Final Thoughts for Spring 2015

Well, this was certainly some sort of season.

With such a weirdly mixed output, this was definitely an interesting Spring, not which in the least would include the bizarre delays put on Blood Blockade Battlefront, which is quickly becoming the Duke Nukem Forever of anime. We have absolute no idea when that last episode is finally going to air, and we're tired of waiting. I also imagine that Joe is tired of waiting for the bizarrely long Yuki Nagato to finish, and we have a Summer starting right now, so let's just put this ridiculous season to bed already.


Dropped Shows

Gunslinger Stratos: The Animation
Danni Wilmoth

We were given a single drop this season with which to use wisely, and - despite the agony I went through finishing Triage X - I don't have a single regret about using my drop on this show. I simply can't bear to watch anime that succeeds in being so consistently and incredibly mediocre. The animation was sloppy and often filled with sagging faces and ugly in-betweens. The scenery looked so generically sci-fi that it's almost impossible to come away from a single episode having noticed anything distinguishing about the backgrounds. The character designs looked sporadic and unappealing, and the weapon designs weren't any better. The writing was simply irredeemable. Episode after episode contained events justified by flimsy exposition that viewers were told to just believe because fuck you. The protagonist was your stock shounen anime boy with no personality and the surrounding cast of characters were at best only slightly less boring. Gunslinger Stratos was bad and not even in the memorable way. It was simply hopelessly generic and mediocre, aka my least favorite kind of show to watch. Five Episodes: 3/10

The Heroic Legend of Arslan
David O'Neil

I'd read some of the manga version of The Heroic Legend of Arslan before starting the show, which is something I don't do incredibly often (more lately than I used to, I'll admit) so I was more worried than usual in the lead up to its release. I was a big fan of what I had read, and was worried that it wouldn't be able to do it justice. But I quelled those fears, and went into the episodes I watched with hope. Unfortunately, I was not happy with what I got. What I was of Arslan was not terrible. It accurately adapted the manga near panel for panel, with only small additions that were understandable, even clever in some cases, helping to build the world and characters just a bit more than the manga did. My problem mainly came from a production standpoint. While it no  Durarara x2 or Ninja Slayer, the lack of effort in the animation and presentation was apparent and often enough to keep me from enjoying the show. Action scenes lacked energy, emotional moments lacked expression, even the comedy felt lifeless and lazy a majority of the time. The CG looked poor and was used haphazardly, resulting in jarring moments of CG guards stiffly running through 2D crowds. The show overall simply felt like the bare minimum, enough to stay functional as a narrative but never going even the slightest bit above and beyond to make it stand out on its own as an adaptation. For those who don't read manga, it's alternative that gets the job done and retells the story faithfully (from what I saw at least) but it lacks the passion and effort to do so in a satisfying or memorable way. Four episodes: 4/10

Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Stephanie Getchell

While I didn't exactly have the best crop of series this season, Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon wasn't one of the better ones out of the ones I got to play with. While it does have some elements that are rather close to Sword Art Online, I did make the comment that this series may actually be better because it know what it wants to do and doesn't care about trying to be good. From what I can recall from those first four episodes, there were some pointless aspects, however the series did at least try for something a little different in order to stand out among all the Fantasy/MMORPG kind of series that have appeared in recent years and it's something commendable. However, you can't teach an old dog new tricks and you certainly can't call this the cherry on the cake since it's little niche. But, at the very least, I can say it has a lot more potential than SAO could ever dream of. Four episodes: 4/10

Urawa no Usagi-chan
Jonathan Kaharl

I'm not even sure it's proper for me to talk about this one. No, it's not because I only saw two episodes of a series of shorts, it's because there's nothing to talk about. This is the single most empty experience I've ever seen (quite the accomplishment after seeing Girlfriend BETA), a show truly about nothing, though that's not the intent. It does not help that its attempts at humor are so basic that they don't even register as jokes. I mean, it looks cute ...but that's it. That's literally it. The only thing I can say about it is that it has a style, and it's not even an original or interesting one. I honestly have no idea why this was even made. I know it was an advertisement for certain areas of Japan, I get that, I just don't get why anyone with any sort of artistic merit would be interested in this project. I mean, the character designs are cute, so at least one person on staff cared. I think only one, actually. Two episodes: 3/10

Final Thoughts

Ameiro Cocoa
Stephanie Getchell

Here's the problem with Anime Shorts, the story that you can produce with such a limited amount of time. Rainy Cocoa is no exception to that rule. It's very rare for an Anime Short to gain success in both Japan and the West, with Hetalia as the most successful one in recent memory and now going into season four this coming summer season. Meanwhile, Rainy Cocoa is just a twelve episode series that went no where and has me wonder if it will actually go somewhere in the future.

Rainy Cocoa tells the story of Aoi, a freshman at the local university who works for the cafe Rainy Color. One day, he meets an upper classman, Keiichi, who somehow angers Aoi with some comments. Little does Aoi know, Kei actually visit Rainy Color on a regular basis, causing Aoi to become frustrated. Over the course of the series, the two slowly begin to understand each other and the misunderstandings that started this mess to begin with.

While the story is rather solid for a short series, it's the fact that it's only a twelve episode series that irritates me. We all knew by the end of the series what the end result was going to be and yet there was potential for the show to expand on it. It did well with what it gave us sure, but then there's the question of what now? Even with the recently announced second season, what does that mean for the series here in the west? As of now, FUNimation does hold the license to Rainy Cocoa, and there is a digital manga english cast consisting of Joel McDonald, Ian Sinclair, Vic Mignogna, Todd Haberkorn, and Christopher Sabat. Is it really worth the trouble to dub a series that would only take half a day to record and only twenty minutes to watch entirely? Do we even bother with a home video release? It's honestly really disappointing. This is a series that I've been enjoying and hoping it would last more than a season, but when the one cour conformation came in I just gave a big sigh and just sulked. This isn't to say that what we got was bad, I loved what we got. Again, it did what it could managed in the small amount of time and the characters got some fair development as well. But if the series had full length episodes to begin with, there would be so much more we could see and enjoy than what we have been left with. Even with the second season, this doesn't mean we'll get much more story in the future.

In the end, Rainy Cocoa is solid yet disappointing. It does well with what's been given, but there is a desperate need for more. If not, then all we're left with is just something disappointing and predictable in the end. Then there's the question of what FUNimation plans to do with the series as of now, and even with the second season on the horizon. What happens in the coming months or even through to the next couple years for this series? For now, I liked what was given, even if I was left with disappointment in the end.

Final Score: 5/10

Blood Blockade Battlefront
Danni Wilmoth

As you might be aware, our policy for seasonal reviews is to only cover an anime's first course. As such, we've become rather accustomed to reviewing great anime that hasn't reached a conclusion yet. This season, however, I've been tasked with a somewhat unusual task: review Blood Blockade Battlefront, an 12-episode anime whose 12th and final episode is stuck in limbo with no present air date. 

When it comes to scheduling, BBB just can't seem to catch a break. It held a consistent weekly slot through most of the season before being stuck with numerous episode delays in June, causing us to go weeks with the closest thing to a new episode we received being a compilation. At one point, the finale had to be delayed until July 4th (how appropriate for a show that uses Normal Rockwell homages as its BD cover art). However, it turned out that it was scheduled to air at the same time on the same channel as the premiere of Durarara!!x2 Ten, so it was postponed until the 5th. A week before the updated air date, a production committee announced that the staff had met and decided that they couldn't fit the finale into a 30-minute slot while still doing it the justice they felt it deserved. So, currently, the finale episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront is stuck in scheduling hell until further notice. 

From what we've seen thus far, BBB is definitely one of the best shows this season, and I wouldn't be surprised to find it on anyone's Top Five list at the end of the year. Rie Matsumoto shines in her first directorial role following the criminally unheralded gem that was Kyousougiga. I haven't read the manga, but everyone I know who's read it has quite enjoyed it and seems to agree that Matsumoto and her staff at BONES have managed to improve on the source material. These improvements often came in the form of beautiful backgrounds and compositions inserted into scenes that are left somewhat empty and simply framed in the manga. While these insertions do add some wonderful aesthetic appeal, they also manage to function as silent storytelling techniques. The city of Hellsalem's Lot becomes a character of its own as we follow the characters through its various hubs and landmarks. Extreme long shots demonstrate the scale of the city in relation to the characters, making sure we never forget that they're modest figures in this huge and chaotic city. Abstract landscapes and unconventional shot angles are used frequently within Alterworld scenes, illustrating perfectly the setting's tense and paranormal atmosphere. 

Those aren't the only additions Matsumoto added to her adaptation. She took a huge risk in not only adding two new main characters in Black and White but also making their conflict the axis of the entire story, a risk that pays off in spades. Many of the show's best moments come from these twins. Their story is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking, adding earnestness to series that would otherwise be a shounen action/slapstick comedy. While these tones do manage to mostly balance each other out, I would've preferred the show to stick mostly to one. While the day to day lives of Libra members makes for a good show on its own, I found myself more invested in the story of Black and White and would've loved to have seen it been a more consistent plot focus. For the most part of the series, we see mostly glimpses into their story amidst the day to day lives of Libra. It wasn't until the latter part of the show that we started seeing more and more of them, leading up to them becoming the central factors in the show's final episodes. Reflecting on this, it feels like Matsumoto used the BBB adaptation as a vehicle for telling an original story about this pair of twins. I can't say I fault her for it, but it leaves me with lingering feelings of inconsistency over what story is being told. 

With the final episode TBD, I'm left with mixed feelings about Blood Blockade Battlefront. It's certainly one of the best shows this season, but I find myself anxious for the finale rather than excited. Due to horrendous scheduling issues, BBB has yet to conclude weeks after it was originally intended to. In the past month and a half we haven't even received a handful of new episodes. We've been hit with so many delays that my suspense has turned into mere boredom. I still love the show, but I'm already making dents into the new season. At this point, I just want to get the finale over with. This isn't actually a fault in the show itself or its creators, but rather in the scheduling around it. Anyone who watches this show at a later point after its completed airing won't have to deal with this problem. As a weekly watcher, though, I'm pretty annoyed by it.

Final(ish) Score: 8/10

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
Joe Straatmann

This has been a series where people have been eager to poke the bear with me. The manga made me very angry and is probably the worst thing I have collected for more than a couple volumes. It took an easy sell to people like me who really enjoyed the alternate dimension relationship between Kyon and Yuki (enough to have a figure on my shelf), completely changed the lead girl from an actual character to a bag of things appealing to the proper demographics, made the story mostly the hijinks from Haruhi Suzumiya people tolerated to get to the good stuff, and when it finally gets to what it maybe should've been about in the first place for a volume, it completely waves off any significance it has and then goes for a couple chapters on the beach. The sixth volume brings in a romantic rival from Kyon's old school in which the obvious time wasting might as well be nothing but an image of the middle finger copied for 120 pages.

So you see, when I found the anime was going to be more-or-less a straight adaptation, I had to warn everyone. The opening episode was going to be pleasant enough that even if the people who hate slice-of-life will rag on it for being about nothing, most will stick with it for its potential. Saying, "Don't. Stop...." like Willy Wonka doesn't seem like a proper enough way to get the attention necessary.

I will give credit to Satelight animation for making this as watchable as they can. Aside from Kyon's face being out of sorts and Asahina looking like she has dyed tips for some reason, the show looks just fine. The goal of making Yuki look as cute as possible to compensate for her lack of character is properly replicated here. The transitions between scenes and the use of visual metaphors are much more vibrant, and the manic moments are much less confusing than in the manga. The music takes steps to follow up on the classical feel in the second half of the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, though it feels out of place in some parts of the lighter episodes. 

