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June 2011: What we’re watching

bateszi: The hope is that this post will be the first in a new monthly feature. I say ‘new’ as if we’re bursting with regular features here, but no, this is more like our first attempt to do anything that isn’t a one-off blog post. Awkward introductions aside, then, welcome to the rare sight of another (and long-overdue) group post on this here blog, which collects our varied thoughts on Blue Exorcist, Toriko, AnoHana and Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko.

dengar: Sometimes you just want mindless shounen fun. I like to call this ‘anime candy.’ Blue Exorcist is such a show, it does not have an original story or a main character with emotional depth.  What it does have, is that elusive, addictive quality that keeps me watching shounen series. Here, that quality comes from dramatic irony. Rin Okumura is a demon, and not just any demon, he’s Satan’s son. Ironically enough, he goes to a school that trains exorcists to destroy demons (talk about daddy issues!)  None of his classmates know his identity and they would probably kill him if they did.  The information gap, between what the audience knows and what Rin’s classmates know, leads to some delicious situations.

The other reason I liked Blue Exorcist is that Rin avoids my biggest pet peeve with shounen leads, their tendency to lack any self-restraint.  He knows enough not to accept stupid dares that might reveal his identity.  He still makes mistakes and acts rashly (he is a high school student after all) but at least he knows not to act in ways that would betray his secret.  I think this makes Rin, and Blue Exorcist by extension, more authentic.  Still, remember to judge this show in context, it is and will always be a shounen show, more anime candy than a meaty main course.

bateszi: I really wanted to like Blue Exorcist, but after 3 episodes (and in a season with a lot of promise elsewhere,) the series felt altogether too mediocre for me to keep up with. Talking of this season’s shounen anime though, I have to say I’m loving Toriko more and more, which channels the classic Jump-spirit of Dragonball and One Piece, with a fun-loving main character going on adventures around the various islands of the Gourmet Age, where curry spills forth from the ground like water and pancakes grow on trees like apples! And there’s cyborgs, to boot! What’s not to love?!

Well, Toriko‘s all about eating exquisite foods, and that includes eating animals. It’s a very cartoony series, but there’s still a part of me that cries out in sympathy for the animals killed on-screen. Toriko, at least, follows his code of only killing animals he intends to eat, but you get the idea.

bateszi: If Menma were alive, AnoHana would be a completely different series. It would, in fact, be a generic high-school romance, but she’s dead, so it isn’t. We keep seeing these flashbacks to the characters’ childhood hang-outs. If they had grown up as they were back then, Jinta would’ve hooked up with Menma and Anaru would’ve been the book-ish girl always in somebody else’s shadow.

It’s like watching a version of Toradora! where Taiga died before the series began and Ami became Ryuuji’s love interest. Everything’s all messed up because the main character died before the series got started, and everything we expect of the genre was prematurely cut-off. Anaru was only supposed to be a side-story and Jinta was supposed to be woken up every morning by Menma shoving breakfeast down his throat, but none of this happens. AnoHana is a broken anime.

Celeste: AnoHana, as much as I enjoy watching seems to do nothing but draw comparisons to other anime – Honey and Clover for its visuals and general mood, Toradora! for its setting and portrayal of teenage angst. These are both good series, so by no means are these comparisons an insult.

Celeste: I’m pretty dreadfully behind on it, but I’m still watching Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko. I was originally going to write about another series, but I realized on the bus to work this morning that Denpa Onna, as well as Akiyuki Shinbo’s other works all seem to revolve around a central tenet: the male protagonists’ obsession with some form of perfection. For Makoto, this perfection is the idea of his seishun (youth) points, which he tallies up at the end of each episode. He has a stark obsession with experiencing certain stereotypical moments in youth.

As a brief survey of Shinbo’s other works in terms of this male obsession with perfection: Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is obviously the shining example, as the male protagonist is sucked into a vortex due to his obsession with the perfect, crystalline Cossette. Arakawa Under the Bridge‘s Kou is another obvious bet. Shinbo has positioned himself rather uniquely in terms of his audience: on the one hand, he directs in a very auteur manner, on the other, he has considerable mainstream success with the stereotypical otaku audience.

