Supah Anime Fun Taimu: Winter Season

There are plenty of places on the internet that discuss currently airing anime, especially now that it is much easier to watch than it was years ago thanks to legal streams and avid fansub communities.  Unfortunately, too many writers and websites have a closed-minded approach towards anime, and tend to skew the discussion towards bashing the medium for not catering to western tastes and griping about offensive content.  Almost two years ago, I had hoped to create an alternative to such prudish anime discussion when I started writing the “Weekly Anime Round-up.”

Unfortunately I discovered discussing shows on a weekly basis wasn’t a great idea, especially if you didn’t want to spoil the show for people still catching up.  I kept writing the article for nearly two years until I finally realized readers don’t really want to have to “keep up” with an article talking about something they just watched.  The format itself had also begun to stray from my original idea of introducing a greater variety of anime to newer fans.  So now I’m going to try something with a similar idea, but on a seasonal basis.  For this article I’ll be talking about all the shows I kept up with for the season, explain a little of what they are about, what kind of fans may (or may not) enjoy them, and a bit of my opinion on the show.

I don’t really consider myself a critic by any means, so try not to take my opinions too seriously, your mileage may vary.  If you don’t find a show from the season in the article, and you thought it was great, don’t get upset, post them in the comments!  I’ve come across some great recommendations from readers in the past for shows I glanced over, so suggestions are always welcome.   And as always, never forget, fun things are fun.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren
(Love, Chuunibyou, & Other Delusions!  Heart Throb)
Dark Flame Mastah returns!

This is the second season of Kyoto Animation’s hit romantic comedy, and my anime of the year in 2012.  Things pick up just about where they left off last season, and the story deals with the complications Yuuta faces by dating a girl with “8th grade syndrome”.  The entire gang returns, along with a couple new faces, and the antics of delusional teens are all there.

I honestly didn’t feel this show needed a second season, so I went in with mixed feelings.  In the end however, this show delivered everything that made the first season so much fun to watch with just a touch of new drama.  If you enjoyed the first season, you will very likely enjoy the second, even though some fans tend to have mixed feelings about this one.

Happiness Charge Precure
Anime fact:  No one can stop the power of friendship.

This is my first venture into a Precure anime.  For those not in the know, Precure is a magical girl anime franchise that is both famous and infamous for having “dual” audiences.  Precure is aimed at young girls, but over the years it has gathered a cult following amongst anime otaku.  This year is the 10th anniversary of the franchise, so I decided to jump in and check one of these shows out to see what all the buzz was about.  Precure seasons share some overall themes, but they are not directly connected, so viewers can pretty much jump into any particular show.  It should also be noted you won’t find this on the numerous anime streaming sites; this one is only available in English due to the efforts of the fansub community.

If you have seen shows like Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura, you should have a bit of an idea of what you are getting into here.  This is a magical girl show where girls in pretty dresses fight the “monster of the week” while keeping up with life at home and at school.  In other words, this is a typical magical girl show, which is also designed to sell toys.  That being said, this show is not only surprisingly watchable, it is really fun.  The characters are cute, quirky, and rather silly at times, including the villains.  Watching Precure you will certainly know you are watching a show aimed at little girl, and yet at the same time it maintains that familiar feeling you get from shonen anime and sentai (think Power Rangers) shows.

I’m not going to recommend something like this for everyone; in fact you have to be a pretty hardcore anime fan to even think about trying Precure.  I will say that I’ve stumbled upon the reasons why this show has picked up a cult following amongst older audiences, and that I am certainly enjoying it.  Precure shows typically run through most of the year, so stay tuned for further updates as I explore the realm of magical girls!

Kill la Kill
Don’t lose your way!

Kill la Kill is the first TV anime done by studio Trigger, a studio formed by staff that left Gainax behind.  Kill la Kill was touted by western anime fans as the show that would “save anime.”  Now that Kill la Kill is said and done with I can say it did indeed save anime… from the kind of self-entitled anime fans that insisted anime needs saving in the first place.

Kill la Kill is rife with action, fanservice, and cartoonish goofiness, and runs at a breakneck pace completely to the end.  This show is extreme in just about everything it does, and it is completely unapologetic for being like that.  This show has gained a huge following around the world, and is widely distributed through legal streams.  Chances are if you enjoyed Gurren Lagann, you will very likely enjoy this show.  Kill la Kill is an over-the-top, wild ride to the bitter end, and lots of fun.   Some people are offended by the show’s heavy doses of skimpy outfits, but as long as you aren’t some kind of puritan maniac or “social justice” idiot, you should certainly check this show out.