All of this is putting duct tape on a leaky pipe system where there's probably more duct tape than piping. It completely ignores expanding the characters' universe even though they don't have to worry about any of the roadblocks halting them before. It seems to suggest everyone has parents who work overseas (I didn't know it was possible for Koizumi to be an ever more underdeveloped tool than when he wasn't allowed to disclose information). The only character given a heavy dose of rewriting is Yuki and it's for the worse. She's made more of an average girl who's shy but can hold a conversation instead of the bookworm introvert who has to fight her nature just to talk to even her closest friend. Instead of books, her addiction is video games. Many note the oddity of Yuki being in the literature club yet not being one who generally reads books, but nobody raises the question of WHY that is (Yeah, I see your weaksauce explanation of, "I like books, but I like video games better." That's some poor hand waving 13 episodes in). She's designed to look adorable and she has a clumsy disposition, but that lack of finer details makes her feel like a device built to net the widest audience and automatically push certain emotional buttons over and over.


We haven't even gotten to the story yet. It's broken up into three parts. In the first part, Yuki, her best friend/neighbor Asakura, and her good friend she wants to be more Kyon get acquainted with the gang from the S.O.S. Brigade in the original series sans all superhuman abilities. Rather than the beginning of the show, it feels like the mid-season blues of a romantic comedy that's stalling after its first major arc.

Every major event in Yuki's initial development has already happened. She's met Kyon, she's had to come out of her shell fighting to keep her literature club from disbanding, and she's had a fateful encounter in the middle of the night with Haruhi making a message to aliens that gives her the confidence to save her club. She's already friendly with Kyon and many of the major players are already silently rooting for the relationship. When Haruhi bursts onto the scene, she's briefly a romantic rival because they have one conversation where they feel like they can be real with each other and Kyon ALSO helped Haruhi on one fateful night. However, Haruhi too uncharacteristically sits back and joins the crowd of people waiting for Yuki and Kyon to officially become an item. The only reason they don't is because then the series would be over. 


This tug-of-war between old continuity and new continuity is what really grinds this series down. It wants to make something new, but it doesn't want to frazzle people who cuddle the original canon either. What results is something that's so careful where it steps that it's virtually inert. Most of the first nine episodes involve wacky antics that are weightless without the added fantastical elements, planning for events where Yuki and Kyon could get closer, and then the events happen with minimal payoff. Paced by Touko Michida, the person in charge of series composition for Lucky Star, we get such mind-blowing material stretching as a field trip that would be one episode filler everywhere else made into three episodes of shopping for stuff, having bathhouse karaoke, and playing cards. 


Somehow, there are GOOD things that are worth being stretched out (SPOILERS AHOY, BY THE WAY). The arc of Yuki-chan that deals with her actual disappearance is easily the best part of the manga and the anime. The setup is typical of the series, implying a car is about to hit Yuki dead center, but the reality being a near miss that leaves her with a few scratches. Yuki is not herself, though. The incident caused a Yuki from another dimension to jump into her mind, and wouldn't you know it, it's the Yuki from the changed dimension of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Oh, does Satelight jump on this. They ramp up their artistic abilities, giving the confused, quiet Yuki long, thoughtful conversations with Kyon that didn't exist in the manga, and Kyon in turn trying to live with this Yuki who loves circling book fairs. We actually get to see what Yuki's reading so we can get some insight into who she is and what she likes unlike gamer addict Yuki where we just know she likes games. Yuki's scrambled mind is brilliantly handled like a television that is constantly crossing channels as she sleeps. When the soundtrack breaks out "Claire de Lune," it's actually using it at an impactful moment rather than something pretty to put on in the background. At the end of it, a breakthrough of deep meaning for Yuki happens. It's everything this series had the potential to be and more for four episodes. 


Then like a passing dream, the arc ends and we have a Tanabata episode where Yuki wishes for everything to stay the same. Oh yeah, and they still do the beach episode in the middle of what should be the climax. Kyon also takes over the narration for the final two episodes, making this work almost pointless and redundant. Taking away emotional empathy and situational control from the main character at the precise moment it's essential completely undermines what little they've built.  I can't even begin to describe the absolute punctuation of failure the finale is. Oh, the music pretends something of great significance happened, but otherwise, the "confession" scene told from Kyon's perspective is a non-event in the lowest order that completely dodges any kind of progression in the worst way. The best part? The ending of the series is the beginning of the infamous franchise arc "Endless Eight." It's the perfect poetic touch from a staff that knows exactly how much it wasted your time.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha..... Go to hell, Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan.


Final Score: 3/10


Etotama
Joe Straatmann

I'm not sure how much of this show intends to be an experiment in screwing with the audience, but like its main character Nya-tan, it tries to be sneakily manipulative. Also like the main character, its manipulation doesn't work nearly as much as it'd like. This is a gag comedy bent on craziness and completely obliterating the fourth wall, but it also wants its central conflict to be taken very seriously. When grand villain Chu-tan takes the stage, she throttles and brutally pounds the happy-go-lucky Nya-tan through tons of concrete and metal, and she even kills someone. When the average Japanese guy who's special for no other reason than the plot requires him to be mourns this death, the show essentially spits on both him and us for giving a damn. If that's the tone for the rest of the series, fine. Eventually, though, it tries to re-create all of this drama again except its attitude plays like, "but we're super mega serious this time!" Fool me once, Etotama...

Let's back up. The basic premise is the spirits Chinese zodiac symbols are real and anthropomorphized, and every few millennia or so, they have a fighting tournament to decide who's going to be on the zodiac. The pint-sized Nya-tan represents the cat who is missing from the zodiac and she wants in, but she to beat ALL of the zodiac to get a place (Why doesn't ranking in the top 12 count?). Thankfully, average Japanese guy with secret gifts Takeru moves into a house with a hole into the spirit world built in and Nya-tan just happens to be popping out of when he gets there. 

I'll try to make this simple because for a light comedy, it surprising has a lot of technical terms and the eye catches spew paragraphs of rules and definitions so extensive, you have to pause the video to read it all. The animal spirits who can transform into maidens (Eto-musumes) run on Sol/Lull, energy humans produce when they feel grateful. The energy becomes the fuel for which they use to fight in the tournament. The zodiac spirits (Eto-shins) get a whole lot of Sol/Lull energy from the regions of Japan they protect. Nya-tan has Takeru, who produces the most pure form of Sol/Lull anyone has ever seen because... well, the audience insert character has to be special for some reason. 

So, Nya-tan becomes Takeru's best friend so she can gather his Sol/Lull and most of the zodiac hangs out at Takeru's house because he interests them even though he has no interesting qualities. He's Tenchi without the ability to fight. The only one not taking part in their antics is Chu-tan, the representation of the rat. Chu-tan and Nya-tan have a history that Nya-tan can't remember because their last encounter went so horribly, she lost her memory. But Chu-tan remembers. Oh, she remembers as she stews in her villain lair thinking about nothing but vengeance only coming out to beat the Sol/Lull out of Nya-tan. She's the funniest character when she's not out for blood if nothing else because she's 100% committed to her seriousness, not seeing the other side of the looking glass where everyone else is getting an illness where they re-enact anime excuses for nudity.

I realize most analysis of comedy is, "This isn't funny" and spinning one's wheels from there, but I'll try to explain why this doesn't work (And I imagine there's a second opinion out there on why it does work). My main issue is it tries to play itself off as smart, but it doesn't really do anything that smart. It constantly has meta humor where the Eto-shins make reference to this being a show and Takeru doesn't get it, and there's an entire episode based around, "Hey, look, here's all the anime tropes we're not going to do except we're totally doing them!" Most of the characters have manic personalities with one or two traits, headed by rapscallion Nya-tan who tries to wheel and deal with the lesser zodiacs to win their battles without even trying. She's annoying and doesn't have an off switch unless you turn her to stone, which does happen. Best recap episode ever! Most of the humor involves noisily playing out the same gags over and over, and it wore on me. The best characters are the quiet ones or the ones who play against type, like Piyo-tan, the representation of the rooster. Passed over by most as a one-joke chicken, she's actually a shoji genius, but unfortunately her bird brain dumps her memory after taking three steps. She works because her character trait doesn't define her, and it's a relatable kind of funny to people who want to be something despite their nature... and then fail.

This series has its fair share of fetching qualities. It looks beautiful with expressive characters, animation that properly captures its slapstick, and CG battles that unveil how far we've come since one of the opening shots of Moribito where mimicking a crane shot crashed the frame rate of a fairly expensive TV show. When Nya-tan has to battle the Eto-shins, they dive into a world where they're made chibi versions of themselves and have a fight in 3D arenas. Separating the battles allows them to be completely fluid and noticeably complex without detracting from the overall look and style of the series. The battle in the final episode is amazing. Unfortunately, since the show already played with the audience's emotions the FIRST time it decided to kill someone off, there is not a whole lot to be invested in and it's extremely predictable how much of the light comedy's darker tangents are going to stick. That is to say none of it. 


Etotama wants to be smarter and tug the heartstrings a little more than the usual madcap comedy, but it tries to be too clever for its own good and gets in its own way. Save a few of the more hectic escapades, I don't exactly regret my time spent with the series, but I am glad it's over.


Final Score: 5/10


Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
Danni Wilmoth

Shounen action can be a pretty stale genre. Virtually every season we're treated to a whole new slough of cookie-cutter shounens about a young boy with incredible amounts of ability and potential setting out to be the best in the world at X and finally surpass his enigmatic father. As you're reading this I'm sure a few different notable ones have crossed your mind, most likely filled with lots of blood and battle. How on earth is one show supposed to stand out among the rest? Well, judging by my time with Food Wars, you make it about cooking. It succeeds pretty incredibly at applying shounen tropes to a comedy about students at an elite cooking school, resulting in what is easily one of my favorite shounens in recent years.

Food Wars's biggest strength lies in the fact its complete self-awareness. It knows full well that giving taking kitchen cook-offs and giving them the same weight and gravitas you'd see in a battle from Bleach has enough comedic merit in and of itself. Instead of playing up the tropes as if to point at itself and go "Look! It's like Hunter x Hunter but with cooking! Isn't that hilarious?!" it instead plays itself completely straight. While many would take the concept and turn it into a parody of shounen, Food Wars functions for all intents and purposes as a legitimate shounen battle anime that just happens to be about cooking. The execution of these intents is incredibly on point, too. Soma is an endearingly dense and reckless protagonist with a heart of gold. He's backed by a large cast of characters memorable in their own individual way, including his friend Megumi as well as Takumi, his lovable rival whose dedication to their rivalry is somewhat unrequited. Every obstacle and battle in Soma and co.'s way is backed by an exciting score and filled to the brim with action shots, passionate internal monologue, and eccentric expressions ranging from complete despair to absolute ecstasy. In addition to its played-straight shounen-ness, it's also well aware of when it needs to be a school comedy. Levity is frequent throughout every episode, dipping to some absurd points. Every episode features at least one scene of someone tasting someone else's cooking and being overcome with ecstasy. We're transported into the tasters mind where they're transported to whatever wonderland the dish wants them to feel. Sometimes these moments take the taster back to the love they felt from their mother as a child. Sometimes these moments send the taster into a straight up fanservice-laced orgasmfest amidst a sea of meat juices. These scenes are likely the most polarizing moments in the show. I find them hilarious, but I have come across those who find them to be too over the top.