Also: that opening theme song. I don’t care if her voice grates, I think it’s fantastic.

bateszi: So, that’s it from us, but what are you watching at the moment? Please don’t be afraid to drop-by in the comments to let us know!

Comments

shlap says:

Nichijou! It’s an excellent break from the seriousness and/or dullness of the last and current seasons; the absolute absurdity of Nichijou’s comedy is quite refreshing. When is Nano going to end up going to school? You know it’s going to happen.

The only anime I’ve been watching that has been mentioned in this post is Ano Hana. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I can’t stop watching it. It’s not like the Xam’d or Eureka Seven kind-of pull. Actually, looking back, both of those mecha were very nonsensical – much like Ano Hana, I suppose. Xam’d felt like it was cut up for whatever reason, Eureka Seven felt like it was dragged on. Anyways, maybe Ano Hana will get more interesting now that Menma can communicate with the rest of the cast.

Hanasaku Iroha is another series that I watch for no apparent reason. There’re tidbits of comedy, but it’s really just another dull anime with a rather typical story… There’s emotion aplenty, and dilemma galore.

Outside of this season, I’m finally watching the GitS series. Just finished the first two films, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The universe is superbly crafted and nearly believable. Bit disappointed that the first film feels like a really long episode without a true ending, but I’d be more disappointed if I didn’t have the entire series to look forward to (it must’ve sucked for those that watched it when it first came out). Gurren Lagann is up next. Checked out the first episode and it reminds me of FLCL.

bateszi says:

Oh, man! Gurren Lagann!

I’ve actually started to feel tempted to have a look at Nichijou, too. I love absurdest Japanese comedy like Astro Fighter Sunred and Cromartie High School, so I’m hoping Nichijou is up to those standards. It looks like a lot of fun.

As for GitS, the first film is one of those that gets better with rewatches, as you can stop worrying about trying to keep up with the plot and just bathe in the atmosphere of it. I regard it highly, but it definitely took a while for me to learn how to best appreciate it.

Celeste says:

Oh man, Gurren Lagann!

Gurren Lagann is the kind of anime that will leave a residue on your soul; the mere mention of it will send you on waves of nostalgia. In my opinion, those are the anime that are worth your time.

As for Hanasaku Iroha, this is a series that I flop opinions on daily. I kind of think it’s sweet when i’m not watching it. Moreover, I’ve been to the hotspring town they reportedly modeled the series off of, Yuwaku-cho, which makes the series cooler for me :D When I watch it however, I often find myself ridiculing the saccharine nature of the show itself.

Nichijou.. hm. I’ve never done well with Lucky Star-type anime, and I’ve heard more than a few comparisons to that series and Nichijou. There’s certain kinds of humor that fall flat with me, I guess.

shlap says:

Da dada! Forgot to mention Steins;Gate. It’s my second favorite this season (Nichijou being the first). Okabe makes a good mad scientist wannabe. Though, they don’t seem to think things through before they attempt something (looking at you, episode 8). Someone said Chaos;Head is related, but I don’t find it interesting in the slightest.

Also, Gosick. Kujo likes to repeat things.

dengar says:

I watched the first two episodes of Steins: Gate but wanted to get caught up before I wrote on it. Plus, the show is a bit hard to follow, I may need to re-watch the first two episodes to understand them. Does it get any easier as it goes on?

bateszi says:

Yeah, it does. I’m enjoying Steins;Gate, too, but you probably need to be in the right mood to really get into it. I wouldn’t say it’s a hard series to follow (the first episode gives that impression, but it’s actually really easy to keep up with,) but the amount of dialogue means you’ll need to be switched on. Alas, the main characters have a great rapport and the plot’s many mysteries pack a real punch.

dengar says:

Ahh, too much to watch! I just bought Allison and Lillia Generation 1 (eps 1-13) and now I’ve got to get up to date on Stein: Gate too! So, of course, instead I’m rewatching Death Note on netflix…

Kim says:

My favorite characters in Ano Hana are actually everyone except Menma. Menma almost seems unreal to me but the rest of the characters are real and easy to relate to. How they slowly seem to be drawn back together and are growing is the heart of the series for me.

