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08 October 2009 @ 08:41 pm
Anime I watched this summer  
In order of 'liked it most' to 'liked it least', no spoilers unless marked & whiteouted.

Aoi Hana

Fumi, a tall shy easily crying girl, goes back to the area of her childhood in time to start a new year in highschool, where she meets again with her cheerful and energetic childhood friend Akane who goes to another school, and forms a crush on an older girl who seems to flirt back.

Aoi Hana is a very subtle anime, which makes it hard to sumerize. Not a whole lot happen, but what does is shown with exquisite delicateness and grace, helped along by a beautiful animation and round, watercolour-like visual. The characterisation is especially very deft, with a lot of finesse and small contradiction that really make the characters - even the more secondary ones - pop out. A theme of the series is the contrast between characters' outward appearance and their inner personality : it's quite obvious, for example, that Fumi doesn't have a personality very fitting her tall appearance, but despite all her reserve she's nevertheless and rather strong and emotionality mature girl, in contrast with Akira who despite her outgoingness is still a bit childish about romance.

As a story about lesbian romance, the anime strives for realism. No 'everyone is gay', and there's a contrast between the homosocial crushes many girls have on their cool, handsome female upperclassmen and with Fumi's more real feelings. I haven't watched a lot of Yuri anime, but Aoi Hana is easily the best I've seen so far and will raise a high bar for any further I'll watch along the lines. Although if I can make a criticism of it it's that it's yet another yuri anime where there's SPOILER: no happy lesbian couple at the ending, although of course that's because the anime only adapted about half of the manga. (I haven't read the manga yet, it's on my to-do list).

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

Mirai is a sullen 13 years old girl on the beginning of summer vacations, taking her little brother Yuuki to a robot exposition when a earthquake of magnitude 8 strikes Tokyo.

Tokyo Magnitude starts on a very high note, with excellent characterisations, realistic display of a catastrophe and how it affects people and great animation (another anime where I love how round the character design is)... then somewhere in the middle, it falters a little too much into melodrama while still managing to be very good overall. Obviously the story is very well informed, and this helps not making the series into a cheesy disaster story, going rather for the understated and usually being much more efficient and scary for it, and being also much more moving by focussing on a few characters and the people they meet along the road.

Mirai is really a great character, unhappy with her family dynamics and lack of communication; stuck at an age between childhood and more responsibilities where you're satisfied with nothing and especially not how people deal with you - she's almost antipathetic in the beginning but is also very relateable, determined and capable. Yuuki is an adorable, cheerful child who also has his own personality and stubbornness. The other major character is a Mari, a brave, responsible and ressourceful woman and single mother who, crossing the path of the siblings, decides to take care of them while still worrying about her young child left alone with her mother during the earthquake.

The overall storyline is a bit uneven with the strong beginning, a couple of weak episode in the middle, and an ending which, while poignant, squirts a little too much for easy pathos for my taste, coming a little bit short of the high expectation I had built for it. Mind you, I still loved the series.

Spice & Wolf S2

The second season follows in the footstep of the first, with a similar level of quality, enjoyable banter, fun economics of the middle age plot; while deepening the relationship between Lawrence and Horo and exploring the consequence this has for them. It ends with the expectation of yet another series coming after it to complete their quest, which I look forward to, whenever that may happen.

Taishou Yakyuu Musume aka Taishou Era Baseball Girls

In Taishou-era Japan (1925 to be precise), well bred young girl Akiko decides, with the help of her best friend Koume, to set up a female baseball team in their high school in order to challenge the baseball team of her fiancé, who told her to her face he didn't approve of all the modern, unseemly things girls got to these days.

First a warning : this series is redoubtably adorable.

The cuteness, it burns! It burns!

I didn't really think a show that moe could be interesting and good, but I had to revise my assessment. I found Taishou Yakyuu Musume very entertaining, occasionally quite clever, as well as funny and, well, adorable. Thankfully, the moe never gets of the fanservice variety, and the focus is mostly on girls' daily life as they negotiate playing baseball, their friendships (and a few homosocial crushes) as well as the complicated relationship between males and females in a sexist society. The latter is what really makes the show shines : while it's never deep or challenging enough to be properly be called a feminist series, it really handles the complexity of relationships in those circumstances in a clever and deft-handed way. Add the pleasure of a historic setting, and it's not the anime of the year, but it's a pleasant if light-hearted watch.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

When a young Japanese tourist witnesses an assassination done by Phantom, the elite female assassin for the organised crime syndicate Inferno, he shows enough resource and survival instinct to be kidnapped, brainwashed, renamed 'Zwei' and apprenticed to the same assassin, 'Ein', instead of just being killed. With no memory of his past nor real name, he continually has to make the choice : kill, in order to avoid getting killed.

