Summer 2014 Anime First Impressions (Anime Power Ranking)

A new season is upon us, so I watch anime so you won’t have to! This season is off to a respectable start. Plenty of things I’m enjoying, even if historically I get tired of them mid-season, but nothing that floored me just yet. The “thematic heavy hitters” often take time to get going, and it seems that’ll be true this time as well.

First impressions for Akame ga Kill!, Sailor Moon Crystal, Sword Art Online II, Aldnoah.Zero, Tokyo Ghoul, Barakamon, Glasslip, Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei, and Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen, as well as the weekly opinion on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

The list is organized by how much I’ve enjoyed each episode, and the link in the title is to a more thorough write-up on the episode. For first impressions it means mostly more about production and presentation, but also about themes.

1) Barakamon Episode 1

Barakamon anime Episode 1 overview

This show was my pick for the heart-warming, chill, and/or funny slot. The one occupied by Gin no Saji, Gingitsune, etc. recently. It’s mostly comic thus far, and one can easily see what sort of “messages” about growing up, being free and true to ourselves the show is trying to pass to us. But does it matter? The show is cute, and the show is fun. Well-acted and well-drawn. I found myself chuckling quite a few times during the episode.

It might not end up something “special”, and it almost certainly won’t be a “large” show, but it’s exactly the sort of show that feels just right, when you watch it once a week. It being a “small show” is the best thing about it, because it’s not only aware of it, but embraces it.

2) Akamge ga Kill! Episode 1

Akame ga Kill! anime Episode 1 overview

I liked this, it was… fun? Especially with talk of “Danger Monster Levels”, it felt as if we’ve delved into a world that plays with and along the tropes of video games. The humor was mostly about gags, the atmosphere was light and easy, and the action shots had some really nice shots, “camera”-wise. The gags were pretty dumb, but were “usual manga affairs”, and kept things silly.

I’ve seen people speak of how the end of the episode was a severe tonal shift, and they couldn’t take it seriously. I think that’s the big difference for me – it’s not only that I didn’t take it seriously, I didn’t feel I was asked to – It was ridiculously over-the-top “SO EVIL! SO GORE!” that I treated it as one would treat JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or shlocky b-movie horror-comedy films – as continuation of the light tone.

3) Tokyo Ghoul Episode 1

Tokyo Ghoul anime Episode 1 overview

The other shlocky horror anime coming out this season. So, how was it? The first half was trying to go for the “GRIMDARK! SEX AND BLOOD! SO MATURE!!!!111oneone” award of the year. The characters’ design wasn’t impressive, but the sets and execution were solid, apart from the horrible CGI-city in the opening seconds. But it was ridiculous in how hard it tried. This belonged distinctly to the “Gore = horror” school of thought that I don’t much care for.

Thankfully, the second half came along and gave us what many good psychological horror films are about, questioning what it means to be human, finding out the monster within, or next to us, and making peace with it. It was well-directed in this part, and even though it wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t over-the-top ridiculous.

Which route it’ll go with, or how it’ll balance both atmospheres will be the real question from here on, but it was a very solid premier.

4) Aldnoah.Zero Episode 1

Aldnoah.Zero anime Episode 1 overview

Not a lot of plot. The “plot” can be described as “There was a status quo, and now it’s been disrupted”. Honestly, could be interesting for shows to skip that piece, and go straight into media-res, or even skip a year into the future, and give us a show about the “new” status quo, but there’s neither here nor there.

So, we didn’t really get much plot, and the characters had been non-existant, only a couple getting broad characterization, so what did it do to earn the 4th spot? Well, it had a whole lot of talking, all of it about themes. The themes of lying, of honour, of the price adults pay as children take up arms when they do not truly have hope. Honor in the name of our ancestors, and the dishonor of living on. I wonder if we’ll get a deeper analysis or reflection of these themes, or since the show will have enough room, toss them aside as boosters as we delve into differentthemes.

Promising? I dunno, especially considering throwing the themes out there via a monologue, without characters or plot to serve as vehicles yet, or to show how the themes hold-up, it’s very hard to make any call at all, just yet.

5) Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei! Episode 1

Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei! anime Episode 1 overview

Well, this was certainly “more of the same”! But considering the original had done so many things, such as have great and well-directed fights, lots of (gratuitious) fan-service, and moe-slice of life, what more of the same did it have? Mostly moe-slice of life with the usual comedy, some fan-service, and no action just yet.

It was an enjoyable and beautiful episode, of the sort this show made us used to, something that those of you who like 4-koma/comic manga adaptations, or the seinen “moe moe!” crowd would love. To all of us who got into the show mostly for action, there not only wasn’t much to speak of, but they didn’t even give us any hints of tension, or opposition. Well, we’ll see. I actually had fun watching the silly Moe SoL comedy antics, for once.

6) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Episode 14

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders anime Episode 14 overview

Poor Polnareff, he’s always made fun of in JoJo, especially his toilet visits. Can’t a man poop in piece? What is the anime industry coming to?! More seriously, the horror atmosphere continues, with a city filled with uncaring people, and a harsh atmosphere that something is wrong. Mist is everywhere, and then we learn that mist is the manifestation of the enemy. Yeah, this season of JoJo is going more “horror” than even Phantom Blood. I’d like some more action, and us getting to know Jotaro at some point. Him fixing his school outfit was a nice touch, and continued Kakyoin’s message from earlier this season, with how students should wear uniforms. It’s ridiculous in the JoJo sort of way.

7) Sword Art Online II Episode 1

Sword Art Online II: Phantom Bullet anime Episode 1 overview

A relatively slow episode. A new world, time had passed, and so we need to set up the situation. A lot of two people talking – first in the interview within GGO, then Kirito and Asuna, and finally Kikuoka and Kirito. Exciting? No, but at least the interactions between Kikuoka and Kirito had been entertaining to watch, and had mostly shown us that both of them are jerks, to a degree.

Asuna seems to not have any desires in life aside from being with Kirito, a sweet but meaningless discussion on the nature of Castle Aincrad, and also what separates reality from virtual reality. Basically all of these things are foreshadowing for the arc following GGO, which makes it pretty clear we’ll indeed get Mother’s Rosario. It’s not very interesting to watch here, but in case these things will come up later and people will remember them, they won’t feel as if they came out of nowhere, I guess.

Next episode should be action-packed, at least.

8) Glasslip Episode 1

Glasslip anime Episode 1 overview

This show is very pretty. It has a bunch of teenagers who harbor feelings for one another with little reciprocated feelings. It has a new boy feeling on the outside. In other words, it’s yet another P.A. Works romantic drama, and I’d likely drop it if not for two things: The first is that it’s only 13 episodes, so there’ll likely be considerably less wasted time than their latest offering in the genre – Nagi no Asukara, and it’ll also be lacking Mari Okada’s signature cloying style. I like Okada, but I need a break from her stuff.

The other reason is it’s much lighter. It actually has gags, silly anime-faces, a ditzy main character… all these things aren’t serious investment points, but they’re further assurance that this show will not take itself ultra-seriously, because I certainly can’t, right now.

9) Sailor Moon: Crystal Episode 1

Sailor Moon Crystal anime Episode 1 overview

This is equivalent to Glasslip, more or less in terms of position. This is a children show, after the first episode. Lots of ditziness, lots of silliness, nothing too serious just yet. Usagi, our lead, has the most annoying falsetto voice, except when she’s calling out her super-moves, something the show is apparently aware of as the voice itself is weaponized.

The show’s opening spoke of the power and agency of women, even as the main character and those around her long to be saved by a hero. The enemies reminded me of Power Rangers. I laughed quite a bit in this episode, but there was very little to hold my interest. Hopefully, it’d actually go places.

10) Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen Episode 1

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen anime Episode 1 overview

This episode was the standard “Sunrise-style Mecha show”, meaning we see two sides, we are presented a seemingly non-binary conflict, in how both sides are human and understandable, though only one “hero”, a bumbling trainee who will have to use the mecha to make his will come true, to realize his dreams. I didn’t like it, I didn’t find it boring, but it was “just there”. Half the mecha shows begin the exact same way (and the other half a mecha appear on a “regular boy, but with a mysterious background”). Many turn out poor, but the good ones also start out this way, so will give it a couple more episodes before passing judgment.

*) Legend of Korra Season 3 Episodes 1-3:

Not anime, so a mention at the end. 3 episodes! Zuko is alive! Everything is happening, with silly characters, some forced-drama which yet elicited a moment of moist eyes, action, cartoonish family time, the threat of the status quo being disrupted… it is good to be back. Definitely my most anticipated part of the cartoon-watching week. Rumor has it we’ll get two episodes at a time, which is a double-dose of goodness, though it means it’d end twice as quickly as well.


Summary:

Sailor Moon Crystal anime Episode 1 overview

Honestly? For premiers, I don’t feel wowed. I usually find episode 2-3 to interest me more than premiers anyway, due to shows taking time to get going. Understandable. But even so this was slightly weak. The list is dominated mostly by “Simple fun” at this point.

I’ve had fun, but mostly mindless and light fun. The “stronger” shows still have to show us they actually have what it takes. Themes and deep characters and such stuff take time to develop. But that also means these shows will have more room to fall. Nothing that knocked me off of my feet, but a couple of shows I’ve enjoyed quite a bit, and might stay like that, unless I tire of them.

That, by the by, is the biggest issue I have with shows who start out “Edgy” and “Campy” and which I find fun – all too often after a few weeks they either begin taking themselves too seriously, or I tire of the repetition while the mindlessness becomes too apparent. See Nobunagun as a perfect example. Akame ga Kill! in particular and Tokyo Ghoul may yet suffer this fate as well.

So what did you watch this week that was surprisingly good, surprisingly bad, or as bad/good as expected?

8 comments on “Summer 2014 Anime First Impressions (Anime Power Ranking)

  1. Joao says:

    I think you don’t watched the original Sailor Moon from 20 years ago, because everyone that watched was crazy for see this remake.

