We we we so excited~~~
What can I say, it’s a phenomenal season.
For those who missed the previous (and first) brainmarks post, here’s a little FAQ thing:
|Spoilered: What are brainmarks?||Show>|
I know I’m late as hell, but I guess that’s becoming normal :( It does mean that I managed to watch at least 2 episodes of all the shows I’m going to list though, so hopefully that somehow translates into better perspective and depth :)
Here we go!
Brainmark #9: Persona 4
If you, like me, know something about the original game, the Persona 4 anime is something of an anxiously anticipated, almost sure-fire hit that, appallingly, after two episodes, seemed to have frustratingly fallen just short of expectations. You’d imagine that given the strength of the source material, all the adapters really needed to pay attention to was to make sure they perfectly capture the flowing, stylish, musical feel of the game. And you know, they did manage this. Sadly, success in that regard was offset by the somewhat clumsy animated reenactment of the game events. The pacing was somewhat hit and miss, and as a result the characters seemed somewhat unnatural and don’t quite connect. The conversations and interactions looked.. staged. It’s interesting because it feels like if you’re in a game environment and you’re watching conversations between avatars with limited movement, the effects of disjointed pacing and mood don’t feel as pronounced. But when everything is fluidly animated into a motion picture, it starts to chafe when the conversations and moods don’t flow. The apparent decision to reproduce the game’s somewhat exaggerated emotion indicators (think giant sweat drops) only made things worse.
All that considered, I still think it’s worth picking this show up, if for no other reason than the sheer strength of the source material. The game takes you through a very fascinating chain of events with a lofty cast of varied and likeable characters, and touches deftly and fluidly on various themes related to self discovery and acceptance – all the while maintaining that smartly casual air. The anime, while not doing the game full justice, isn’t quite mangling it either, and with the decent production quality so far, should pan out into a fairly enjoyable ride overall.
(I’d like to pause here to note that, Persona’s relatively minor shortcomings notwithstanding, it really is a testament to the quality of the fall shows, so far anyway, that Persona is all the way back at number 9. And yeah, we have 9 brainmarks this time round. It’s a good season)
Brainmark #8: CubexCursedxCurious
I had no intention of brainmarking this show until I saw episode two today, the ending of which shattered my perception of this show as essentially a third rate guilty-pleasure show propped up by unnaturally high production values and, well, Yukari Tamura. The end of the episode two, however, appears to reveal that they actually intend to pursue the srs bsns aspects of the show and that Bakuryu woman isn’t just your villain of the week. Now I have no real idea where this show is going. It is clear though that this show has two things going for it. One: well-executed unpredictability. It is clear that there is genuine effort put into wrapping and fashioning the twists, and into the pacing and presentation of the plot in general. Two: Production values, production values, production values.
Wow. The background art, the BGM, the animation and fight choreography are all of impeccably high quality. Silver Link appears to really be loosening their wallet to assert themselves here (right on the heels of a very nicely done BakaTest season 2 too). Why they chose to splurge this much on such a peculiar show as C3 is unclear to me, but they’ve caught my attention. I’m listening Silver Link – don’t disappoint me.
(Okay, three: Tamura Yukari. She’s just perfect for roles like these.)
Brainmark #7: Chihayafuru
I have a confession to make: I like shows like these. No, not in the shoujo trope sense, but in the focus on a game/sport and bring out its spirit sense. I loved Bamboo Blade for this reason. And no, you don’t “bring out its spirit” by creating ridiculous and over-the-top techniques and powers a’la prince of tennis or yu-gi-oh. The karuta portrayed in Chihayafuru is pretty cool, with just the right slight amount of dramatization and a wholly appropriate focus on the players’ concentration, love, and immersion in the game. The effective sound effects and elaborate camera movements also add well to the experience. The downside to the show though is that it’s really pretty weak plot-wise, so far. However this fact is well-masked by the very solid production and directing. In this sense this is the anti-Persona, where meticulously paced scenes and artfully developed moods oiled and polished the dull gears of the predictable plot and non-novel character interactions. I really like the overall result in Chihayafuru so far, and while shows like these can fall to hell very quickly if it wants to, it’s gotten me fascinated enough about Karuta to be willing to take that risk.
