Winter 2014 Anime – Midseason Impressions

It’s been a while since the first week of this anime season started and unleashed a torrent of zany anime upon the otaku masses. 8 weeks, to be precise. Now that the dust has mostly settled, you can gain a sense of each anime’s direction and quality this season. I will be writing this weekly from here on out like most bloggers do, but this particular update will be my impression for the entire anime thus far rather than the latest individual episode. I will, of course, rank them by my personal favorites saving the best for last for that cliche suspense.

Tonari no Seki-kun: Master of Killing Time

This is an anime that you simply enjoy by not expecting much, and going along for the ride. So far, each episode has chronicled Rumi and her continued distractions caused by Seki, her neighboring classmate that wastes time doing the strangest things. I was a bit surprised that the narrative eventually opened to include a couple different characters or settings outside of the classroom, however, it still hasn’t expanded into anything more than the simple plot it follows each and every episode. It’s easiest to just give a rough breakdown of each episode.

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Episode 1: Dominos – I loved it. I am pretty entertained by stacking dominoes so it made the show instantly relatable.

Episode 2: Shogi – This was even better, and is my favorite “waste of time” that Seki pursues. The implied heightened imagination clearly represents what I would think in class too.

Episode 3: Desk Polishing – This one was funny, but not quite as relatable. It wasn’t as good as the first two.

Episode 4: Go – It seems the ones that involve using little figurines to represent an imaginary story are my favorites because this one was amazing as well.

Episode 5: Eraser Stamp – While the episode was fresh because it changed the setting and had another character, it was easily the most dull of activities Seki has enjoyed.

Episode 6: Disaster Drill – This one made me crack up the most. The concept of Seki not caring about the disaster drill, yet taking the time to make his robots appear to be following the drill instructions perfectly was hilarious.

Episode 7: Note Passing: This is what I wanted to see. Something even more involved and skillful than the dominos episode. This one went all in with Seki being a professional note-passer complete with closing and opening times and shipping rates.

Episode 8: Shogi 2 – The triumphant return of my favorite activity strikes gold again as it was another of this anime’s best episode.

Overall Tonari no Seki-kun is easy to watch since each episode is only seven minutes long. There’s no depth, or overarching story to get drawn into, but it’s a funny realization of a very unique scenario that, to it’s credit, does always make you want to see what Seki is going to think to do next. And that’s all it takes to get you hooked on this quirky comedy.

Hamatora

What’ll street gangs think of next?

This is where you can either tell me “I told you so” or join me in hoping this anime can somehow be as good as I originally thought it would be. It had a brilliant opening episode flashing a unique art style, a rather realistic attempt at the whole “people with powers” concept, and finely weaved into a detective style narrative. I thought that if episode one had an awesome power like Nice’s sound-turns-into-rainbows ability, then it would only get better! Unfortunately all that has followed has been a few good scenes of wit and story development being bogged down by a mediocre villain and an anticlimactic look at how the powers really get going. Additionally, Nice is still pretty much the same character he was near the beginning, so that has taken a big toll on the development of this anime.

If you’re a fan of the cop and robber or cat and mouse games in storytelling, then this anime still has some substance. It’s definitely clever and has set up a rather intricate mystery that has to be solved from many different angles. They also throw in a decent amount of twists and complications that keep the story alive, and a lot of what’s holding the anime back is simply a lack of information on the viewer’s part, which means that can be fixed at any point. I still have hope that this anime can return to the same fresh and exciting story as the beginning, but each episode I watched since then has diminished that hope slightly. Nevertheless, this anime still gets credit for having the coolest looking power of the season. That will never change.

Witchcraft Works

The anime that surprised a lot of people who doubted the show because of it’s horrible title is still going fairly strong, but it has been waning from my preferences slightly. Witchcraft Works throws you into the mundane life of Honoka who deal with school and boredom with increasing regularity. Miraculously, the most desirable, intelligent, and beautiful girl in the school all of a sudden shows up to protect them, complete with crazy fire magic and all. The story is developing at a slower pace now while the latest episode barely progressed the plot at all. Regardless, it did introduce some much needed back story so it wasn’t a waste of an episode. I’m still majorly turned off by the use of teddy bears and mecha-rabbits, but I am glad to see that they aren’t frequently appearing anymore.

