty much one musical theme, it uses it well. But this all falls the wayside when there's not enough time to properly tell the story.

The first episode comes off as amateurish and lazy. Within two minutes of being introduced, high school student Saburo falls off a fence and goes back in time. Within five minutes, he's replaced Oda Nobunaga. Within fifteen minutes, he's mastered riding a horse even though he just ran into a horse for the first time in his life moments before. Most of the series feels like it's skimming faster than my all-nighter sessions during my Western European History course.

With the massive amounts of time covered, there becomes a weird split between the main characters and the supporting cast. Decades pass without Saburo even slightly changing, so that leaves the times when it focuses on the other people for any kind of dramatic weight. The time traveling aspect isn't very well explored with some all-to-brief appearances of visitors from present time. It's not until the very last episode when there are glimpses of the potential being met in bite-sized two-minute portions while the series winds up for its non-ending.

I haven't read any of the manga, but I imagine with its longevity and both a live-action series and movie in the pipeline, it has to be better than this. Even in this heavily truncated anime form, it does have a small but spirited following. Not me, sadly. If I want the Cliff Notes of something, I'll buy the Cliff Notes.

Final Score: 5/10

Persona 4 the Golden Animation (Joe Straatmann)

So, an extra twelve episodes for what? To give some official reason why Marie gets a persona just in time for the release of Persona 4 Ultimax so the lords of continuity don't eviscerate the decision to add her to the roster? Unless you eat, breathe, and live Persona 4, or only know the series through the initial anime, this is an unnecessary product.

There are brilliant ways to go about this and the series almost touches upon them all. The first episode acts like Yu's being controlled by a player who's going through New Game+ mode, blazing through enemies at a comically insane level and giving the most outlandish response whenever prompted to do so. They don't choose to go that route for the whole thing. At times, they make Marie the main character, and even if the Internet jokes that her full name is Marie Sue aren't far off the mark, she's interesting enough to where exploring a world with a person who has no memories or understanding of the real world and is trying to piece together everything would be well enough. But it doesn't stick with that, either. It's simply a hodgepodge of events that were added to the story on the game's Vita port with very little cohesiveness. There are good episodes, but they are parts to different machines that don't work when put together.

The tipping point is the Hollow Forest. The look of the show had been stiff and unimpressive throughout, but with this, they had an opportunity to make something special. A foggy, mystical realm built on fragments of broken monuments and memories from throughout the town deserved better than the standard day at the office it got. There is some writing on individual episodes that improves on the ideas of the game and makes them work in a television series, but there is no passion or desire to push this to something more than Sega/Atlus throwing money at an animation studio to further solidify its brand. At least it has a snazzy closing theme.

With this, over 100 hours put into Persona 4, over 100 hours put into Persona 4 Golden, and going through the entire story of Arena with all characters, I think I'm officially done with Persona 4. Thank goodness Atlus is getting ready to give us Persona 5... after Ultimax and the Persona Q crossover. Of course. Oh, this needs a number grade, doesn't it? Um, it had four good episodes, so four sounds like a good number! Go with that. Next.

Final Score: 4/10

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Crystal (Stephanie Getchell)

My final thoughts on Crystal is a little bit difficult to talk about because only two episodes have aired since the last time we talked. Personally, I don’t think there’s been enough to talk about for me to give it a proper score, but I’ll at least give something based on what I’ve seen up until this point. BUT FIRST! Let’s talk about these two episodes, shall we?

When we last left off, Tuxedo Mask and his intentions are beginning to be questioned by Luna. Not only that, but the Four Kings of Heaven also show themselves to our three Sailor Guardians. Also, we get the infamous kiss between Mamoru and Usagi. Episode five introduces us to Makoto, Sailor Jupiter. As such, we now return to the previous pattern that Ami and Rei followed, that being a more developed look into Makoto’s character. For this, we are dealing with Makoto’s strength and how it makes her look scary to everyone around here. This leads to Usagi’s words of encouragement and Sailor Jupiter’s appearance. Not only that, but we are finally introduced to Motoki as a new character rather than someone the cast already knows. Episode six brings in more development on the Tuxedo Mask end. Mamoru makes an attempt to gather information about the Sliver Crystal through the media, however the Dark Kingdom decides to take advantage of this with Zoisite at the helm of this plan. By the end of the episode, Usagi gains encouragement from Tuxedo Mask in order to help save her friends and the city. Not only that, but both Usagi and Mamoru are now aware of who the other person is, with Mamoru having known for quite a while now. We also get a small appearance by our fifth Sailor Guardian, who will more than likely be introduced in the next episode.

