Supah Anime Fun Taimu! Spring 2014

After a bitter-cold winder with a fairly middling season of anime, spring came to the rescue with lots of awesome shows to watch.  This season was exceptional, delivering a wide variety of great shows.  There is something for everyone this time around, no matter how picky one’s tastes are.

I took on a lot of shows this season, ranging from very awesome to forms of torture I’m certain have broken international law.  However, even with such a big pile of anime chances are I missed out on something worthwhile.  If you have a favorite of the season or a hidden gem I may have missed, leave them in the comments!

Akuma no Riddle
(The Devil’s Riddle)
Protip: Do not date girls with shark teeth.

Akuma no Riddle was one of my “guilty pleasures” of this season.  As a yuri fan, obviously it would be hard for me to resist an anime about lesbian assassins.   Was it worth it?  Let’s find out.

This anime takes place in near future, in a world where powerful politicians and corporations are kept in check through dirty deeds.  This world has a need for a fresh supply of professional assassins, and the “Black Class” of Myojou Academy is one of the places they are trained.  The entire Black Class consists of aspiring female assassins, and the objective of the class is to successfully kill their target:  fellow classmate Haru Ichinose.  Success will allow the “winner” to have any wish they want granted.  Failure means being kicked out of the class… or worse.  When one of the members of the Black Class, Tokaku Azuma, decides she would rather protect Haru instead of targeting her, our story begins.

In the end, Akuma no Riddle isn’t the greatest show of the season, but it is far from terrible.  The show has some very cool fights and strange, but fun characters, each with their own background.  The ending will likely leave viewers scratching their heads, as the last couple episodes become very convoluted.  This show is hard to recommend overall, but the cast of odd characters and intense fight scenes are sure to draw a few fans here and there.

Black Bullet
Yandere lolis are deadly, yet somehow still adorable.

Black Bullet is a show that seems to gather a lot of criticism, but for some reason it turned out to be one of my favorite shows of the season.  Black Bullet takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where mankind has nearly been wiped out by a mutagenic virus called Gastrea, which turns humans into deadly beasts.  The last survivors of mankind gather in cities protected by Varanium Monoliths, giant metallic pillars made of an alloy that repels the Gastrea.   Within the Cities, Civil Security Agents protect the citizens from Gastrea that slip past the monoliths.  Agents are usually paired with “cursed children”, young girls that are infected with the Gastrea virus, yet maintain human form and possess superhuman abilities.  The story is centered around and agent named Rentarou, and his partner, Enju.

What this all adds up to is a sci-fi/action show about badass fighters paired up with badass lolis.  Cheesy as this may sound, it ends up being very fun to watch.  Think something like “Gunslinger Girl” meets “A Certain Scientific Railgun.”  Black Bullet takes lots of typical anime tropes and mish-mashes them together, but it does so with excellent execution.  This show is packed with awesome action, cool characters, great villains, and some really interesting lore.  A lot of the negative criticism around this show seems to stem from the fact that even the cutest of characters can, and do, die.  If this bothers you, (and apparently it bothers a lot of people or at least a very vocal minority) you many want to pass on Black Bullet.  Not everyone will like this show as much as I did, but it is still worth checking out.

Blade and Soul
And this is why no one cares about studio Gonzo anymore.

Gonzo animation was once one of the biggest names in anime.  They brought about many modern favorites, and they were one of the few studios to flirt with western anime fans, most notably with “Afro Samurai.”  Unfortunately, ever since they dropped the Strike Witches franchise and let another studio have it, they have not been a relevant name in anime for years.  Will Blade and Soul be their triumphant return to the spotlight?  Spoiler alert:  Hell no.

Blade and Soul is an adaptation of a Korean MMORPG, and while game adaptations are seldom promising, it starts off with some decent potential.  The first few episodes gave me the impression this was going to be an action-packed oriental fantasy, with a feeling similar to the Ninja Scroll TV series.  Shortly thereafter I was treated to a disaster of terrible animation, a main character that spends almost half the season in miserable self-pity, and Saturday morning cartoon-tier villains.  The strong start this anime brings is both misleading and insulting, and the rapid downward spiral this show enters is a shameful display from a once prestigious anime studio.   It all that wasn’t bad enough, after the main story ends they still bothered to pump out of a final, out of place, poorly executed ecchi/comedy episode with animation quality so bad you will want to stab your eyes out.  I honestly don’t have an excuse for sticking with this show.  I should have dropped it as soon as it began falling apart.  Don’t repeat my mistake.  Avoid this show at all costs.

