Series Recap: Knights of Sidonia

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Knights of Sidonia is a tough cookie.  On the one hand, it tackles a lot of great issues regarding the nature of Humanity, as all great introspective works of art do. And it approaches them from a surprisingly sophisticated viewpoint, most of the time.  If you like brain food this series won’t leave you hungry for weeks.

On the other hand, Knights of Sidonia has some problems. Specifically, that of telling a cohesive narrative.  It’s almost…almost as if someone took the idea for “rule of cool” and flipped it on its head.  The narrative doesn’t matter to Sidonia, so long as we get to big moral questions.

It’s like Roland Emmerich suddenly discovered Kafka, replacing ‘splosions and improbable chase scenes with half human ethical shouting matches.

Still this is definitely the big win of the Spring season. Continue reading

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Series Recap: Gokukoku no Brynhildr

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It just fucking sucks, okay? Why does it have to blow so hard? Best guess: this creative team knows what boobs are, may even have seen a few up close, but has no clue how to access them.

(I’ve just wanted to do this gag for a while, this series is the best place. Because I had to fill the episodics with material I would normally save for the recap. To see my incomplete journey, and full opinion, on Gokukoku no Brynhildr, you may go here.)

Series Recap: Blade and Soul

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In art and media, there is a term that is used for something that, logically, you know you should despise, but otherwise can’t help but derive some enjoyment from. These are “Guilty Pleasures”, those things where, more than ever, we cling to our mantra of “it’s my opinion I don’t gotta justify shit”.

While I wouldn’t put Blade and Soul on that same level, as guilty pleasure might be too strong a feeling, as it has some truly atrocious episodes, I must admit that, on the whole, my sentiment is the same.  I have sympathy, and am more willing to give a series the benefit of the doubt when it clearly aspires to greatness and (miserably) fails rather than shooting for mediocrity and succeeding (not to be confused with Black Bullet or Unbreakable Machine Doll, which shot for mediocrity and failed).

Also, this is a show everyone knows is bad, expected to be bad, and had extremely low standards going in.  Unlike Machine Doll or Brynhildr, I haven’t seen dozens of people defending it as AOTS.  Yes. People have told me with a straight face Brynhildr was the best show of Spring.

With these things in mind, I feel that a harsh hand is unnecessary here.  So what sticks out in my mind about this show? Continue reading

Series Recap: Black Bullet

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Oh boy.

If there was an award comparable to AOTS about how a series the public initially latched onto as being pretty damn enjoyable ended up crashing and burning in the most spectacular way, Black Bullet would win that award.

Many series “slip”. That slow decay from a promising pilot to a mediocre ride that you could ultimately take or leave. We could argue Akuma no Riddle was like this, hitting hard at the beginning but by the end leaving many of us scratching our heads going “meh”.

Black Bullet was not like that at all. It was a sharp drop off a cliff into the Jersey River.   In this sense the phenomena is far more interesting than the series itself.

As I mentioned in my season awards, Black Bullet surpassed Akuma no Riddle for hits on my blog a couple weeks at the beginning of the season. And the latter show, as a matter of comparison, by week 8 constituted half my traffic.

Of course, Blade and Soul drew fewer hits than people looking for Strike the Blood hentai so we’ll take these numbers as purely anecdotal.

Black Bullet died suddenly. So quickly in fact that, unless you just hated it right off the bat, you didn’t even see it coming.

I expect to take heat for this one. Bring it on, my adoring public. I’m ready. Let’s start, though, with most people’s biggest hangup about the series. Continue reading

Series Recap: Akuma no Riddle

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Once upon a time I reviewed Sakura Trick, and alluded to the next yuri series the blog would be covering.

“If you want drama and depressing tragedy, well…wait a few weeks and we’ll have what you need.”

I feel like such an idiot.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s let L explain it all to us.

I just keep coming back to this comparison. I couldn’t actually find any clips where the goth kids confront the vampire kids about how hardcore they were, and the vampire kids answer that mommy and daddy might not approve of such behavior.

This is basically the problem, as I see it, with Akuma no Riddle.  In tone, in feel, it’s far more like Sakura Trick than one would suspect. Of course unlike Sakura Trick, I don’t have dipshits commenting that my opinion would be totally opposite if this were about male characters, so we have that going for us. But it is safe, it is fun, it is innocent, while it dresses in fishnet so people will think it’s cool.

Not that this is a point of judgment, not exactly. Shows are free to dress how they want, but the false advertising feels like a cheap marketing ploy than any fashion choice in light of the disjointed nature of the series.  It’s more to appeal to people too embarrassed to admit they like slice of life shows, it seems.

