Summer 2014 Anime – Midseason Impressions

We’re at the halfway point of the season. Any week now, all of these anime should build up into whatever they’ve been promising, but until then I’m going to review what I think of the anime, and what they’ve managed to establish so far. This season is definitely one that contains a rather high amount of new anime that have become popular, and I see that as an excellent thing. It shows that the anime industry is still full of fresh ideas.  As always, I’ll start with what I feel are the weakest of the season, and work my way up. So without any further introduction, let’s jump right into it.

Barakamon

Synopsis: A professional calligrapher needs a spark of inspiration for his craft, so he decides to visit an island inhabited by country-style villagers. His attempt at isolating himself from society, instead, forces him to deal with the zany and overbearing residents of the island.

This whimsical and humorous anime has been hitting the right notes to make me laugh and simply feel good every single time I sit down to watch an episode. Easily the strongest factor to this anime’s charm are the lifelike children who roam about the village. They are eccentric, adorable, and satisfyingly lifelike which contrasts well with the dramatic and serious main character. While the story follows a “slice-of-life” approach, there is still an underlying theme across each episode of overcoming one’s social and mental weaknesses. However, this still means that there is an episodic approach where you can watch the episodes in nearly any order because of the lack of a direct plot. I don’t mind anime like this, but for those expecting a storyline that constantly progresses, just make note of that before starting this one.

The artwork is rather pleasant because the island has a relaxing tropical atmosphere and the setting is full of lush green trees, glowing blue oceans, with wooden homes littering the landscape. The focus on calligraphy is interesting. It was actually what initially drew me in, but it doesn’t really go into that much detail about calligraphy. This isn’t an anime that will teach you the ins and outs of it rather than just having it as a unique character skill that can sometimes symbolize what the theme of the episode is. Besides that, there isn’t much to note. It’s funny, with a great setting and an entertaining cast of characters including hilarious children, and has a quirky main character. This is essentially all you need to enjoy twenty minutes of smart comedy.

 

Sword Art Online II

Synopsis: Kirito is called in to investigate the virtual video game of Gun Gale Online where a player named Death Gun is able to shoot people in the game resulting in the actual death of the player in the real world.

This anime started off shaky. So much so, that I thought Sword Art Online was finished and would lose all it’s credibility that it gained from it’s first season. I am very relieved that this season, thanks in large part to the new heroine, is rapidly steering back onto the right track. The moment when you learn of Sinon, the main heroine’s, backstory, I immediately became much more invested. Her situation is real, and very psychologically driven, which is the type of stuff that is right up my alley. There are still a few things that are just hard to get used to, such as Kirito acting like a girl for an entire episode, but these are being fixed by a much more “mental” turmoil that makes this season feel moderately more intense than the last season.

The villain is still the weakest link by having a name that sounds like what my rambunctious nephew would name his Nerf gun. But even he is getting a bit more backstory that paints him as a personal threat to Kirito that I can understand. The other big question is “how does Gun Gale Online compare to Sword Art or Alfheim?” I’d say we haven’t seen enough of the world yet. It’s much more industrial, and it’s drawn extremely well when you see it, but we’re not exactly traveling across the entirety of this world map this time. The location of things happening in the world has been pretty stagnant. The way the game plays is still interesting to see, but doesn’t have as much detail going into it as the initial Sword Art game did, where they described how to do special attacks and everything else. In the end, I see this season as being more psychological and dramatic in nature, and less adventurous. I approve of this change, but adventure lovers might be wary of this new season.

 

Akame Ga Kill

Synopsis: Tatsumi is a young country boy who travels to the imperial capitol of his country to make money for his poor village. When he learns of an evil assassin group called Night Raid, he encounters them in the middle of the night. He is forcefully inducted into the group and learns that who’s really evil in this world might just be the other way around.

Akame Ga Kill was hyped as being hyper-violent and dark upon release. This is easily why everyone was surprised when the anime felt fun and charming as well as containing some bad-ass action. Hyper-violence hasn’t really been a thing. I would just say this anime is simply on the bloodier side, without hitting the ranks of gory. The tone has a large comedic sense with a strong theme of comradery that instantly reminds me of Fairy Tail. The characters are really colorful with vivid personalities, and they have already spent some time showing a lot of their motivations and reasoning into becoming assassins. Akame is one of my anime crushes by being a violent vixen with a cute personality who always wants to eat food.

