Series Recap: Noragami

nora5a

There isn’t a whole lot to say about Noragami.  I enjoyed it…we’ll leave it at that.  Oh who am I kidding, I can never just leave it.  While I liked what we got I just have a lot of issues with the “could haves”, but even these are so general and expansive, that they don’t really come into play when analyzing the series.  Take, say, KILL la KILL, or Unbreakable Machine Doll, the “should have”s are based on very specific plot threads to those series where roads taken were less interesting than roads previously open.

But Noragami isn’t like that at all.  The biggest thing “wrong” with it, to me, is that its universe feels…smaller, than I expected.

Oh sure we have a few other grudges against this show, but like the above, they really are minor.

I adopted Noragami very late into the season, week 5, almost halfway over.  The story of “delivery god Yato” and the Human girl he befriends was interesting enough to me that I found my brain teeming with ideas.  It was well worth how much people were pushing it back then.

One thing I guess I’ll take issue with. People often refer to Noragami as an action series.  And I do not see it. Sorry. I know I’ve called it that but mostly as that’s what it was billed as by the community, and from the right angle it looks like an appropriate label.  But my instinct is different. The emphasis here is on character relationships from where I sit.

Obviously there are action elements, and damn well executed action elements.  But I think we really need to stop pinning genres onto a show because it just does a piece of its storytelling well.  And really that’s what the fights in Noragami have mostly existed to do: tell the story.  They are not celebrations of combat either in universe like Dragonball or out of universe like KILL la KILL. They just are, and Bones seems like they wanted to do those scenes WELL, so they put effort into it.  It does fights well because it needed them. It did character pieces well because it needed to.  It is a generalist approach, I believe, and I think that’s what I’d call Noragami before an action series: A Generalist Anime. It hits the parts of action, comedy, drama, supernatural, and brushes romance, mystery, and coming of age.

I mention this because I believe it is the root source of where I diverge from people on the whole.  Many hail Noragami as the standard to hold the rest of 2014 to.  In some regards that may be true, but standard bearer? I feel the show was casting about too much.  It was very much… “let us throw the characters together and see how they react against each other”.  In the end, that just meant the characters were free to drag us in any direction, and they did.  It was like…you know when you have multiple-party-tug-of-war? With like five ropes centered on a fixed point? The knot in the center (our focus) just kinda wavered around that center point most of the series.  I’d go so far as to argue that no one really won, we just ended with more samey-ness come the resolution.

This probably sounds far harsher than I am intending it to. But as Yahtzee said, I’m a critic, my job is to criticize.

On the whole I was pleased with my experience watching Noragami.  And it will probably be better to say, marathon in 3-4 bloc chunks. “Was that worth the three months of paying it attention?” Ehhh..? But I do love it.  So let’s start with the strongest foot forward. Continue reading

Series Recap: Nobunagun

NobunaGun-anime-pv-001

So I might as well say this: If you want an abridged version of what I’m about to say, our good friend Moecharacter did a Nobunagun review that basically hits my points.  I have stuff to add (I ALWAYS have stuff to add), but we basically share an opinion on the series. Other than perhaps our opinions on tentacle rape, which would be one of the five food groups if I had my way.

Nobunagun is a different creature than we have encountered here.  It is not insubstantial like BlazBlue. It is not great like Sakura Trick or KILL la KILL.   Neither are its flaws numerous like Machine Doll, or its good points so backseat that they only inspire apathy like Strike the Blood.  It is, rather, like a car with square wheels.  Sure, it has good parts. The seats comfortable and doors sturdy.  And out of the 70 pieces that went into constructing it you scored pretty good on about 66 of them.  But those couple of parts that you missed are SO glaring that the whole just isn’t going to work.

I admit when I adopted my “wild card” system, choosing a few series based on their premieres, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find one.  It was a sense of dread, honestly.

But I fell in love with Nobunagun right away. Here it was.  The sophisticated action show with subtext and character study and amazing energy that the anime community had been searching for.