So approaching it from that angle, let’s analyze the girls one by one, starting with our leads.

Fair warning, of course. I am going to be yelling. At lesbians. For the next 7,000 words. One of the seals might be open, better check on that. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 12

How did you guys screw this one up so royally?

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Yup, we’re not quite done catching up with Spring.  And as this was the series I most wanted to leave complete, along with a hefty dose of controversy for this episode in particular, how can I resist?

We open with a bit of explanation. Tokaku explains to Haru that the spell that prevented her from killing others has been undone. Implicit is, if she cannot come to kill Haru, it will be Haru’s power that stops her.

Haru is still blubbering about how she doesn’t want Tokaku to be her enemy, but at the slightest aggression from the latter, Haru is all too willing to throw fire at her dear friend. It’s at this point we have to question again how defenseless Haru really is, and how much is behavior she plays at (even if the “play acting” is subconscious) as she “miraculously” trips and avoids Tokaku’s swings.  Remember that, I’m going to drag it up later.

When suddenly, Haru is saved by…Tokaku?

The Tokaku that saves Haru drags her away, and Haru is left looking around going “WTF?” The second Tokaku explains that the one trying to kill her is Nio.  Remember the two rival shinobi clans? Azuma and Kuzunoha? Nio is of the latter, a group  that specialized in illusions and trickery as opposed to the combat prowess of the Azuma.

Of course, we already know this is a lie, that THIS Tokaku is Nio, because we opened on the assassin Tokaku having a flashback. Which kind of gives it away right off the bat so I have no idea what the fuck they were going for.  Are we supposed to be cheering on Haru to figure it out? Yes, nothing says gripping entertainment like watching a ditz figure out a mystery you yourself answered five minutes ago. We should have skipped the flashback, it could have left the element of mystery. Remember how last time I jokingly jabbed we knew something was wrong because Tokaku was emoting? It could have actually had us believing that Nio’s fabrication was the truth if not for this flashback stuff. And of course they’ll show us RIGHT at the begining of the coming fight that this Tokaku is an illusion. I’ll explain why this is crap later.

Haru stops Nio (still in Tokaku’s form) and asks how she could be okay with things as they are.  Her answer is that it may be true Haru controlled her, but the feeling she has is what is precious to her.  I don’t mean to draw anything by this, only that this answer is so nebulous that it doesn’t feel out of place as a resolution either. This whole queen bee bullshit was poorly planned out, makes no sense, and never will be resolved. It’s just a way for us to fill out air time.

Well if you can’t expect to beat the enemy, you know how it goes. MIRROR MATCH! Be just as cheap as that asshole playing the OP character!

They throw some insults at each other that basically amounts to this. Nio says she’s protected Haru all this time, killing her is so out of character it’s stupid.

…Is this one of those bits where you’re being self-aware show? Continue reading

Season Recap: Spring 2014

Been breaking a lot of rules the past couple months. Guess that’s just how it is.  I hate to do these before I’ve completed all I intended to with the episodic stuff but with us sitting literally hours away from the Summer season, I’ll at least handle this now that everything’s done airing.

It’s time for our totally nonsense award show, and boy, how the samey-ness is stirring. So many of these held 3-4 contenders, but it was so very tough to pick one!

How’s this fake enthusiasm selling it?

Spring’s Laziest Series: This is coming down hard, but I hand this to Akuma no Riddle. Formulaic, insulting to its audience’s intelligence, and just. So. Boring.  I think that was ultimately the worst part about this series, was how utterly generic and predictable it was. Most of the time. There were indeed stellar episodes, but most of these were less about actual content than promising set ups.  Except Episode 6. That just turned out to be made entirely of lies.  This was not a show about yuri assassins, it was a Precious Moments collection of yuri assassins.  The characters and scenarios were display pieces only, not meant to be rough handled because that might produce imperfections in the safe ensemble of archetypes. It wasn’t badness, per se.  It was generic.  Beige sweatervest, beige slacks, with an every-joe voice that you couldn’t pick out of a crowd.  The set up may have been about trying to “kill” a lead character, but there was little difference in tone between this show and Sakura Trick in the end. But at least the latter was honest about how bubbly it was.  Akuma no Riddle was the vampire kid on South Park. Dressed a big game, but didn’t want to get its hands dirty, and ultimately no different from its preppy neighbors when you got right down to it. Like I said, it wasn’t outright bad, otherwise it might be getting…