While the characters and overall feel of the anime has been great, I’m still waiting for the plot to really kick in. So far the villains and missions we’ve been introduced to have purely been for the sake of showing how each character fights. It follows the typical action style of learning about characters by watching them fight and seeing the way they think. Therefore, the plot is pretty much at a standstill and the main character feels like he has barely moved towards his initial goal. I don’t mind this as long as it turns into something relevant in the future, but as it stands now, I have to call it out. The fight scenes are slickly animated, but they teeter between methodical and senseless. I still can’t decide if it’s a smart anime series or not yet. The final thing I have to mention is the music. Thought it rarely uses them, there are some standout tracks that instantly heighten my enjoyment and immersion. So much so, that it may have my favorite soundtrack this season.

 

Aldnoah Zero

Synopsis: Mars is civilized by a higher form of humanity who manages to wield a power called the Aldnoah, while Earth is populated with regular human beings. A war breaks out between Mars and Earth which pits Martians Aldnoah technology against the standard-fare mechs down on Earth.

Aldnoah Zero brings back the director/writer combination of Ei Aoki and Gen Urobuchi who previously worked on Fate/Zero. First let me get this ridiculous coincidence out of the way. How are you going to let the same director and writer work on a brand new anime, and still have “Zero” in the name as well as having the opening video focus on a bridge? Anyways, zeros and bridges aside, Aldnoah Zero had a ton of hype leading into it’s premiere. While it hasn’t “quite” lived up to that hype, I have been satisfied with everything it’s doing. I have a tough time because it is a mech anime, and mech is usually not a preference of mine, but behind the machinery and gadgets lies a very well written political war drama. Is it as good as Fate/Zero? Considering how happy I was with Fate/Zero after a few episodes, I’d say it’s not, but I’m still very interested to see where it goes, and I think there’s tons of potential for this anime to tread some awesome ground.

One thing I love about any anime written by Gen Urobuchi is that the dialogue is instantly on a higher caliber. Everyone speaks with a more expansive vocabulary that just makes every character come off a bit more intelligent. One thing that’s comparable to Fate/Zero is that we are jumping between several perspectives, and thanks to Ei Aoki’s experience in directing, all of these simultaneous events are presented perfectly. If there’s one character in a part I don’t care for, I can count on the other stories to make up for it. To me, this means that the anime is never entirely boring because there’s always something good going on in one of the many story arcs. For those following it, Slaine is easily my favorite character. The main character is possibly the only dud in the pot because he’s completely emotionless. I would think that this is for a reason given the caliber of the men behind this anime, but so far, there’s no justification to his hollowness. The art style feels new to me. I haven’t really seen characters drawn this way, and I really like it. The mech design hasn’t appealed to me so far, on the other hand. Especially when they are animated with CG. My mech-friends DO like the designs, so maybe this is just more proof that mecha isn’t really my thing. The last thing to mention is the music. It’s the composer of Attack on Titan which means two things. One, the original orchestral score is pulse-pounding and epic. Two, instead of using that orchestral theme, most of the time there will be random J-rock songs that make me feel like I’m watching an AMV and not the actual anime. Stop that!

 

Tokyo Ghoul

Synopsis: Kaneki is a naive college boy who gets suckered into going on a date with a Ghoul, a pseudo-vampire/zombie race that is becoming a problem in his city. After a strange twist of fate, Kaneki ends up becoming part ghoul and is assimilated into ghoul society.

Tokyo Ghoul is easily the biggest surprise of this season’s anime for me. I was expecting something entirely different. The most important thing is that this anime is about learning about ghouls and sympathizing with them, not humanity. The other thing is that there isn’t exactly a theme of war, rather than a simple inability to live together in peace. The moral of this anime is much more humble than I thought and I really like that. The psychological expression of the main character has been very impressive, but thank goodness I watched the most recent episode before writing this because he has been unbearable whiny and feeble. The main character, until now has been my biggest problem, and now that they fixed that, I can go on to talk about everything else I love about this anime.