So I don’t think Menma is what makes the series special, not at all. Ano Hana is an exceptional drama series that has nothing to do with Menma’s ghost, at least in my opinion.

I agree with Celeste that the series reminds of Honey & Clover. It doesn’t really remind me of Toradora at all. But then I didn’t really like Toradora.

Celeste says:

I guess the issue here is that, without Menma, would there be a plot? AnoHana lies somewhere between a slice-of-life anime and something more – the long-term repercussions of death on the surrounding people. The only other media I’ve seen this covered in is The Lovely Bones, and the book focuses much more on the girl’s fixation on the killer that it isn’t really an apt comparison.

I think what makes Menma interesting is that there’s so much plot tension surrounding her – her unremembered ‘wish’ (that she seems in no hurry to resolve), moreover the entirely unresolved feelings of the rest of the cast in regards to her – that it’s easy to put her on a pedastal. There’s also the fact that, for all intents and purposes, she’s a hallucination of Jinta, which makes her a bit flat in many ways. Simply put, whether you like her or not, she’s plot tension.

bateszi says:

It’s more of an anti-Toradora (plus it has the same director, etc, which inevitably draws some comparisons.)

The series does have a lot to do with Menma’s ghost, though, if you consider that Jintan begins the series as a hikikomori. Is he hallucinating, is he crazy? Whatever the case, her appearance in-front of him is what drives him out of his shell at the beginning and gets the ball rolling for the rest. One thing I’m interested to see is if the series ever tries to explain her ghost… Or rather, I’m hoping that she’s not just written off as a ghost, because then her presence really would undermine the rest of the more authentic/realistic drama for me.

Peter S says:

This might be a good season overall, but the only show I really look forward to watching is Denpa Onna(etc). Many of the others have a “this a good show, so I must watch it, even though I’m not that into it” (okay, I’m talking AnoHana) vibe. I’m not sure I agree with Celeste; Makoto may count up youth points, but his thought process is ironic enough that he seems to know how silly the idea is. Good thing, too, considering the weirdos he hangs out with every day. I absolutely love all the conversations, this mindset bouncing off of that mindset, sometimes getting to a point, often not. I’m often sorry that they have a plot they have to get to.

I think that’s the reason I also like Steins:Gate. I like the way the characters interact. Okabe especially is fun to watch (besides, I happen to agree with him about the virtues of Dr. Pepper). I almost regret that they have this threatening time-line plot going on. But, Shlap, surely it’s “Do do-doo!”

But I do agree with Celeste on one thing. The Denpa Onna OP is fabulous. I was hooked in ep1, when the singer sings her fourth phrase and hits a note higher than I (and maybe she, and that’s part of the charm) expected. It comes off as a person shouting through a mess of noise, trying to get her voice (or signal) through.

Celeste says:

To me, his (as you say) ironic thought process about his youth points is another point in which he’s a typical teenager. He does something he knows is uncool with quite a bit of passion/dedication, but at the same time feigns aloofness through irony and sarcasm.

misaki says:

I’m only watching Nichijou and AnoHana this season, both of which I’d recommend in a heartbeat.

Nichijou is exactly my type of humor – spontaneous, random actions for no apparent reason. Though it sounds arrogant: it’s like Kyoto Animation made this show just for me because the show appeals to me in every way. Never before have I loved an airing show so much.

AnoHana is a prime example of good characterization at work (except Tsuruko, but I’m sure the next episode will address her…?). Though it’s hard to think that Menma’s death could have scarred all of the characters so deeply, the oh-so-realistic behavior of the characters makes me want to believe. It’s certainly like a romance gone awry, but it’s really well done. This level of focus on the characters is something that a typical romance anime would forgo in exchange for more lovey couple episodes.