It isn’t up there with the prettiest shows of the season, but Chihayafuru is also a decent looker. ‘sides, them leaves are great for the season, doncha think? ;)
Brainmark #6: Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing
Another show I didn’t plan to brainmark. I had been watching the first season on my housemate’s recommendation, and in fact the terrible lateness of this post had a lot to do with me fighting to finish the first season so I could watch and evaluate the first episodes of the second. Opinion on the first season was interestingly pretty divided, but I guess watching this in 2011 means the fairly well illustrated world and the generously deployed but dated CGI doesn’t wield much magic over you at all. I unfortunately eventually fell in line with the detractors, with my main complaint being the character dynamics, which were – to be blunt – very clumsy, causing the vast majority of the cast to appear very wooden. The apparent “don’t elaborate” philosophy of portraying characters worked well for a certain number of “one liner” punchline scenes (like when Sophia kissed Claus), but any illusion of detached subtlety is soon shattered by the jarringly sudden and unnaturally short-lived bouts of emoness and crying that peppered the show – especially on Lavie’s part. I in fact came off my watch-through feeling very grumpy that Lavie, my favorite character at the beginning of the show, got totally shafted into the effectively inconsequential (and ineffectual) crying-maiden role. All this ranting to put my mindset into perspective going into season 2 – I wasn’t planning to be forgiving.
Fam, the Silver Wing, however, caught me off-guard with the number of things it did wonderfully right. From a design perspective, I felt that the modernization effort effected over all the artistic-aspects of the show was very well done, with redesigns and reimaginings stopping just short of going too far and severing the stylistic link with the first season. Things that needed to stay roughly the same stayed so, and things that didn’t really need to went the distance, with fun new ideas like modeling a new class of aerial battle after whaling being particularly appreciated. (Whaling in the skies, now that’s an idea) The result is a stunningly detailed and beautiful world filled with sleek and elaborate skyships befitting a high-class 2011 anime that nonetheless felt connected with the original world unveiled by the first season so many years ago. Musical direction and character presentation are also much improved from the original – I’m at least feeling something for Fam and the Princess girl at the end of episode two. Most importantly, there is direction and potential for these characters beyond anything I saw in the original – the effectively exiled princess, and the free sky pirate who unwittingly wandered into the binding world of power and responsibility. The production values at this point is also simply phenomenal. I just hope it doesn’t plummet as swiftly as the original did as we go deeper into the series.
(I cannot resist pointing out two interesting details: our main characters appear to be all girls now. And there appears to be a general “lolification” of the cast members, with prominent fanservice shots in the very elaborate and beautiful OP. Gonzo’s occupational hazard from having produced 2 seasons of Strike Witches… or simply a sign of our times?)
(Another interesting bit of information: Animax is doing a “same day as Japan” simulcast thing for this show, where they’ll actually broadcast the episodes on the same day it is broadcast in Japan. It’s a pretty cool effort I think, and it could be a positive step towards dissolving the eternal structural problem of anime not having authorized distribution channels before DVDs come out 2 million years after television broadcast. So if you live in Asia where Animax operates and fancy the idea of having an official channel to watch this on TV, go check these guys out. Info and showtimes and stuff here.)
Brainmark #5: Ben-to
“You’re really gonna rank this above Fam, the Silver Wing??” You bet I am. I think. Alright, truth is I’ve already had several changes of heart regarding the precise ranks of each show while I’m penning this post down. I think think think that Ben-to deserves this spot. And that’s pretty surprising considering the core plot of Ben-to reads something like “high school guy kid gets involved in a great nightly battle-ritual to seize and purchase half-priced bentos while naturally assembling a harem of fanservice-happy girls”. What’s interesting about Ben-to is that it is actually, counter-intuitively, good. Imagine taking the plot of one of those enumerable number of forgotten, terribad shows. What if you didn’t execute it totally shittily? What happens if you actually tried to make it.. good? What if you put some budget into your act, drew the characters tastefully and made them look good and developed them a shallow but consistent personality even if they’re fanservice fodder? What if you made them move fluidly, made your plot move fluidly, put in decent music and developed mood and created excitement for your bento wars? And chose your themes deliberately and actually gave them the round of effective exploration they deserve instead of flinging them out the window every next second? And seriously planned your fight scenes, choreographed them artfully, and rained money on your animation team to make it look absolutely fantastic?
Well, you get something like Ben-to. And it Kicks.Ass. Hot damn. Oh, and did I mention how I happen to be a sucker for graceful, quietly deadly girls? Have I fanboyed over how much of a heart-throb beautiful bad-ass our Hyouketsu no Majo is yet?
Okay, I better stop right there before I start losing.. respect points. All in all, Ben-to manages to be guilty pleasure at its finest, and yet not collapse into being wholly superficial. It knows how deep it wants to be, and it stays there and really makes the best of it. It’s a pretty nice change to be enjoying a show like this so much :)
Brainmark #4: Tamayura ~Hitotose~
I remember switching on the first episode and instantly lumping this show in the “Poor Man’s Lucky Star” category. As the OP played on the screen, I remember remarking to my brother that it sounded a lot like an Aria insert song. After finishing the episode and realizing it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, I did a quick look up… and discovered that Junichi Sato directs this show. Ahhhhhh it all makes sense now.