I had a geek-out moment when I first heard the voice of the singer of one of my favorite J-rock bands, Ling Tosite Sigure, in the first episode. Getting him to do the OP song was a blessing. Past that, the music has been a cut above average, but overall nothing that really stands out. The art and overall design of the ghouls is where things start getting very awesome. The ghouls have a power in the form of unique organs that extend from their body, and they fall under classifications, which also govern what they look like. You have speed ghouls, defense ghouls, and so on and so forth. Seeing these things in motion is utterly grotesque and beautiful at the same time. On top of this, the character design of what the ghouls wear under disguise is cool enough to make any cosplayer drool. The artwork quality in general is really high for this anime, though when the quality sometimes dips, the beautiful color palette makes up for it so that it’s constantly a pretty anime to look at.

 

Hanamonogatari

Synopsis: Suruga, one of the many recurring characters of this series meets an old acquaintance who claims to be the devil. This turns into a discussion of ethics and personal philosophy on why one would play the devil, and ultimately what becomes of the relationship of these two characters in the end.

The Monogatari series has always been a near-pretentious anime about telling supernatural stories with as much wit, moral debate, and subtle sexual innuendo as possible. As far as I know, there’s not really another anime like it. This particularly expansion of the Monogatari universe focuses on a trillion mini-themes, but the biggest focus is that of seeing what true fortune really is. The word Schadenfreude is used at key points of the anime which means gaining satisfaction at the sight of another’s misfortune. I would say that represents the biggest thing this anime tries to tackle. A character who is slowly introduced as playing the devil to trigger this special type of euphoria is a brilliant character archetype. Monogatari does not hold back on throwing every ounce of juicy tidbits on moral and emotional aspects on all walks of life.

Accompanied by the terrific and nuanced writing is an incredibly beautiful showcase of artwork. The “world” that these characters live in is very much real, but when you’re watching a discussion between characters, this world will morph and transform to symbolize the subject at hand. For example, when Suruga is almost flooded with emotion at the revelation she is about to give, the basketball court they are on literally floods with water. Some of the symbolism goes over my head, which is why I label this anime pretentious. It’s smarter than me and I know it. I have to watch this series with more attention than most otherwise I quickly lose pace to it. This particular story was one of the better tales this series has introduced, but it’s not my favorite. If you are a fan of anything Monogatari, however, this set of episodes definitely won’t disappoint. Tons of sharp dialogue, beautiful pieces of artwork thrown at you in rapid succession, and the always constant sexual undertones that always finds an appropriate place are all present and accounted for.

 

Hunter X Hunter

Synopsis: Gon is severely injured in the hospital from the events of the last arc, and Killua has the only means to save him. Meanwhile, the spot for President of the Hunter Society is up for grabs which starts a long process of voting on the next president.

We are FINALLY in a new arc of Hunter X Hunter, but before you process this statement as a negative one, let me just say that the previous one was my favorite arc in a shounen anime I’ve ever seen. Even with that, any fan of Hunter X Hunter knows that each new arc brings with it an entirely new aspect of this world, and we always want more of that. This arc is considered a mini-arc which bridges the gap into the next big one, but that will take a long time because the producers have finally announced the end of this anime’s production to coincide with the end of this mini-arc. It’s a fitting place because the next big arc isn’t even finished in manga-form. Nearly 150 episodes will mark the end (or brief intermission) of one of the highest-rated shounen anime of all time.

So this current arc focuses on Killua as the main character, which is just amazing because Killua has always been my favorite character in this anime. We are also introduced to his sister who has a baffling ability of granting wishes through an exhaustive assortment of rules. I give much credit to the creator of Hunter X Hunter for giving so much thought to every little aspect of his universe. Killua is on his mission to restore Gon’s body which gives the emotional weight to this arc. But that’s just half of it, because we also have the political maze of a story that is the Hunter Chairman Election. While the election focuses on intrigue, secretive character motives, and holes in the system, Killua’s arc focuses on saving friends, standing up to his strict family, and ultimately getting this anime’s main character back into action. The artwork, direction, and music is just as good as it’s ever been, though this arc is definitely a bit more airy and lighthearted than the chillingly dark Chimera Ant Arc. I’m excited to see more of the mind games in the Election as well as seeing Killua fight for his friend. Their friendship is the core of this show, and Killua’s doing his best to keep it that way.

 

Legend of Korra

Synopsis: People around the world are having the ability to airbend suddenly awaken within them. As Korra seeks them out to reform the Air Nation, an imprisoned man also gains airbending and uses it to escape, regroup his companions, and chase down the Avatar.