From this point on, Crystal does not follow the original series. There is some indication of this when we see the Four Kings together in episode four, however these two episodes are now taking the series into a different direction. For fans of the original series, it could either be aggravating or a breath of fresh air. I’m more inclined to call it some fresh air because this is not a faithful remake of the original series to begin with. It’s an adaptation of the original manga, which makes the big difference here. The progression of this series is actually at a decent pace, with some developments happening at good times like the reveal of Mamoru as Tuxedo Mask at the end of the sixth episode. Not only that, but the development and changes in characters, as mentioned before, make the cast a lot stronger compared to the long time in the original series that we get to learn about our cast. This is true about Ami, Rei, and Makoto as they are the ones that get more time in their introductory episodes to show us who they are and how they grow once befriending Usagi. I also like how Usagi isn’t as love sick as she is in the original series. From the start she begins to have feelings for Mamoru and him alone instead of being interested in Tuxedo Mask AND Motoki. This gives her character much more focus, and brings the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru into a much better developed state in such a short amount of time.

As a adaptation/remake of Sailor Moon, Crystal is doing what it can in a short amount of time. Because of this, we are seeing more well developed and well rounded characters who have more focus. Although I still have my gripes about the animation for the transformation sequence, this series isn’t just some remake for the hardcore fans. It’s also an introduction into the Sailor Moon franchise for those, like me, who may have never grew up with the original. The progression thus far has been great and the series shows a lot of promise as the weeks continue to roll by. Even though the episode release schedule is a bit odd and it’ll probably take a year for the series to finish, Sailor Moon Crystal is on the right track as both an old and a new look into a very popular franchise.

Quarter-Season Score: 6/10

Sabagebu! Survival Game Club! (Joe Straatmann)

There's a lot to be said about finishing strong. I've been hard on this series all season long, and sometimes, it really deserved it. I get a series about high school girls involved in club where they brandish replica weapons and pretend to annihilate each other doesn't play by proper society's rules, but when sexual humiliation is the butt of three episodes in a four-episode span, it stops becoming a no-holds-barred madcap comedy and starts getting a creepy vibe. Also, despite this series using a narrator to explain that the action is in the minds of the characters, when something happens in the series' "actual world" that causes six deaths, it's shrugged off just the same. But, you know, we're talking about a series that eventually has a crab piloting a helicopter, so I can't be unreasonable when a comedy of extremes is extreme. I can simply say it crossed my personal line of "too far" a little too often.

As a whole, Sabagebu is fairly uneven. Early on, it seemed to have trouble after its initial episode finding its groove (Putting an unfunny PSA for a Japanese hunting association doesn't help). Good, bad, and meh segments crossed into the fray in equal numbers. That's not to mention the series needed 50% less narrator. It reminds me of a briefly-aired television show called Pushing Daisies that was a dark fairly tale that was somehow very sweet as well... and I would've liked it a lot better if the narrator would stop interrupting every five seconds to tell me about what I'm obviously seeing. The narrator here has a few good meta jokes, but he's nevertheless overly talky and likes to underline a few too many moments that were just fine without him.

All that said, the series builds a stable of reliable characters throughout its run, and when the final three episodes come along, lets them go at full speed. They are easily the smartest, wittiest, and most importantly, funniest episodes of the whole thing. I even liked the gag of slapping what would be pointless OVA fodder right onto the final episode. I can't say the series doesn't have segments that are absolute duds, but as a heavily episodic madcap comedy that actually takes the time to build to its grand finale, I can respect that.

Final Score: 7/10

Shonen Hollywood -Holly Stage for 49- (Stephanie Getchell)

I may not know much about idol series, but Shonen Hollywood is rather different from the idol series I’ve at least heard about. It’s more like a behind the scenes, raising star, exposé, or something like that. Over the course of thirteen episodes, all it is is our group of guys working towards their debut. And, strangely enough, they manage to stick to that plot guideline as the final episode of this season (I say season because a second season has been confirmed) ends with them going on stage for their first concert. How often do you see an idol series take this route and not have them perform in concert? My guess is, you probably only need one hand to count on.