Break Blade (TV version)
Quartz robots are surprisingly awesome.

Break Blade is the TV version of a series of movies of the same name from 2010, broken up into individual episodes with some bits of new footage.  This story takes place on the continent of Cruzon, a place where most people are born with the ability to manipulate quartz crystals by will, or what they call “sorcery.”  Because of this, technology in this world is surrounded by machinery made of quartz.  The main character of this story is a young man named Rygart, an “unsorcerer”, someone born without the ability to manipulate crystals like most people.

Break Blade is a mecha anime about old friends drawn into warfare, fighting in crystal mecha called “golems.”  If you haven’t seen the original set of movies from 2010, this show features awesome action, nice designs, interesting characters, and amazing animation.  This show is sort of hard to find online, but is more than worth checking out if you are new to the franchise.  If you have already seen the movies, the new footage doesn’t quite justify another visit, and the “rushed” ending is still there as well.

Captain Earth
Don’t get too used to the Earth Engine, you won’t see much of it.

Captain Earth is a much hyped show that has left me and many other viewers with mixed feelings.  This show won’t finish up until the end of the summer season, so we will have to wait until then to form a final opinion of it.  The show came onto the scene boasting to be one of the few remaining mecha anime to feature fully hand-drawn mecha.  Most of the industry has moved onto CG, so this is an interesting concept for modern anime.

Captain Earth still holds lots of promise.  It has a fairly interesting story and some very cool designs.  The problem is this show has some bland characters that are derivative of much more interesting characters in other anime, and much of the promised mecha action just isn’t there most of the time.  The very cool, yet very overused “Earth Engine Expand” sequence has had more screen time than the Earth Engine actually fighting, and considering this show is halfway finished, that isn’t really a great sign.  This show is still just interesting enough to keep me watching through the summer up to the end, so hopefully I have better news by then.

Date a Live: Season 2
That was QUALITY, my dear.

This is probably the saddest show I have to speak of in this article, especially considering how good the first season was.  The first season of Date a Live was great.  I held it in such high regard it ended up in last year’s anime of the year feature.  Date a Live 2 is nothing more than a spit in the face to fans of the original show.

Red flags were already up because of a change in studio, only 10 proposed episodes, and episode one officially being stated as a filler episode.  From this point on, it only goes downhill.  The first major issue viewers will notice is the dramatic drop in production quality.  I’m not going to candy coat it, this anime is downright UGLY.  Tsunako’s amazing designs are butchered by inconsistent, off-model art, and that is norm for this show.  Couple this with the fact that most of the story is focused on some of the weaker story arcs from the light novels (I’m not going to lie, I really, really HATE Miku and her story arc is half the season), and you have a recipe for disaster.  Even if you loved the first season of this, or if you are a fan of the light novels, I strongly advise you avoid this, you will only find sadness here.   As a bright spot in all this, the upcoming movie should be pretty good so long as it isn’t a dreaded TV recap.

Escha & Logy no Atelier: Tasogare no Sora no Renkinjutsushi
(Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky)
Spoiler Alert: Logy never hooks up with her.  Stop asking.

For those not in the know, this is an adaptation of one of many games in the long running Atelier games, a JRPG series known for its item crafting and cute characters.  The fact that this game was adapted into an anime is a bit of a mystery in itself, especially considering that it is over a year old in Japan and doesn’t really need much in the way of promotion from TV anime.  Nonetheless, here we are.

Like most video game adaptations, Escha & Logy is very low budget, and it won’t take long for viewers to figure that out.  However, if you are willing to overlook that, you will be treated to the magic that keeps this game series going:  cute, fun characters doing cute, fun alchemy.  This show (and the games for the most part) is basically a slice of life with some fantasy and adventure elements.  Obviously this won’t appeal to every fan, but for those it will appeal to, you will have lots of fun watching this.  I’ve only played a few games in this series, and I have not played this one, so I can’t really say how faithful this is to the source material.  I can, however, say I still enjoyed watching this despite the low production values.

Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?
(Is this Order a Rabbit?)
This is my secret to working nights.

Gochuumon is the kind of anime that drives most casual, western anime fans into a frenzy of anger.  It’s cute, silly, and a slice of life show.  For the rest of us, this is the kind of anime some fans call “comfy as fuck.”  Gochuumon is a slice of life/comedy about a group of cute girls working at a coffee shop, and their assorted misadventures in daily life.

