Spring 2014 Anime Season Overview

The Spring 2014 anime season had come and gone, and it’s time to look at the wreckage, see what was worthwhile, and what wasn’t, as well as give some thoughts on each of the shows. Some of these might yet get editorials, depending on energy levels and interest on my part, but if not, I’ll always be able to point at this!

Shows organized by how much I liked them or thought they were good, order doesn’t correlate 100% to the scores given. So, let’s go from worst to best!

15) M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane / M3 The Dark Metal:

M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane Anime overview

Look at this gif, it’s so terrible it’s hypnotic, I call it “boobie-balls”. It’s the best worst part of this show. This Mari Okada show is a take on NGE, as the other is a take on Madoka. This isn’t to say they’re actively trying to mimic those other luminary shows, but the point is it feels tired, it feels trying too hard.

We have an annoying and dumb character. I’m sure at some point we’ll get a sob story explaining it, but that’s what it is. We have the “mysterious boy who can hear the enemy”. Our MC’s whole history and character and personal conflict had been phoned in. Seriously, in the first episode we were just handed to us, force-fed down our throats. He felt left-behind after his parents died, and blamed his brother for surviving. Then he blamed his brother for running into combat to die, because dying is much easier than facing your past, which he tells you outright, and now he hates himself for living, and hates himself for wanting to die.

Oh yeah, we also have villainous or incompetent adults, including logic holes the size of the moon, such as going on a patrol while inexperienced, but it’s fine cause nothing is expected to happen, in which case, why are we going there?

The characters are unlikeable. I almost think the MC’s personality is completely sketched in one episode so he could change it in 2 episodes and we’d all marvel at how much he “changed”, just as Mari Okada had done with Hikari in Nagi no Asukara. But I don’t care for the characters, and I don’t care for the setting, and that we’ve been told how monsters emerge from our dark feelings, or how the monsters are humans too, and how can we kill them? Just before the MC blasts them away to liberate them left a meh taste in my mouth.

The 2nd episode, which I tried only because it was on YouTube and I had a couple of spare moments, opened with one of our “special kids”, locked in a facility, butcher his guard, and laugh maniacally as he kept stabbing him. It ranso fast that it felt like it had zero energy. That show tried so hard that it ran out of energy before I even watched it. Marvelous, almost. Even the artistic execution and direction leave me nothing to be happy with.

Episodes Watched: 2 minutes into episode 2.

Score: 2/10? Sure, it’s up to where I’ve watched, but that’s life.

You can check my notes on the first episode here.

14) Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei / The Irregular at Magic High School:

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei / The Irregular at Magic High School Anime overview - Shiba Miyuki loves her brother

I’ve read the light novels, then I’ve watched the show. I expected giving characters voice actingwill help them come through, and that they’ll cut a lot of the internal monologues, which would make things better. What I forgot was that knowing how the story is going to pan out also meant that my mind would have more time to chew on all of that subtext.

They did cut out a lot of the boring internal monologues, but what was left was still too much. The characters were never interesting or grew in the novels, but they removed the time they did get, leaving us with a story that focuses mostly on plot, of the dullest kind, and conflicts full of strawmen and non-conflicts.

The action when we had it was solid, but there was so little of it, and it was constantly stopped. The flow was all wrong. All the people fawning over Tatsuya also appeared in the novels, but seeing people act all sycophantic really drove home what a terrible mess it all was. There was one scene in the series I liked, and it was a gag about revealing outfits, and could’ve easily fit into any other show.

Episodes Watched: 10/26. I might still watch a couple more to motivate myself to write a piece not about the show, but about it as an adaptation work.

Score: 3/10. I usually give 5/10 if a show is boring, 5.5-5.9/10 if I find something about it “bad”, but this show is boring enough, and bad enough that I have to knock it down. It’s a perfect storm of how to not do a shot. It’s not technically inept, or terrible enough to merit a 1/10 or 2/10, but it’s not just “mediocre” to merit the 5/10 or “bad” to merit the 4/10.

You can read all of my write-ups on this series here, which also include narrative and thematic break-down of most episodes, until I grew tired of spending so much time on this series.