    There is a reason why that anime was so popular, but you need wait the story develop a few more. The plot will take very turns.Take note all magical girl sentai shows we see today (madoka) are based on things that Sailor Moon started, so Sailor Moon had some thing that started a trend.

    But you made a nice reference to Power Rangers, that is the american version of sentai shows. Sailor Moon is a sentai show. I just hope the animations for the sailor attacks we see at the OP be a signal they will make the combats more visual.

    With relation to Usagi, she will mature a lot, but she will ever be clumsy and baka. Maybe that is the reason she ever was a very popular character.

    • Guy says:

      I didn’t watch the original, and I’m avoiding any comparisons/spoilers. I don’t really care about the original, right now. I’m watching this series, and I’m coming to it as a blank slate, which will allow me to treat it on its own terms.

      I could listen to what everything says about it, but then not only will no one ever get a “Fresh look” at this series, but it’d also won’t be meaningful. A show stands or falls on its own, especially when marketed as such.

      • silversatyr says:

        It is interesting to see how a new-comer to the series will go with it. Knowing what’s to come in the series and how character evolve before-hand is definitely something that changes the experience and so, seeing it through your eyes and whether it stacks up on its own, without the fore-knowledge and nostalgia will be an interesting thing to see.
        That said, the first time I watched it initially, I was quite annoyed with Usagi-chan too. Her voice in both the dub and subbed original was a bit ear-grating and either the voice changed as it went or I got used to it (or more forgiving of her character as she grew) but by the end I liked her a lot more. There’s a lot of growing for her character between now and then though (but she does grow up from the selfish girl we meet in the first episode) and it should be interesting to see whether the remake is better or worse in that aspect. I’m very much looking forward to see how it progresses through your eyes and whether you think it is a good anime without the aforementioned factors that most watchers have when going in to it.

      • Joao says:

        @Silversatyr,

        This new version is following the original manga closer. So, less fillers and Sailor Mercury will appear next episode. However, I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. The original manga don’t give too much development to the other sailors and, sincerely, the original anime final is better than the manga final (Dark Kingdom saga).

        But, how I wrote above, I like the animation of this new version for the sailor magical attacks (that we can view on opening). Let’s hope they make a good use of action sequences, something that sailor senshi ever deserved. Maybe this time we can see Sailor Venus using his whip attack, something she never used on the original anime.

  2. gedata says:

    Problem with Akame ga Kill! is that it’s not very clever with it’s camp. Maybe I’ll be more accepting of what’s trying to do if it had stuff like zombie Jack the Ripper emerging from the bloody neck stump of a horse, or vampire squirrel shredding through the steel hide of a cyborg Nazi. Here it’s just camp at it’s most basic, driven by characters who aren’t anything memorable.

    • Guy says:

      I’m not really treating it as a “Campy zombie B-movie shlocky horror”, I’m treating it as your run of the mill battle shounen. That’s a different sort of campiness and “light-popcorn”. One I like more than the other myself.

  3. Taka says:

    I haven’t checked out Barakamon yet, but I might like to. It seems like this season, at least for me personally, is going to be more one for the light-hearted, silly, or slow relationship-focused shows rather than anything big or exciting.

    My favourite that I’ve seen so far this season is Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun: it’s cute and nothing earthshattering (and the premise could get frustrating depending on how it’s handled), but it did make me laugh out loud, which is rare these days. (It’s a bit odd that my favourites of the last two seasons have been shoujo when for me shoujo is at a comfortable middle ground in terms of genres I like, but then again, last season might not count since I’m waiting on a dub for Mushishi Season 2).

    Like you, I never saw the original Sailor Moon, and what I did see of Crystal left me somewhat underwhelmed — although ‘what I did see’ wasn’t much, since I only got through the beginning few scenes before a combination of Usagi’s voice (I wish they hadn’t used the same seiyuu again: it’s been over twenty years since she last played the role, and voices change) and the bad official translation had me deciding it might be good to let Crystal stew for a little while. The official subtitles are the only subs at the moment, and even my extremely limited knowledge of Japanese could pick up on some of the inaccuracies. “Mama no baka” doesn’t mean “Why didn’t you —”, and “Itadakimasu!” doesn’t mean “Bye!”….

    I think I’ll wait on Crystal: I do plan to watch the original Sailor Moon run at some point, whether in the original subs or the new dub that’ll be coming out soon. Maybe then I’ll have a different appreciation for Crystal, and the show might have worked out some kinks by then like the noodle-limbed CGI transformation sequence or the spotty translation.

    • Guy says:

      Since demographics are about marketing, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is technically a shounen series, as it’s published in a shounen publication. I usually find comedies rather miss lately, but I might check it out at some point, since I like comedies. I just don’t really trust comedy recommendations, because people like stuff I can’t stand. Humor is as personal as it gets.

      Crystal had fan subtitles pretty quickly after it aired. Just gotta head on to nyaa. But yeah, waiting, especially as it airs once every two weeks, might be the way to go.

      And Barakamon is really good, when you want light-hearted :)

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