This anime has everything that makes for a great slice of life: cute characters, detailed background settings, character-specific humor, and a relaxing pace that warms the heart.  Things are spiced up with some fun referential humor (strangely enough, tons of Metal Gear jokes) and tidbits of fanservice.  This was a simple, yet delightful anime, and a great way to come down after a hard day at work.  A must watch for slice of life fans or anyone that can’t resist a heavy dose of moe.

Happiness Charge Precure
Phantom doesn’t have time for bullshit like friendship.

Yup, I’m still watching this.

While this isn’t my first romp with a precure anime, I won’t deny that this sort of thing is an acquired taste.  You won’t find amazing writing and production values here, but there is still plenty of fun and action in these shows.  This season things heat up with the appearance of Phantom, the Precure hunter.  Phantom is the first “serious” villain of the show to appear, and the fights that come with each episode he appears in are lots of fun.  By now we are just shy of the halfway mark for this show.

Hitsugi no Chaika
(Chaika the Coffin Princess)
Won’t you help her have her father’s funeral?

Before we even get started, I’m going to say if you watch currently airing anime and you still haven’t watched Chaika, you need to stop reading this shit and go watch Chaika.   Chaika was one of the best shows of the season, and it already has a second season on the way this fall.

Chaika is the story of a pair of “Saboteurs”, Toru and his sister Akari, who are hired by a seemingly innocent young girl to gather the remains of the magic emperor Gaz, the villain behind a recent war that ravaged the continent.  Chaika is a very unique fantasy anime, with its own lore and worldbuilding, the sort of thing one would expect from a great JRPG.  This anime has a fascinating story, great characters, interesting lore, and everything else that reminds us as to why we started watching anime in the first place.  If you haven’t seen this yet, check it out.  If you already have, see you this fall for season 2!

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Don’t fuck with Dio.

Okay “manime” fans.  This is it, this is what you have been waiting for.  And yes, don’t get me wrong, I love my cute girls, but I also love a good dose of badass mother fuckers in my anime.  Stardust Crusaders is the next installment in the amazing anime adaptation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a crowd-pleaser of both fans of the original manga and anime fans looking for something a little… tougher than the average anime.

If you aren’t familiar with the manga or you haven’t watched the first two parts in the 2012 adaptation, you need to do that right now to get a grasp on what is going on.  Don’t worry, it will be awesome.  JoJo is absurd, strange, and violent.  It is battle shonen anime at its finest, a must see if that is your thing.  Rumor has it this is expected to go on for up to four cours.  I am perfectly okay with that, because this is one of the most fun shows to watch of this season, and I can’t get enough.  If you haven’t been watching JoJo and you like a good, fun, bloody battle shonen, you need to get on this.

Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara
(What if her flag were toppled?)
Fact: Real life is garbage because harems don’t happen in high school.

This show is about a student named Souta that has the ability to see “flags.”  Flags above the heads of people can indicate if they will become friends, lovers, or even if they will die.  (“Flags” is a term used by Japanese gamers to describe the mark of certain events set by choices made in visual novel games and rpgs.)  Souta can also “break” these flags, allowing him to change the fate of others.  While Souta typically uses this ability to keep to himself as a loner, he eventually ends up living in a dorm known as “Quest Hall”, which soon becomes filled with cute girls.

While this appears to be just another harem with some references to visual novel games, there is actually a very interesting sci-fi story that begins to unfold as the show progresses.  Yes, this is very much a harem anime, and if you have an issue with that you should move on.  For those that are still interested, however, you will be pleasantly surprised.  I came into this with minimal expectations, but this turned out to be one of my favorites this season.

Kenzen Robo Daimidaler
(Daimidaler the Sound Robot)
All men should have the super-power of breast grabbing.

Do you like giant robots?  Do you like to laugh?  Do you like boobs?  If you answered yes to all three questions, you should be watching this.  Daimidaler is a robot powered by “Hi-ERO” particles, an energy source that comes from perversion and the pilot powers up the robot’s special attacks by fondling his female co-pilot.  I’m not making this up, I’m not that creative.  They fight the “Penguin Empire”, a ridiculous army of faceless men with phallic “front tails.”  Yup, I’m still being serious here.

Daimidaler is an ecchi anime loaded with the lowest of low brow humor, and if you can enjoy that sort of stuff this show will have you laughing your ass off.  Also, strangely enough this show somehow has more mecha action than Captain Earth, so I’m not really sure what that says about Captain Earth.  This show is loads of fun, so if ecchi is your thing check this out.