Food Wars is, of course, not without its faults. The first episode is easily its worst, featuring less than stellar animation and a plot that exists for no reason other than to show us how good at cooking Soma is before he's tossed into the academy. We're introduced in episode two to Erina, who appears to be the main antagonist to Soma. As a character she feels somewhat bland and is overshadowed but the personalities of the rest of the cast. This hasn't been as big a problem as it would seem, though, since she's had little actual head-to-head battles with Soma so far. Most of the people he's gone up against have either been her lackeys or other students who have their own bone to pick with him. There are also some creepy moments that feel quite similar to sexual coercion, but these remain within the first couple episodes. Overall, I felt the quality steadily rise from the beginning of the series, reaching a great consistency after the first few episodes. I was sold on this show from the start, and it's paid off wonderfully by delivering what might just be my favorite show from this season. I won't be reviewing it going into summer, but I'll definitely still be watching.

First-Cour Score: 8/10

Mikagura School Suite
Joe Straatmann

Amazing what can be forgiven when something's working. The artistic choices that don't quite fit, the thin plot lines that literally have the main character accidentally running into almost every major development, and the fight tournament setup extinguishing its own importance as it goes along. And yet, we have the best main character of anime you will see this year (I'm sure the Blood Blockade Battlefront people who are going to outvote me in everything on the year-end awards will say differently, but I stand by it). Eruna is a fresh blast to the perverted main character archetype as well as someone who makes us love the cast as much as she loves them. 

Eruna is on one mission: To have a passionate and lewd fling with the love of her life like in her dating sims (She digs women, by the way). She chooses her high school based on the attractiveness of the uniforms and their models, and her cousin-whose constant flirts get responded to with pain-suggests his high school, Mikagura, which just happens to have the fetching uniforms she likes and picture model Seisa who will someday be hers. Oh yes, she will be hers.


Mikagura is no average school, though. It's made for people with magic abilities that are expressed in their hobbies. The calligraphy club head uses a giant brush to create objects to attack her opponent, an astronomy club member makes a gun out of his telescope, and so on. Eruna has a destination without a compass with Seisa belonging to the "going-home" club where she isolates herself in a mansion with a hard-as-nails maid protecting her. With no student organization to call her own and the school's lodgings, food, and other benefits heavily weighed on victory in the school's battle competitions, Eruna must live in a sleeping bag, learn the ways of magic combat, and work her way up, maybe someday impressing the reclusive Seisa.  


At first, it seems be a pretty average series. The artistic quality is so-so, and it has a stylistic choice of leaving all the unimportant characters uncolored. This was used in xxxHolic to show the people who exist outside of the awareness of the supernatural, but here, it feels like corner cutting. The battles between the students start off fairly well, but they become less impressive as budgets tighten and deadlines creep in, and indeed the battles themselves get waved off in the middle as rounds of school tournaments are skipped at a time. The story is rather flimsy, centered on Eruna gaining her abilities by stumbling into a room, befriending and training with students in the school, learning their stories, and accidentally stumbling into the next development.


Even Eruna herself isn't the easiest to become attached to at first glance. She's a pervy tail chaser that fails in most anime right out of the chute, and yet, Eruna is awesome. Her forwardness manages to come off as amusing rather than creepy, and she has an infectiously sunny disposition. Best of all, she LEARNS from her experiences in ways you don't see anime characters do that often. She starts off very self-centered and when she befriends the theatre club, they express disappointment that she doesn't show up at their tournament matches to cheer them on. She shows up afterwards without any speck of, "I learned something valuable..." dialogue. She even begins to plan surprise victory celebrations for her friends when they win. When someone thinks she's laying on the flirting too hard, she backs off and tries to find their comfort zone, even if she can't help but the test the waters again later. 


Throughout the series, she befriends a group of misfits who try to keep others at a distance for various reasons, and she finds what their hangups are and puts them under the banner of Eruna's awesome friends, warts and all. For example, her classmate in Gothic Lolita attire Otone has a light personality that is childish and cute and a dark personality that is far more abrasive. Eruna accepts both sides of her as she wouldn't be the Otone she enjoys being around without them. It's a joyful wave of accepting people without feeling like some kind of after school special (Am I showing my age by referencing something two decades out of use?). After all, some of her initial encounters with her growing number of pals do involve trying to get in bed with them. 


I understand Eruna's happy fun time review is a bit of a hard sell, especially when the main conflict appears right at the beginning and the show all but forgets about it until the final episodes, but take a test drive for a couple sessions and see if you like it. It's breezy and uncluttered so it's not a slog, and it might be a lot more lovable than you expect. It's certainly WAY better than a series based on light novels that are inspired by vocaloid songs has any right to be. 


Final Score: 8/10


MY love STORY!!
Jonathan Kaharl

There was a time where I used to hate rom-coms, and if you look at what America has been doing with that genre, it's perfectly understandable why. Anime didn't really have a great track record either, replacing tired dad jokes and general sexism with a whole lot of sappy meaninglessness (Key really did ruin everything). However, I've found myself enjoying the genre since last year, and I think it's because anime and manga are at this point where people are becoming interested with subverting the norms of the genre, partly because of artistic want, and partly because monetary gain because the market is so damn saturated with bad romance. People wanted more, and so more and more creators have given it to them, even stuff nobody knew they wanted. This series is one of those shows nobody knew they wanted, and I'm glad I got this as an assignment, because I may have not watched it otherwise.

My Love Story is brilliant in so many ways. The first way is that it presents this Beauty and the Beast set up, and then goes in a completely different direction. That story was always about the beauty seeing the good in the beast, but here, the beauty already loved the beast from first sight. She's genuinely attracted to him both as a person and on a sexual level. Second, the series seems to set up some sort of love triangle with Takeo's pretty dick of a best friend Suna, but then that friend turns out to be a true friend who's only trying to do what will make his friend happy. Third, it's aware of just how out of place Takeo is in the role of the lead of a romantic comedy, especially a shojo one, but it doesn't run that joke dry and remains fully focused on exploring Takeo as a person and not a walking gag.

So much could have gone so wrong at so many points, but the series almost effortlessly handles everything with fitness and skill. It remembers that the reason people are sticking around after the initial premise is because of the characters, so it lets them have as much fun as possible, while also exploring more dramatic turns. Suna helping Takeo with his date plans while also struggling with the fear of losing his dad in a coming operation has a ton of weight, and the series has everyone actually act with empathy instead of selfishness once they know. On that same note, just exploring the little challenges Takeo and Yamato face with dealing with their own shortcomings is just as engaging. Likability is the key word, and I've seen borderline misogynists and feminists alike enjoy this show for one reason or another. Unless you're the worst sort of person, sometimes you just like watching good people living their lives, even when there's little conflict. Kazune Kawahara and the anime staff got that.

No other show this season was as constantly entertaining or made me quite as happy as this one did, not even the surprisingly powerful Re-Kan. There's something to be said for enjoying life, but it's rarely something that a lot of writers know how to convey in a rewarding way. This series got it nailed, and it should be celebrated for that. Watch the anime, read the manga, do either. You can't go wrong. And good on Madhouse for washing the vile musk of Parasyte away with something both sweet and good.

First-Cour Score: 8/10

Ninja Slayer From Animation
David O'Neil

Ninja Slayer The Animation was a show full of potential. After the underwhelming When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, studio Trigger of Kill la Kill fame was seemingly returning to material more in line with their crazy sensibilities. Not only that, but it was the latest directorial work of Akira Amemiya, one of Trigger's most interesting key animators and the director of the hilarious series of web shorts, Inferno Cop. I was hoping this show would be his oppurtunity to break out of the fun but cheap, simplistic style of Inferno Cop, to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, Ninja Slayer The Animation feels less like a fresh new series to move Trigger forward, and more like an afterthought, a rushed, slapdash attempt to recreate the unique spark that Inferno Cop created, but while messing with the core recipe in a way that ruins the experience as a whole.

Ninja Slayer The Animation is just a show about a ninja fighting other ninjas, which in concept seems like a pretty difficult one to screw up. But the way it's handled can best be described as messy and confused to a point it's impossible to properly engage its audience. On one side, the show attempts to be a spiritual successor to Inferno Cop, with still models of characters being slid on a static background in goofy ways, trying to get laughs out of anti-humor or pure weirdness. Unfortunately, this doesn't work like it did so well in Inferno Cop, as the writing is far less clever and inventive than Inferno Cop's (probably largely a result of the lack of Inferno Cop's writer), the show's longer runtime makes it drag on for far longer than the humor effectively works with, and the switch between Inferno Cop's purposely cheap animation style and actual key animation is so jarring, and works so poorly with the more zany humor, that it damages it as a whole and dampers the humor.

On the other side, Ninja Slayer The Animation at times attempts to drop the toungue in cheek style in favor of one that takes itself more seriously, working more as an homage to 90s action OVAs along with pushing tropes and action to extremes, while still playing it totally straight in order to get laughs. Personally this works far better to me than the style mentioned previously. Early on it seemed as if this was the direction the series was going, but as the series went on it proved itself to be less of a steady incline and more of a fluctuating range of peaks and valleys. The show can never stick with a style for more than an episode before it tries going with the other instead, and as a result even the parts I liked started to get on my nerves as they were never around long enough to build or be expanded on. The result is a show that has no idea what it wants to be, trying to be multiple things to the point it ends up failing at all of those things it strove to achieve in the first place. It isn't very funny, it isn't very exciting, and visually it's an inconsistent disaster. Early on I hoped it could find its groove and grow into an entertaining ride, but what I got was a half0assed mess with no identity of its own.

First-Cour Score: 3/10

Plastic Memories
Joe Straatmann

What we have here is two parts of a show that are vital for each other to survive, and they only have enough resources for one of them to take control in the end. This is as classically designed as television gets. The broader story involves a future where artificial humans are real and fully integrated into society. They replace normal human roles that are missing from the lives of others, but their ten-year lifespan leaves huge gaps as well. The personal story concerns itself with the budding love between a guy new to the working world trying to figure out what to do with his life and an android near the end of her lifespan trying to shut out people before her "death" given one more opportunity at a fulfilling relationship. Together they work well in a boilerplate sci-fi series, but down the stretch, the love story eclipses everything else and it doesn't quite have enough weight to support the whole affair.

Our newbie worker is Tsukasa, a completely average guy who failed his college exams and whose only job prospect is working for the SAI corporation after his father pulled some strings. He is employed as a retriever of Giftias, the androids who have few differences with humans (Though they are major differences). Their personalities start to burn out at ten years even if their bodies are fine, and if they lose all of their programmed selves before they're retrieved and given a new personality, they... well, let's just say nobody wants that to happen. So SAI uses human and Giftia duos to reach an amicable retrieval before time's up. Tsukasa's partner is Isla, a withdrawn Giftia that had a severe deterioration of her last partnership and now spends her days turning herself into the machine she is so she doesn't have to deal with the pain of emotional attachment before her forthcoming retrieval. Their office space is covered with archetypes, most obvious being tsundere Michiru who really hates the idea of the main couple being an item until she doesn't, and even then....


For awhile, this reminded me of syndicated programming from the nineties, late night budget-conscious shows like Time Trax that worked with a solid concept slightly molded from other familiar work, threw in stock characters tempered with enough personality to avoid dullness, and hopefully got enough network affiliates in on the show to be able to go somewhere with the story. Plastic Memories is a more kindly Blade Runner, using the same concept of replicated humans who have limited time spans in a shiny, more asthmatic-friendly future with holographic surfaces covering everything. Some of the in-between animation is lacking and it cuts away from the more intensive action, but it conveys what it wants to adequately enough. As with other shows of it ilk, it tends to divide up episodes into A plots and B plots with one representing the case of the week and the other covering small bits of character development. When it's like this, Plastic Memories is just fine. We get enough world building and ideas on how Giftias would make fascinating changes to how we live, and while the people are mostly stereotypes, there's enough done with them to make them enjoyable. There's even one hell of a mini-arc in the middle of the series simultaneously crossing plots about a boy whose Giftia "mother" is stolen by smugglers and the truth behind how Isla turned away from her humanity.

