Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Winter/Spring 2012 - What I'm Watching Now

Psygremlin and I have been grumping about the sorry state of anime over at mangacityforums pretty much ever since the 2008 recession/depression started. Funding for creative projects dried up practically overnight and we went from hoping for something like a Kaiba or a Simoun to hoping for anything that didn't involve teenage sports, teenage vampires, ancient magical swords, pedophilia, or sibling incest.

It's been a lean few years. AIC animation studios got bought by a pachislo machine company (pachinko/pachislo parlors are casinos, and yes the same sort of people are involved in the business there as in the USA). Worse, Madhouse got bought by Nihon TV channel to save them from financial troubles caused by the recession as well. Nihon TV promptly canceled Satoshi Kon's final movie (Dreaming Machine) and sadly, we'll never see what might have been his greatest work.

There were several seasons when there was one show worth watching, and that wasn't especially good except in comparison to most of what was playing.

In fall 2008 we had choices of new series like:
Spice and Wolf
To Aru Majutsu no Index
Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino (not really a continuation of the Madhouse series)
Michiko to Hatchin
Tentai Senshi Sunred
Mouryou no Hako


It's a pretty diverse list - different quality, different genres, different maturity levels. But they do have one thing in common - they're from some sort of seinen material (Spice and Wolf, Gunslinger Girl, Michiko to Hatchin, Toradora) or are highly deconstructive of their genre conventions (Tytania, Tentai Senshi Sunred).

That sort of 'edge content' is what has disappeared from the market. By Fall 2009 the only new non-generic things released were Sora no Woto, The delightful Hanamaru Youchien, and two quirky one-shot OVAs: The Legend of Koizumi and Boku, Otaryman. But the worst was yet to come. There were some other good shows airing, but they were franchise continuations - no financial risk if the first show was successful.

It's all about the risk. There's no great anime right now because nobody in the Anime world is willing to run the risk necessary to create it. I suspect that a lot of interesting proposals are being dumpstered and a lot of projects are being reworked or shelved because they aren't sure things. Anime studios are playing to the base - which for them is the adult otaku market and little kids. I suspect that middle-school boys ate Ben-To up - it was cleverly produced and had all the right memes. I anticipate likewise for High School DxD, which I've been skimming in light novel form (mostly out of curiosity about the Paradise Lost meme soup) but can't imagine enjoying as an anime.

In Fall 2010, the new odd choices were down to Panty & Stocking, Shinrei Tantei Yakumo, and Kuragehime. Good choices all of them (I thoroughly enjoyed both Yakumo and Kuragehime), but mostly lacking in seinen value. Cerebral, plot-driven stuff like Spice and Wolf was long-gone.

And then came the drought: Fall 2011. The closest thing to seinen content was Mirai Nikki. Yeah, not really the thing.

I chose fall seasons, but Winter/Spring or Summer would have done just as well.

Tl/Dr version - Psygremlin asks: "So, is there anything good [in this season's anime offerings], or am I just being a grumpy old man?"

We're still in the dry spell. The shows I'm looking at this season are (in order of eagerness and carefully avoiding spoilers):

Another - Picture the creepy atmospherics of the better episodes of Ghost Hound in combination with the haunted school imagery of the Mai arc episodes of Kanon.

L&R: Another anime promo art and light novel cover, respectively.

The plot is sort of an spooky, impersonal version of Ano Hana as a school haunting. Excellent visuals, good seiyuu work, and suitably atmospheric SFX and music combine to make this my current pick for best show of the winter 2012 season. The OP and ED are appropriate but uninspired. On your left you have a poster illustration for the anime, on the right the cover of the source light novel.

Daily Lives of High School Boys (Danshi Kokosei no Nichijou) - It's a silly premise, but they're handling it very well. It's sort of a male version of the first season of Hidamari Sketch, but without the art school overtones and a stronger 4-komi plotless element. They also add a 'High School Girls are Funky' post-script after the end credits. Light, harmless, but often funny with no false notes. This, like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, rewards viewers with detailed Japanese pop culture knowledge. Video game slang, tropes from dating sims, light novels and anime are all much in evidence.

Ano Natsu de Matteru - I've seen this show before. It's called Onegai Teacher and it was a pretty big hit a decade ago. Ditch the whole 'stopping' handwave by the simple expedient of aging down the red-haired alien chick to a teenager (same chick right down to glasses, hair color and ship critter, although no pocky box has appeared yet), but is supremely well done. The execution exceeds the material with this one. Basically, they've tightened up the weak spots in Onegai and bumped the production values a bunch and produced an enjoyable, though by no means original or creative show.

At left: Could it be...Kazami-sensei? At right: Reductive, yes, but pretty to look at.

There are some interesting questions left hanging - most noticeable to me is: why is somebody's teenage daughter driving a spaceship around anywhere near a planet that hasn't experienced first contact yet? For that matter, if she has the power in her little ship to miraculously fix the devastation caused by her crash, why wasn't she just teleporting between A and B anyway? Why does lead character remind me so much of (Japanese) Young George Lucas? What is the deal with Limon senpai? If you think too much about this one, your head hurts, just as it did with the original.

Papa no Iukoto o Kikinasai! has been the surprise so far, getting on with the story in journeyman fashion. I have, incidentally decided that the OP and animation thereof is the best OP or ED this season out of what I've watched.

At left: Yuta unwittingly beholds his doom. At right: The hypothetical happy family shot in Yuta's one-room manshon. Guy in back is the pedo otaku viewer surrogate.