And more than anything, I fell in love with Ogura Shio. She was such a brilliant, fresh kind of character we had never really seen before.  Her interests were relatively masculine, that of tanks and weapons and guns, but her personality was very feminine, full of cute expressions and speech, socially awkward, and really this child-like optimism about her.  She has visible weaknesses but always just barely overcame them, a visible struggle we could connect with. And for all the things that would eventually go wrong for the series, the character of Shio was never one of them. So let’s get into this show.

But if you’re looking for a relatively spoiler-free review…here it is.  Shio Ogura is the reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga, and uses her powers to fight aliens. Nobunagun is a middle of the road action series.  Not bad, not exactly great, but reasonable entertainment that comes recommended, and will probably not blow your mind. Continue reading

Series Recap: Sakura Trick

1391271251451

So, I totally had this expected order of what came first when it came to the Winter ’14 Recaps.  Yeah. About that. My brain just latched onto this review in particular and would not let go, even when I physically forced myself to work on others, all my critical thinking kept wandering back here.  So here it is, shmucks! The much anticipated Sakura Trick review.

As is typical, I adopt one series a season that is outside my comfort zone. For Winter 2014, that series was Sakura Trick, and to me it proved that this policy is a good one, as it exposed me to a show that was surprisingly sophisticated for the genre tags it hosts.

Now I think it’s important to note that over the past few months we have been cutting Sakura Trick a lot of slack, of a sort, because it was not as bad as we feared.  Indeed, some have scored it 10/10 or 5/5, perfect scores for just not falling into the tired stereotypes of Yuri and Slice of Life.

While true, Sakura Trick IS to be commended for basically being the best a series of its subject matter can be, we also have to remember that it is STILL recognizable as being a part of the box.  If you’re outside the box too much, you cease being part of that box and have found yourself in another.  It’d be like advertising a science fiction series.  Science fiction? Sure, but it only uses science we know. Okay. And it’s about criminals. And instead of being in space it’s set in New Mexico and about drugs.   Eventually it is not recognizable as science fiction and you’re suddenly another crime drama, you understand?

But let us not lose sight of the fact that Sakura Trick IS definitively inside its boxes.  The praise to be delivered is in its execution of its elements in a way that does not offend our senses.  And as someone who does not watch Slice of Life or Yuri with any serious frequency (certainly not as you’d expect for all my girl-love comments), I am of the opinion that Sakura Trick is probably as good as those genres will ever hope to become.  Any further from the stereotypes, and you might have to label it full-fledged drama, or romance.

And for those of us who are okay with Sakura Trick but don’t particularly care for the slice of life genre….12 episodes was about as much as we could take.  And indeed, the conclusion of the season’s plot in Episode 12 did sour me a bit towards the series.  Don’t misunderstand, one misstep does not completely undo all the good the show did, it wasn’t quite ME3.  But one season was a good fit, for me. If it had dragged any longer it would truly grate on me, I feel.  I had a similar attitude about Baka to Test, and lo and behold when series 2 of THAT show appeared, I did get fed up quite quickly.  The first season remains one of my favorite comedies, hands down. But I don’t need, or even want, more of it.

Though things did draw me into Sakura Trick like few comedies could do.  First, it presented a relatively realistic world.  Take, say, InuHasa, that show is still my top anime comedy because it is the absurdity of that world that endears itself to me.  Sakura Trick doesn’t have mail order bazookas and high schoolers crashing through windows (save one Matrix-esque feat of gymnastics on the veranda) like a James Bond movie.

No, what drew me in here was the cast and their dynamics.  Along with the aforementioned not-falling-into-tropes.  Most surprisingly was the introduction of story-arc elements.  I’m going to examine the main cast members piece by piece.  Because they were so inconsequential, I am lumping Yuzu and Kaede under the supporting roles.  Sorry, but they just did not net the screentime, earning only two half-episodes of their own (I’m counting episode 4 here), and getting some focus in the cultural festival.  So there isn’t much to really discuss about them from the analytics that doesn’t ALSO apply to other B-cast members.  It’s a hard call, but I made it. It’s hard enough to justify examining Kotone and Shizuku independently.

