For some reason, probably having to do with prolonged illness and the boredom that goes with it, I’ve watched nearly everything this new season has to offer so far. I’ll start with the shows I regard as the ones with the most potential of actually being good—and there’s a surprising number of them, given that winter is typically an off season.
To this day, I still think the best horror/suspense anime was Boogiepop Phantom. What Boogiepop did better than anyone else was in evoking a genuinely creepy atmosphere, not only with its shadowy visuals but especially with its sound design: the hums, the ghostly pings, and judicious use of electronica. Not everything was well-explained in the anime, but it was something that really gave off the right feeling, especially when viewed in the dark.
Another is also a triumph of atmosphere. It is, at least so far, dependent on it—the plot has barely gotten started aside from the identity of Misaki (perhaps telegraphed a bit too early). But the shivery sound cues and the pacing in its best scenes rival some of Boogiepop’s better moments. Like another well-written but occasionally histrionic series, Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, it tends toward more traditional anime character design, which can sometimes blunt the suspense to a certain extent; I sometimes have a hard time taking those designs seriously. But unlike Higurashi, it has so far refrained from the use of gore and shock and clearly and deliberately building up to something in a consistent way. Kudos must go, especially, to the final scene in episode 2 in the doll museum. While dolls have been used a lot in anime for creepy affect, and admittedly the show stumbled with the quick cuts to them in earlier moments, the pacing and sound were near-perfect.
The evident skill behind Another makes it worth watching. Now, if only someone could permanently retire Ali Project from ever making OPs and I’ll really be happy…Kajiura-san? Kalafina? You’re needed again for another gothic show!
Ano Natsu de Matteru
I have a bias here: I have a real soft spot for the work of screenwriter Yousuke Kuroda and especially Onegai Teacher, which was one of the first animes I ever bought on DVD. (Hint: I got it long before this website ever got started in 2006.) Kuroda has a knack for giving characters emotionally resonant dialogue, and has elevated normally mundane premises like Onegai Teacher by giving characters genuine motivations and feelings. It’s no accident that he worked on Toradora! and Honey and Clover too, two of the most heartfelt slice-of-life/relationship anime of recent years.
So of course I was going to check out Ano Natsu de Matteru. Yes, it’s true: the show almost seems like a deliberate attempt to recreate Onegai Teacher, with character equivalents galore, but with some of the more outlandish plot contrivances of the original toned down. There doesn’t appear to be the “standstills” that make characters look much younger than their purported actual ages, for instance. We don’t have outright marriage right off, either. And I like the central/controlling metaphor of this one better: where they are going to make a 8mm movie. One is almost reminded of the recent JJ Abrams film, Super 8. As well as my own memories of making an 8mm film at the end of middle school…
Kuroda wisely decided to have all the main characters interact as an ensemble right off the bat, and sets up all the important tensions and conflicts between them efficiently. There are clever flourishes, like the transitions between Kai’s fantasies and reality, and the banter between the characters are not only often witty but revealing. (Sure, some of them had to get drunk to be honest, but that’s true in real life too….) This is a nearly perfectly paced show, and it makes some of the more cliche scenes and occasional fan service a lot more palatable. And while I don’t expect it to reach the emotional heights of Ano Hana, its character designer is on board and has done a good job making Ichika in particular reminiscent of, but perhaps a bit less outlandishly proportioned than, the Teacher. Sure, Kai is a bit too much like Jin-tan, but still…
From the I’VE opening to the great pacing and smart dialogue, this is both a nostalgia trip and an anticipation to see if Kuroda can work his magic again.
Moretsu Space Pirates
To tell you the truth, I’m a little bit more cautious about this show than many others. The strengths of the show are undeniable: the writing is sharp, the pacing is purposeful, the main character Marika is winsome in both her normalcy and her ability to handle challenges. The animation quality is also excellent, though we’ve seen relatively little action so far. Moreover, it’s clear that a good deal of thought was given in building the sci-fi world: the history, the government, the role of pirates/privateers (that is what a “legal pirate” with a Letter of Marque and Reprisal is really called), etc. I also have to appreciate that despite the premise, despite the alternate title of “Mini-skirt Space Pirates,” the show goes out of its way to avoid fanservice. That is not the focus of what is building to be an old-school space adventure show, with a confident schoolgirl in command.
Forgive my impatience, but I just wish they’d get to that point just a little faster. It’s probably a disadvantage of watching this week after week, and with the knowledge that there are two cours. I also fully understand that they are taking the time to deepen the history of Marika and her mother, the Bentenmaru, and the role of Chiaki in particular. It’s working: there are some wonderful individual bonding scenes where Marika interacts with her mother, with Chiaki. I guess I just can’t wait for the action to begin, and it’s making it hard for me to see just where this is going. With the director of the 1990s classic Martian Successor Nadesico in charge, I’m fairly sure he won’t screw up, so my hopes are up—hence its inclusion on this list.
But I want my starships and piracy, dammit. I’m sure that once it does begin it’ll make that launch moment all the sweeter.
SHAFT and Shinbo strike again! All they had to do was to keep up the banter-dependent, sexy, artsy feel of this sequel to Bakemonogatari and it would be enough. I was latecomer to Bakemonogatari and Senjougahara fandom, but over time I got hooked on its post-modern theater-like atmosphere and its alluring, unconventional approach to the harem genre. For that is what Bake and Nisemonogatari are, at the end of the day, harem shows—but with fascinating dialogue filled with cultural references, screwball comedy exchanges (I loved the “the courage to” challenge), and a nice dollop of real sexual tension that’s captivating.
Nisemonogatari starts off with what are basically set-pieces. There are no problems or curses to solve, unlike the first series. Araragi basically drifts from conversation to conversation with his sisters and other girls; in a way, it’s the slice-of-life genre stripped down to its barest form, as written by Samuel Beckett. That, carried on too long, would be boring though if the characters weren’t so well-differentiated and, in the second episode, so convincingly seductive. I admit that I actually disliked Nadeko in season 1, because I felt the pandering was too thick. Making her bolder and more forward in this season worked, and not just because the fanservice was actually appropriate to the scene—it was directed really well. The subsequent scene with Kanbaru was even more delicious in the dialogue, and ended with a reversal that was both funny and clever.
For once the eroticism of anime seems to actually work. Or maybe I just think the girls are especially hot this season. See Charles’ article for an articulation of why that might be troubling. But the intelligence and artfulness of Bakemonogatari is fully intact.
Next time: why Nichibros, Thermae Romae, and other lauded aniblogosphere titles aren’t on this list!