13) Gokukoku no Brynhildr / Brynhildr in the Darkness:

Gokukoku no Brynhildr / Brynhildr in the Darkness anime overview - the harsh reality

Oh my. This show was very similar to Elfen Lied in several ways, and before I continue, I actually thought Elfen Lied was an alright show, while this one was… considerably less so.

First, and this keeps being a criticism I levy against shows, and with good reason, as it leads to disorganized messes – it didn’t know what sort of show it wanted to be. Tonally all over the place. I guess it comes from wishing to give people of all sorts something to like, or not wanting the “dark atmosphere” to be too oppressive, but managing tonal shifts is hard work, and too many shows mess it up – because they don’t change from one half to the other (as most 2-cour shows used to do), but continually do so within episodes.

This series tried to give us a horrible “light home-building” section, amidst all the gore. It tried to be funny (and it was terrible at it), and it really hammed up the sexual fan-service it gave us (amazeballs, anyone?). In terms of “plot/theme” similarities to Elfen Lie, we once again have psychic women, who wield terrible powers and so the powers that be hunt them down and place them in compromised and demeaning situations.

It’s not just the tone that doesn’t know where it’s going, but the plot, and the characters not being entirely believable. I feel if you want a shlocky show, this is the one for you. It’s been a bit much for me. A lot of the elements were alright, but together it was all one big mess, without a decent plot or characters to tie things together either. It seems after I stopped watching the show turned up the fan-service and stupid RomCom elements even higher, which is not the best decision it could’ve made.

Episodes Watched: 3/13.

Score: 5.5/10?

(You can see my full episodic notes for the 3 episodes I’ve watched here.)

12) Fairy Tail (2014):

Fairy Tail (2014) anime overview

This makes me sad. The scene-construction and episode construction are all over the places. I knew the Executioners’ arc would be dull, but we had to get through it. But the action elsewhere isn’t satisfying, whether it is because we get 20 seconds in each fight rather than go through them one after the other, or because nearly everything is a still shot and with the manga designs not looking hot…

It’s not fun, and being a long-running shounen, that’s most of what it has. The constant jumping around also hurts the emotional investment, which was Fairy Tail’s other strength. Something coming up will be really good, but I’ll probably watch this show in bursts of 10-20 episodes at a time, or something.

Episodes Watched: 14/?

Score: 6/10?

11) Akuma no Riddle / Riddle Story of Devil:

Akuma no Riddle / Riddle Story of Devil Anime overview

I originally hadn’t planned to watch this show, and then I had some free time on my hands, so I did. It’s your “Death Game” show of the season, and these shows often go over the top, or have caricatured characters, and especially villains – with “sharp teeth” and all, and the same holds for this show.

We still hadn’t seen our MC truly tear everyone apart, and the action, while nice, isn’t something we have enough of.

There’s no real plot, and whatever mysteries lurk in the background had only been hinted at thus far. The show mostly concerns itself with an “Assassin of the Week” format, and it tries to show us what different motivations one can have for becoming an assassin and joining a death-game of their own volition. They usually don’t make us care for the characters they show, and even if they had – removing the characters just as you grow to care for them, leaving you each week with a bunch of characters you don’t care for isn’t the best decision.

Episodes watched: 6/13.

Current Rating: C+. Nothing bad, can be an enjoyable way to pass the time, but nothing special either, as of yet.

10) Black Bullet:

Black Bullet anime overview - Rentaro and the darkness of the world

This show began as a kind of a mess, continued as a kind of a mess, and ended as a kind of a mess. The series began with GrimDark gore-splatter, a farcical villain, and moved into sexualized-loli-jokes into Slice of Life. We’ve seen in this show some really nice slice of life moments, some groan-worthy “onii-chan, marry me” fan-service, and some of the most horrid romantic comedy I’ve yet to see in an anime. Interspersing all of that, we’ve actually had some really good action sequences, backed by an even better soundtrack.