Then one of the engines shuts down. This is a 13-episode series that needed to be double that to properly fill out the world and create a concurrent plot with the blooming romance in order to not burn out the interest in everything. Alas, with such limited time, the world and any larger implications get jettisoned as everything goes full bore into the lovers. The looming threat of the office getting shut down by budget problems vanishes, no further development of who the smugglers are and what exactly they do with Giftias is given, and the only case dealt with during this time is a nonstarter involving a bodyguard who throws out fortune cookie philosophies that kinda' sorta' tie into Tsukasa and Isla's relationship. Everyone stops what they're doing and begin living vicariously through the couple. Given they could only have one choice, they picked the right path to go down, but this section is such a slog of dating cliches that they wear down the anime until I had enough of the whole venture.

To be completely fair, the final episode is about perfect. If you didn't get too tired of the thin characters stretched much further than they're supposed to be and if you don't mind the fascinating world getting its development abruptly cut off, the ending hits every single note it's supposed in exactly the right way. From the long, silent opening savoring the dawn to the final fade to white, it's the emotional salad bar it should be without cheating for a happier ending or pissing on the characters for a sadder one. I might just pop the finale on now and then. The rest of the series is disappointingly much easier to leave behind.

Final Score: 6/10

PUNCH LINE
Jonathan Kaharl

Well, that was disappointing.

Let me make it clear that Punch Line is not a bad show. It's just ...well, it shouldn't have been a show. Punch Line is the brain child of Kotaro Uchikoshi, and it's both this series and a currently in development visual novel. Thankfully, I can say that the show stands on its own. There's a good character arc and an ending for that main character, and everything wraps up well enough. Mostly. It does have a "play the VN!" ending of sorts, but it pulls it off in a somewhat satisfying way. I know that sounds weird, but I mean it, and we learn enough to be satisfied with everything dealing with the story here. There's still a lot of world building stuff not explored, but exploring world building in an anime usually goes horribly wrong, so kudos on staying focused.

Where we run into a problem is that Uchikoshi is a visual novel writer, not an anime writer. He does not make the transition to this medium well. There are a lot of VN adaptation issues on display here, mainly the use of overly long dialog bits about how the world functions, but the big problem is that Uchokoshi does not know how to condense that well. He had a lot of ideas for this series, and he only got twelve episodes. It was enough to make a full story arc, but not enough to really dig at the meat of all the crazy concepts he throws around, and a lot of things are explained very matter of factually, robbing twists of their power. He also lacks the ability to flesh out characters fully through text.

See, I love Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors, his breakthrough DS cult hit that really put him on a lot of radars. It has an amazing story ...that cannot work as an anime. The man's use of metaphysics and character monolog don't work here because he doesn't have time to explore and explain these concepts without sacrificing something, and his ability to convey character depth without an observer of some sort is pretty low. The various characters of the series are all basically arctypes, and none of them really move beyond those arctypes, and while the series does attempt to explore themes of redemption and responsibility (among a ton of other things) with these characters, it doesn't really have much impact. Most time with the Korai House girls is just watching them fap about, or get into really stupid arguments and spats. Their character development is either already finished, or gets rushed in the last two episodes, which is mostly an extended battle sequence. Yuta isn't particularly strong as a lead either, becoming a really generic save the girl hero dude guy. A lack of exploring the impact his past had on him really hurts things.

They tried this with the big bad at the end, with some quick flashbacks via stills, and I appreciate what they were trying, but it had no real impact. It's a case of too little, too late, because the series was trying too hard to surprise early on, laying down world structure and little hints at bigger revelations. There was no real time to explore the cast, especially with how restricted Ghost Yuta was for the sake of the cat's plans.

I'd like to image what this would be like with more time to actually let a great talent do what he does best. Maybe buying the VN is the best course of action. Punch Line isn't a bad series by any means, it's just lacking. Also, kind of annoyed by how utterly ridiculously pointless the panties thing was. It alienated a lot of people from the show and never had a real payoff joke or anything like that. If anything, it robbed a lot of scenes of their power. Hindsight sucks, man. I enjoyed Punch Line in the end, but this is not what I wanted from a talent this impressive.

Final Score: 6/10

Re-Kan!
Jonathan Kaharl

I can't quite think of a bigger surprise in recent memory than Re-Kan. This slice-of-life with ghosts gag show should have been nothing particularly special. A lot of the time, it was like a lost relic from the K-ON! era of dominance, with a lot of cute fluff and meaningless gags. But then it would mix in a surprise moment of heart, and then sucker punch you with a whole lot of happy and sad right when you least expected it. By the end, Re-Kan became one of the best shows of the season by a large margin, and one of my personal favorites.

So, what happened? Well, the ghost angle was actually used in an effective way beyond gags. Amami's psychic powers aren't just a means to get in funny ghost antics, but an important part of her identity, making her a connection between the living and the dead. This is where the series centers its best moments, like helping Inoue make an egg dish that will help her cousin cope with his mom's hospitalization, or letting a mother and her dead daughter reconcile after years apart. The series is also smart enough to just let these scenes speak for themselves sometimes, keeping the soundtrack mellow or cutting it entirely at times. The good visual direction and use of lighting really help sell the mood, especially the heavy use of sunset colors.

The running theme of the show is connections. We see how people affect each other and make their lives better by interacting, even if they have to make a sudden or sad goodbye, and Amami's abilities allow people to remember those connections or find closure. This even extends to her friends, whom grow thanks to interactions with the other side. It's beautifully handled stuff, and it gives a surprising amount of depth to a story with very simplistic characters. And I mean simple. Inoue is a very basic tsundere, Ogawa is the resident weirdo, Yamada is the idiot guy friend that rightfully gets punched when he needs it, ect. The ghosts are all also defined mostly by a single simple trait, like the Roll Call Samurai being a samurai, or the Kogal ghost being a relic from the 1990s. It's all the thematic meat and how the show sells the dramatic moments that elevates all this and gives the series its charm.

Along with some fun running gags (don't even get me started on the cat), Re-Kan always managed to make me feel good about life, despite being a show that deals directly with depth. There's a sweetness to it, but also a much richer flavor that comes out and really rewards a watch, and it's easily one of the best slice of life comedy shows I've seen. I highly recommend it.

Oh, and Amami and Inoue are totally gay. Really, really gay. And that's great.

Final Score: 8/10

RIN-NE
Stephanie Getchell

The spring season brought a variety of shows that managed to stand out for various reasons. There were the outstanding ones that had high energy and wonderful story and then there were the not so outstanding that lacked in the story department as well as solid material anyway. Occasionally, there are series that seem to fly completely under the radar and go almost unnoticed. Rin-Ne is one that falls under this category.

Sakura Mamiya has seen the spirits of the dead for as long as she can remember, and it becomes a day to day struggle just to keep them from chasing her. One day she meets Rinne Rukudo, a half human and half shinigami who's job it is to send those spirits left behind to the other side. The moment she becomes involved with Rukudo, Sakura is thrown in a whirlwind of hijinks both from restless spirits as well as the Damashinigami, who are determined to send living beings to the afterlife long before their time in order to fill their quota. With the help of the black cat familiar Rokumon, the exorcist Tsubasa Juumonji, and fellow shinigami Ageha, Sakura and Rukudo take on the every day challenges that being a shinigami brings as well as crippling debt... Thanks dad!

Since the beginning I have commented on the show's consistency in both story and character development, and I do still stand by that comment even now... Kind of. While the story is still decent with episodes 9-11 taking on our first real interaction with Rokudo's father and 12 the beginning of a new arc where Ageha is introduced, some of the hijinks that occur are sometimes over the top and crazy that you can occasionally face palm. However it is very self aware of itself and doesn't give a damn, going for those classic cliches and troupes like it's no one's business. But the larger problem I have is with the character development. While much of the main cast has gained something at some point in time, our lead female, Sakura, hasn't really changed much at all. Her character is, essentially, the straight man of the crew who almost never falls for the silliness that occurs as Rokudo's issues with money and Juumonji's infatuation with Sakura tend to lead to rather humorous moments in the series. It's nice to see a straight man within the chaos, however it isn't as wonderful to see the character lack some kind of growth in the series. But, to be fair, the last few episodes see something peaking out so that may change.

What's interesting to me is that this series derives from the same manga author as Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2. While I haven't seen the latter of the two, I can see some fantasy elements that Rin-Ne has to Inuyasha. I can only take a guess that the humor is similar to Ranma, but only a guess. However Rin-Ne seems to be lacking a bit more because it is trying to emulate previous work a little too much and it's possible that it could fail in the end. There is a reason why I hear so few people talking about this series.

What Rin-Ne has accomplished, so far, is a decent supernatural story with humor and a dash of romance for good measure. While there isn't a heavy plot line during the first half of the series, the encounter with Sabato Rokudo will certainly make for one in the coming episodes in more ways than one. It's consistency is wonderful to me, and the show deserves a little bit more attention then what I have seen it receive this season. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it's a little diamond in the rough that is just waiting ever so patiently for someone to pick it up.

First-Cour Score: 6/10

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign
David O'Neil

No other show I watched this season left a bad first impression on me quite like Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign. The first episode was a disaster, a painfully bland mix of tired cliches, sloppy storytelling, and a big dumb moment meant to be brutal and emotional, that just came off as unintentionally and darkly funny in how it was presented. So I find it somewhat amusing, that as I finished the final episode of the first cour I found myself wanting more. Even if I'm seriously considering getting more through means other than Wit's anime adaptation.

The story of Seraph doesn't offer much new or unique, it's a pretty by-the-numbers post apocalyptic "Humanity vs. Supernatural force" story that, at least so far, does very little to mix things up. Even most of the series' few twists and turns were ones that could be seen from miles away for anyone who's seen a show or film with a similar set up. In addition, it isn't exactly the brightest action show out there either. It pushes suspension of disbelief to some pretty significant extremes, and the show often expects its audience to simply accept things because that's the way it has to work to move the plot forward. Seraph's real strength comes in the form of its characters. While none of them are especially heavy on depth, nearly the entire cast the series boasts is likable and fairly memorable. The interactions of the main cast of heroes is fun, charming, and believable in how their relationships evolve over the course of the show. A lot of the show's core themes are about family and companionship, so it's a huge success in the show's favor that it managed to make the "family" at the center of the show feel genuine and compelling. I'd really love to see these character more, to see more of their interactions, struggles, and developments because they're simply good characters that the show made me care about.

Unfortunately, with the final stretch of the show came a fatal blow. For the majority of Seraph, there was a major card Wit had yet to fully play on the field. The action. Despite being an action shonen series, early Seraph was very light on action, and when it did show up it looked fairly good but not too impressive. Considering Wit is the studio behind shows like Rolling Girls and Attack On Titan, which largely relied on their dynamic and exciting action animation to stay engaging, I was hoping Seraph would deliver when the big, action-heavy finale finally came around. What I got during those last few episodes was immensely disappointing. Sluggish action, laden with still-frames, a lack of any tension or stakes in major action beats, and that's only scratching the surface. It's damn near catastrophic for an action show like this to so hugely underwhelm in that very area. Seraph does have its strengths, and I enjoyed it a lot of the time. It's strong characters managed to keep me interested in the hackneyed story from beginning to end. Unfortunately, Wit's handling of the action in the final stretch felt like a final nail in the coffin for me. Unless there's some major improvements in animation quality, I probably won't be picking up Seraph when the next cour comes around.