I also feel that, while this disclaimer always applies to the blog, here it applies more than ever.  I will be examining things in detail that, intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce themes and the subject matter, as I experienced it, in this show.  That is just me, and your viewing experience may be different, but I think of any show I have delved into this is what you might call “the least deserving”.  I can say with 100% certainty that not everything I see was intended, and yet the fact it reinforces the same points over and over again speaks to the good grasp on the story presented during its inception. Continue reading

Series Recap: Space Dandy

1388946383608I’ve been called “poser” or “filthy casual” or whatever other slur you want to throw at me that I am not a “true” otaku. I am not a true anime fan.  Why? Because I don’t give a flying fuck about studios and directors.  Not really. It may color my expectations of a given series (like the upcoming Akuma no Riddle and the Nanoha director), but I never allow it to GUIDE my choices.  I always use premises and previews, that’s all.

Space Dandy proves exactly WHY I don’t give two shits about your resume.  Because even Midas can take a crap and some days the sun shines on a dog’s ass.  Everything deserves a chance to impress or offend.

And not everything is going to be gold because Cowboy Bebop was an okay show ten years ago.

So I’ll just share my brief summary on the little opinion I have on Space Dandy. Continue reading

Season Recap: Winter 2014

Well, despite almost losing her finger, your mistress of mean is back and caught up, and it’s finally time for this quarter’s installment in our season recaps! Where I hand out a bunch of bullshit awards to series based on how they will probably distinguish themselves in my memory.

Following this, each series (save the last) will receive it’s own recap, where I try to take the more objective approach to judging these series (but judge them we shall), as opposed to the knee-jerk stuff you see here week to week. My opinions may have changed as time wore on, after all. Here is a general order, though each series may jockey ahead or behind one space: Space Dandy (an abridged review), Nobunagun, Noragami, Strike the Blood, Sakura Trick, Kill la Kill.

Enough stalling, let’s get to it!

Winter’s Most Important Series: On so many levels, this has to be awarded to Sakura Trick.  I said at the very start that Sakura Trick is almost insidious in how it expresses gay people as human beings through its audience’s collective penis, and though I’m not a Yuri genre fan in general, it is very hard to see Yuri as a whole return to business as usual after the sophisticated treatment in Sakura Trick.  The story dynamics were thought out, the humor was wide reaching and consistently funny, there were story arcs, the characters had dimensions beyond their existence as fanservice.  It is thus the most important series this season, I think, beating out KILL la KILL in terms of “revolutionary”.  It will almost certainly not be as popular, and while we can’t speak to the possible or impossible immortality of Sakura Trick, we do know that it is going to be an important series, if nothing else as a benchmark for Yuri and Slice of Life comedy for the next several years.  And on a personal level, Sakura Trick is important to me because I think it brought out the best in me as a fan and as a critic.  Some of my best work emerged analyzing this series, challenging me to rise to its level. So regardless of its position in anime history, it will always be extremely important to me.

Winter’s Biggest Disappointment: I regret it, I was quite possibly one of this show’s biggest champions, but I must hand this to Nobunagun.  What started out with, hands down, bar none, the strongest opening of the Winter’14 season tripped over its own success and took a tumble that left it permanently limping the remainder of the run.  It managed to redeem itself at least as passable entertainment, but the damage was done and its rebound too late to save the series from its impression as a directionless mess of shonen cliches.  While, say, Strike the Blood is a consistently bland piece of mediocrity with bits of competence peeking at us in breaths, Nobunagun had already introduced itself as perhaps the most brilliant anime on air in those early weeks.  And this really falls on the main draw of the first two episodes, that of the Asao/Shio relationship, which was immediately jettisoned in favor of a cast of the most bland of action heroes with the WEIRDEST fingers in all of anime, which didn’t know any other type of characterization other than the creepy, molester kind.  Perhaps they just didn’t know what they had, and I can only hope that our collective outcry of “Give us more Asao-san ship!” will be heard as it was in Ga Rei, and perhaps the print installments will adapt accordingly.  But until then, this series stung right in the fangirl.