The show’s themes were a quite pedestrian, “Humanity is rotten to the core. Why am I defending it? Is it worth defending those inhuman people who are harming those half-monster girls who are more human than they all are?” – While our protagonist and a villain that mirrors him are cyborgs, so again, “not entirely human”. That theme was standard, but it was ok. Coupling it with the GrimDark they went out of their way to show how horrible humanity can be, which at times worked well, but at others felt cold and way too ham-fisted to leave an emotional impact.

This series had some really cool action sequences, it had some nice slice of life moments, it had some “cute” GrimDark moments, but the overall composition was one big mess.

Episodes Watched: 13/13.

Score: 6/10. Plenty of enjoyable popcorn content, and some solid slice of life stuff, but it never really gelled well together, alongside some unfortunate animation and still-art cuts.

(You can see episodic notes for 7 episodes here. I have some notes for the other episodes, I might upload them as free time permits.)

9) Mekakucity Actors:

Mekakucity Actors Anime overview

This show was very wasteful with its time. Whole episodes should’ve been if not axed, then cut to half their size. Series composition was also lacking, as we’ve spent too long without goals or tension, as vignettes followed vignettes and got in the way of plot once tension and goals were found.

Emotional connection is exceedingly lacking, as part of the process of padding the episodes was heaping on top “annoying personalities” and “humor”. One of the things that help me at least form a stronger emotional connection in narratives is that all the other stuff is removed. But here we have all that other stuff front and center, and it gets in the way of the actual content.

This show was indulgent, wasting its time, spending away the goodwill of the audience. Editing is what this series needed, a lot of it. Editing within episodes, editing of the series as a whole. It’s a big mess, and it says something when I’ve found the songs to tell a better story than 20 minutes-long episodes.

Episodes Watched: 10/12. I plan to watch and do write-ups on the final two episodes as well.

Score: Erm, 6/10? 5/10? It’s all over the place.

(Link to full-length write-ups for every single episode of the show.)

8) Hitsugi no Chaika / Chaika the Coffin Princess:

Hitsugi no Chaika / Chaika the Coffin Princess anime overview - Chaika understands the nature of fans

This show has good and weighty action sequences. It has comedy sequences that mostly left me cold, but where I did chuckle a time or two, and it even had a solid theme. What it lacked were actual characters.

The theme that weaves throughout the entire show, for villains, antagonists, protagonists, and just people around is – “Living in a world that moved on.” The world of a series recovered from a long era of war and strife, and now people have to find their place. People who were needed for their military prowess, people who don’t know how to do anything else, or the horrors of war left them unable to do anything else. They seek something to give their life new purpose, either by reviving their past glories, or working hard at trying to find something truly new.

The theme is well-done, and truly showcases multiple perspectives. But the characters are mostly there just to support said theme. Toru, the lead protagonist, questions his motives, shows emotions, and doubts. Everyone else? Even the titular Chaika, they all act in the manner of classic supporting characters in a show, only there to help illuminate the theme or aspect of the main character’s personality. Chaika… has goals, and some worries, but it’s not a personality just yet. The only character to come close is Gillette, and he’s had about 10 minutes of screentime thus far.

The show is a split-cour, so in the Fall we’ll get the second half. While the action and interactions can be nice, it needs to give us more characters to care about or feel anything about for it to be anything but light-fun that will be quickly forgotten.

Episodes Watched: 12/12.

Score: 6.4/10. It really needs the second half to become a “meaningful experience”. This is a standard “popcorn show” grade, that I didn’t feel was better than the standard fare.

7) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders:

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Anime overview - Polnareff and the Toilet

This season is much heavier on the “horror”, atmospheric horror – we have people walking alone, with ominous music, we have shape-shifters and surprise attacks, and horribly great b-movie moments.

The action is ok, and the “JoJo one-liners” are just ok. Phantom Blood had a great villain but a pretty dull protagonist. Battle Tendency had a great protagonist and pretty dull villains.

Here? We have sort of neither. We have a silent and yet unknown JoJo, and the rest of the cast is mostly there for shits and giggles. I hope things pick up soon, and we get to see what Jotaro’s like, or at least run into Dio.