First-Cour Score: 4/10

Show by Rock!!
David O'Neil

Usually I wouldn't give a show with a premise like Show By Rock! anything more than a side glance for fear of catching some of its terrible, but unfortunately Bones has earned my trust to a large enough extent I try to give everything they produce at least a chance to impress me. From Bones (studio behind Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist, Wolf's Rain, Eureka Seven, the list goes on) comes Show By Rock!, an anime series based off a mobile phone game about animal idols who turn into CG furries in order to battle evil monsters and put on extravagant performances. This is all may sound rather terrible, but despite it's cash-in origins and cringe-worthy set up, Show By Rock! has a lot more to offer than it may at first seem.

From a story standpoint Show By Rock! is about as predictable as it gets, pretty much every plot point is ripped directly out of other magical girl shows or idol shows and it all goes along a pretty typical arc that doesn't have much in the form of surprises. After the first episode I had an image in my head of how the series would end, and the ending I got was almost exactly what I imagined all the way back then. With that said, the show does manage to shine primarily through its comedy. The gags of Show By Rock! are crazy, over the top, and mostly effective. When the characters really start bouncing humor off of each other properly it becomes really entertaining, especially with how Bones' animation works with the humor to add even more energy to the show's zany attitude. It does utilize some CG animation during the action and performance scenes, and while I would've preferred 2D animation, as far as anime CG animation goes it's actually quite good. The characters are simple, but for the most part diverse and fun. Some characters are better than others though, while many are memorable a lot of others, while some, while still likable, feel more like afterthoughts.

My biggest issue with the show was mostly the latter half of it. While Show By Rock! starts off strong with a good batch of early episodes that are novel and engaging, as time goes on that novelty starts to wear off and the show wasn't quite able to hold my attention like I'd hoped. It really slows down during the second half of the show and doesn't quite mix things up enough, instead focusing on pretty tired plotlines involving monsters feeding on the darkness in people's souls, and not focusing enough on the comedy to make up for the boring story. Things do pick up when the show's finale comes around, and the way it all wraps up was very satisfying as a climax. There was action, lots of big moments, and even some really good animation. It was a good end to the show. Show By Rock! didn't do much new, and got a bit slow towards the end, but it's still an fun comedy with cute characters and well executed visuals.

Final Score: 5/10

Sound! Euphonium
Stephanie Getchell

I've mentioned this before, but I used to be in band when I was growing up. I didn't keep up with it in high school, however, because I had found theatre as my passion, but I do understand what happens and what everyone goes through when they are in band whether it may be a concert band, marching band, or even a jazz band. Initially, when the spring season was fast approaching, I saw Sound! listed and the concept alone grabbed my interest as well as the fact that this was to be a series from Kyoto Animation. My hopes were rather high going into it since Amagi Brilliant Park didn't far as well as I would have liked. But once I completed this series, my feelings have become rather mixed.

Kumiko has begun her first year in high school as she joins the concert band as a euphonium player. She becomes fast friends with Kanzaki and Midori, a new tuba player and seasoned contrabass player, as the trio spend their after school time with their club activities. However, things aren't easy for the concert band as their early decision to pursue nationals bring with it many complications and conflicts along the way. From members quitting the band to auditions and even to the mixed feelings regarding their advisor, Taki, it's hard to say whether or not the entire group will be able to come together in time for the first real competition. But let's not forget, this is still high school where studies, friendships, and love occurs. It's a time to grow and spread your wings, and for this group of high schoolers, it will be a long and interesting road.

While I've praised the series over and over again for the band aspects, it's rather difficult to give praise to other parts of it. The story grows in a natural progression and actually ended in a way that I didn't expect it to, the characters are what make things a bit more mixed. Some gain development while others remain one note throughout and it's something that both puts me at ease and yet also frustrates me. For our main groups of girls, Kumiko, Hanzaki, Midori, and Reina, Kumiko is, really, the only one who grows in character by the time the series ends. This is wonderful as she is the lead overall and the one we follow throughout. But I would have loved to have seen much more from the other three girls as well. Particularly Reina, because outside of a few small moments, her personality doesn't ever really try and move past the surface level. This brings me to the amount of queer baiting during the latter half of the series. While I did find it weird, at first, the more I watched the second half unfold, the more I felt the relationship between Kumiko and Reina to become rather odd. I liked that they got closer as friends, however there wasn't really any need for their relationship to borderline dating. While handled like it should, which I commend Kyoto Ani on, it just wasn't necessary for the series overall.

What seemed to come off as a wonderful story about the trials of a group of band kids, ends up as a story about their growth and determination as they pursue their goals. While that is the highlight of the series, and the animation compliments this wonderfully, the teenage angst and the relationships between characters either ends up unfulfilled by series end or is successful but not in the way I would have liked. Sound! Euphonium has been an interesting ride for me to experience, and it's one I am glad I didn't drop. However, I will admit there are aspects that could use improvement and some are much more obvious than others. I do know that those in a band or who have been involved in the arts will understand this series more than anyone. Others may have a bit of a harder time, but I can see some being able to see what's enjoyable. In the end, this series managed to ignite the band geek in me once more and that's more than enough of a success for me.

Final Score: 6/10

Triage X
Danni Wilmoth

A month ago, when I last wrote on Triage X, there was only one episode left to air. I was left dreading wondering where it would go in the finale. As it turns out, every single horrifying prediction I had imagined turned out to be wrong. So, what direction DID Triage X go for its final episode, you ask? Well, uh...

...Nowhere. It went nowhere.

I can honestly sum up the entire events of the tenth and final episode of Triage X in one sentence. The girls reminisced on episode nine in a hot spring before Arashi went out on a random car chase. That was literally the entire 24-minute finale. Nothing with any relation to the previous nine episodes happened. The first half of the episode follows the girls bathing together, leaving literally almost every scene COVERED in steamy censors. Then Arashi and Mikoto are tasked with catching a violent criminal involved in a highway chase with the police. They succeed in catching him and Mikoto takes a girl he had kidnapped to the hospital on Arashi's bike. As the final credits roll on Triage X, we're treated to an exciting scene wherein Arashi leisurely walks down the weirdly barren highway following after Mikoto. That's it. The end. Series over. A lot of shows manage to leave some plot threads unresolved, but Triage X  goes above and beyond and doesn't resolve ANY plot threads. Even the characters realize and allude to this! I should mention the fact that Triage X is scheduled to have an OVA. Sure, yeah, that will probably have the proper ending. Big fucking whoop. Who the hell airs a show on TV whose final episode can only be accessed by buying the home release? Forcing your audience to pay to see the real ending for anything is fucked up, especially if the show sucks complete ass. Even when Capcom forced me to pay for the real ending of Asura's Wrath, at least at the end of the day I can be happy that Asura's Wrath was an amazing game.

It really blows my mind. Out of all the ways I expected Triage X to fail in its finale, it never once occurred to me that they'd completely fail at actually making one. Its ten allotted episodes have all aired, and there's no indication that there'll be a season two, yet Triage X hasn't ACTUALLY ended. It's still airing right now. It has been and always will be an ongoing anime I can't escape from. It robbed me of hours and hours of my life and didn't even have the decency to give me a single conclusion. I felt triumphant going into the finale. I thought I'd finally be free from this show. It tore that away from me. I'm simply cursed now because I watched this godawful show.

There's much more I'm sure I could write. I could go on and on about the technical quality of this show. I could even go on longer about the show's complete and shameless misogyny, but you know what? I'm not going to. I'm done. I'm fucking done. I've given this show enough of my time. No more. I'm not spending a god damn minute more dwelling on Triage X. This is the worst anime I've ever seen and I pray to God I never see an anime more deserving of that title than this show. I'd give it a 0/10 if I could. It has no redeeming qualities at all - not a single moment of decency. Fuck it. I fucking hate this fuck fucking fuck show. Fuck.

Final Score: 1/10

Ultimate Otaku Teacher
Joe Straatmann

This is so banally middlebrow, I struggle to come up with enough fervor to give it a proper review. Slapped next to Detective Conan, it's one of the premier ratings time slots for anime, which also means it has to be somewhat palatable for the normies. While Conan's previous dancing partner Magic Kaito 1412 (both based on manga by the same author) had curious details like Kaito's mother murdering police officers when she first met his father, it's as standard and classical as anime comes. That was just fine for Kaito, but Ultimate Otaku Teacher is something that really needs to fly a freak flag and instead winds up with a character who is surprisingly bland as an eccentric teacher doling out oversimplified and extremely idealized solutions. This is the kind of teaching without teaching anything made popular in such movies as The Dead Poets Society. Many really liked that one. I prefer my teachers to do some damn teaching.

Junichiro Kagame is a genius who could change the world if only he was motivated. He lives under the "Yearn to Do" philosophy (Or YD) where he does only what he desires to do, which is run the number one anime blog in the world and absorb every ounce of otaku culture. His sister Suzune has to pay the bills he runs up, so she suggests with a cricket bat at hand that he do something else with his life. She gets him a substitute physics teaching job where he makes his class play a cell phone game to get to know them. His atypical style draws the attention of Koyomi Hiiragi, the wealthy chairwoman of Hiiragi Academy. She has a philosophy of invigorating Japan's education by hiring entertaining and unconventional teachers to reach the youth, and Junichiro may fit the bill. As a test, he has to shape up a delinquent class in one of Hiiragi's lesser schools before she gives him a prime position at the academy with her namesake.

I want to state right off the bat that I don't believe one iota of Junichiro as a character. He is as smugly perfect as characters get and his only weakness is he doesn't want to do things. Does he have trouble going out, being social, or expressing himself? Not at all. I know, not all nerds have social difficulties, but this guy breezes through everything with his only difficulty being his addiction to otaku culture which is used to help people throughout the show, so does that even count? That's not to mention he has a habit of only helping people who further the cause of otakudom. There's a small student being bullied by an extraordinary strong guy, and Junichiro doesn't lift a finger for him UNTIL he realizes the smaller kid has an anime character as a cell phone accessory. Our hero: He only protects the little guy if it furthers his agenda!

The "lessons" themselves fare a little bit better, give or take. The plots for two-three episodes at a time usually revolve around whatever problem student Junichiro has and how he uses his specific set of skills to resolve the matter. Some have a pretty good handle on things, like when he finds out the female MMORPG partner he's teamed with for a year is actually a delinquent male student. Some find far-too-easy solutions to problems or duck out of things that are more difficult to answer for a lark of a show such as this. One of Junichiro's students is conveniently a mangaka who makes one of his favorite manga, and there's a genuine question of whether someone who is already successful at their craft really needs school. That question is still hanging out as the series continues to ignore it and waits for it to go away. Generally, the heart is in the right place with these stories, but they don't execute in a way that feels satisfying or has any particular link to reality. It's a goof of a series that flails many times when it attempts to inspire.

On the positive side of things, the supporting cast manages to have its moments. As the students add up in the classroom, they have decent chemistry and banter. Sachiko, the manga author, finds a variety of amusing ways to set up certain circumstances ,trying to "make" moments happen for her sketches (Junichiro and Suzune have a particularly awkward one). They don't feel like one-note characters as they do students who are slowly coming into their own with the added over-the-top level of anime comedy.