Alright, so I’m a little afraid to declare this as a spiritual successor to the great Aria, (with Azusa leading the cast instead of Akari); and am as it is still somewhat uncertain about having this so high up in the brainmarks list. Especially considering how that last one went (*cough* Ikoku Croisee). But I can’t help it – I’m really enjoying this show so far. The stylistic linkages to the venerable Aria are unmistakable, and far more unshakable than Ikoku Meiro no Croisee at the best of times. Unlike Croisee, Tamayura is extremely backdrop-focused, with a lot of screen-time being splurged on the sparse yet beautiful backgrounds and their occasional tasteful water animations. With the result that Tamayura comes off feeling very scenic and tranquil, even though it is set in a run-down Japanese town in contrast with Croisee’s glittering Paris. All too fitting too, I might add, that a primary theme of the story in Tamayura is photography and photo appreciation.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m guilty of an irrational longing for something that could truly succeed Aria in the types of things it did, and perhaps that longing is clouding my judgement and eventually I’d realize that Tamayura really didn’t deserve to be among the pantheon of such a strong season. Perhaps. What I can tell you, sincerely from my heart of hearts, though, is that right now, this show is hitting all the right keys with me. The great music, the laid-back pacing, the fluffy plot and themes, the somewhat minimalistic style, the unabashedly idiosyncratic characters, even the Aria-esque tendency to tread dangerously close to over-romanticizing, it’s all there. The ingredients make a delectable mix, and with Junichi Sato himself at the helm, I have high expectations.
(The only thing missing, and I’m actually half-serious about this, is a tsukkomi. A suteki-suteki show just wouldn’t be the same without one. When is an Aika-chan going to appear ﾟﾟ（´Д｀ ）ﾟﾟ )
(Ohandbtw, existence of weird-ass creature-thing?
Brainmark #3: Mirai Nikki
Here at the top three is where things really start to get hard to rank. It was a tough decision to put Mirai Nikki on third place, but in the end, the other two simply won too hard on production values. However! This does not even remotely imply that Mirai Nikki’s production was shoddy. Far from it. I only knew some scattered things about the manga from little pieces of mentions here and there, but the first episode totally blew me away on execution. The transition from the peaceful exposition to the adrenalized introduction of the future diaries and then to the frantic revelation of the survival game was masterfully done. The twists were sudden, violent, and exciting, and the bits and pieces of really brilliant cinematography really add to the experience – for example the scene where Yuno cornered Yukiteru in the elevator. He reaches for his darts, the doors close, Yuno leans forward towards his lips, the elevator lifts off and the evening sunlight beamed through the glass lining the elevator’s lower half, and illuminated them in fiery orange from below as they kissed. Just great. The art was beautiful and effective, and the color palette and BGM brought out the keening, panicked quality in the critical parts of the show extremely well. Most importantly though, the first episode estabilished the key fact that Yukiteru-Shota-GTFO is not the main character. Well, not really. This show is all about… Gasai Yuno.
Look at her. Just look. This screenshot alone is 10 times more interesting than Yukiteru already. And then witness how casual she is about death, how she walked away smiling after killing the third like she was going home from a shopping trip, and yet how flustered she is in matters pertaining to Yukiteru. How cool-headed and rational she is in life-threatening situations and yet how terrifyingly oblivious she is in stalking and texting Yukiteru through the night. She may be bat-shit insane and completely obsessed over our shota lead, but that throbbing school-girl blush at the end of episode two really flung a storm of spice on her character. Man! I’ve never been so intrigued by a yandere.
Yuno alone would’ve been sufficient for me to be sold on this show, but I simply cannot overstate the effectiveness of the future diary idea. It’s a really cool idea that could make for some very unusual and creative conflicts, chases and battles. We’re already seeing plenty of this in the first two episodes, and yet despite the high adrenaline and heart-in-throat violence of the main story, the precious little bits of comic relief, like murumuru sensei’s ending corners, actually do work and are pretty entertaining. What can I say, I’ve run out of vocabulary to use on this giant post already. This, is a good show.
