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Anime Wrap Up Summer 2009

The summer season's over but what were 2009's shows like? Read to find out my opinion on: Valkyria Chronicles, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2, Sora no Manimani, Bakemonogatari, Tears to Tiara, Spice and Wolf II, and Princess Lover. Note: The article expresses an overall impression on a number of shows but doesn’t represent a definitive review of them.

Date: 9-10-2009
Subject: Anime
Article By: Bradley Beeck

valkyria_chronicles001Valkyria Chronicles is an adaption of the popular PS3 game of the same name. It focuses on the exploits of Squad 7 – specifically Sgt Alicia Melchiott, and lieutenant Welkin Gunther – as they fight for the Militia against the Empire. Faldio, a lieutenant of another squad, also features heavily. For a show set in a world war style setting it doesn’t features much violence, and no one dies until the last third of the series when the show takes a turn for the angst. The general consensus of fans of the game is that the show was a huge let down; drifting away from it’s focus on Welkin to Faldio (Super Faldio – the man who can do anything), a love triangle between Welkin/Faldio/Alicia, not including certain scenes and having little detail on the tertiary characters. Never having played the game I think Valkyria Chronicles is decent. The action’s okay, the characters are okay, the writing is average at best – there’s nothing hugely insightful about the conflict or characters, and some plots threads go no where. The story was reasonably entertaining and it ended nicely. Although the final confrontation with the main villain is a total game boss ending. I think the series would have been better received had it focused on Faldio from the beginning and told the story from his perspective. It would have made it clear to everyone it was doing its own thing and given it the chance to offer fresh insight into the original story.

haruhis2003The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya S2 is a second season of the otaku favourite, if we can call it that as apparently it wasn’t really intended that way. It was supposed to be relaunch of the show in attempt to gain or regain fans and these new episodes aired along with the old ones. The series is about Kyon and the strange situations he finds himself in thanks to the influence of Haruhi. Haruhi is some kind of godlike entity who can manipulate reality by her unconscious will so she unknowingly attracts aliens and time travelers, which she is obsessed with. I’ve always found her to be not much more than a plot device, than a believable character. Anyway this ‘season’ was a failure for one reason – it was boring. So much so that I actually dropped it after the infamous Endless Eight arc. It started off introducing the characters again, and it felt just like the first season. Kyon’s inner commentary was still amusing and Mikuru was still moe. Unfortunately that was the high point as the next episode was filler, and then shortly after that the Endless Eight arc started. The arc’s premise was that the same eight days of summer were endlessly repeated because Haruhi didn’t want them to end. Sounds fine except this went on for four episodes, four episodes of the same events being shown again and again, with only pointless subtle differences. I have no idea why they thought that was a good idea but it sure felt endless to me. So stick with the first season or just don’t buy or watch this arc when it gets released unless you want to be bored.

sora_manimani006Sora no Manimani is my pick of the season and is one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen. It pulls off the rare feat of doing both comedy and drama well; usually they interfere with each other. Either the drama isn’t powerful enough or the comedy is too silly making the show hard to take seriously. This show’s comedy isn’t over the top, it’s quiet gentle and warm. The characters are very likeable and that extends to the side kick type/comedy relief character – Edogawa. The serious moments come from the relationship between Saku and the ever energetic Mihoshi as well as the show’s affection for the night sky. The show’s central characters are members of the school astronomy club. Saku, a bookworm, and Mihoshi, obsessed with stargazing, are childhood friends but Saku moved away for seven years. Now he’s moved back to town and has bad memories of Mihoshi dragging him all over the place so he tries to avoid her. That doesn’t work for long and Mihoshi drags him into joining the astronomy club. The cliché of childhood friends is given some depth through what Saku missed out on and who Mihoshi met during that time. There’s a love triangle with Hime also liking Saku but it’s something of non-starter. Her character has one memorable episode of development that sees her nearly die because of her stubbornness, jealousy and stupidity. I was quite surprised to see that kind of character depth and the show still remained enjoyable/funny. At the time of writing the last episode hasn’t been subtitled so I can’t comment on how the series ends. Sora no Manimani is an excellent series that I hope gets another season because at 12 episodes it has a lot more room for development.