In the end, though, Ultimate Otaku Teacher is simply average. It looks passable at best. Its message over and over essentially boils down to, "Be yourself and don't let anyone else stop you." Hardly new territory. The students are mostly cool, but their teacher-the main character-is a dick we're supposed to love. It has some entertainment value, but it mostly sits there, passing time. I won't hold it against you if you enjoy it, but I have much too much on my plate at the moment to even think about following this to its second cour.

First-Cour Score: 5/10

Wish Upon the Pleiades
Jonathan Kaharl

Magical girl shows have had problems over the past several years, mainly because otaku decided to adopt the medium and make it gross, while the main tent-bearers nowadays are Toei, who have become infamous for the sheer amount of shoddy work they put out. There's also been an obsession with making darker works because Urobuchi did it well with Madoka Magica, and that brought us Day Break Illusion, the show with the underage lesbian that became an evil werewolf with dangling tits. Gainax in this day and age, especially in a car tie-in project, would be the last saviors I'd expect for this genre, yet here we are with Wish Upon the Pleiades, an almost pacifist take on the genre that mixes in some metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and lord knows that's my crack.

Instead of battles, Pleiades instead focused on the characters overcoming hardships through capturing fragments of a magical engine that runs on possibility, trying to beat a jerk magician with red hair to the punch through team work. It's also far more heavily invested in the theme of growth, using that whole physical possibility thing in surprisingly clever ways. Every episode brings at least one character a step closer to better understanding themselves and making choices that define them, while the main villain's motivation turns out to be a cruel inverse of that, which I didn't see coming. Continuity between Subaru and Minato is also very loose on purpose, with the two remembering things differently, but for reasons that seem to make perfect sense within the reality bending narrative.

Minato turns out to be a far more fascinating character than expected, with a truly tragic past and an understandable frustration born from the same desires that led the main cast to coming closer together. It's a beautiful little twist that gets a very poignant ending, an ending that leaves a lot open in the perfect way. The rest of the cast is equally likable and with their own bits of depth, like Aoi's want to be more feminine and confident with that identity, or Hikaru's fear of hindering the people she cares about through her interference. Even Subaru has some layers, partly wanting to stagnate once she starts to change, but realizing that things can't stay the same forever and that she can only truly change as a person by accepting this fact.

This is something that takes the best elements from the genre on both sides. It has a beautiful little story about growing up with very relatable young girl leads, but also works in more adult concepts to enhance its themes, but remains mature in the sense that it can talk frankly in a way that any audience can appreciate. There's little in the way of bombast, but there's so much soul and charm here despite. And the space flight scenes are just incredible, especially because the studio stopped using CG characters during action bits as often. This has me excited to see what Gainax can become in this decade, especially with how well it compliments their vastly underrated and similar C3-BU. Well done, Gainax, now don't fuck this good will up next show.

Final Score: 7/10

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
Jonathan Kaharl

Well hey, that was better than I was expecting. Then again, this was a show that initially started with a gender bending premise, so that's usually a red flag, but it was made by someone who actually did something interesting with the concept. Miki Yoshikawa's take on body swapping with characters of different sex and gender goes for the walk in another's shoes angle, and that was a very wise decision. However, it also gives the series a mess of subtext related to puberty, maturing as a person, and even a bit of play with sexuality. That really added a lot to my enjoyment (THERE'S SO MUCH GAY KISSING, YOU GUYS).

At the heart of things, Yamada-kun is simply a story of a delinquent in a mid-teens crisis growing up and expanding his world. All the magic stuff is a means to an end to get the characters out of their immature phases and mindsets and force them to confront others and learn more about themselves. Love, lust, hate, envy, ambition, loneliness, despair, fear, hurt, and so much more is all wrapped up in this strange comedic, magical school drama that's basically a mess of love triangles and political squabbles. It's really funny, really heartfelt, and has a likable cast of complex characters bouncing off each other brilliantly. It's just a mess of fun! But it's also not rated higher because it suffers some aggravating issues.

The big problem is that it crams a lot of content in a short time span, after the first few episodes try to let things breathe. There's some whiplash once the plot kicks in, as the show-runners realize, holy shit, we only have roughly half a series to introduce the other witches! It feels like a lot was cut out, especially with certain supporting characters, and some arcs were rushed. The finale is the same as the manga arc it adapts (and leaves things open for another season later), but that also feels crammed to get things over with quickly. Emotional impact is lost for a good deal of it because so much new information is just shoved at the audience within two episodes. There is no room to let things sink in, because damn it, there's only two more episodes left! Maybe stopping with the seventh witch reveal and getting more done in a second season would have been a wiser move, but I guess that didn't happen and they wanted to at least have a satisfying ending for the audience. But man, they could have shortened so much at the start to speed things up and let meatier events later have some leg room.

There's also some general production issues, especially in some cheap animation and dull music, but the strength of the source material really shines through despite. A major plus is the cast, which involves several people playing different characters because of the body switching power. Saori Hayami deserves an award, I swear. They capture the lively energy of the story, along with the melancholy edge, and just get it down perfect. Oh, and Jun Fukuyama as the class president was perfect casting. Yamada-kun has a lot going for it, and while you may be better off reading the manga in the long run, there's a lot to like in this adaptation.

Final Score: 7/10

Second Opinions

Blood Blockade Battlefront

David: Blood Blockade Battlefront had a lot to live up to. After all, it was from animation studio Bones (my all time favorite anime studio), Rie Matsumoto, the director of Kyousougiga (one of my favorite anime of the past few years), and was adaptation of a manga by Yasuhiro Nightow, the creator of Trigun (one of my first anime that got me interested in the medium). So it says a lot that even with all that hyping it up, Blood Blockade Battlefront still managed to impress me. There isn't a whole lot in it from a story standpoint, in fact a majority of the time the show is mostly just an action comedy on sugar rush, rapidly jumping from plot point to comedy gag to action scene at a rapid pace. Luckily, the world is interesting, the gags are clever, the characters are endearing, and the action is excellent. It has flaws, for instance I felt a lot of the side characters felt criminally underutilized, the show has a big cast but many of the characters barely get any screen time to develop, or even establish much of a personality, instead being stilted in favor of just a few characters. The show frequently focuses on an anime original story following a mysterious young girl named White and her brother Black. This is where the story, and Matsumoto's directorial ability truly shines its brightest, even if it at times clashes somewhat with the show's goofy, careless tone. It blends just well enough, and results in some great moments that range from touching, to heartbreaking. The show still isn't actually over, Bones has been pulling a Kizumonogatari, constantly delaying it with no word on when exactly it will actually arrive, but what has been released was a sweet, crazy, and fun as hell ride. Final(ish) Score: 8/10

Jonathan: Boy, I sure wish I could finish watching this show! Shenanigans with production aside, this is easily one of the best of the year. It's a great showcase for the mess of skills Rie Matsumoto has as a director, and a big pile of editing and cinematography porn. It helps it has strong material to adapt, and the anime original additions actually add to the series instead of subtract or distract. It's both thematically rich and ridiculously entertaining, almost at times to the point of dada. But most importantly, Klauz V Reinherz is the greatest human being that has ever lived and it is important that he exists. Final(ish) Score: 10/10

Stephanie: This one is a little tough to finish up because, as of writing this, the final episode hasn't been released and won't be for some time due to scheduling. While that does kinda make things difficult, that doesn't mean I still can't say that Blood Blockade Battlefront was the favorite for me this season! While being full of energy and laughs, it also has a consistent story line and very engaging characters to follow that it gave me flashbacks to both Baccano and Trigun several times! But what makes this even more interesting is that the anime may actually have diverged from the original source material and in a rather large way thanks to the Black and White plot line. To be fair, it's just hearsay at this point (Wikipedia says they're anime only characters), but based on what little I could find it is a huge possibility. Therefore I do have to commend director Rie Matsomoto for the risk because the change is not all that noticeable and is one I would never had picked up on without being told otherwise. The broadcast dub from FUNimation, this season, has also been rather full of surprises with names I never thought I would here for a very long time like Phil Parsons or Mark Stoddard. I should learn by now that when in doubt you jump on the Mike McFarland train, but the man still knows how to do a little magic when it comes to his directing and his casting choices. While we will be waiting a while for the series to wrap up, I don't mind waiting ever so patiently. From all the hype it's been getting as well as where the 11th episode ended, I really want more! Maybe even a second season too?! But, if all else fails, I'll track the manga down since Dark Horse Comics licensed it! Final(ish) Score: 10/10

Etotama

Jonathan: A bit of wasted potential, but still pretty fun, and deserved way more success than it got (it was a huge bomb). The series has energy and a ton of fun characters to play around with, and I loved some of the concepts thrown around, like god running a maid cafe, or Nya-tan trying to carve out a character type for herself in the cast. Trying to work in drama was where the show started to crumble under its own weight, though it makes up for it a bit with a stupidly silly ending. I admire that they tried to do more than what was necessary, but they probably just should have stuck to hijinks. I would have also liked to have seen more time spent with the other Eto-shin, who are all just wonderful in their own way, especially the snake, rooster, and rabbit. I am still made that Shaa-tan's episode was a goddamn recap. I WILL NEVER FORGIVE THIS TRANSGRESSION. But still, I had a good deal of fun, and I'll be damned if that CG wasn't some of the best I have ever seen. Glad I stuck around. Final Score: 7/10

Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Jonathan: Well, it certainly wasn't the SAO 2.0 disaster so many were expecting, but it's not really that good either. From the two episodes I watched, I can say that this has a lot of fun elements to it, mainly solid action and the good dynamic between its lead characters. At the same time, it's very much light novel garbage that makes the twerpish Bell into an uber special person because he has a power all of his own that gives him endless potential to be the best warrior ever and he has to protect anything with a vagina because that's what manly men do and his dad told him to be like that so he has to and he can't be with women if he's not manly and and blah blah blah. The misogynistic power fantasy bullcrap is a major running theme, and it's what scared me off from watching more, despite all the nice things like Hestia and the elf clerks who wear suits. We need more elves in suits. Still, there are far worse things you could like. Two episodes: 6/10

MY love STORY!!

