Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter of Our {Dis}content

We're four weeks into the winter 2012 season, so it's time for some initial judgments on the new shows. I'm going to skip all the carryovers because, except for Chihayafuru, I'm not watching any of them.

First, the picks of the litter (drumroll, please):
  • Natsume Yuujinchou Shi. (What, you were expecting Nisemonogatari? From me?)  Natsume is back, as good as ever, or perhaps better.  The first four episodes have illustrated everything that's terrific about this show, including a two-episode action mini-arc, a charming, lightweight furball fantasy, and a melancholic but sweet reflection on the poignancy and difficulties of relationships - between humans, as well as between humans and youkai. Natsume continues to grow as a protagonist, Nyanko-sensei is more prominent than in season three (not to mention fatter), and so is the Book of Friends. This would be my favorite winter show, but then there's...
  • Another. This show has sunk its claws into me really deeply, and I'm almost at a loss to say why. I'm not a fan of the horror genre. However, Another, like Alien, takes a fairly familiar ghost/horror premise and gives it a very stylish spin. The spare, cryptic dialog; the clever use of sound effects and silence; the utter creepiness of the doll motifs; the dark artwork and twisted camera angles... They all combine to make the show gripping and unpredictable. I can't look away. I rip into each script as soon as I can get my hands on it and pound on my fellow team members to get their work done as quickly as possible. Further, I want the next episode now. I wish this was a printed mystery story, and I could turn to the last chapter for the rational explanation, but I greatly fear there isn't one...
  • Ano Natsu de Matteru. Okay, so it looks like a reboot of Onegai Teacher. Well, Onegai was a terrific romantic comedy, far more deserving of tribute than most of the remakes of recent years. Anyway, Ano Natsu can stand on its own. The leads are charming, the supporting characters are interesting and funny, and the plot is developing at a leisurely pace. Comparisons to Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae... are pointless: this show is a romantic comedy, Ano Hi was something else. I only hope the writers avoid the temptation to introduce a Serious Development in the last couple of episodes.
  • Thermae Romae. This three-episode mini-series takes the winter award for clever writing. And it's a good thing the writing is so great, because the visuals are barely tolerable. I'm pretty sure that Romae will be the keeper from this winter's Noitamina block, and Black Rock Shooter, as well as Guilty Crown, the throwaways.
  • Mourestu Pirates. Sci-fi and space pirates make a good combination for me. I like that the writers are taking their time in building their world and haven't felt compelled to plunge into slam-bang shoot-'em-up action sequences. (Other reviewers have complained about this.)  I hope the series will continue to explore the characters and the premise over the next couple of episodes before launching into the action arcs.
  • Poyopoyo. The better of the two short comedies this winter. While this is notionally a children's show about a roly-poly cat, the writing is subversive and quite funny. And it has cats. What's not to like?
  • Recorder to Randoseru. The lesser of the short comedies. The main problem is that the three-minute format doesn't suit the material, even though the show is based on a four-panel comic. The situations cry out for more extended development.  A 10- or 15-minute format would have been ideal.
Now the others that I've watched or watch occasionally (in alphabetical order):
  • The Daily Live of High School Boys. Being a long way (thankfully) from my high school days, this series doesn't resonate for me the way it does for younger reviewers. I find it fitfully funny, but small doses of the lead characters' idiocy go a long way for me.
  • High School DxD. A guilty pleasure: the ecchi show of the season. I can understand why so many translators have been drawn to this show, instead of doing something useful, like helping Monokage finish Towa no Qwon (hint, hint). This show doesn't have an original thought in its head, but the eye candy is first rate.
  • Ino x Boku SS. The lead's tsundere rantings and the dog-like devotion of the secret service agent wear thin fairly fast, and the subordinate characters are all tropes. Episode 4 was an improvement, adding depth to the lead character through an extended set of flashbacks.
  • Kill Me Baby. I found the first episode rather funny (after I skipped the opening), but the subsequent episodes have just repeated the jokes from the first one, with diminishing returns.
  • Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai. I'm not sure where this show is going, and the fanservice scenes make me fear for the worst. Usagi Drop it ain't.
  • Rinne no Lagrange. Sket Dance meets big mecha. Not for me.
  • Zero no Tsukaima F. Tsundere and harem in one show! I liked the original series of Zero, but it's been downhill every since.
The rest I've dropped already: Aquarian Evol (mecha? next); Area no Kishi (sports with personal heartbreak? next); Brave 10 (Warring States? next); Milky Holmes S2 (don't even ask); New Prince of Tennis (is there a point to this?); Nisemonogatari. The latter gets this season's Penguindrum award for pointless cleverness. Many people like that kind of show. I do not. Sorry about that.

To sum it all up: I'm pretty happy with this season's anime!

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