The story does take some interesting risks to bring this rising idol group head first into their debut. I previously talked about the episode where it was just their show Air Boys, and nothing else for that entire episode. Episode ten has a similar tactic as the group performs on live TV for the first time, but the entire episode is that TV show. They are some odd choices in conveying the story, and I do have to commend them for taking that risk and giving the idol story a new spin. At the same time, those episodes seemed to drag on the longest compared to the rest of the series. It may have been because it was so out of place and different that I wondered when it would end, though some parts of those episodes I did enjoy. Really, the story is just so straightforward in showing the viewer, “Hey guys! Ever really wonder what it’s like being an idol? Well, here you go!” The story, along with the animation (for the most part), has a kind of realism that I never really expected from a series about a male idol group. You don’t really see realistic looking idol series about a female group, because they are targeted differently. As for other male idol series, the only other idol series with a male group, that I can think of, is Uta no Prince sama. I haven’t seen it, but I have seen images of the series, and even that show doesn’t look as realistic as Shonen Hollywood.

As for our cast of characters, our group is decently developed. They each have had a chance for personal growth throughout the series, at least once, and I can imagine that some of that will come up again in the second season. Hell, it’s come up a little bit again towards the end! Kakeru, as the lead character, can be bland at times yet rather insightful and aware of this really odd world known as the idol business. I feel like he still has some growing to do to really make him into a better lead character because, as of now, I would have loved to have seen a different member of the group take on the role. The other four members, Makki, Shun, Tomii, and Kira, have rather strong personalities that just drown out our lead very easily. Kira and Shun seem to cause this the most out of anyone, but this is more due to their backgrounds having an impact on their personalities. However, if I were to play Devil’s advocate for a minute, Kakeru as a more quiet lead could be seen as a good move because of the whole behind the scenes mentality of the series. Plus, some of his development is among the more interesting character arcs in the series with Makki taking the spotlight for me. I like Makki a lot, but mostly because he can be such a idiotic goofball.

Shonen Hollywood is not your typical idol series. Fact. The change in story and the animation to match it give this very strong contrast to other well known idol series people may have heard of. Because of this, some people may just ignore this one. I don’t think it should be ignored. It’s not amazing, there is certainly room to improve, but it’s because of those risks that it took and the humor that I could easily find throughout the series that makes me so intrigued. I just couldn’t bare to drop the show this season because it was that interesting to me. It may be on the weaker end of series this summer, for me, but it managed to keep my attention over the summer. I’ll be interested to know what the winter and season two decide to bring my way.

Final Score: 6/10

Terror in Resonance (Stephanie Getchell)

It can be hard, at times, to really talk about certain subjects. Terrorism has been a big topic of discussion for the world in recent years thanks to the ongoing struggle the world faces against rising terrorist groups like ISIS. This series is very special because it not only takes this topic head on, but it manages to make the viewer achieve a feeling they may not have thought possible: empathy for the terrorists. What Terror in Resonance has in its corner in order for it to be really effective is a wonderful director at the helm, Shinchiro Watanabe. But this isn’t the only thing it has going for it.

What really keeps the viewer from disliking Nine and Twelve is the fact that during their attacks there are absolutely no casualties. This slight change in character proceeds the many questions viewers will have, particularly what their true motive is. It is this mystery that really draws people in, and the series manages to complete this effortlessly up until the bitter end. The premise alone seems like a daunting task to write an eleven episode series for, and yet here I am crying my eyes out after finishing it. I’m just having some kind of emotional whiplash here between Terror in Resonance and Tokyo Ghoul alone this season (You’ll understand what I mean in a bit)! Terror in Resonance manages to keep the most consistent flow I have seen from any other series that I have covered this season and that’s more than likely thanks to Watanabe and the writers of this series. Though, just because I immensely enjoy the series, doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

What I have a problem with is with the two major female characters, Lisa and Five. You more than likely have heard my issues with Lisa by now so I’ll give the short version. It took a while for her to actually be involved in the story. A little too long, if you ask me. And when she does get involved, nine times out of twelve (he he, see what I did there?) she ends up as the damsel in distress that the boys have to go and rescue. It’s just one of those things that bothers me just a little. However, what bothers me even more is Five’s character. To try and refrain from spoilers as much as humanly possible, let’s just say that Five’s character is a mysterious little thing that, I feel, interrupted the flow the series was on prior to her entrance. If she was less intense and crazed, then I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with her being there. But her character just seems to take things a little too far at points, making it a little bothersome. Although the writing handles it nicely, I could use a little less crazy. That’s what I have Tokyo Ghoul for.