Stephanie: I promise with this last report that I'll refrain from all the diabetes cute comments like I have been these past several weeks. To be fair, it is one of it's draws, but what really gives My Love Story it's appeal is a slightly updated version of the Beauty and the Beast story, but set in a high school and given lots of comedy to go with it. The trio of leads are really fleshed out even with such a small amount of time, and the bond that grows between them is very well done! Especially with Suna's character as he has gone from the third wheel into someone much more complex then what I had originally thought he was going to be. Yamato's brand of cute and her admiration for Takeo is a wonderful balance to his gentle giant personality, while the friendship between Takeo and Suna may sometimes borderline bromance, but it's still well thought out! Actually, the writing in general is clever and full of precious little moments reminding me of when I first started dating. Granted, it wasn't the extent that this show goes, but it now has me wishing for a relationship similar to Takeo and Yamato's. Every little thing about this series has been absolutely wonderful since day one, and I can happily say that this series is among my favorites of this season! First-Cour Score: 9/10

Ninja Slayer From Animation

Joe: Ninja: The Mission Force kinda' ninja'd me out of parody series that relentlessly pound the concept of ninja-ing everything into the brink of insanity. It's okay, I laughed a few times, the Boom Boom Satellites theme is awesome, but I wavered on my interest after it started to get serious. I'm guessing I bailed at just the right time. Five episodes: 5/10

Jonathan: This was a mistake on Trigger's part. I really like how the show started, with this meta-awareness that it's trashy garbage and a complete uncaring for traditional animation and story beats. It was like a long lost Williams Street cartoon, and it was glorious. Unfortunately, the series thought it was a good idea to seriously explore its characters and try doing straight faced drama, and the show just does not work with this well. A huge problem is the idiotic source material, which is about as morally complex as a 90s superhero comic and throws around rape as a means for drama pretty casually. Everyone else besides Ninja Slayer might as well not exist in the show for as little interesting traits they have, and the Slayer himself is a very been done scorned family man on a self-destructive rampage trope with no interesting turns on it. When the show stops being funny, it just utterly crumbles. I didn't even finish it. I may try the televised airing, as I suspect this is a trial run to test airing in development shows to gather an audience for televised airings, but I'm certainly not finishing it now. Seven episodes: 3/10

Plastic Memories

Jonathan: What a waste of time. I liked Steins;Gate a lot, and this series had absolutely no positive qualities from that series, only the negative ones (stock female characters, too much set-up, ect). It's really just emotion porn at the core. You know what you're getting when you start it, and you hope it zig-zags in another direction like Steins;Gate did ...and it never does. It doesn't help most of the time is spent on just god awful "comedy" scenes where the main character just can't make things romantic, and this apparently becomes a regular thing into the final episodes. Yikes. Our main characters are about as stock as possible, and all the co-workers aren't much better. This series made me hate the comedic pervert relief girl and I didn't even think that was a possible thing. It shows a lot of promise at points, like the first job the main couple do together, but these moments were few and far between. Also, super silly slapstick doesn't really gel with a show about a robot girl coming to terms with her coming death and a guy's attempts to let her love someone again. This was just so badly handled. Four episodes: 5/10

RIN-NE

Jonathan: Takahashi, my old nemesis. We meet again. Well, this is miles better than Inuyasha, I'll give her that. This is easily the most old school anime I've seen in the modern age (besides one Summer show we'll get to next week), and in sort of a mixed way, including a downgrade in production quality. It has really cheesy humor, but it works way better than it should, and it has a cast of likable characters. I like the gimmick that the main character is a death god that has to use money to do his job and is dirt poor, and I really like how little of a shit the psychic girl gives about any of this. Takahashi is really good at making super likable aloof characters, along with particularly silly ones, something she never got to really do much in Inuyasha. But I just didn't have much interest to watch something so middle of the road, and from someone who's already burned me too many times before. I do not really have much fate in the woman who wasted so many years of my life on "IS DEMON GUY DEAD YET????" Two episodes: 6/10

Sound! Euphonium

David: Kyoto Animation gets a lot of flack for it's fluff slice of life shows like K-On, but when pointed in the right direction, I personally believe they're one of the best studios in the business, and its been a while since a show showed this quite as well as Sound! Euphonium did. From a visual standpoint the show is flat out gorgeous, there's tons of attention to lighting, detailed backgrounds, and interesting and shot composition. From an animation standpoint it's not KyoAni's best, but still as energetic and bursting with fluid character acting as I typically expect from their talented animators. It features a big cast of fun characters as well, ones who often have a lot more going on than it at first seems. The show has some strong character development and great emotional moments, even if in the end it didn't quite feel like the satisfying conclusion I'd hoped for (hopefully a second season is on the way). In addition, there are lots of specific moments where the animation, visuals, music, and meticulous attention to visual presentation come together fantastically with a major moment for a character or characters. It results in some incredible, memorable moments that helped elevate the show to true greatness. I feel there's more in the story and characters that needs explored for it to feel truly complete, but Sound! Euphonium is still a beautiful show that manages to deliver both eye popping visuals and a smart story. Final Score: 9/10

Joe: If only I liked the characters a bit more, this would easily be the best of the season. This look into the world of competitive band has incredible attention to detail with fantastic sound design (as it should), and it balances the funny and the dramatic well.  There just seems to be a wall between the character's emotions and my own that never seemed to break as I went through the show. I usually go through the wringer with these kinds of stories. I certainly did on HaNaYaMaTa. Not so much here. Still an anime that is more than worthy of your attention if you don't mind slice of life. Final Score: 8/10

Ultimate Otaku Teacher

Stephanie: From day one, I seemed to be the only staff member who likes this series. And it still probably holds up now. To be fair, the series looks like crap and there are some parts of the story that aren't that fantastic, however it's really just some dumb fun. That's really what it boils down to. Hell, to some degree, it can be a modern day successor to Great Teacher Onizuka! Now before you boo and hiss at me, think about it. Kagami, an otaku, is teaching some life lessons to his students similar to Onizuka, a delinquent, does for his. At the core, both series share the same idea, they just have different ways of executing them. Granted I haven't seen GTO, but I at least know that much and I even have friends who enjoy both Otaku Teacher and GTO who have said the same thing. It may not be as clever as GTO, but Otaku Teacher at least tries to take the old story and update it for an audience for today, and, at least in Japan, it's working! It's actually been doing really well over there compared to here in the states. It could be the culture differences or it could be Kagami and he's methods, but I can understand why it's popular to some and why other people dislike it. Also, the Broadcast Dub, while a little rough thanks to the material and the first time director, is full of surprises! Particularly, Anthony Bowling's Kagami. While he's been in the voice acting world for a good long while, this role is really the first where he gets to shine and it makes me very happy. Not only that, but a handful of fresh voices get to flex their vocal cords for this series. There are some benefits to having a series that isn't quite that popular, and it's the experience for some new actors. Bottom line, for me, I like this series. It's has it's ups and downs, and it does look like complete ass, but I love what it's trying to do and I think most people are just being way too hard on it. First-Cour Score: 6/10

Staff Picks

Sound! Euphonium
Jonathan Kaharl

KyoAni was on my shit list for a very long time. They had also done little to prove themselves in my eyes, as they keep gravitating to dull slice of life or middle of the road comedies. Sure, Free! is good, but not great, and their best work was from years ago and is wildly different from their style today. Also, Beyond the Boundary was a disaster (and no, I have yet to watch Nichijou). With Sound! Euphonium, the studio has finally proved their real worth to me. Granted, I already knew the studio had some amazing artistic and directorial talent, but with Sound, that style finally became substance. I dare say this was the best show of the season, even compared to the spectacular Blood Blockade Battlefront.

The greatest strengths of the work are from the source material, mind you. The story is central to Kumiko and Reina, who end up becoming far more similar than it initially appeared at show start. Reina is an obsessive perfectionist who wants to stand above those around her and master her craft, and she becomes frustrated with how uncaring so much of her fellow band can be. Kumiko, aloof because of a fear of failure and influence by her sister's failures in band, starts to share those same frustrations and understands Reina on a much deeper level, as the two start to form an incredibly deep bond (aka KyoAni totally made them fall in love, and they are not being subtle about it). All the while, the older members of the band deal with former failures in previous years, being challenged as leaders and players by the new blood, and finding a motivation in themselves they didn't know they had. The series is incredibly worldly, dealing with the drive to be better and to succeed, but also dealing with the crushing reality of failure and learning to cope or move on from it.

It's so brilliantly written, but what makes it masterful is KyoAni's and Tatsuya Ishihara's touches. Despite being about pedestrian subject matter, Sound uses the most colorful and complex color pallet and lighting it can muster, with gorgeous animation and award caliber cinematography and editing. Everything flows together in a way that creates a stream of information to better convey the thematic depth of the work, very blunt but almost hypnotic at times. It engages with relative ease, balancing the line between comedy and drama, helped immensely by the fantastic cast. Takahiro Sakurai's band leader Taki deserves special mention, with how effortlessly he can cut into your deepest insecurities, yet raise your spirits without a major change in tone. It's well acted, beautifully drawn, and thoughtfully paced. This is what one of the biggest studios in the entire anime industry should be doing more of.

Sound taps into some very powerful subject matter with a very simple story that could have easily been just more K-ON! rip-off dreck. It's not just about band, it's about life, and it spoke to me. It's a technical marvel, and an artistic accomplishment for its genre, and it made me excited for whatever KyoAni has planned next that isn't another season to one of their many shows I do not give a crap about.

Also, Kumiko and Reina could not possibly be gayer. Please do not make another season, KyoAni, I do not want novel canon to kill this beautiful thing you have done.

Final Score: 10/10

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (2nd Season)
Danni Wilmoth

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is without a doubt my all-time favorite manga series. I spent months pouring over the hundreds and hundreds of written chapters back in 2013 trying desperately to catch up on an almost 30-year old series. Once I had caught up, I took it upon myself to start the most-recent (and most-loved) anime adaptation, which I found to be an incredible adaptation of the series's first two arcs: Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency. I couldn't say I preferred them to the manga, rather that the anime did the manga the justice it deserved. Later that year we were promised an adaptation of the third arc: Stardust Crusaders. Admittedly, I found my excitement filled with a nagging apprehension. Out of the seven completed arcs in the Jojo series, Stardust Crusaders is easily my least favorite due to the wealth of new things the author tried to implement. Stardust Crusaders is considerably longer than the first two parts, it contains more main characters, and it introduces a whole new type of power called 'stands.' Due to this, there's a long portion in the middle where everything just kind of drags on. Season one of Stardust Crusaders ended up taking the brunt of this, amounting to a faithful yet tedious adaptation. Thankfully, these issues ended as soon as season one did. 

It honestly feels hard for me to say that season two of Stardust Crusaders remains a faithful adaptation to its source material. While it does contain the same content almost verbatim (with some original bits added for filler), season two actually manages to improve on the source material. Reading the manga I felt somewhat bored by much of the journey from Japan to Egypt and rushed through it to get to their fight with Dio. Even when the stands and fights started getting better in Egypt, I still only wanted to get to Dio. Going through this half of part three at a pace of one full battle every 2-3 weeks forced me to slow down and appreciate them for what they are. Instead of rushing to get to Dio, I had to wait and wait for him, which turned into excitement and anticipation for the ultimate battle against him. Watching Jojo every week made me excited because I knew I was one week closer to a wonderful ending. The addition of a thrilling score and spot-on voice acting made it even easier for my attention to remain on the battles at hand. The animation wasn't always the greatest to look at, but it never felt hard to watch.  

If the first 3/4ths of season two were good, then the last bit was fantastic. From the moment they finally entered Dio's mansion, the sense of tension skyrockets. The stakes become much higher once main characters start dropping like flies and we bear witness to Dio's astonishing powers (I wasn't sure how they'd be able to translate The World's power into animation, but they did it remarkably well). The final fight lasts for a few episodes, but it never once feels like it drags on. Every single moment of the final battle is given weight and a sense of importance. The payoff at the very end is incredibly satisfying and well-deserved. The staff at David Productions have demonstrated a great love for the series in their adaptation of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, both in their faithfulness to the source material and in the little nods they give to the fans (including one in one of the final OPs that left me with a huge smile on my face). I immensely enjoyed the second season of Stardust Crusaders, and I absolutely can't wait for Part 4 (please, DavidPro. I'm begging you. Give us SOME hope to hold onto).

Final Score: 9/10

Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
David O'Neil

I always love it when something I expect nothing from, or even expect to hate, goes against my expectations and ends up being something I like in the end. Going into Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (its Japanese title frequently shortened as Danmachi) my expectations were about as low as they could get. Maybe it's because lately fantasy Light Novel adaptations have been a breeding ground for cliched, half-assed power fantasy harems, or maybe it was the horrendously long, cringe worthy title. Either way, in the lead up to Danmachi I was ready to hate every second of it. But as I watched the first few episodes I came to a shocking realization: I was enjoying myself. Quite a bit, in fact.