I am still, in small part, a fan of the unique relationship of the two protagonists. The fire witch is still loyal and attached to the ever-confused hero and that’s always been very endearing to see. However, the relationship still feels…synthetic, or unemotional to me. I’m waiting to see what caused this spark between them because as of now, I just don’t feel a romantic vibe when I look at them. It’s more akin to a puppy never leaving it’s master’s side at this point. And of course, the other highlight of this show is it’s incredible action scenes, and the visuals that accompany them. Whenever Ayaka jumps into fire mode, it literally sizzles my eyes with well-animated action.

World Conquest Zvezda Plot

This is easily one of the “loose screws” this season. It’s a wacky comedy that can reel in it’s humor for some serious character development, but it’s hard to say if it has progressed how I wanted it to. I have a feeling that the ending will be a major impact of my final opinion of this anime because I just don’t see where it’s headed, and that confusion irks me a little. It started as an episode stating that this little girl will eventually conquer the world, and that she commands an eclectic, and powerful group of fighters. What it is now, though, is a comedy that is just running rampant with clever humor with very little world conquering. I can’t deny that each episode has been pretty entertaining regardless, so it succeeds in being an anime worth watching, but will it become an anime worth watching time and time again? That remains to be seen.

I am still on the fence if I want this series to remain nonsensical, or actually sit down and just explain some of the crazy semantics going on sometimes. I’m not particularly attached to any character because of the lack of realism, so that is the biggest reason I want a little bit more drama or back story for the already colorful cast of characters. What doesn’t need to change is it’s comedic sense. I will admit that I laughed a lot harder than I should have at this treasure dance they came up with in the recent episodes. I’m trying to show my friends and make it the next Gangnam style, but I’m failing horribly at it.

The Pilot’s Love Song

I can’t deny that the scope of this story leaves room for a huge amount of potential. There’s possibilities of discovering fantastic new worlds, or developing a heartfelt romance in a war-torn society, or becoming a well-developed battle between people that believe in different things. The story is basically a young boy and his sister who join their city’s military project that takes a floating fortress to the undiscovered edge of the world. There’s a lot going for the overall fiction that this anime takes place in and it feels like we just scratched the surface, but how is it so far? Great. Some episodes are fantastic even. The pacing has never really been a problem, and neither have the characters. It truly feels like an adventure, and the cast makes you feel like you’re right there with them. The writing is a little formulaic, but at least they can still deliver great back stories and plot twists that keep up the sense of discovery.

I have to say that I personally enjoyed the cooking episode that seemed to be hit more miss with the anime community.  I found it to be a very charming, and heart-warming moment of creating bonds between friends that really gives this anime the feeling of wanting to actually be in that world. Immersion is a key aspect of my enjoyment to any anime, and Pilot’s Love Song has done a decent job in providing that for me. Then they brought on the emotional impact in the following episode by starting it’s first glimpse of the consequences of war with a character’s death. It was handled really well. It was emotional without being soppy, and it changed the tone, yet again, to that of war. Now we’re in the thick of it, and it’s time for this anime to see how it fares as a tale of combat and tactics on the battlefield.

Magi: The Kingdom of Magic

I really hope Magi continues on to become a successful, long-running anime to combat the likes of Naruto and the gang. I am in love with the world, and it’s many incredible characters. Magi really stands out artistically with it’s Arabian theme as well as the golden glow of the Rukh that are essentially the “living magic” of the world. Magi also carves it’s own identity in taking a constant look at the will of the people in power against the desire of the people without power. This show is surprisingly developed in telling the political drama going on between all of the nations in this world, and that brings a great sense of realism and intellect to an already entertaining world.

These last few episodes have easily been some of Magi’s best. War has broken out and it fell upon Aladdin to try to keep the violence and destruction at a minimum. Teased in the first episode of the season, Aladdin finally achieved his first transformation. And every Shounen fan knows, transformations only bring more epic thrills and heightened adrenaline to the mix. It was captivating to see Aladdin commanding the sand of the entire desert, shaping them into giant guardians, and sweeping back an entire army, without harming them. Alibaba has finally returned as well, and I’m very excited to see what he’s going to bring to the table. The feeling of adventure and friendship is still paramount to the charm of the series, and I was glad that I felt that charm again when they were reunited because I was worried that the show became too lost in political dribble and war.