Episodes Watched: 15/?

Score: 7/10.

6) No Game, No Life:

No Game, No Life anime overview - Stephanie Dola pulls the Wryyyyyyyyyyy!

No Game, No Life was quite enjoyable. Definitely more fun than I expected it to be. It reveled in what it is, and I couldn’t help but get pulled along. What did it want to be? It wanted to be a show that gives fans what they want – references to other shows, slapstick humor, sexual fan-service that around the mid-season felt like we’re watching a true ecchi-show… and of course, protagonists that always win.

This is essentially a “Gambit Roulette, the anime!” of the sort Death Note’s Light Yagami and Code Geass’s Lelouch Lamperouge run, but it’s not as riveting in terms of the game and plot, and thus it relies a lot more on the jokes, fan-service, and loud and flashy colours to keep you entertained. I actually found it interesting, how they constantly had to dance the narrative edge, since if we know our characters will always win, there’s no tension, but if they could truly lose, then they wouldn’t be as cool, and thus as fan-servicey.

It didn’t always work, and sometimes it relied on having slow and quite boring episodes that had a cliff-hanger ending to make you forget those twenty minutes of nothingness you just watched, but the show was never ashamed of what it was, and was for the most part entertaining. Not a show where one feels one’s time was wasted, and definitely a show many will find stuff to dislike about.

Episodes Watched: 12/12.

Score: 6.7/10 – An average show with above-average fun and some things dragging it down.

(You can read my episodic notes for every single episode of the show here.)

5) Nisekoi:

Nisekoi Anime overview - Ichijo Raku hates the author

I’ll copy what I said during the mid-season, after episode 18 aired:

It’s funny how what pleased us in the past can then frustrate us, eh? I came into this show knowing it’s going to be a bog-standard RomCom, where no progress is permitted, and where characters get cold feet or something always happens in the last possible moment. I came into this show knowing I’m here for the sweet interactions where nothing actually happens.

And for most of its run, I’ve been pleased with that. Except, at some point, I wanted to grab some characters and shake them. I mean, I’m fine if a character is always pussy-footing around, but when the character keeps saying “I want X, X is the one for me” but keeps interspersing it with “I wonder which girl I’ve made the promise to in the past!” then I get frustrated. Either you love Onodera, or you’re going to be with “The Promised Girl”, stop saying one and then wondering the other. Yes, I guess it’s a way to keep the harem-show going, without having our MC go for any of the girls, but…

But see? Most harem shows work by convincing us the guy is interested in more than one girl, and it actually works in Nisekoi as well in quite a few bits, so why not just have the character admit to not knowing who he likes, rather than him constantly profess his love (internally) and then act as if he hadn’t? And then the show adds insult to injury by having characters act, and then not only do they not have the other side ignore it, but they have no one notice, so as to erase any meaning to the action that had occurred – but it’s worse than it never taking place to begin with, because we can tell the show isn’t brave enough to go anywhere.

“Shipping Wars” often are about the fans saying who they like, as opposed to who the character is best suited for. I am beginning to think Nisekoi isn’t ending because the author can’t pick a girl, or even a story. He wants to have the “We’re forced to pretend to be a couple!” story, but also the “I love this girl but I’m too shy to say it!” and the “Childhood friends become lovers!” story.

The Marika episodes annoyed me. She rubbed me the wrong way. Even if I liked how she actually knew what she wanted and was going for it, but then… the moment it looked as if she might get what she wanted, she ran away from it. Way to go, RomComs :P

The last couple of episodes had been enjoyable, aside from half an episode of extremely gratuitous fan-service, but had suffered from a lack of actual animation. Is this Shaft moving resources to the upcoming Hanamonogatari? And the final episode showed us everything, it was fun, and a mess, but also reinforced again the harem feels tacked on, rather than what actually fuels the show, which is funny, since this is what the show is defined as.

Episodes Watched: 20/20.

Score: 6.7/10. If you want “More of the same” for “RomCom”, then this is the show for you. But aside from reaction faces, it doesn’t really do anything exceptional.