Winter’s Most Evocative Anime: This is awarded to Noragami.  Not just in myself, but in fan circles all around the world, it managed in its depiction of the character Yukine to give the most punchable face that anime has ever seen.  If, at around episode 8, there had been Yukine plushies that cried when you hit them in the face? I estimate the industry would have earned no less than 3 billion units sold (I don’t really know math).  That is always going to be what Noragami means to me, I’m afraid, as settling on a rather pedestrian final act and a bullshit morality resolution to the Yukine plot soured the great feelings I had for the series.  But there is no doubt that it was finely crafted, with a lot of attention paid to its character dynamics to make you care about them without being too overt about it and ramming the sap down your throat.  It was an excellent balance and a very “girly” action series that I would recommend to almost anyone.

Winter’s Most Frustrating Experience: Yeah, it’s the Space Dandy award.  I am tempted to give it “worst anime” but I’ve seen Witchcraft Works.  That and, as I’ve said, I do not consider Dandy an objectively BAD anime, but it is never something I would force myself to sit through by choice.  Even if coerced, you’d have to threaten my wife. Not even. My wife, my siblings, throw in a couple friends and my grandmother all with guns pointed at their heads…and I might negotiate that I don’t have to sit through the Boobies scenes. The Great Anna-sama has limits, and they were all summoned into the form of a frat boy with a pompadour hairdo in order to best me. It is hard to imagine a series like this popping up by chance, and not some dastardly plot by Watanabe to show how much he hates ME, personally.

Winter’s Most Adjusted Expectations: How to sum up how I feel about KILL la KILL? It was such a wild ride, but in the context of the Winter Season only, I think this award is fitting.  Granted, my rosy glasses were cracked before the Autumn season had even finished, but week after week KILL la KILL taught me that hope was a lie.  And, hey, the episodic reviews are there, in their original glory, I quote, ahem, “Yes, surprise surprise, logic is not at the forefront of the menu in KILL la KILL.”, and “While very much a style over substance first outing,” and “I can’t promise it will be deep, but it will be FUN.”  So even my expectations have been tempered from the beginning. But where we hoped for twists, we found shame.  Trigger seemed to adopt a bipolar stance in regards to swinging from completely cliche to defying expectations.  But much like having Captain Kirk killed by a no-name bad guy, just because it is against expectations does not mean it is automatically satisfying storytelling.  At the Elections arc, I had high hopes. I saw the faintest glimmers of drama and allowed myself to get drawn into the show.  And, as the record shows, by Episode 12 that was shown to be so much nonsense. And my hopes to get a satisfying story dwindled to a satisfying story-element, then hoping that if we couldn’t have that, could we have a satisfying CHARACTER by episode 21…and when even that failed us, I was only asking for a satisfying MOMENT, and those were hard to come by.  But these are mostly the result of my own willingness to let KILL la KILL troll me into hoping it was going to be interesting.  Not any specific flaws with what was presented.  KILL la KILL still comes recommended…as fun. As a way to waste time.  There is an inherent magic in a show where I can see the same transformation sequence week after week and still be as excited as I was at the beginning.  And that at least says something very important.

Series I Wish We Had Covered:  Last season I added this out of frustration with the line up.  Even KILL la KILL had betrayed me and I was regretting not picking a series I would have truly enjoyed. But this season, I still regard everything but Dandy winners. Yes, even Nobunagun.  But with such a good line up…I miss my sadistic side. So this season I award this to Nobunaga the Fool, a series I would have loved to have here…if only to stomp on it with my heels and watch it beg for mercy.

Well, that’s Winter 2014 in review.  I’ll see you guys at the series recaps!  Up first: Space Dandy….ungh…

Sakura Trick: Episode 12

The captain always goes down with the ship!

1396035479345

The end of an era.  It’s been a great ride, but all good things…

The girls are finishing the party preparations.  Mitsuki is leading Rina to it, of course we know she overheard them planning it, but she plays along anyway, because Mitsuki is a sweetheart that way.

There’s a bucket of green tea pudding.  This excites Mitsuki, but Rina has eaten so much studying for finals she’s rather sick of it.

We get to the presents, and Sumisumi has provided them with mustaches! …Do you girls need a ride? Yeah, you know where this is headed.

Kotone gives Mitsuki a chandelier.  Hey. HEEEYYYYY! What the hell, Kotone? We agreed on a thousand yen limit!