Great art? No. But it's simple and good at what it is. I will never love this show - there's too much fanservice in it for that - but it is well executed for what it is, and is on the 'this is OK' side of the pedobear scale - indeed, if I knew that there weren't dirty-minded pedo otaku watching it in Japan and hugging their Sora-chan, Mio-chan, or Hina-chan (shudder) pillows I'd be completely fine with it. Now if we can just get to the stage where Oda-senpai reappears and starts interacting with the nieces fun should ensue. The anime is actually a little better than the manga, so far. I hope somebody at Baka-Tsuki picks up the source light novels - they're probably pretty good.

Bodacious Space Pirates (Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku)- Just OK. Again, the characters are pretty off the shelf, but the material is at least mildly interesting. They're really playing up the [Maria-sama ga Mitteru/Ouran High School Host Club/Mei-chan no Shitsuji] wealthy high-school/pirate princess dichotomy angle so far.

At left: Dunno if they're bodacious, but they're what's on offer. At right: Main Character in schoolgirl mode.

The ED animation suggests that we're going to end up with Joshikousei Pirate Star Trek TOS with Kuro-megane as Spock, Forelock meido girl as McCoy, and Main Character as Kirk (of course). This would be improved with the addition of voluptuous, green-skinned dancing women, but isn't bad for what it is so far. One thing I do like is that there is no sexual typecasting going on - lots of technical specialist roles are all held by girls. So far (ep 5) we have exactly one male character in any capacity and he's a prospective subordinate to Main Character. As my favorite early review (from artist-retired at says, "..I-is it okay? I mean this should be a total piece of garbage by all means, but there's no panty shots? No bungie cord titties flopping around? There's a shit ton of girls and even a maid cafe, but... Why doesn't this show suck?" From visual novel series Miniskirt Pirates. Unanswered questions: why don't the characters get fuzzy hair in microgravity (hairspray? but aerosols are murder on full recyc HVAC systems)? Why don't their school uniform skirts not create panchiro constantly in microgravity? I'm happy they don't, but my SF-geek willing suspension of disbelief wants to hear about velcro or something. At least their post-diaspora skinsuits looked credible, even if their bust sizes don't. Oh, and for the record - this is probably the worst OP recording of the season so far - even worse than Kill Me Baby...

Rinne no Lagrange - athletic highschool chick (president and sole member of the 'jersey girl' club which involves track suits and not big hair and bubblegum as you might expect) has some sort of mysterious subliminal connection with alien-provided transforming giant robot. Said providing aliens are represented by Mr. 2smooth2begood and Ms. Probablygoodbutconflicted. Random 'bad guys' who get lots of air time and character development are trying to take Main Character and her giant robo away. I strongly suspect that the bad guys are going to turn out to be the good guys and that Ms. Probablygoodbutconflicted will choke/defect in some critical battle scene when fighting Main Character after man character has been captured/suborned/convinced that the bad guys are really the good guys and that Mr. 2smooth2begood is, in fact, bad. Nice mecha design - you can tell that there are mecha design otaku out there and that they are being pandered to. It's better than watching paint dry. The characters are unexciting. Main character's victory 'Maru' move is already annoying. Ms. Probablygoodbutconflicted's signature 'nyaa' gesture is also already annoying (this is after ep 3). Probably will watch it, but it's going to be dead last in the regular viewing rotation. The characters and situations are just too off the shelf to interest me much.

Recorder to Randoseru - Same people as did Morita-san wa Mukuchi but only has one gag, which is pretty stale after the first ep. Even at three minutes, not worth my time. At left: otouto and nee-san. Yes, that's the one joke (illustrated left).

And last and most decidedly least, we have Kill Me Baby! It's 4-koma again. It's incomprehensible. It's badly drawn. It has a really annoying theme song. Oddly enough, I don't hate it. I don't like it very much either, but if I'm in a sufficiently angry-and-mindless nihilstic frame of mind it might be the right tool for the job. I probably won't finish this one. I might not watch ep 2.

So what are we watching in place of all the great anime we wish we were watching? Great old stuff! Psy has started some stuff I've recommended that he never got to: "I've finally got my paws on Aoi Bungaku, so that'll help me through the lean period. Going to have a look at some really old stuff - Mermaid Forest, Utena and The Third."

At right and below: There's always good old stuff like Takahashi's Mermaid Saga and Gallery Fake (yes, that's Van Gogh's Sunflowers behind) to tide us through the global meltdown.

We never finished Aoi Bungaku or Utena and never even started The Third, so his ideas are suggestions for chez Senile as well. We've been treating e-chan to Kamichu! and both versions of Cyborg 009 among other things. Milady and I have been enjoying Gallery Fake, which is 37 eps of excellent characterization and ambiguous situations involving fine art.

L&R: Gallery Fake DVD vol 1 cover and manga vol 1 cover

After watching lots of formulaic anime, I sometimes forget that characterizations are what make a show worth watching. Neither of the lead characters in Gallery Fake (pictured left) are simple enough to be tropes, although Fujita probably is the source of one. Sara is the sidekick and sounding board, but is a stronger, more complex, and more entertaining character than the leads in Rinne no Lagrange, Moretsu Space Pirates, or Ano Natsu. There's just no substitute for seinen material.

Last night our evening viewing was Tailenders - something else I'd been meaning to watch for ages.

PS.We await the on-again off-again Mardock Scramble