Log Horizon
LIVING IN THE DATABASE WOW WOW

When I first heard about Log Horizon, I thought it was going to be a shallow rip-off trying to ride on the popularity of the beloved but terrible Sword Art Online.  That is because Log Horizon is also about people becoming trapped in an MMORPG.  However, that is where the similarities end.

In Log Horizon, an event known as the “Apocalypse” has trapped players of the MMORPG Elder Tale within the world of the game.   The players don’t know how or why they became trapped in the game, and there doesn’t seem to be any escape.  You may think that Log Horizon is focused on players making a mad dash to escape with their lives like SAO, and that would be where you are dead wrong.

Log Horizon is about a group of players that decide to live within the world of Elder Tale and use the rules of the world to make a new reality for themselves.  The show is centered on a solo player and genius tactician, Shiroe, that unites players within one of the main cities in the game world.  The interesting thing about Log Horizon is that it is a story that dabbles with fantasy, world building, action, politics, and character development, and does it all very well.  The show never quite follows any particular formula for very long, keeping things fresh and interesting no matter what is going on.

While Log Horizon wasn’t a huge hit like Kill la Kill, it still managed to build a respectable fan-base around the world and earned enough interest to get green-lit for a second season this fall.  This was an honorable mention for my 2013 anime of the year, and this is one of my favorite shows to come around in recent years.

Nagi no Asukara
(A Lull in the Sea)
Still makes more sense than Eva 3.0.

While many western anime fans, and even a few disgruntled members of the anime industry itself often prattle on about how anime should be nothing but an endless series of action shows; Nagi no Asukara is the kind of show that proves why that argument is ridiculous.  Nagi no Asukara is a fantasy/drama that takes place in a world that is slowly dying, forsaken by a sea god the people have forgotten over time.  In this world there are two kinds of people, the people of the land, and the people of sea, humans who possess “Ena”, a special skin that allows them to live and breathe underwater.  The story begins with a group of students from the sea that must attend school on the surface, and the troubles they face because of their differences.

The art used to illustrate the world of this show is unique, colorful, and beautiful, heavily laden with little details that you don’t see in most anime.  Aside from the occasional “hiccups” from production, this is a very nice looking show, with wonderful, warm towns and cities on the surface and below the sea.  But Nagi no Asukara isn’t about the scenery, it is about the relationships between the characters and the hardships they endure because of them.  This show is a seemingly endless emotional roller coaster right up to the very end, which wraps things up wonderfully.

This was an amazing show, and while it won’t be for everyone, it is one of the most noteworthy shows of its kind in recent years.  Nagi no Asukara is a very unique, emotionally-charged show that you can only find within the medium of anime.  If you have a thing for romance or drama anime, this is a must see, and if it piques your curiosity you should give this show a chance.

Pupa
Censorship:  The anime.

Pupa is an adaptation of a gory horror manga, cut up (no pun intended) into 4 minute long episodes.  Horror is a genre many feel anime doesn’t do very well, and if you are one of those people, Pupa will only make you more certain on that stance.  Pupa is a series of bad mistakes crammed into tiny episodes of black censorship bars.

The first mistake they made with Pupa is putting it on television.  Japan doesn’t take well to graphic violence on TV, and that is most of what Pupa is.  Pupa is full of blood and guts, leaving viewers with scenes so heavily censored you only can see the corners of the screen.  I’m not even exaggerating.  The short episodes and almost random storytelling makes things even worse, and by the time it is all said and done with you very likely will be thinking “why even bother making this show?”  The only good thing about Pupa is it won’t take up much of your time.  Even if you really need to see a horror anime, skip this one, or at least hunt down the BD version so you can actually see something.

Robot Girls Z
This gif sold me on the show.

Robot Girls Z is a comedy/tribute to the Mazinger Z franchise that was huge during the “super robot” era of anime.  As anime can make just about anything become represented by cute girls; the cast of Robot Girls Z consists of cute girls dressed in intentionally corny costumes that reference to the robots and villains in Toei Animations “super robot” shows.  What is great about this show is even if you aren’t familiar with the source material in this show, it is fun and silly enough to enjoy all by itself.

This show aired in three episodes, each consisting of three “mini-episodes”, and is some of the most fun you can have watching anime.  Some fans of the Mazinger franchise were upset that they got this instead of a new Mazinger show, but if you are a fan of all things Mazinger you should swallow your pride and watch this, you won’t regret it.

Saki: Zenkoku-hen
(Saki: The Nationals)
I-it’s just a game… right?