(You can see my notes for every episode of the show here. Often short amused reactions.)

4) Sidonia no Kishi / Knights of Sidonia:

Sidonia no Kishi / Knights of Sidonia Anime overview

This show started as a pretty standard mecha show – Mystery boy, mystery mech, secrets in the background with mysterious origins, “big humans coming from outer space” and magical spears who can impale them – where have I seen these things before?

And for the most part, it is. The science-fiction setting actually lives and breathes, and small touches such as seeing how people adapted due to a past cataclysm all makes sense. There’s nothing that really stands out about the anime (other than its full-CGI), but its visual direction is really superb, and fights feel weighty and impactful. It’s a solid show, and there’s not much more to say.

Episodes Watched: 12/12.

Score: 7/10. Solid.

3) Isshuukan Friends / One Week Friends

Isshuukan Friends / One Week Friends anime overview - Fujimiya tells Hase how it is

The first 4 episodes were perfect. What came afterwards was good, but not nearly as good as the first arc. This show knows what the most important part of friendship, or any sort of relationship is, and that’s effort, it’s that relationships don’t just magically happen, but each time you talk to someone, each time you make plans with them, you reaffirm the relationship.

The memory loss is a nice way to portray that. The show had a lot of sweet moments, and quite a few that felt heartfelt. The characters ran the gamut of too earnest, to too mature, and were for the most part enjoyable to spend time with. The male lead, Hase Yuuki put the female lead, Fujimiya Kaori on a pedestal, and was all sorts of creepy at times, something which the show was aware of, and even used to showcase the irony of his “chivalry”, where in order to not “hurt” the object of his idolization, he drew away from her, and in so doing betrayed what friendship is about.

Episodes Watched: 12/12.

Score: 7.3/10.

(You can see my notes for all but two episodes of the series here.)

2) Mushishi Zoku Shou / Mushishi The Next Chapter (2nd season):

Mushishi Zoku Shou / Mushishi 2nd season anime overview

Mushishi returned, and it was like it never left. It was “more of the same”, but when the “same” is Mushishi, that’s really, really good. I always give it 8/10 because there’s nothing great about it. Some of the episodes were weaker than most Mushishi episodes (episode 5), but still pretty good. Others, and especially episode 2, were some of the best Mushishi episodes to date.

Characters and people are purportedly the thing, but it sometimes feels cold, and the show often hammers at us with the morals, but it’s still damn strong. More Mushishi is always a good thing. Too bad that they had delays so the final two episodes had been postponed, but it means there’s more Mushishi to look forward to.

Episodes Watched: 10/10 (10/12 ಥ_ಥ)

Score: 8/10. You should really watch this, even if that’s the score.

1) Ping Pong the Animation:

Ping Pong the Animation overview

This show never really surprised me. And that’s a good thing. Character arcs were plotted well in advance and made sense. Characters’ pasts, actions, and ideals all wove together. The plot was a mostly standard sports show, but with the motivations replacing hot-blooded shounen with proper drama.

This is a story about friends, a story about freedom, and how we find ourselves shackled. Shackled by our hopes, shackled by the hopes others place on us. Shackled by things that intrude on what we actually enjoy doing, and which saddle it with much more than what it is.

It’s a show about friends, and about how one must be ready to work hard to achieve what one wants. “Talent versus hard work” is a common refrain here, about the cost and responsibility dreams place on you. “Monsters” we call those strong beyond measure, but they’re just people saddled with their own dreams and fears, and to help a dear friend achieve his dream, we might yet turn ourselves into monsters.

It’s a show that isn’t special in what it gives us, in terms of plots and characters, but in how it delivers these things. The execution is top-notch, with the character-arcs flowing gracefully into one another, with the characters’ position and personalities being fully believable, and drawing actual investment into conflicts that aren’t “surprising”, but inevitable.

The visual flair also adds to this, and fitting with the show’s themes, I kept seeing how it’d been influenced by samurai manga. The only downside to this series for me is that even though I’ve never felt any time was wasted, that the flow would’ve still been better as a film rather than a series of episodes.

Episodes Watched: 11/11.