Brainmark #2: Guilty Crown
As my friend Idyllic Hoa succinctly summarized for me, there are two things you need to know about this show. Production IG, and Supercell. Okay, maybe one more thing, Hiroyuki Yoshino, who wrote Code Geass. Yes, this show so far has felt more or less like Code Geass on massive steroids, with the unnaturally cool bishie guy leading a spirited rebellion against an unnaturally malevolent military rulership in an unnaturally dystopic future using unnaturally risky but incredibly flashy, whoop-ass cool tactics. Except unnaturally cool bishie guy isn’t the main character – that’s the high school shounen who, uh, pulled a totally imbalanced, mecha-slaying sword out from the depths of a girls chest (cough Dantalian).
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – the story and character archetypes of this show are anything but novel. Where Guilty Crown shines and shines blindingly is in production values. It is crazy good, even by Production IG A-team standards. Then, as if fussing over whether that was enough, they also somehow managed to pull out Supercell and wove their amazing music into the heart of the show. The result is quite probably the biggest audio-visual guns we’ve seen in TV anime in a good while. Of course, the story, characters and themes aren’t exactly trash either. They are just, in my opinion, greatly eclipsed by the phenomenal animation, detail, and music. The integral role of song and music in particular is what really made the show for me. That was what I loved Macross Frontier for despite its other shortcomings. In inheriting key elements from Macross Frontier and Code Geass – two of the most successful mecha shows in recent times – and with the lofty budget and impeccable execution so far, Guilty Crown has the potential to exceed both its predecessors. Let’s see if it will.
(P.S. I sort of liked it that the main character guy backed away from joining the organisation at the end of episode two. Still, I’m afraid to hold my breath for too much breaking of the mold for a show like Guilty Crown. They might surprise me. We’ll see)
Brainmark #1: Fate/Zero
At last! After a long journey we’re finally down to brainmark number one. And who would’ve guessed, it is the prequel to the nostalgic Fate Stay Night series, except it isn’t quite the same, because this time it is Ufotable that is at the helm. For perspective, the other notable Type-Moon franchise that Ufotable had produced is the Kara no Kyoukai animated films – in short, A++ material. Studio Deen did a reasonable job with the original Fate Stay Night, but in two episodes Ufotable has demonstrated beyond any doubt that its reinvigorated take on the franchise is head and shoulders above Studio Deen’s baby, and yes that includes the Unlimited Blade Works film.
A chronic affliction of shows in the Fate universe is the necessity of long stretches of conversation and narratives – a direct result of the fact that the Fate universe has one of the most involved (and intriguing!) lores by anime standards, and that a fairly in-depth understanding of the way the world works is critical to the appreciation of the story. The original Fate Stay Night was notorious for having very dreary stretches of talking between the pretty well-done action sequences. Fate/Zero is of course not immune to this unfortunate necessity of detail-mongering. However, Ufotable managed to juggle the precious few pieces of character exposition and plot progression among the generous slabs of spoken text into a masterfully arranged composition. Amazingly, we had an hour-long first episode virtually devoid of action sequences that not only felt interesting and enjoyable throughout, but that managed to kindle the flame of excitement within me into a roaring furnace by the time we hit the climatic end of the first episode, where the chosen masters finally completed their summoning rituals in a roar of light and flame. And as Saber stood there among the dying spellfire, amidst the silence of the summoning’s aftermath, asking, in her firm voice, “I ask of thee, are you my Master?”, I knew I was in love.
Beyond the phenomenal production values, good music (though not Kara no Kyoukai good), and intriguing storyline, it is this that really set Fate/Zero apart in the top three and earned it the number one spot – nostalgia and emotional connection. Saber, Rin, Sakura and Illya were all important characters in Fate Stay Night that we knew, and amidst all the intrigue going on in the story it felt like a special connection seeing Illya play with her father. Seeing Sakura being given over to the Matou clan and witnessing her horrible fate there was also particularly painful. Even Rin’s cute little jeer drew a smile. These little bits of extra add handily to the mesh of conflicting desires and motivations, benevolent, malevolent and neutral, that swirled in the events leading up to the Holy Grail war like gathering winds, clouds and thunder. What a storm it will be, I can hardly wait.
Honorable Mention: Working!! Season 2
Same wholesome entertainment with improved animation and all the fun of the first season intact. More than I can say for some other sequels (cough ikamusume)
Honorable Mention: UNGO
This show might have deserved to be brainmarked, but I’m about as sick of these detective shows by now as Eri was sick of Gosick references back in summer. I wanted to, but I wasn’t able to drop UNGO – yet. It’s showing some promise, I’ll give it that much.
Honorable Mention: Meat
I’ve always as a rule despised disproportionately endowed character designs, especially the blonde ones. Sena-chan (Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukunai), though, is somehow bending spacetime and making me break that rule.
Dat meat. Must be the Itou Kanae voice.