If I had to tell you what the one anime from the summer season you had to watch, Terror in Resonance would be my answer. The realism in setting and tone coupled with the wonderful story and well developed main characters is just outstanding! As the only member of Watanabe’s directorial career with a constant serious tone throughout, it can get you to stop and think about people in a new and interesting way. And that’s the kind of intellectual tone I love so much, and will just eat right up! I’ve even already resigned myself to buying it once the DVD makes its way here for release. I believe that Terror in Resonance is the best anime of the summer season, and, even possibly, the best anime of 2014. You can agree or disagree, but that’s just what I think.

Final Score: 9/10

Tokyo ESP (Stephanie Getchell)

Out of everything I have been tasked to report on this season, Tokyo ESP is the weakest series I’ve come across while writing this last article. This isn’t a case of, “Oh my goodness that Tokyo ESP is complete and utter junk”. It’s more like, “Huh. Well that’s a thing.” Everything I’ve encountered in this series doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, but then again there isn’t really a need for it to get overly complex compared to some of the other series I’ve been watching these past few months. At the same time, because I’ve been so blown away with shows like Terror in Resonance, Tokyo Ghoul, and Barakamon, Tokyo ESP is a series that just exists for me.

At its core, the series is a good vs evil story with a slight racism angle attached (because everyone loves commentary on racism). The comparison I’ve been seeing over and over again while hearing people talk about this series, including FUNimation themselves, is that this is X-Men the anime, and, honestly, there’s really no better way to describe it then calling it the anime version of the Marvel property (Editor's Note: The irony is that they actually did make an X-Men anime and it wasn't very good either). You’re dealing with people with special powers fighting each other in a battle of morality, or who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s a very simple premise that is set up rather well, and manages to accomplish its goals in showing us that. We have our two sides getting as much screen time as possible in order for the viewer to think and decide on which side they themselves would be a part of. Normally, you would pick the side of Rinka and Azuma, but considering how this series ended, that decision isn’t as clear as you may have first thought. It may be a simple, and possibly even cliched, means for plot, but it’s rather effective for the end goal. But Tokyo ESP has the problem of consistency in writing, and now has these huge questions that are now left in its wake.

From start to finish, the writing in ESP is not one of its stronger traits. There have been moments where I felt the story was kinda of off, or that it could have been much stronger. This is NOT solely based on my lack of knowledge and confusion of the first couple of episodes. Several times throughout the series I have felt a little underwhelmed in the writing department and wanting something a little more to come out of it. Then there are the relationships between our major characters. They are ok, but, again, it could have been better with the Rinka/Azuma relationship suffering quite a bit alongside Azuma’s relationship with Minami. The constraints of the episode count are what the major issue here is, because I fully expected this series to be a twenty-four to twenty-six episode series rather than a twelve episode one. What makes this issue even worse is the final episode as there is a strong set up for a second season, however, as of now, there has been no word of it becoming a reality. If a second season doesn’t happen, then there are a lot of unanswered questions that the viewer will never have solved, making this a huge disappointment because the build up has resulted in a rather lack luster pay off.

Tokyo ESP is not the worst series of the season. If I had to pick the worst of the season, based on what I’ve watched, I’d either say Jinsei, Momo Kyun Sword, or Sword Art Online II (because that franchise is junk to begin with). Instead, ESP is rather average. Because of the easy premise and the obvious comparison to X-Men, you would think that there would have been room for something really special. However, because of the lack of time as well as some weak writing here and there, the series just borderlines disappointing for me. And, without the word of a second season, that disappointment could potentially keep growing thanks to those unanswered questions I now have. It’s an easy watch for everyone, but just don’t expect anything more than that.

Final Score: 5/10

Tokyo Ghoul (Stephanie Getchell)

Give me a second, guys! I need to calm down and breathe after what I’ve just been through here! Episode twelve of Tokyo Ghoul is the most intense, and yet beautiful, ending I have seen in a very long time. And, honestly, I don’t often give a huge compliment like this so that’s saying something about the series. Literally, I was sitting at my desk, hands clasped together, and going through so many emotions like Kaneki was. I may have my issues with some of the writing leading up to this point, but this single episode is wonderfully written then I can almost forgive everything else that I’ve seen in this series. Almost.