Score: 9.8/10. Watch this.

(Episodic notes for every single episode of the series.)

Ping Pong the Animation overview

Shows left out: Selector Infected WIXOSS, which had some nice things but a whole lot of nothing, and Captain Earth which I thought would be better to marathon but people say fell off its rocker.

Summary:

When the season began, or before it began, I was ecstatic. A lot of shows I found to be either really good, really promising, or just enjoyable. “Enjoyable” but without a strong foundation often ends up being average, especially as the novelty of new ideas wears off. But “Average” is what one expects, there’s a reason most things are “average”, after all! And yet, some shows for which I had great expectations such as M3 fell apart, and others meandered (WIXOSS, Chaika).

It was an ok series, full of stuff I mostly enjoyed, and with the couple of series at the top being truly outstanding, I can hardly think of it as a bad season. Just not as good as I hoped for, but then again, things rarely are.

Which shows did you love or dislike from the last season? And which stood out in your mind though not falling into either category?

7 comments on “Spring 2014 Anime Season Overview

  1. Artemis says:

    Mushishi was definitely the standout of the season for me, followed by Isshuukan Friends and Sidonia no Kishi. I actually agree with what you (and most other anime bloggers I follow) have said about Isshuukan Friends starting out amazingly well and then losing a lot of its impetus in later episodes – but since that just meant it was a reasonably good show as opposed to a fantastic one (and since the only other anime I ended up watching all the way to the end in spring was the admittedly ridiculous Kamigami no Asobi), it sort of has to go into my top three by default. … I guess the fact that I only did end up watching four shows in total from beginning to end says a lot about my thoughts on the spring anime season in itself. :/

    The show I disliked most – or rather, the show I rated the lowest – was definitely Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei. I likewise gave it a 3/10. However, my biggest disappointment of the season has to be Captain Earth. Excellent visuals, great soundtrack, some good ideas… and mostly all wasted on uneven pacing, poor scripting, and unfortunate amounts of fanservice.

    • Guy says:

      Other anibloggers seem much more critical than me about Isshuukan Friends beyond the start. They think the show glorified and forgave Hase, and I disagree. Furthermore, the whole premise is how friendship is about putting in effort, about how progress is often the lack of it, and then they wanted more. Then again, it’s a narrative…

      Yeah, I planned to marathon Captain Earth, or watch Star Driver while waiting for it to end, but people are really saying it’s a mess. Then again, it’s a mecha 2-cour show, and those series, or older 2-cour in general often have a silly first 14-15 episodes, and then fire on all cylinders from episode 15-16 onward, which is right about now. Guess we’ll have to find out from those who stuck with it :)

      I should still watch Star Driver at some point, once I’m done with the 4-5 shows I’m in the middle of, some of which for about half a year now. Oy.

      Also, what about Ping Pong? :o

      • Artemis says:

        I only ever watched the first episode of Ping Pong. I know, I know, it’s rendered beautifully, stunning execution and all that. I’m definitely not saying it’s a bad show, but… well, it’s a show about ping pong. There are just some things in this world that I can’t commit to. One of them apparently being table tennis.

        • Guy says:

          It’s not really a shot about ping pong, but hey, we’ve all got enough things on our plate, and if you one day watch it, you will, and if you won’t, you won’t. Pushing shows on people constantly isn’t a good thing, even if eventually you get them to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, heh.

        • Artemis says:

          I may well get around to it one day. Although my general to-watch list just keeps getting longer the more I try to chip away at it, so it’ll probably be a while.

  2. Asian Ed says:

    I’m glad you wrote about No Game No Life. I checked it out and really enjoyed it. So much so that I went and started reading the light novels that it’s based on. From what I’ve read in the first and second books, the anime feels like a direct port, with nothing more or nothing less. I’ll probably still get through the rest of what I can find, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen a lot more to the story than I already have.

    • Guy says:

      I don’t think it seemed there will truly be more. I might do a write-up about it. The Fate/Kaleid one covered most of the “It’s not parody, it’s more of the same thing,” so I might do some stuff on narrative tension.

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