Spring’s Biggest Disappointment: Despite my mean girl attitude and clear disregard for social convention, your Mistress does check her hit counts once or twice a week.  Anyone who has an anime blog knows this pattern: One or two shows account for nearly half your traffic, with the others and older hits making up the rest.  This season’s big name was Akuma no Riddle, but in the early weeks, there was a second series just as frequent, if not more prolific. Yes, Black Bullet.  What began as a rather competent if not entirely self-aware action series just plummeted after week four into a nosedive of absolute dreck. It was an assassination of a promising series.  No slow death, no. Just a switch was thrown in Episode 5 that threw the series against the wall and gunned down all hope and promise.  There was a slight revival towards the end when they went back to the Gastrea plot (you know, the premise of the series), and the return of the always amazing Kagetane. But not enough.  Which is a shame, as I loved Episode 13 to bits.  But it was like a bad student who suddenly scores high on his tests and turns in all his homework during the month of may in the hopes that the teacher will remember his good behavior and take it easy when report cards come home in June.  The studio said, “Oh shit, we want a series 2 right? Let’s make the last episode good, just for a change of pace.”  While I am personally not bothered by the loli stuff, I am annoyed by the harem antics that dominate this post-apocalyptic monster-bug-zombie-plague.  A wonderful premise and rather engaging first act, but the rest is best left buried under the floorboards.

Spring’s Worst Series: Do you need to ask? Gokukoku no Brynhildr comes out leaving her competitors in the dust, folks! While the kitsch of the series was forgivable when this was a fun mystery series, when it turned into full harem antics with Chris Hansen warning signals over everything, it ceased to be a dumb fun series and just became dumb.  Wait why complain here when Black Bullet was worse in the sexualizing minors department? Was it? Was it really? Say what you will but Black Bullet was at least behind a veil of “oh those wacky loli antics” with misunderstandings and played for laughs.  In Brynhildr it was just straight up wank material. “I want to have your babies” belongs in a Robot Chicken parody of Justin Bieber, not your dramatic magical girl series.  Needless to say, lack of direction, lack of characters, lack of MOTIVATION took an already flimsy pretense and stuck it naked in the stockades for all the world to see its shame.

Spring’s Guilty Pleasure: While my terminology may be hyperbole, and while the show did deliver this season’s lowest moment, I admit a certain affection for Blade and Soul. As I explained in my review of Episode 9, the show took risks, and that was lacking in most of the shows this season (one could argue, in anime in general).  It is obvious that Gonzo just shat this thing out to fulfill a contract, but occasionally, you did see glimpses where people working on this thing would experiment with ideas, test something new, switch up the dynamics just to mess with our expectations.  There is a sense you get when something is pumped out to meet some arbitrary deadline, the director staring into his paycheck to remind himself why he took this job, but Blade and Soul, a handful of times, showed us that some people wanted this to be better than a potboiler adaptation. And while I don’t expect to go back and watch it again (certainly not in full), I think, for this show, I will taking up Devil’s Advocate, should the topic ever arise. It’s worth that much.

Spring’s Big Winner: Pretend you’re surprised, but obviously Knights of Sidonia wrecks the competition here. To all the naysayers who think anime has lost its way, that the creative forces can’t challenge our minds and souls, Sidonia proves that strong work can still emerge when you least expect it.  And arguably, it will prove that the new cel-shading style remains.  If this had crashed and burned? Might have been a cute experiment. But Sidonia is likely to become a windfall, and imitators will emerge. Hey, 3-D might have been years behind if Toy Story had sucked.  Sidonia tackled issues of the relationship between individual and state, the difference between morality and law, the nature of Humanity, and a host of other things that fit a grand work of science fiction. Not a perfect series, but an amazingly engaging one that has me (even me) excited for the follow up material. This is one of those shows that years and years from now we will still be picking out possible themes and messages, and for the glory of hypnotoad, we can all now go and get caught up on the print version.

Knights of Sidonia: Episode 9

I will protect Izana’s frog face!

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Opening this week’s recap, I have to say the recap does something good. Right? But the way the sequence is fitted together, it establishes the Benisizume (the elite Gauna Hoshijiro that killed six people) as Tanikaze’s opposite and equal, a rather elegant framing of this dynamic, to be sure. And looking at it that way, it just might be the reason this fight happened. Benisizume retreats after making a statement, and this was a good recap that didn’t just feel like rehash.

Tanikaze has been summoned.  The specimen portion of the Hoshijiro frame he killed has been calling his name, unfortunately their first session is terminated after she strikes at the glass separating them. But, as Numi, the scientist studying her, points out, they still don’t actually know enough about the Gauna to be sure it was her trying to attack, and not trying to satisfy curiosity.   But in the bar, Tanikaze is despondent, not really getting into the chat the other pilots are holding, saying they’ll need to redress their tactics if the Gauna can fight like Humans now.