Noragami

Unless one of the previously mentioned anime that are new this season gets a massive jump in quality, Noragami has pretty much solidified it’s position of being my favorite new anime. It’s simply incredible. This anime is about the life of a minor god, Yato, and his continued attempts to scrape a living in the shadow of the more famous gods. It’s a premise that seems a bit vague, but rest assured that it is a very well-told and rich story. Yato has become an increasingly engaging character who’s mysterious past has been unraveling and constantly shifting him from dark and terrifying to humane and compassionate with every episode. During this, the show also never loses it’s sense of humor which shines just as brightly as it’s most serious parts. And that opening song is easily my favorite this season. Go listen to it!

Everything introduced in this anime has been enthralling to see. Morality is almost in a constant flux in the god world. What is right and what is wrong is entirely dependent on what humanity as a whole decides on. Gods are slaves to the people’s justice in this sense, and that paints an incredibly sympathetic view for each of the god characters. The Regalia, which are spirits that are taken in by the gods, who then transform into their weapons, adds an extra layer of complexity when the regalia thinks one way and the god thinks another. The latest episode introduced an amazing side story that upped the intensity of the show to a high mark, making this quite the edgy anime. Yato had to help a kid getting bullied and took it upon himself to give the kid something incredibly risky, in order to test his humanity. This was even more effective, when it was contrasted with Yukine, his regalia, who was also struggling with the same choice internally. It takes a long look at several complicated themes, tells them in intelligent and emotional stories, and has an amazing cast that all have their defining traits and moments of good or evil.

Kuroko’s Basketball

I started this as part of my older anime marathon, and quickly caught up to the current episode. I am not lying when I say that this anime, which about basketball for crying out loud, is one of the most intense anime I’ve ever seen. Everything from the vivid, aggressive animation to the movie-quality orchestra score drives every episode to unnerving amounts of tension. Every single game has made me hold my breath. There’s a lot more going on here then a simple anticipation of scoring when the clock is counting down. The basketball court is a battlefield, and on it is an absorbing sequence of beautifully animated action, and psychological tactics. Combine that with the pure emotion that some of the players bring in the heated moments and you have an anime that will make you jump, gasp, laugh, and cry all within minutes of each other.

Kuroko’s basketball also has some of the best portrayal of “powers” that I’ve ever seen as well. This isn’t simple basketball. It’s fairly accurate to say that at this point, it has become Dragon Ball Z on a basketball court, but it’s even better than that. This action is better than DBZ. I’d almost put it up there with Hunter X Hunter because it’s also smart, with moments of poignancy and not being entirely about the level of power. Kuroko, the character, is also shaping up to be this “force” that when other characters are exposed to him long enough, their hearts soften and they start to enjoy the game of basketball more. I love that effect, and players that I thought would never smile, end up doing so thanks to Kuroko’s amazing aura that you just can’t resist. I say it all the time, but you don’t even have to like basketball to enjoy this anime.

Hunter X Hunter

I was seriously debating how long I could stand this slow-motion invasion arc until I watched the latest episode. I’m set. You can go at this pace as long as you want, because even when time is at a literal crawl, this anime completely enraptures me. Hunter X Hunter is a large, 100+ ongoing adventure that follows Gon and his friends in finding his father. A legendary Hunter who left a small trail of breadcrumbs for his son to eventually find him. This leads him through a wide variety of journeys that range from pure adventure, to the dark and grim tale of rescue and survival that is the current arc. I have watched some truly astounding episodes lately in this anime that deserve to be listed amongst the greatest anime episodes of all time.

Gon has finally gotten his first taste of instability in his thirst for revenge, and it was absolutely haunting, yet beautiful, to see him battle his inner desires in the heat of the moment. The episode where he can barely control himself is one of the most evocative and dramatic episodes I’ve ever seen. This arc is literally mesmerizing. You need patience at the rate the plot is progressing, but it’s not as if this is filler or bad storytelling. This is pure gold that you are savoring one piece at a time. The latest episode was just as gorgeous as the other masterful episodes of this season. Knuckle realized he was on death’s door in a brilliant way, and Killua has made his strongest entrance since the anime started. Not to mention Killua was already my favorite character. I am literally bouncing on the balls of my feet, waiting for the next episode.

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As always, I am very humbled by anyone who takes time to read or comment. It’s deeply appreciated. I will be posting updates on these every week now so if you liked this, then you can expect much, much more!

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