In terms of its premise and basic plot the show doesn't do a whole lot different, it takes place in an almost RPG-like fantasy world where heroes venture into a massive tower of dungeons to fight monsters, get a crystal-like currency, and upgrade their stats (as in literal video game stats they have tattooed on their backs for some reason). The show follows Bell, a fresh faced new adventurer who along with his guardian Goddess Hestia plans to become a noble hero who can win the love of the girl who saved his life, Aiz Wallenstein. Where the show's real strength lies is in its characters and its themes. For instance, one of the biggest problems I often encounter with Light Novel adaptations (and generally most harems) is flat, uninteresting, and often unlikable protagonists. They only serve as a vessel for the viewers to insert themselves, something to move the story along, and react in over the top ways when their faces accidentally land in a pair of breasts. Bell almost immediately overcomes this usual handicap, being likable, engaging, and overall just goddamn adorable. Unlike most harem protagonists he's not invincible, in fact he spends a lot of time getting the crap beat out of him, or being saved by other characters. He's humble and determined, but also suffers from a sense of self doubt. He constantly strives to become stronger, not necessarily because he wants to be the strongest, but because he wants to protect those close to him and achieve what he believes the status of a true "Hero" is.

Hestia is an equally great combination of being both a cute, fun character but also one I really grew to care about. She could have easily been an obnoxious sidekick character, but her compassion and worry for Bell feels incredibly genuine and heartfelt. Together their relationship is a refreshing one in this sort of genre, not one of the powerful main character protecting the girl, but one of mutual support and consideration for each other's feelings. While the rest of the cast doesn't quite hit the same high notes, there are still lots more fun, memorable characters to go around. It's a show about family, and the strength it can have, even without blood ties. It handles this concept well from beginning to end, effectively utilizing its endearing characters to deliver passionate, emotional moments that tug at the heart strings. The show isn't without flaws, every once and a while some more unpleasant Light Novel tropes do arise (forced fanservice, cartoonishly evil people for the main character to tell off), and while it does have a decent climax, it left me feeling as if a second season better be around the corner with how little it wrapped up. But still, as a whole Danmachi was my surprise of the season. It took a simple premise and made a quality show out of it thanks to its charming characters, genuine relationships, and refreshingly sincere themes.

Final Score: 8/10

The Heroic Legend of Arslan
Stephanie Getchell

In the past, I've left my Staff Pick open to series that haven't really been talked about during seasonal reports, with many of them being second seasons or leftovers. However, this season, I went with a different route. Originally, I considered Ghost in the Shell Arise: Alternative Architecture, but I haven't quite finished it. Then there was the second season of Fate/Stay Night that I had planned on watching, but I hadn't gotten a chance to touch it yet... But then I got to thinking a bit more and decided to go with one of the series that was covered this season, but was dropped by staff fairly early on. Although David did have really good reasons for dropping it, I wanted to give a little more love to The Heroic Legend of Arslan by making it my Staff Pick this season.

In the kingdom of Pars, in the year 320, King Andragoras III reigns over his people with an iron fist and is one who doesn't back down from war, with his army being known as the strongest in the world. Meanwhile his son, Crown Prince Arslan is the complete opposite, a much more timid and kind hearted child who is very sheltered and is unaware of the ways of the world. When the long time foe of Pars, the religious country of Lusitania, forces Pars to suffer a crushing defeat, Andragoras is captured and the capitol of Ectabana has been seized. Determined to retake Pars, Arslan now seeks out fighters to aid him including Pars General and friend Daryun, exiled strategist and painter Narsus along with his attendant Elam, eccentric and greedy musician Gieve, and the priestess Falangis. Throughout his journey, Arslan must come to terms with the world he knows so very little about and find a way to bring freedom and happiness to his people once again.

Arslan is a rather interesting case because this is an adaption of a novel series turned manga thanks to authors Hiromu Arakawa (Full Metal Alchemist, Silver Spoon) and Yoshiki Tanaka (Legend of Galactic Heroes). Now while the animation and the story can be rather rough at times, what with the large amounts of CGI use and shaky first episodes in terms of writing, it's still one that I've been enjoying rather well. Since finishing both the simulcast and broadcast dub of Yona of the Dawn, it's extremely easy to see the comparisons that many will make. However, there are also very large differences between the two. Arslan's character, in particular, is the largest difference compared to Yona. Arslan, while rather sheltered, doesn't have the best relationship with his parents nor do they end up dead in front of him (at least so far). He is very much the opposite to his father, and is much more gentle and curious about the world around him. He wants to be a good leader for his people, something that Yona (at the end of the series) doesn't seem too interested in as she has no intention of taking back the throne. Circumstances are different, yes, but the basic structure remains the same. If I honestly had to pick which lead was better written then I would say Yona, hands down. And yet, I find the struggles Arslan faces fascinating to watch as we see him grow into becoming the kind of ruler the people really need. With many other characters, it's easy to draw more parallels like Daryun to Hak, Gieve to Jaeha, and even Elam to Yun. And yet, there are many other interesting characters that cause a stir in this series like Narsus, Falangis, and even Silvermask. Some may say that Arslan is just a copy of Yona, but it could be the other way around to some degree as there is an OVA series from the early 90s of Arslan and, from what I can tell, the one we have now is a more updated version. Funny how things work, huh. Either way, the story has been compelling to me while the characters have been hit or miss depending on which one you ask me about.

But let's not stop with comparisons and throw some FMA ones into the mix because the Broadcast Dub has me a mix of amazed and rather confused. While I do love that newer voice actors such as Ricco Fajardo and Justin Briner are flexing their chops in larger roles, Daryun and Elam, there's also my weird feelings about Aaron Dismuke's Arslan because, after three episodes so far, I can't quite tell where it's going to end up. To be fair, he's been rather hit or miss for lots of people I have spoken with but he has also surprised me with Leonardo Watch from Blood Blockade Battlefront's dub after some time with it. The same could happen here, but I won't leave my expectations too high. But the biggest surprise of all, for me, is Vic Migongna's turn as Silvermask. His work is rather up and down for me, yes, but I was actually amazed at what I heard of Silvermask so far and actually kind of look forward to hearing much more. And now here come the FMA jokes... Here, I'll help:

-Why is Ed attacking his little brother? I thought he loved him?
-Damnit, Armstrong, you're the reason why we can't have nice things!
-Ed hates how Armstrong flaunts his muscles... I mean, power! Yeah that!
-So... Incest is wincest among the Armstrong family? No wonder Olivier ignores Alex so much!
-Ed finally drank his milk!

With Christopher Bevins at the directing helm as well as the voice of Narsus, along with Bonny Clinkenbeard's script work, there is so much potential here! However, it's also not the best broadcast dub I've seen this season. And considering that I've also been watching the dubs of Blood Blockade BattlefrontYuki NagatoShow By RockUltimate Otaku Teacher, and even Seraph of the End that is saying something. Especially when I say that the dub for Seraph is, currently, better than Arslan. And I really dislike Seraph. Again, Arslan has the potential to be a good dub, it's just going to be difficult since the script already doesn't give much wiggle room let alone the setting and language of the series itself. But since I have been watching both simulcast and dub, I know the english cast will get to play around some more and I will probably just stick with the dub from here on out now that spring seasonal reports are done.

While there are a decent amount of weak areas the series has, there is also tons of potential in there as well! It may not be something original, but at the same time it's something new considering how old the story, itself, is. Liberties have been taken in creating this series and I imagine that even more will be taken. The Heroic Legend of Arslan is, so far, a decent action/fantasy series that manages to grab my attention even with the flaws that it has. I've been telling people who haven't seen past the first episode to try again because this is another case where the first episode doesn't accurately show what the series is about. And, yes, I know Arslan can be dumb as a pile of rocks, but he has a certain quality in him that also grabs my attention. I know it won't be a massive train wreak like I know Seraph will end up being, and it's not stupid fun like Otaku Teacher has been. And yet it's not the best the season has to offer because, duh, Blood Blockade Battlefront exists. However, what Arslan does manage to do is take an action/fantasy epic forward to a new generation with a rather commendable effort thus far. It may be one of the more hit or miss series from the spring, but it's been a hit for me so far and I can't wait to see where the second half takes me! At least once the broadcast dub catches up cause I don't really have the time to watch both versions right now...

Also... Can we please do something about that CGI because holy crap it looks awful...

First-Cour Score: 7/10

Wish Upon the Pleiades
Joe Straatmann

For awhile, this seems like something where you sit and wonder, "Why is THE Gainax working on this?" It's a non postmodern magical transforming girls show aimed at working heady astronomy and quantum physics into a very simple story seemingly for pre-teen or early teen female group (Though this is anime, so who knows what the demographic is). I have discussed an abysmal series vaguely similar to this which combines seemingly ill-fitting elements clashing with younger and older audiences, but the huge difference is Gainax makes this occasionally sparkle in the way anime likes to take head scratching premises and weave gold from them. It's one of those shows where you will believe a girl traveling on a magic broom-like device across the galaxy strictly obeying the rules of the Speed of Light can magically transport her friends to her destination with a wish from her heart. And you won't bat an eye while doing so.

What's most surprising is how much "real" science is used in this complete flight of fancy and how the actual science is absolutely bizarre in the face of MAGIC. In this story, Subaru (Named for the car company funding this shindig) and her friend Aoi from grade school meet up under quietly odd circumstances as they seemingly came from alternate dimensions where their friendship dissolved in completely different manners. Aoi brings Subaru into a group of magical girls who are trying to find parts of an alien spaceship. Their journeys take them from the ends of the Earth into the quiet edge of the Solar System. Developments occur from the girls trying to stop something from "existing" in a plane of reality before calamity strike to a part of the alien device accidentally creating another star in the Solar System without it really mattering to Earth. That's not to mention the entire premise of how the magic works deals with quantum potential theory. It's easily explained in the series, but I was not expecting quantum mechanics to be a major component in a basic transforming girls. Of course, there's still plenty of magic involving why they don't have to worry about breathing or getting ripped apart from the inside by cosmic radiation or frozen solid by the cold vacuum, but it's pretty swell to see the five girls showdown with the villain in settings like new stars forming or singularities.

It's pretty minor Gainax if nothing else because the characters don't build up to more than the usual throes of magical girl drama. The individuals girls get their own episodes to bring them more in focus, and I'm sucker for stories like Hikaru's episode where her father's a pianist and she worries that editing one of his works one day made him distant from her. Of course, we all know he's going to play his song with her edit at her time in need and everything's going to be all right, yet I still can't help but be choked up by it when it happens. The issue here is after the characters have their individual episodes, they more-or-less stay the same and it's like they weren't there in the first place. The exception lies with Subaru and a boy she meets in a closed space greenhouse, Minato. They actually manage to have a warm and fruitful relationship that grows naturally as time goes on even if one half of his secret is obvious to anyone with a working brain.

Pleiades won't win points for being the most noticeable title this season. It's pretty yet unassuming and it takes a little bit to really get the fascinating aspects of the show in gear while they have the typical magical girl setup to begin the show. The music certainly plays the right angles of cutesy, epic, and playful in ways that aren't particularly memorable (Though could we please stop with "Claire de Lune?" It's nice, yes, but I've heard it in about 30 movies and series since it was in the Ocean's 11 remake and TWO shows in this season alone). It's likely going to be a footnote in Gainax's illustrious history, but that doesn't mean it lacks in fun and awe. It's just a bit too low key to be high profile.

Final Score: 7/10

Comments

  1. David giving a boobalicious show his staff pick? Oh dear...

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