Kunato is taking a leave of absence, probably after wetting his pants at his dead squadmate tormenting him. And wouldn’t you know it Ochiai’s brain is housed beneath his family’s manor. The captain’s entourage is here.

And, oh snap, Ochiai’s brain isn’t being stored somewhere safe, his body is actually allowed to walk around.  They just strap him in and blast him with this device that looks like a Rube Goldberg Tesla coil.

Speaking of things begging to end in tears, the Emigration movement was successful, some 100,000 people wish to embark Sidonia and take their chances.  Apparently, despite the fact they all know they are in a region of heavy Gauna activity, the Emigrants think that if they forego the Kabizashi that the Gauna won’t attack them.

Sure. Because that’s totally why they destroyed Humanity in the first place, right? No, wait, we didn’t find the Kabi substance until 400 years after that.

I can certainly understand the theory of “safer”.  But planting an immobile colony on the Gauna’s doorstep? There must be a better alternative to this nonsense. I just see this going down like the Crystalline Entity in Star Trek, Gauna just swallowing a defenseless planet of farmers and nothing anyone can do about it.

But like it or not, it IS Sidonia law that any request greater than 50,000 people must be accommodated. And I do like that there’s SOME democratic process on the Sidonia.  It may be martial law most of the time, but they still have their principles.

But Tanikaze doesn’t give a fuck. Not about current events, not about training, not even about FOOD. Holy shit, anime protagonist not caring about food? We’re off the edge of the map here, people. Anything could happen. Continue reading

Blade and Soul: Episode 9

Oh, the irony.

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This will likely be the last time I discuss this series, but I did want to make mention of something here in light of how things have fallen elsewhere. Sure, there’s some plot and drama before and after this, but it is so generic Blade and Soul Bad that it really isn’t worth belaboring.

No, here, we have praise to discuss yet again. I know! Twice  in a single series, amazeballs.

The teaser is simple. Karen is in her room getting laid, but it is a very subdued, even cold affair.  The camera lingers over a wedding photo…wait that’s a pretty photo-realistic picture. You lose points from the Butterfly wanted poster, show.  Whatever man she’s using for sex shyly leaves with Karen staring out the window, very aloof. It all lasts maybe 20 seconds but it establishes Karen’s mood quite well, as this episode evolves her character quite a bit.

A lot has actually happened in the previous episode from the plot side of things. Alka met up with Yuu, the little furry sage boy? And he seems to have found a way to penetrate her hard shell. She isn’t exactly the milk of human kindness yet, but the person who pissed Loana off by not alluding to emotion doesn’t exist anymore.  Yuu, also, may have been a boy, but as we’ve established that is not armoring against this show’s Reverse Refrigerator Syndrome, so he did die. Alka managed to kill Jin in revenge, but has struck out on her own.

We catch up with her getting a new job, but now, as opposed to earlier in the series when she would just take the contract because that was her code, now she’s probing for information about the job, and unsatisfied, leaves it on the table, so to speak. The old man who wants to hire her is shocked. A Sword Clan who won’t kill is useless.  She eventually meets up with Karen, who offers her a job.  Suspicious, but at this point, with Jin (apparently) dead it doesn’t raise too many questions now that the main heat is off, as opposed to her stance that trouble not be brought to her inn earlier in the series. Continue reading

Akuma no Riddle: Episode 11

Nio ED is best ED.

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Well after ten episodes of, frankly, aimless wandering, we’re down to the wire. Plot! And there’s no excuse anymore, Akuma no Riddle, you’ve run out of monkeys. You have one card left in that barrel, so you’d better make it a straight shot.

…If metaphors ever achieve sapience I will likely be classified as a war criminal.

We’re starting out with a lecture by Sensei, about bees! Convenient as last time Hanabusa used the term “queen bee” to refer to herself and Haru. It’s some drab stuff about how their pheromones work, but for the non-amateur zoologist, it’s kind dry.  The girls aren’t even hiding their impatience with class anymore.

But the big moment…Nio reveals that all will be revealed. It is time!

Finally, some real answers.  Credit, too, to the soundtrack here.  It’s this grungy, dark build up as Nio alerts them of the chairperson’s plans, all while she’s doing her cute little “Nio signing off!” thing.  I don’t know if we’ve handled it this way, but it sticks out to me, and is quite effective.

Nio assures the pair though, no tricks, they’ve won. Tokaku seems to be distancing herself from Haru now, saying she doesn’t need constant protection anymore. She’s mulling over Hanabusa’s words.

It’s a dark night, and Nio welcomes the pair. She introduces the Chairperson! Her name is..! Continue reading