Knights of Sidonia
Seriously man, she’s disgusting.

Even though this show is based on a fairly popular manga, early in its run it came under a lot of criticism for being a full CG anime, and tv-anime budget CG tends to be a bit off-putting to some.  Nonetheless, Sidonia’s excellent art and designs, thrilling action, and fascinating sci-fi storyline eventually silenced critics and put this anime up as one of the biggest shows of the season.  Sidonia takes place on a massive starship that goes by the same name, one of the last holdouts for the human race, which has been on the run from an alien race known as that Gauna.

At first glance, the CG animation seems to have a bit of a slow frame rate and somewhat “artificial” looking movement in its characters.  However, just as I learned when passing up on other CG shows like Ars Nova, this sort of animation will grow on you, and the story alone makes it all worth it.  The benefits of using this animation are displayed during the shows many, blazing-fast mecha fights.  Once you give this show a chance, you’ll be hooked, and the only bad thing most people have to say about this anime is that it ends.  Even then, a second season has already been officially announced due to the swelling popularity of the show.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
(The Irregular at Magic High School)
Seriously man, she’s disgusting.

Mahouka is one of the most popular, and most infamous, shows of the season.  This takes place in a post-World War 3 future, in an alternate world where magic and science are one and the same.  The main protagonist is Tatsuya Shiba, a talented and reserved young man with hidden ties to military, now undercover as a lower-ranking student at a National Magic School.  This show receives equal heaps of adoration and pure hate for its overly-perfect main character, obsessive-compulsive exposition, and some odd bits of right-wing politics here and there.

Mahouka is an unusual and interesting show, at least at first.  Word-building seems to be much of the focus for this show, and it is packed with heavy handed explanations of how this world works and the “science” behind the magic used in the show.  Unfortunately, this is done so exhaustively it feels like some episodes are lessons in fictional physics with some cute girls tossed about here and there.  Along with this, the main character is the type that can do anything and everything perfectly, to a point of absurdity.  This is no exaggeration, just when you think Tetsuya is already a bit too perfect at all things magic and fighting bad guys, there is a scene where a girl is seriously injured and it is later explained she was saved  when Tetsuya jumped in and told the paramedics how to do their jobs.  Tetsuya is so perfect he’s better than everyone at everything, even though a major plot point is Tetsuya is “holding back” so people don’t discover his true abilities.  And his sister is really, really, hot.  And she wants to fuck.

The real knock against this show, however, is that despite everything going on, Mahouka still manages to be very bland.  The combination of very average character designs, long-winded “magical science” lessons, and a literal guarantee that Tetsuya is going to make everything better, all the time, can make this show a chore to watch.  I’m still curious to see how this turns out during the second half this summer, but as of now I’d say you can ignore the hype and pass on this.

No Game No Life
In the end, NEETs are the last saviors of humanity.

NGNL was one of the bigger shows of the season, based on a popular light novel series.  The story is about a pair of NEET siblings, Sora and Shiro, an unbeatable team at online games going by the name “Blank.”  One day a mysterious god draws them into a magical realm where all conflict is replaced by games and wagers.  Sora and Shiro then decide to put their gaming skills to the test and set out to conquer this realm, one step at a time.

This show is beautifully (and very colorfully) animated, and features a fun cast of characters in an interesting setting.  This anime has a bit of everything that makes anime fun to watch, and it was thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end.  Also, unlike Mahouka, this show takes the idea of strong main characters and executes it properly.  Each game is full of thrills and suspense, leaving viewers wondering if Shiro and Sora can pull through even though they seem to “know what they are doing.”  This was my number one favorite of the season, and definitely worth checking out.

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
(Nanana’s Buried Treasure)
And they are all total dicks to each other.

Nanana is based on an award winning light novel series, and the animated adaptation came out with much fanfare this season.  Nanana is about a group of genius students led by a girl named Nanana that started a project to challenge modern students, building an artificial island where students can hunt for treasures with mysterious powers.  Years later, the island took on a sizeable student population and a small handful of ambitious students search for treasures from the “Nanana Collection.”

Nanana has a fairly unique and intriguing storyline and a cast of odd, yet amusing characters.  For the first half I fell in love with this show, but towards the end some elements of it began to bother me.  A lot of the interactions between the characters change quickly and then revert back to normal with little explanation, but the worst thing about Nanana is how it finishes.  This show is full of mystery and intrigue, and it will leave viewers asking many questions.  By the time it is all said and done, nothing is answered, and nothing is resolved.  While many adaptations of ongoing works leave loose threads, they almost always conclude a major conflict or finish out an important story arc.  Nanana just… ends.  While I’d like to say Nanana is at least worth a look, I personally fell out of love with the show as fast I fell into it.  Unless you are planning on hunting down and translating the LN series, you should pass on this, because the anime will just leave you high and dry.