Tokyo Ghoul is one of those shows that has the mentality of “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey getting there” with the build up to the climatic moment of the series resulting in an interesting pay off. I’m not using the word satisfactory to describe the result because it’s not a good one. This series is a tragedy with no good end in sight for Kaneki and his friends. A couple months back when I made a comment about the writing in the series and Kaneki’s character, Jonathan, who has read the manga unlike me, told me that this isn’t a happy show and that there will be tragic moments in it. Hell, he brought up how the opening theme is a HUGE hint to that. And, after seeing the result, I can see the bigger picture. The through line the series has with Kaneki is decently written. I’ve mentioned so many times that we know very little of his character prior to his ghoul transformation, but then we get filled in during the last episode. Now, as wonderful as the episode is, some may see it a last ditch effort to flesh out Kaneki’s character. I’ll admit I was one of those people until I found confirmation of a second season. Luckily, because of that confirmation, it saves me the trouble of completely raging over potential poor writing of Kaneki’s character.

Speaking of writing, I’m going back to my mixed feelings of the writing overall. Like I mentioned before, there are moments where it doesn’t line up all that well with the Gormet arc inserted into the middle of the Dove arc being the biggest issue. Both arcs, on their own, are written well. It’s really just a placement and transitional problem since the anime made this change on their own compared to the original manga. I can see this change succeeding even more if that transition between the two arcs was a bit more clear alongside much more solid character writing for Tsukiyama because I really would have loved to have seen much more come from his character. Again, it’s really hard to make a lot of complaints because that second season is on the way.

From what I’ve seen as the first season of Tokyo Ghoul, it gives me mixed feelings. The series has its strong points and shines very well. Not only is it well animated, but the progression of some of our cast has been rather strong. However, at the same time, there are some weaknesses that do weigh the series down a little bit, with some writing as the main conce. Whether or not that will effect the second season is to be determined, however I feel like it won’t be a huge problem in the overall grand scheme of things. Of course plenty of questions are in my mind as I finish this series, but I complete my thoughts on Tokyo Ghoul knowing, and very much hoping, that those answers will come.

NOW CAN WE SKIP TO THE WINTER SEASON YET?!?!?! I’M GOING TO BE STUCK ON EDGE FOR MONTHS NOW!!! (Editor's Note: It's reported that Tokyo Ghoul will continue in the coming Winter season, but the source is suspect. We're crossing our fingers, though)

Final Score: 8/10

Second Opinions

Akame ga Kill!

Jonathan: I dropped this one a few episodes in after I did some reading of the manga. I did not want to relive that. Akame ga Kill is one of the most insultingly idiotic series I've ever known, and the truly terrible part is that it seems to think it has something to say. Morality is far too black and white, and the few interesting characters get ruined by very stupid developments, especially the series major villainess. This is somehow both the very definition of pretentious and "edgy" at the same time, the lowest of Jr. High ultra-violence exploitation, with none of the fun. A better show deserved these production values and ideas. 4/10

Aldnoah Zero

Stephanie: Wanna know what sucks? That feeling you get when you sense the quality of a series you’ve been enjoying up to this point just beginning to sink. These last four episodes of Aldnoah.Zero are are a good example of this. I should have known this was coming, however I just couldn’t sense it early enough. And then the ending just left a sour taste in my mouth and now I’m wondering what season two will bring. It’s not bad, but it’s not wonderful. 6/10

Blue Spring Ride

Stephanie: Romance series seem to just blend together from time to time, and Blue Spring Ride is no exception to this. It’s a decent story and I did become attached to some characters, particularly Kou, but beyond that, there’s nothing too exciting or new. Ok, I’m lying a little bit, the ending was at least different then what I expected. At the same time, I’m glad it ended that way because I took a little glance at what some of the story is, and the anime stays on track with the original manga. It leaves open the possibility of a second season, and yet it doesn’t need one. It wrapped itself up pretty well. This one is probably the sappy love story of the season, and I don’t mind that. 6/10


Joe: This is a romance melodrama that feels like it's recovering the morning after taking NyQuil. There are complex webs of relationships strewn about the place, but the characters move forward with them at a slower pace than a slug strolling over molasses on a conveyor belt set to the opposite direction. Is it me, or did it feel like Sachi was getting basic tests in the hospital for half the show? It's pleasant, casual, and harmless, but it's a little TOO pleasant, casual and harmless. P.A. Works still has some of the most beautiful backdrops in the business, though. 5/10


Jonathan: The best premier of the Summer, no question. Hanayamata's expertise with character development is incredibly impressive, giving all five of the main girls their own strong arc and centering it all into the main theme of growth. However, it's an interesting turn on the coming of age story, focusing less on strength and more on simply figuring out what you enjoy doing as a person, an equally important and often ignored lesson in today's world. Hanayamata makes that central and incredibly beautiful, and I have to give Madhouse props for the fantastic use of color and lighting. Do not pass this one up. 10/10

Love Stage!!