bakemonogatari003Bakemonogatari or Ghost Story (?) is the latest series from Shaft and my surprise of the season. The show is about a series of oddities – supernatural things afflicting people – and Koyomi Araragi’s involvement in trying to help the people they are affecting. Hitagi Senjougahara is one such person and by chance Araragi discovers her oddity – she weighs almost nothing. She reacts pretty savagely to this but Araragi is determined to help her. He experienced an oddity himself when he was turned into a vampire but this is never explained or depicted at any length in the series. The show is very dialogue heavy, the art house style direction is sometimes annoying, and it dwells on fanservice but it’s intriguing. So much so that I devoured a bunch of episodes in one sitting. The direction and animation are definitely suspect; the show frequently cuts to coloured screens or screens with writing on them that disappear before you can read them. However it does give the dialogue heavy scenes more energy. The show also has a tendency to jump to quite graphically violent scenes. Like Araragi being swung around by his intestines – being a vampire has left him with the ability to survive such things. The characters are pretty odd themselves and aren’t necessarily that understandable. Araragi’s desire to help people verges on the insane vis-à-vis intestine swinging. The series maintains an overall continuity so people Araragi aids will be in the following episodes, which is something I like. Senjougahara and Araragi develop a relationship as the series progresses and it’s a core part of the story. Bakemonogatari is at the very least a good series that gets you interested right from the beginning. If you give it a shot maybe you’ll develop ‘Senjougahara fascination’ too.

tears_tiara001Tears to Tiara is an adaption of a game made by Leaf, the same guys who made the game Utawarerumono was based on. So if you like that you’ll like this as they’re very similar – fantasy based action heavy harem/drama. This time around it’s roughly set in a Roman period focusing on the barbarian tribe the Gaels. Arawn is the Demon King and has slept in his tome for a thousand years. The arrival of Riannon changes that; at the command of her captor – a priest from the Empire – she offers her life to the Demon to revive him. Arthur, First Warrior of the Gaels, fights to rescue his sister but he arrives too late to stop the ritual. However the Demon King turns out to be markedly different from the legends and becomes the Gael’s chief. This marks the beginning of the Gael’s revolt against the Empire. The series starts poorly with most of the screen time spent between adding characters to Arawn’s harem in sometimes silly ways and filler. It takes a turn for the better around episode 9 when the character development arcs start. This is where the series really begins and the storyline ties in with Arawn’s past and the history of the world. Much like Utawarerumono but the overall structure of that title was superior as was the action, which is underwhelming here. One area where Tears to Tiara trumps it is in ideas, dealings with Kingship and divinity. In the end the show is decent to good as long as you can persevere through the first batch of episodes. The series has already been licensed for an American release.

spice_wolfs2004Spice and Wolf II is thinking mans fantasy following the continuing journey of Lawrence and Horo. Lawrence is a merchant and Horo is a wolf/god trying to return to her home in the north. Horo stays in her human form, which also happens to be quite loli, almost all the time. I actually think she looks more like a fox than a wolf in that form. This season dials up the drama as the character’s feelings for each other develop. The series’ main thrust is the money making schemes Lawrence comes up with and that Horo, being a wise wolf, advices him on. They’re convoluted and not helped by the very subtle dialogue which takes place between Horo and Lawrence. Sometimes I think only the writer/author knows what’s going on in a scene. It’s the kind of show that would benefit from a good dub so I could listen to what was being said instead of trying to read subtitles as they flash by and repeat viewings. Aside from the various merchant schemes the series doesn’t really have much of an over arching story; the relationship between Horo and Lawrence is the story. Which has some powerful moments this season and one particular scene left me like a stunned mullet. The relationship comes to a fairly decisive conclusion but leaves the door open to another season. On the subject of the conclusion the last arc was stupid: retreading things that had already been established, making the characters get involved when they had no reason to and having them take a large dose of idiocy. Still the series is good and the first season is scheduled for release this December in the US with a dub.

princess_lover004Princess Lover is a harem/comedy series that gave impression of being atypical, at first appearance. The main character, Teppei, is orphaned after his parents were killed in a car accident. His grandfather adopts him and Teppei learns that his mother was the heir to the grandfather’s corporate empire, which he will now inherit. Given his new position in society Teppei must attend a new highschool for the rich and wealthy of Japan. The serious backstory was responsible for misleading some people; that this series could rise above the dregs that litter the genre. I didn’t buy into that as the first episodes never stopped to absorb the situation, it just kept on rolling. The series does try to keep this serious storyline later on but it fails miserably thanks to bad writing, dumb plot twists, and ridiculous comedy scenes. I’m being generous calling it comedy as it’s just silliness and clashes horribly with the remainder of the show. It’s not helped by the main love interest – Princess Charlotte – being an airhead. Again I’m being generous because I could have sworn she was retarded at some points. Seriously. The other characters are more rounded and take an active part in the plot. The fanservice that traditional infests these types of shows seems to be held back for the DVD release. Princess Lover is a mediocre series thanks to bad writing and silly comedy that clashes with the rest of the show.