Seikoku no Dragonar
(Dragonar Academy)
You’ll know it’s anime when she starts groping the blonde’s tits.

Not content with allowing “Game of Thrones” to be the only fantasy show with dragons and lewd acts, Japan brings us the lovely ecchi/fantasy, Sekoku no Dragonar.  Dragonar is the story of Ash Blake, a student at an academy for dragon riders.  Unlike the rest of his classmates, however, Ash has yet to be paired with his “Pal”, the dragon that riders will be bound to through a lifelong spiritual link.  Despite this, he also has the gift of being able to tame and ride almost any dragon.  His luck continues when his Pal finally appears, and she takes the form of an adorable tsundere girl with rounded horns.

Like any good ecchi anime, Dragonar is packed with all of the nudity and sexy situations one could want.  If that wasn’t enough to keep you watching, Dragonar also has a pretty good fantasy storyline to tie all the lewdness together, making for a very entertaining total package.  If you were to somehow pull out all the ecchi bits you would actually be left with one of the better fantasy anime in recent times, though this still wouldn’t hold a candle to Chaika.  As far as ecchi shows go, I liked this more than Daimidaler, even though the comedy in Daimidaler was fantastic.  The only bummer about the TV version is that even the “uncut” broadcast is sans nipples in many scenes, because nipples are for BD buyers.  (Yes, that was important enough to mention)  Other than that, this is worth watching for anyone that has a thing for fantasy and ecchi.

Selector Infected WIXOSS
It’s just a card game, it’s not like anyone can get hurt… right?

Early in the season I passed on Wixoss, since the anime is intended to promote the real life card game of the same name.  I just assumed this was another Yu Gi Oh-type show.  Wow, I was really, really wrong.  I couldn’t help but notice mid-season that this show was getting lots of acclaim from fans, so when it wrapped up with a second season announced for fall, I decided to check it out.  I was treated to the biggest surprise of the season, and of the best shows of the spring.

Wixoss starts off seeming very innocent.  A girl named Ruuko is given a Wixoss card set from her brother, in hopes that playing the popular game will get her to meet new friends.  Ruuko notices one of her cards can speak to her, and discovers she is a “Selector,” a girl who can play Wixoss against other Selectors.  Continued victories against other selectors gives the victor the possibility of having her wish granted when she becomes an “eternal girl.”  However, a loss of three games against other selectors will result in the loser losing her selector abilities.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Unfortunately for Ruuko and the other selectors she meets, there is much more than meets the eye to this seemingly cute card game and its promise of magical wishes.  Nothing is quite what it seems to be, and the game comes with hidden, dangerous consequences.  That is where this show takes a surprisingly dark turn, and that is what makes Wixoss so good.  Many views say this show has a similar vibe to “Madoka Magica”, and in some ways they aren’t far off the mark.   In the end Wixoss doesn’t really seem like a glorified ad for the game at all, but instead tells a story about a twisted game that lures in and manipulates innocent people; and that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment.    Don’t let the card game theme turn you off; if you do you will be missing out on a very unique and awesome show.  Another one of my picks for the best shows of the season, Wixoss is totally worth a watch.

Soul Eater NOT!
I watch Soul Eater for the plot.

Soul Eater NOT, as the name seems to imply, is not quite the same thing as Soul Eater.  Not is essentially a slice of life story that takes place at the DWMA, and serves as a side story to Soul Eater.  While this has battle shonen oriented fans of Soul Eater raging with anger, this is actually a very worthwhile show.  If you are the kind of anime fan that can enjoy a wide variety of shows, you are in for a treat.  Not is about a girl named Tsugumi that goes to DWMA upon discovering she is a weapon, and the story of both her misadventures AND actual adventures at DWMA.

Not starts off like most slice of life shows, with the exception of its setting and the occasional appearance of characters from the main Soul Eater story.  However, don’t let the easygoing pace of the show fool you, this still takes place in the Soul Eater universe, so the “peace” won’t last for too long.  Soul Eater NOT is fairly average as far as slice of life shows go, but it is spiced up a lot thanks to its setting.  If you happen to be a fan of Soul Eater that also enjoys slice of life, you will likely enjoy this show.

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