Celeste says:

I’ve never felt that AnoHana is a ‘typical romance anime’ – I’ve always viewed it in more of a The Lovely Bones-eqsue fashion, where it focuses on the void left when someone in our lives dies. Yes, it draws comparison to Honey and Clover, but i think that’s more in terms of tone. AnoHana deals with the tragedies we face in everyday life in a very loving tone, much the same as Honey and Clover did. If anything, this is a little more heavy-handed than Honey and Clover is, but I digress.

shlap says:

@Peter S: Indeed, it is usually ‘do doo-doo’, though I believe I have heard Mayuri do a ‘da da-daa’.

@misaki: Exactly! The animation style for Nichijou fits the content perfectly.

kuromitsu says:

bateszi: I really wanted to like Blue Exorcist, but after 3 episodes (and in a season with a lot of promise elsewhere,) the series felt altogether too mediocre for me to keep up with.

That was my problem with Blue Exorcist as well. :D I went into it expecting a shounen cliché fest but somehow after two episodes I found it was even more clichéd than I expected. Too bad…

As for AnoHana, I’m one of the few people who don’t like it (though I’m watching it, just to find out how it’s going to end). It wouldn’t be a bad show but certain aspects just irritate me to no end – Menma’s voice (it’s so, so utterly fake), the fanservice/otaku pandering, and the writers relying on melodrama instead of a real drama born out of characterization and plot. Plus the characters are just too young for me to suspend my disbelief.

What I’m watching nowadays… nothing cerebral, I’m afraid. :D; I fell in love with Tiger & Bunny which provides more “healing” than any iyashikei anime I’ve ever seen, has a very refreshing premise and attitude, a very nice overall design, and oh, the seiyuu (Morita Masakazu! Hirata Hiroaki! Yusa Kouji! Fujiwara Keiji!). I also got into Yondemasu yo Azazel-san – I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t find that show so funny but I just can’t help myself. (The manga is a guilty pleasure as well, but the anime has the touch of the director of Jungle wa itsumo Hare Nochi Guu.) I’m also re-reading Rurouni Kenshin in anticipation of the new anime (ehe Jinchuu arc has always been my favorite), and counting down the days for when the Sengoku Basara movie is released on DVD.

bateszi says:

Yeah, I feel quite torn by AnoHana. On the one hand, I really appreciate how it’s this serious and affecting drama, but on the other hand, I really don’t like Menma’s personality, either. She’s so out of place and that mirrors how I felt about Toradora, too. The anime stereotypes bring it down.

And as for re-watching, I’ve started re-watching Berserk, and hoping to write about it at some point, too. :)

Kim says:

I don’t dislike Menma and I agree she is an interesting part of the PLOT but as far as characterization goes I find the other kids and their development far more interesting.

Yes Menma’s presence makes Ano Hana more than a typical slice of life series but I still think it is the well told slice of life aspect that makes the series special. Menma “physically being” there is just a unique way to tell the story they are telling.

Although I agree that Ano Hana is more similar to Honey & Clover in tone than anything else. But when watching Ano Hana it certainly gave me a similar feeling I had when watching Honey & Clover (this is a good thing).

bateszi says:

I agree in that Menma’s something of a derivative anime stereotype :(

Ferrugineus says:

I know I’m coming late to the conversation, but I actually watch Blue Exorcist for what I see as the emotional depth of the main character. However, I think the series hinges upon maturing him as his personality is currently defined more by the limits placed upon him by others rather than the limits he places upon himself. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a long, dreary story about the continuous suffering of one teenage boy.

I’ve rarely seen characters go through any serious change over the course of an anime. My fingers are crossed, but I’m not holding my breath.

dengar says:

I think the key with blue exorcist is to set expectations accordingly. I don’t think the target audience for blue exorcist is concerned with emotional depth. I do agree with you that Rin needs to exhibit some depth for the show to stay interesting. Right now it feels like they are coasting on action. But they can’t keep having the characters test themselves against “advanced” monsters like in the last episode if they want to keep us watching.

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