Yuzu and Kaede do an impersonation skit of the two, with Kaede as Mitsuki and Yuzu as Rina.  Ever the greek chorus, the impersonation just kind of has Rina in the back smiling the whole time.  While the joke’s a little flat for me, they hit you in the feels when Kaede hides behind Yuzu, not wanting anyone to know she’s letting slip a tear.

Rina asks Haruka if there’s anything to eat with garlic, and Haruka obliges to whip something up.  Mitsuki instantly is jealous someone else will get to eat Haruka’s home cooking, and it rather makes her short with the rest.  Also, seems they’ve run out of utensils (not sure how, you knew exactly how many people would be here…) and Yuu just hands the job off, but Mitsuki won’t have guests in their home fetching silverware, so she sends Yuu to the kitchen.

And almost instantly regrets sending Yuu to the same room alone with Haruka, chasing after them, completely expecting them to be kissing.  But, as we’ve established, Sakura Trick isn’t ALL about stealing kisses, and they’re honestly going about their business.

Yuu finally hits Mitsuki where it hurts, “What business is it of yours?”  Well…Mitsuki can’t even get her head around admitting she likes Haruka.  It quickly devolves into a sibling fight, as is prone to happen.  Haruka suddenly finds herself in a lesbian tug of war.  Good. Good.

Yuu asserts her property rights over Haruka by kissing her woman right in front of Mitsuki.

Look…my casual adoption of the Haruka/Mitsuki ship is well documented. But this episode is doing Yuu no favors. “Haruka is mine. Mine mine mine. See?” is so…it’s so frat boy it makes me want to punch her in her smug face.  A reflex that Yuu had trouble enough suppressing in me earlier in the season.  I would have less of a problem with it if Haruka wasn’t objecting THE ENTIRE TIME, while last episode when Haruka tried to do something similar Yuu fended Haruka off with a breast grab instantly, knowing it made Haruka uncomfortable. Oh, because it’s Haruka, obviously she wants it? Yuu…you’re just a bitch. Continue reading

Noragami: Episode 12

Why’d it have to be rain?

wpid-noragami_12_04

Opening this week in Rabo’s shrine, a decaying thing in a dreary rain, much like the calamity god’s life.  He also seems to be missing a few screws as he just kind of keeps talking even when Nora tries to get his attention.

Yato, Hiyori, and Yukine arrive, the pair of spirits shocked to see Hiyori tagging along.  But she’s quickly pushed aside and battle commences.

But Yato is outclassed.  It is only the timely intervention by Hiyori that saves him.  Even without her memories she’s still saving your ass, buddy.

I also want to comment that the music here is fantastic.

Rabo continues to beat at Yato. He clearly views Yato as a mentor figure, and seeing a former calamity god trying to “behave” is pissing him off.  He comes to the realization, like Nora, that Hiyori is the source of the problem.  We of course know that’s not true, Yato has his own reasons, it seems weird that BOTH these villains fail to see that.

Outside this…dream world? We see Bishamonten has her hands full trying to protect Humanity from the surge in powerful Phantoms that have appeared.  Tenjin is doing what he does best: staring at clouds.

Yeah there is no contest between this pair.

Rabo takes the direct approach, shattering the marble with Hiyori’s soul.

Oh now you gone and done it.  Yato is quiet, balancing Yukine’s pitiful whining, but it’s not nearly as annoying when it’s over another person rather than crying over himself.  And the way Yato starts picking him apart, you have to wonder if he even needs the Sekki. Continue reading

Double Feature: Nobunagun 12+13

Fight fight fight, fight fight fight…

1396208528750

I rarely like double featuring ends of series, but both Nobunagun and KILL la KILL have presented us with basically nothing in the semi-finals, so with tiny word counts I don’t feel so bad extending them.

In the annals of history, great rivalries have sprung up. Light and dark, Hatfield and McCoy, cat and dog…Japanese girls and tentacles.

The Battleship that’s been destroyed has given birth to a new and improved armored version, which has been given all the information from the previous battle with Shio.  She’s fighting like a champ, but she keeps running into dead ends in her tactics.

Cutting to the land fight we are treated to Geronimo losing her temper and engaging her super-duper combat mode.  Why is crazy so damn hot?