Stephanie: For my first soirée into the world of Shonen Ai, I have to say this is the best series that could have accomplished that for me. In general, anything with intense relationships or sexual moments makes me feel like an awkward turtle. So taking a BL series on had some risks, but the story and the humor are what really make all the difference! I don’t see this as a Shonen Ai series anymore, but a romantic comedy with an adorable story and even more adorable characters. Love Stage is cute, funny, and very lovable from start to finish! 7/10

Monthly Girl's Nozaki-kun

Jonathan: With Nozaki-kun this Summer and Kawai from Spring, 2014 has been a surprisingly strong year for romantic comedies. Nozaki-kun may be one of the most constantly funny comedies I've ever seen, with not a single joke ever falling flat. That's incredible for any comedy to do. Add in all the lively characters and how cleverly it plays with all the relationships, and you have to admit that Nozaki-kun is a comedy of equal parts wacky nonsense and insightful wit. 9/10

Stephanie: It’s pretty awesome how comedies are turing out this year! I loved Kawai Complex and now there’s Nozaki-kun in all it’s wonderful glory. The story and characters have just been so wonderful throughout the series, with the humor simple yet clever at times. I really wish the series didn’t have to end, but unfortunately it must. Nozaki-kun is THE comedy of the summer season, and if you haven’t watched it yet then you ought to go and fix that right this second! 9/10

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Crystal

Jonathan: It's okay. With the staff on board, I was expecting way more, but I should have figured this would be one of the shows Toei wouldn't put too much effort in. Still, the show looks amazing while still, and the story of Sailor Moon is just as strong as ever, with some interesting changes on Toei's part. I hope they continue after the first arc, where things really start getting interesting with heavy character development. As for now, though, it's simply enjoyable magical girl action. I will say that the last two episodes have had slightly stronger animation, and I hope that trend continues. 7/10

Sabagebu! Survival Game Club!

Jonathan: I can't comment on Baby Steps, but I'm pretty certain that Sabagebu is the Pierrot slip-up of the year. It had a lot of promise, especially with the amazing main character and that fun, twisted sense of humor, but the show lacks proper pacing of the gags a lot, not to mention an obnoxious narrator who's entire purpose seems to be killing any possible good jokes. Maybe a studio more adapt at comedy should have taken this one. Still, with such a crude, offensive sense of humor and the absolutely amazing lead, I still say it's worth a quick look. 5/10

Terror in Resonance

Jonathan: Probably the weakest of Watanabe's original work, but considering that his other three series are all borderline masterpieces, that's not a big knock. I was bugged by the series' weird 24 action logic that drove much of it, plus how Lisa become a prop in the end, but the message is a ballsy one and the pacing is near perfect. It's a really enjoyable, beautifully put together show, but I feel it could have been more with some more time spent on the script. Then again, Watanabe had been planning this thing for a long while now, so maybe he just couldn't really work his magic with this concept like he normally does. Still. one of the best of the season (in my book). 8/10

Tokyo ESP

Jonathan: Talk about a waste of potential. Tokyo ESP had one of the best first episodes of any show this year, right up there with Aldnoah. Also like Aldnoah, it squandered that early potential horribly. It's worse here, though, because the production values really take a hit and continue down the entire series, while the plot has *absolutely* nothing happening. I mean, there is stuff that happens, but Rinka and the gang have absolutely no impact on it, and what they do have impact on are boring training sessions or Rinka getting the crapped beat out of her for the infinite time. Even the ending made their involvement feel pointless, along with the main villain's entire plan and actions. Yesh. The lack of proper fights and the incredibly lame theme (I am convinced literally nobody knows what justice means anymore), and there's not much to salvage once the series wraps up. Do not pace urban superhuman warfare stories like a shonen action series while having a cast of good guys with limited combat capabilities, it is just a bore. 4/10