This is the third Saki anime, the latest in an anime franchise that almost seems too bizarre to exist, and yet is one of the most fun shows out there.  Saki takes place in an alternate world where the game of Riichi Mahjong (a game of skill and chance played with tiles, think of something like a complex version of Poker with tiles instead of cards) has massive national popularity and is treated like a professional sport.  Mahjong tournaments are held on a national basis, gathering people of all ages.    Every now and then anime and manga will do a strange, ridiculous story about the game of Mahjong.  Saki is one of them, and oh boy, is it strange and ridiculous.

On the surface, Saki appears to be a simple show about cute girls playing mahjong.  And while many fans of the franchise are lured in by the cute girls and bits of fanservice, it is the absurd mahjong insanity that keeps them watching.   Saki isn’t just about Mahjong; Saki is the Dragon Ball Z of Mahjong.  Most of the characters have superhuman and/or supernatural abilities, ranging from being able to accurately calculate probabilities and seeing a few turns into the future, to using spiritual forces that give them affinity for certain phases of the game.  On top of that the gameplay is frantic, over-the-top, and sometimes it is even, dare I say it, action-packed.  As the characters play their expressions of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat resemble that of hardened warriors locked in brutal warfare instead of cute girls playing a game.

The gameplay is presented in such a crazy manner there are times you could swear you are watching an intense battle anime, and that is the true magic of the Saki franchise.  I’ll be honest, I’ve watched three seasons of this, and I still only have a vague grasp of how this game is played.  That being said, I can’t get enough of this show.  If you are familiar with the game this show can only possibly be that much more enjoyable, and I’ve seen quite a few forums where fans of the show picked up the game out of curiosity and found themselves a new hobby.  Saki is an oddity that only anime and manga can make happen, something you have to actually see to believe.

Sakura Trick
What you see is what you get.

Sakura trick isn’t the first anime to do “slice of life and comedy with yuri overtones.”  What makes Sakura Trick different is they decided to throw out “overtones” and crank up the yuri levels to 11.  The first few seconds of the show’s opening sequence has enough lesbian killing to melt the face off of an evangelical conservative republican like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders.  This show is entirely built upon the concept of pandering to the girl love crowd, which means if that isn’t your thing, there is absolutely nothing here for you.

Sakura Trick is a slice of life/romcom, and its claim to fame is the intense kissing scenes.  At least once or twice an episode there is a rather hot and heavy make out scene between the two main characters, Haruka and Yuu.  This show also adds in some bits of light fanservice for good measure.  Aside from the borderline-lewd kissing sessions, this show has a cute, cheery, sometimes silly atmosphere and is very relaxing to watch.  I shouldn’t have to say this, but this one is for yuri fans only.  I’m not gonna lie, I love me some lesbians.

Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda
(World Conquest:  The Zvezda Plot)
Consider your heart conquered.

Zvezda is about a little girl named Kate Hoshimiya, whom also happens to be the leader of Zvezda, an organization devoted to world conquest.  Some fans have nicknamed this the anime version of “Pinky and the Brain” as it is a goofy comedy about absurd attempts at trying to conquer the world.  Zvezda is full of wacky, yet appealing characters and that charming cuteness that only anime can deliver.

While this show has a few “serious” moments here and there (more so towards the end), this is a comedy, through and through.  At least once per episode there is something so ridiculous that you won’t be able to help yourself from laughing.  This was by far one of my favorite shows of the season, and the only thing I didn’t like is the fact that it came to an end.  A second season is teased at the end, but so-so BD sales in a season with heavy competition for otaku dollars may leave that to be an unfulfilled dream.  Despite this, Zvezda is a strange, cute, and hilarious show that I think almost anyone should at least give a chance.

Space Dandy
 It’s kinda like Cowboy Bebop, except not at all.

Space Dandy is one of the most experimental shows to come around in a long time.  To begin with, Space Dandy airs on Cartoon Network, dubbed in English, in the same week it airs in Japan.  It isn’t very often that anime studios reach out to western fans, or even acknowledge them, so this is quite the event.   The only problem with this is we have yet another show people use as a spearhead in the insane and beyond annoying “manime” vs. “moe” argument that has grown just short of turning into a holy war.  Seriously people, calm the fuck down, these are cartoons.  Have fun and stop worrying what other people like and don’t like, this is what makes anime fans look like assholes.

Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.  Moving along…

Space Dandy is an episodic sci-fi comedy about the misadventures of an alien hunter named Dandy, his robot QT, and an alien named Meow that tags along for the ride.  Dandy hunts rare alien species for money to visit his favorite restaurant chain, Boobies (think of Hooters, in space.)  In his endless quest for more fast food and T&A, Dandy is pursued by the Golgol Empire, for an unknown reason.  That is the only consistency you will see in this show, as each episode has almost an entirely different feel to it.  This is because different directors switch in to work their magic, creating strange new adventures for Dandy and his crew each week.  While this gives the show a very “hit and miss” kind of feel, Space Dandy is still a very entertaining show.