Hunter isn’t handling combat well. He’s a lab assistant, not a fighter.  But in getting monster blood all over himself, the Evos seem to be ignoring him.  After some finagling, Hunter realizes that the Evos are using pheromones to identify friend from foe since they are sea-based and don’t yet have eyes adapted to land.  He devises a compound to neutralize the friendly fire signal, so the Evos start slaughtering each other.

There’s a nice interlude this episode with Asao on a train assuring civilians that Shio’s going to wreck the Evos.

With the land battle wrapping up, Jack is told by his E-Gene that Shio needs his help.  He bolts off through the air, and we are shown…! His “Nightingale Mode”

Now at first we might say “well maybe Jack has 2 E-Genes.  But as we established last time, the trasmitter devices are more likely to die out than find two in any SINGLE person. But clever.

No, as we enter the finale, we are treated to a flashback that shows Florence Nightingale IS Jack the Ripper.  Damn…just…yeah, fucking damn.

Nobunagun has latched onto Jack the Ripper mythos, saying that the murders were in fact committed by Florence Nightingale in her later years.  She seems to possess some kind of power in her eyes that allows her to see where she is needed.  It seems odd, but we do know by St. Germain’s example that supernatural powers do exist in the Nobunagun universe, so we’ll roll with it. Continue reading

Sakura Trick: Episode 11

I can keep going, coach!

1395336918658

Your finger-sliced mistress can keep pressing on, so let’s get them typin’ fingers workin’ on the good stuff.

New character! I will be referring to her as “Sumisumi”, as everyone has taken to referring to her as Sumisumi-kaichou.

…I am now forced to let out a sigh. Ready? Siiiiiigh.

We couldn’t go forever. Yuu was a bit abrasive with her childish stubborness, but now we outright have us a lolita expy.  Sure she’s about to become a senior in high school, but she has the height, the body type, the voice. She’s our lolita.

It’s part of why she speaks so formally. Because that’s just humorous to the Japanese, children acting like adults and vice-versa.  The technicality does not save you from my scorn, Sakura Trick.  We can see it for what it is.  You are like an alchoholic who has picked up their first drink in twelve years. For shame.

Anyway, Sumisumi is lamenting that there is no budget to send off the graduating class.  Kaede offers to introduce her to Haruka, who is still planning her party for Mitsuki.

We get a little introduction to Sumisumi here, her hatred of Kaede’s nickname and how she uses her grandfather’s speech pattern to mask her youthful image.  It’s cute enough, but those lingering thoughts persist…

Don’t get me wrong. I am cool with loli characters. I AM that creepy lesbian. But I also felt, until now, Sakura Trick was above needing to pander like that.

At the same time if you are adding new characters, picking out unused features from the character bin instead of making them carbon copies of existing characters with a new hair color is preferable.  And at the very least we cannot accuse Sumisumi of having an underdeveloped personality despite her only appearing in two episodes. Rather stellar in that regard.

She requests collaborating on the party, and adding the outgoing vice-president, Rina to the festivities.  Sumisumi is motivated to do so due to her gratitude towards the pair for helping her out. It’s a plan!

It also seems Rina may harbor some feelings for Mitsuki, and Head Haruka is out in force.   Continue reading

Noragami: Episode 11

You can have a Hiyori in any color, so long as it’s pink.

Noragami - 11 - Large 03

More catch up!

Noragami begins this week with a flashback.  In it we finally establish Rabo, a fellow god of calamity who roomed with Yato for a time, doing jobs together and the like. Just their jobs always involved slaughtering people.  And we see he’s still at it today, massacring people openly in the street.

Coming back from the intro, Hiyori does seem to remember Yukine, but not Yato.  Er…damn how does that work now? She knows Yukine is dead, right? Sooo…what, she just doesn’t know about the Regalia thing?

Yukine and Yato are later stumped. Stumped? Wasn’t the ONE thing on Yato’s mind last episode that he should cut her ties with him? Yet he is completely unable to see it right in front of him?

All the usual anti-amnesia tricks apply. Yato shares stories and pictures in an attempt that Hiyori’s memory arrives.  But she politely humors them, and goes about her business with Yukine.

Time for more drastic measures.

Continue reading