Tokyo Ghoul

Jonathan: I am amazed by what Pierrot has managed this year. Sabagebu was a bit of a misstep, but at least in an interesting way. The World is Still Beautiful was one of the best shojo shows I've ever seen. But Tokyo Ghoul is something special. The direction, the visuals, the pacing. This is one of the best adaptations I've ever seen, and I demand a second season. I can say as a fan of the manga that this ended up being leagues above what I was expecting, and I was expecting a lot. Amazing what an Oscar nominated director can get you. 9/10 

Staff Picks

RE:_Hamatora (Jonathan Kaharl)

Back in the Winter season, I picked up a series I had been interested in for a long time called Hamatora. Yuki Kodama, the artist and creator of Blood Lad, was attached to this strange multimedia project with an interesting premise about people with superpowers, made stranger by the presence of Danganronpa staff. Whatever Hamatora was, I wanted to know, so I finally caught the first animated series for the franchise. I was mostly underwhelmed but entertained, until the last few episodes. The series completely caught me off guard, using my knowledge of cliches and tropes that are associated with anime, comics and videogames to lead me in a completely different direction. The plot ended up being far more fascinating then I ever could have imagined, with a crazy and complex main villain who was somehow completely uninterested with the politics of superpowers. I can't say much without heavy spoilers, but the finale of Hamatora is simply one of the most brilliantly built up and executed dramatic turns I have ever seen.

RE:_Hamatora is like those last few episodes stretched out into a whole series, with roughly three extra subplots added in that all play dramatically important roles in the finale, and it is simply incredible. RE:_Hamatora isn't just my favorite series of the Summer, I consider it to be the high point of the entire year of 2014 right now. It is that good. The pacing is fast, the plot is constantly turning in just the right ways, the characters are developing steadily at all times, and supposedly unimportant details from the original series are suddenly used to make Earth shattering revelations. The plot is honestly one of the tightest written plots I've ever seen, so tight that I can't find a single plot hole in it, no matter how hard I look. The villains are cliches, yet somehow made infinitely more interesting in how they're presented and how they're used in the plot. The art design is leagues above the first series, with masterful uses of shadows and red light. And the soundtrack ...just goddamn. It's a great mix of electronic and jazz that sounds like a raging party in the middle of a violent city, and it just fits the atmosphere the show is going for effortlessly. The preview theme is especially awesome, a storm of jazz horns wailing at a frantic, unending rhythm. It's just great.

But while all this plays a massive role in why I consider RE:_Hamatora the winner of the season with absolutely no contest, not to mention the brilliant use of themes for foreshadowing and even creating mood, and the fantastically meta sense of humor, the main reason I adore this series is that it just gets it. It gets why people love stories and why we keep coming back. It pokes fun at the most generic of the crap a lot (the first episode takes a hilarious jab at dating sims and the people who play them), but it ultimately has a ton of respect for fiction, and the finale nails it dead center. The sheer execution is just another testament to this, as the show mixes together the pacing of a thriller, the twists of an excellent mystery, the action of a strong shonen fighting series, and the complex character development expected from a psychological drama at certain points. Hamatora is a giant, manic, beautiful jigsaw puzzle of so many different things it adores, and it does its damn hardest to live up to the standards of those genres and mediums, surpassing their norms with surprising ease.

RE:_Hamatora is something that only happens once every decade. It's a show so incredibly good that I've become jealous that there are people who can write something like this. This show is so good that it enrages me. That is the highest possible compliment I could give to anything. Without a doubt, RE:_Hamatora is one of the single best anime in the past decade. Watch the first series, put up with the filler, and then start the second for your reward. It's more than worth it, trust me.

Final Score: 10/10

Barakamon (David O'Neil)

Deciding on my pick for this season was actually surprisingly difficult. Do I go for the second season of Space Dandy, with it's beautiful and creative experimentation with animation and visual styles? Or maybe Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, with it's lovable characters and clever twists on manga tropes. I was even tempted to pick Tokyo Ghoul after it's fantastic finale ended up being the highlight of the season for me. But looking at all the shows as a whole, there was one that to the greatest extent I pretty much loved everything about, and that was Barakamon.