Space Dandy is very unique and lots of fun, it is one of the few shows I would even suggest someone not interested in anime gives a look.  Space Dandy is taking a break during the spring, but will return this summer with the final half of the show.  Ignore the noise about what is and isn’t “killing” anime (Protip:  This argument about anime “dying” is now several decades old) and have yourself some fun, baby.

Super Sonico:  The Animation
And this is what we all came to see.

Super Sonico is a mascot character for a music festival held by Nitro+, a company that makes visual novel games, including the very popular Steins;Gate.  This busty character is usually only found in the form of sexy figures, artbooks, and other assorted merchandise, but someone decided she deserves the anime treatment.  What kind of anime could we possibly get based on a character that is just a heavily merchandised mascot?

Well, the good news is Sonico is in some ways better than I expected, but it is also not what I expected at all either.  Sonico is a slice of life show about “Super Sonico” (yes, that is her actual name) a college student, model, and aspiring rock star with one hell of a great rack and a set of headphones that seem to be permanently attached to her head.  As a Character, Sonico is the “clumsy yet cute girl that can do anything and is loved by everyone.”  This means you will either love her or hate her, depending on how you may feel about that.  When the show sticks to its own formula, it is a very decent slice of life with bits of comedy and very light fanservice.  The problem with Sonico is that every now and then it goes off track and flirts with other genres of anime, making the show very hit and miss, with more miss than I would like.

Personally, I wanted this show to be ecchi, considering the sort of artwork found in the books, but by no means should anyone take that as a reasonable criticism of the show.   Sonico has delivered mixed feelings amongst fans, but at my most harsh critique of the show I would call it “average.”  I think one noteworthy element of the show is the end of each episode has a CG-animated “music video”, and that was one of my favorite parts of the show.

Witch Craft Works
Witches, natural enemy of Magical Girls.

Witch Craft Works is the story of a student named Honoka that finds himself being hunted down by witches for a hidden power inside of him.  He gains the protection of Ayaka, the most popular girl in school… and an incredibly powerful fire witch.  While this may seem like a somewhat “generic” anime storyline, Witch Craft Works is anything but that.

Witch Craft Works is loaded with amusing characters and colorful, unique designs, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  This cast of cute and whimsical characters brings along some interesting world-building, a very cool story full of fantasy, and awesome, high-impact action, all of which is brought to life with great animation.  Even amongst the huge hits of this season, this was my biggest favorite of the season, and I hope to see more of it in the future.  Also, the ending credit song, “Witch Activity” is insanely catchy.  This is one of this season’s “must see” shows.

Wizard Barristers:  Benmashi Cecil
Cecil was the only good thing about this show.

Wizard Barristers takes place in the near future, in a world where magic is a thing and there is an entire legal system put into place to deal with magic-related crimes.  The story is centered on a girl named Sudou Cecil, a young legal defender of wizard criminals.  This show first gave me the impression that it was an over-the-top anime version of law and order, complete with magic and giant robot summons.  But in the end, disappointment is all I got.

At first glance, and within the first few episodes, viewers are treated to adrenaline-fueled action, an interesting setting, and some 90’s-era character designs with a modern touch.  About halfway through the season, however, this show begins a long, painful downward spiral and falls flat on its face.  Obvious plot holes begin cropping up left and right, episodes dedicated to fairly boring characters start becoming the norm, and eventually the show collapses under some severe production issues.  The most important fight of the entire show takes place in episode 11, and it consists of poorly-drawn stills with the vocal cast yelling out their lines.  I’m not even joking, it is laughably bad.  This sort of thing has happened in the past to amazing shows like Gargantia, Psycho Pass, and Attack on Titan, but never to this extent.

I’m not going to candy-coat things, Wizard Barristers is pure shit.  When I started watching it, I thought it had some great potential, but I don’t think I’ve seen a show fall apart this badly since the early 2000’s.  The only reason I kept watching it was because it was so terrible towards the end it became both hilarious and sad to see all at once, and I was curious if they were actually going to keep going along with it.  They did.  Do yourself a favor and avoid this show at all costs.  I’m not saying this to act like a critic, I’m saying this as my duty as a fellow human being.

Varms.net’s expert on anime and just about anything else you should not discuss with friends, family, and co-workers. I also play some video games so I can complain about them with Gillman.