Phantom is a story divided into three arcs (it's also the only full-season of 20-so episodes of this post although I only caught up to it during the summer). The first arc is a bit slow to start, but very well plotted. The second one is the most entertaining and even quality wise. The third one is a bit too over the place, with a few good ideas but never quite finding its step so it was the one I appreciated least despite the presence of Drei which I really enjoyed watching because I always love that type of characters.

As a stylised story about assassins, Phantom is pretty well done : it's well plotted, well paced and with dark themes exploited skill fully and a Noir atmosphere set up adequately. The action scenes are entertaining, and while it's not ever realistic by any stretch, there's a good sense of a realistic texture to them (like the scene in which our main character is shown how to shoot a gun : it's just not point and shoot, there's some good way of giving details about it). One of my favourite thing about it was how the plot was the result of the crossing agendas and machination of different characters : there's a good sense of the agency of various secondary characters and that creates a good story. I also like that in the middle of this, our main characters, Ein, Zwei and later Drei are mostly pawns who don't really affect greater events, as they merely try to find their own free will and survive. This, of course, is both a theme and a somewhat overlaid motif (see all the puppet imagery) of the series and what gives it its Noir credential up to the ending (which is fitting, but could have been realised a bit better).

The last thing I really liked about the series was some of the secondary characters, in particular Claudia and Lizzie, who are both very cool in themselves and have an awesome, interesting relationship which allowed the series to often pass the Beichdel test:

The main reason I was watching this series

On the other hand, Phantom has many flaws. To be frank, I often find stories about assassins, especially as they are very stylised and unrealistic, pretty silly, and this story didn't escape that (obviously, that's more a matter of taste). There's a few really unrealistic events such as SPOILER: a couple of characters surviving when they really shouldn't have, which didn't work well with the atmosphere set up otherwise and obviously done too much for the sake of melodrama. Owing to its hentai visual novel adaptation root, it's got something of a harem quality, focussing too much on the way various women interact - and obsess - with our main character, which was frankly annoying. Add the creepiness of the villain which really love the female assassins he trains to be young pretty girls objectified with near ritualistic precision, and I got squicked a few times watching it; Also I'm getting really tired of Emotionless Girls as a trope.

So overall an entertaining series with a few good points, but which appeal with depend a lot of people's taste and tolerance for certain tropes.

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi S2

It's sort of tough to talk about this season of Haruhi (also I never wrote a review for the first season), truncated as it is. It's got some good parts, a few of which are as good as the original season, although even the 'Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya' arc is a bit over long and weak in the middle; and it's got some, ahem, repetitive parts. Which you probably do not want to watch, at all. And, that's about it, really, so there's not all that much to review @_@.

That's all for this batch. Will review Bakemonogatori (if i feel up to it because I have some very mixed feelings about this one) and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood when they are actually finished.
Tone: tiredtired
Tune: Counting Crows - Mercury
baseball with elephants? bah!: girlkissingkeelieinblack on October 8th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Aoi Hana was the best show of the season, hands down--I think I would trade three-quarters of the anime airing this fall for another installment of it. And while [spoiler] there wasn't a girl-girl couple by the end, I was at least kind of pleased that it was for the reason of 'the story hasn't progressed far enough' and not 'every single female character who indicated an interest in girls is dead/married/disappeared from the series'. [/end spoiler] I don't know how the manga will end, but I'm hopeful for something non-annoying.

I would like to know your thoughts on Bakemonogatori, when it finishes and if you feel like it! I gave up on around episode 3 or 4 because it looked gorgeous, but felt like it was trying way too hard to clever when it really wasn't. And the fanservice...augh.
Anne-Elisa: *g*etrangere on October 10th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, Aoi Hana was a great watch :) I hope there'll be a sequel. The new season really looks dull, doesn't it XD

Honestly, you were right to drop it. I almost did as well, right at this point, then took it up again because I saw discussions of later eps that made it sound good. The fanservice only got worse, and the visual style never quite reached the level of the first ep, and some of the idiosyncratic style just got annoying. Story wise, I think the first one was also the best, although the third one had a couple of interesting bits.
Sakanagi: Scales - Mononokesakanagi on October 9th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
I like Aoi Hana a lot. Like you said, it wasn't action packed but it was subtle and kept being interesting. I would really like to see a second series of it, but I'll probably end up reading the manga instead.
Anne-Elisa: genderfucketrangere on October 10th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
It's a gorgeous anime, isn't it? I just started reading the manga, it's great so far!! It's not ended yet, is it?