Barakamon follows Seishu Handa, a calligrapher sent by his father to spend some time in the Japanese countryside after he punches an elderly prestigious calligrapher for for criticizing his work. Along the way he befriends the locals of the island village, learning their ways and starting to appreciate their way of life, as he gains a new outlook on the world. It may sound corny, and so are a lot of the themes Barakamon tackles, but the show tackles them with such skill, strong execution, and unflinching sincerity that it's hard to not be affected by it's Handa's journey. The hearfelt themes are relatable, especially to any artist, as the main character tackles everything from learning to deal with criticism, to the importance of creating one's own unique style. This really shows in the series itself too, while I could compare Barakamon to a few different shows (Non Non Biyori and Bunny Drop come to mind) it really does have it's own unique feel to it that's totally it's own.

In addition, the characters of Barakamon are an absolute joy. Naru, the eccentric young girl who enjoys spending time with Handa/sometimes driving him crazy especially steals the show, probably being my favorite character of the entire season. Just about everything she does is hilarious, and she's just as sweet and likable as she is funny. That goes for the rest of the cast too, who can all be really funny when they need to but also carry the show's more low key, heartfelt moments. The show also surprised with it's animation, as despite being by a studio with only a few shows under it's belt, Barakamon was one of the best looking shows of the season. Characters move with a remarkable amount of energy, as if the animators are trying to make sure the characters are sitting still as little as possible. It really shows in the comedy as well, as some great over the top comedy moments were as funny as they were largely due to great animation and visual quirks complementing the humor perfectly.

Barakamon is simply a wonderful show. From the animation, to the characters, to the humor, to the themes, it managed to make me smile from beginning to end every time I watched it. Occasionally it'd border on being too sappy for it's own good, but it's just so sincere and well executed I can't help but totally ignore that and just enjoy the heart warming experience that it is. To me, if there's one show from this year's summer that shouldn't be missed, it's Barakamon.

Final Score: 9/10

Haikyu!! (Stephanie Getchell)

While sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to pick as my seasonal Staff Pick, I first thought about the new series I’d been watching. Barakamon, Terror in Resonance, and Tokyo Ghoul were the three that came to mind almost instantly. However, when I was looking through all the series that I have been watching since the spring, there was one series that I had been enjoying so much, but I don’t think has really gotten as much attention as I think it should. And that is why I decided to pick the sports anime Haikyu!! as my pick for Summer 2014!

I’ll admit, Sports anime is relatively new territory for me. I only just really started watching more sports anime a year ago with Free! Iwatobi Swim Club last summer and then went on to Ace of Diamond and Yowamushi Pedal the following fall season. Out of all of these series, they don’t nearly have as much heart of Haikyu does. You can kinda thank the writing for that, but it’s mostly because of our cast of rowdy and dedicated guys who just dream big. From the spunky yet naive Hinata, to calculating Kageyama, to the quiet and timid Asahi, and even the kind yet kinda scary Daichi. Each member of this of this cast is such a joy to watch that I was rooting for them quite often. In fact, even though Hinata and Kageyama are seen as the main characters, I don’t see any leads here. I see this more as an ensemble cast, if anything. That’s how strong the characters are and that’s what makes this series really fly high.

The story, at it’s core, is an easy one to understand. And, seeing as how it’s a sports anime, you can guess the kind of story you’re going to get. When you add in the cast and individual personal growth, then your story grows as well. Although, there are some cast members that are underutilized. Tuskishima and Yamaguchi, while being decent characters in the ensemble, just don’t have quite enough to do. They are seen as the first set of rivals for Hinata and Kageyama at the start of the series, but then they’re just kinda there. Tuskishima gets barely any form of growth save for during some matches, while Yamaguchi’s character makes an attempt at growth only for it to be squandered by the end. I can imagine that if the series was longer than 25 episodes, there would be more time for these two to really come into their own like many of the other characters. As it stands, another season has not been announced. While it would be amazing to have another season, I don’t think it’s a huge necessity. The story managed to find a satisfying ending, with the guys now looking forward to the future. Rather appropriate, if you ask me.

Haikyu is one of those interesting sports series that I never thought I would fall in love with. But, thanks to the wonderful cast of characters, I can say with confidence that this is my favorite sports anime yet! As you watch them, you feel like you grow alongside them and are there fighting as well. I confess, I considered taking up volleyball quite a bit while watching this series, and I’m not really the athletic type to begin with. However, I’ll just leave that up to the die hards who love sports and just stick to theatre and anime. In such a short amount of time, Haikyu won me over with it’s big old heart. I think that’s better than winning any kind of tournament.

Final Score: 8/10


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