The anime that “isn’t an anime” is back in full force with a new season, and I won’t hesitate to say that it’s my favorite of the three so far. What’s immediately noticeable is that the “feeling’ of the original Avatar is back because we are finally traveling around the world instead of being stuck in one place the whole season. The focus is also much less on Korra this time, and is more fleshed out between all of the minor characters which makes the supporting cast feel a lot stronger. The villains definitely made a strong opening impression, but we only recently started learning what their true motives are. I must say that these villains are thrilling to watch in action. Benders of the highest caliber in each of their respective elements, they fight with the same skill as the masters of the original series. The latest episode has upped the intensity tenfold with a fight that rivals the end of book two from the original series. (Nothing tops the book 3 finale) Best of all, pictured below, we have our first ever airbending kill. This makes me really wonder why the show was taken off of Nick TV.

The animation is incredible and constantly has my eyes watering from the sheer beauty of the world and seeing the bending in motion. Avatar has an ace in the whole with it’s focus on elemental combat mixed with martial arts. It’s just tough to top how beautiful the combat can look sometimes. The music is also no laughable matter, and the villains have their own theme song that definitely makes their presence all the more intense. The story of this season doesn’t seem to be a dire situation in any sense, as it’s basically just preventing the kidnapping of the Avatar rather than stopping a war between nations or even realms like the last season was.  So because of that, I don’t really see this being a defining season for the mythology or lore of Avatar. All I can say is that I have finally gotten what I wanted out of a sequel to Avatar in this season, so now I am extremely happy that Legend of Korra exists.

 

Zankyou no Terror

Synopsis: Nine and Twelve are two young, incredibly intelligent boys who have formed a terrorist duo who announce their attacks by distributing a video riddle over the internet. As their motives become clear, a detective who seems to have an understanding of them tries to put a stop to this plan that involves much more than simple terrorism.

And here we are, at the anime with so much quality that it could pass off as a high-budget anime film. The director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Kids on the Slope is back, and teaming up with the same composer, nonetheless. The first thing you notice from this anime is a meticulous amount of realism. The animation has lens flares, focusing zooms, and camera shakes to make this a ridiculously executed form of art. The music brings about a darker side of Yoko Kanno with some truly haunting music, especially in the flashback sequence that repeats every couple episodes. This anime suffered some controversy because of it’s subject matter and the fact that the first bombing locale looked like the Twin Towers. However, this anime has plotted along it’s course with such confidence and artistic flair that everyone has pretty much let the controversy bite the dust to just enjoy this truly marvelous feat of animation.

The characters are also a definite highlight. Twelve is an absolute charmer thanks to his aloof and eccentric personality. This is a serious show, in the same vein as Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell, so having someone like Twelve really breaks that monotonous tone. Also thrown in is Lisa, this girl who has mysteriously been a large focal point for this anime, but has yet to really show why she’s such an important role. The story is what you could consider the weakest aspect, only by process of elimination because the story is still very satisfactory. But unlike the animation which is literally raising the bar of the industry as a whole, or the phenomenal music and sound direction, the story simply hasn’t hit that game-changing level. It easily could, because this is a mystery anime, and no story places more emphasis on the ending than a mystery story does. Until then, we’re all just enjoying the ride as more and more characters are introduced to this game of terrorism.

 

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With so many impressive new anime, this season is definitely one that made this year better. With last season’s No Game No Life, and this season’s Zankyou No Terror, I think we’re in for a pretty heated battle for Anime of the Year this time around. Funnily enough, No Game No Life and Zankyou no Terror are basically the unrealistic and realistic versions of the same anime in a way. Anyways, thank you for reading this, because it’s always appreciated. I probably won’t write about these again until season finale time, because I have some other anime blogs under wraps, so I look forward to that! There are still some anime I haven’t watched yet such as Black Butler’s new season and I still have to watch Haikyuu (Congrats to that one for breaking into the top 100 on Anime Planet!) as well as he latest Fairy Tail episodes. This means I just have more anime to watch, so let’s me wrap this up and get started on doing that!

 

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2 thoughts on “Summer 2014 Anime – Midseason Impressions

    • Tokyo Ghoul for sure!
      As for Sword Art I mean, it seems entirely different, but I like it just the same. If anything, I like how one anime can go from an epic adventurous feeling to a darker and more personal style.
      I’d say it only takes till episode 3 to show it’s merit. Not long at all. It’s just that the hype made it seem like it would have the best premiere episode ever. O.o

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