Summer 2012 Anime Season – Half Point
Last season I watched too many series for my own good. So this time around I decided to nitpick the ones I thought will be the most rewarding to watch. Hop in to read what you should expect and which series you should pick up among them.
Muv Luv: Total Eclipse
In 1967 humans discovered a new life form on mars called the BETA. As the BETA proved to be a hostile race the humans began exterminating them on Mars. However, the alien race proved far too strong an enemy and the human forces on Mars were eventually wiped out. By 1973 the tides of war have been reversed and the BETA began their invasion of earth. In order to stop the BETA the humans began using huge military mecha (called TSF) across the globe. In 1997 a few young girls in Kyoto are being trained to join the military forces. Among them is Takamura Yui – a girl of high status from a family of able military officers. Yui joins the war in the hope that she can stop the aliens from their march to Kyoto, but Kyoto falls on the same year. Fast forward to 2001 the BETA occupy half of Japan and Yui is sent to Alaska to participate in a multinational joint operation to create the ultimate TSF. There she finds a squad of elite fighters, most of which arrived after their country fell to the hands of the BETA. One of them is the top ace Yuuta Bridges – a half American half Japanese who resents his Japanese origins. Yuuya may prove to be the only capable man to help the development and successful deployment of the new TSF. But first he must overcome his resentment of Japan and work together with Yui.
Muv Luv: Total Eclipse borrows a lot from old alien movies and video games, specifically the Starship Troopers movies and the X-Com video games. This is not a bad thing per se as there hasn’t been an anime to tap this specific alien invasion theme yet. The second episode of Muv Luv does exactly that – it’s an exquisite battle to the death between the Japanese forces defending Kyoto and the invading BETA; with a lot of guns, explosions, gore and horrors. But after episode 2 Muv Luv changes its focus completely and throws us into Alaska – a place so remote and uninteresting even the BETA don’t care about it. From this point forward the series takes on a conventional mecha anime setting. There’s the average strong and dominant male lead (Yuuya) who obviously falls in love with the heroine (Yui). The other squad members are all stereotypes – the charming Italian Valerio, the cold and distant Russians Kirska and Inia, the hot headed Nepalese Tarisa and the sexy Swedish Stella. Muv Luv is a fan service heavy series and by the 5th episode you’ll already see all the girls (and the boys) taking a bath in the nude. However it is also a very attractive series. The battles look great, with CG and animation blending effectively. Every shot showing the characters in their mecha’s pilot seat looks like a painting with high levels of shading, lighting effects and detailed faces. Sadly Muv Luv’s good looks doesn’t stop it from falling in quality every single episode. From the third episode onwards the squad focuses on training in order to help the research, which gets old very fast. The war against the BETA takes a long break in favor of the love affair between Yuuya and Yui, but that love affair looks artificial and forced. By the 6th episode the training is forsaken for a trip to the beach, which lasts for two episodes that drags this series to rock bottom. As of the end of episode 7 Muv Luv is doing pretty badly. This series is a side story to the Muv Luv visual novel and I’ve been told it only tells a small part of the story. That said I think Muv Luv: Total Eclipse could be amazing if it only showed more battles and less naked woman. Since the last two episodes were honest to god terrible the series can only get better from here. But with only 5 episodes remaining it will be hard for Muv Luv to strive to become an effective mecha series. Let’s hope it does and I’ll have to eat my hat.
Status: Still watching, but with low expectations.
Humanity Has Declined
Due to some unknown factor the human race seems to be declining. Miniature fairies (or Yousei) with seemingly high intelligence and a hedonistic mind set have begun to appear. They honestly try to help preserve the humans, but the difference between the cultures may cause misunderstandings. To help bridge this gap a young woman and her grandfather serve as arbitrators between the two cultures and are also in charge of learning more about the fairies.
Humanity Had Declined is totally different from anything you’ll find this year. Visually it’s a flashed out colorful series. Story-wise it’s a parody with a dark pessimistic tone. The story parodies itself right from the beginning. The characters don’t have names. Instead they are called by their title. The main character is “I”, her uncle is simply called uncle and the fairies are all “fairies”. Other people that show up are mostly called by their job title or an irrelevant letter of the alphabet. Speaking of people it’s pretty easy to understand why humanity has declined from watching them – they are all very dumb and unimpressive. Most of them never question anything and are content by doing their everyday chores. This includes the main character, which will insult or make fun of all the other characters’ faults without ever noticing she is also a good-for-nothing human just like them. The series is built around black humor. For example in the first episode you’ll see a piece of bread offering the humans to eat it while in the second episode chicken are busy at work in a factory that makes roasted and chopped chicken food. I have a real problem judging this show. I hate the visual style, but I have to admit that it is unique and some people might like it. The same goes for the dark humor – I find it tasteless are not funny but I can see other people relating to it. However this is my review and after two episodes I definitely had enough of Humanity Has Declined to know that it is not for me. It doesn’t seem like it will go anywhere and I cannot help but despise the main character for bad-mouthing anything that moves. I do have to give the series props for its unique ending theme, which is very reminiscent of the Haibane Renmei’s ending theme.
Status: Had my fill of declining humans and dark humor. It’s not for me.
Sword Art Online
A new revolutionary MMD that can completely synch your body with your games arrives on the market alongside with its first game – an MMORPG called Sword Art Online. However, the players that start playing the game soon find out they are trapped within this game world until they clear it, unable to remove the MMDs from their real bodies. It gets even worse: if you die in the game the MMD will send electric waves through your head, killing you in real life. It’s kill or be killed and the players begin to build their new lives inside the game. Their goal is to eventually clear all 100 levels of the game world, defeating the game and releasing themselves from it. Among these players is a young teenager named Kirito who has participate in the game’s beta before it went public. As a beta player he knows enough to get around and gains the initial advantage over most other players. But he soon discovers that not all players are fit to succeed in this world. Kirito thus tries to clear the game and in the same time help as many players not lose their lives to it.
Right from the start Sword Art Online has some originality problems. It borrows heavily from the PSP game .hack//Link, almost to the point of being a rip-off. But since .hack//Link was never made into an anime I’m going to give SAO the benefit of the doubt and review it on its own merits. It does have an interesting notion, which could develop into a unique story. Early on you’ll notice that most of the episodes stand for themselves. There’s a big jump in time between episode 1 and 2 (about half a year) and then each episode leaps a month or so forward. This leads to a feeling of perpetual advancement. This is not a series where people spend their time leveling up every episode and take the entire game world by storm on the last one. There’s a constant struggle against the game world in the backgrond which helps the series perform more coherently. Another merit is the series somewhat loose script. The story is explained in the first episode, but from there on almost every episode touches a different situation and showcase different people. It’s not a show that has hero X fight villain Z every episode or even every couple of episodes. Until now the only common thing about the episodes has been Kirito, who always takes center stage. The variation in plot is great because together with the time jumps it ensures that you never know exactly what to look for in the upcoming episode. Of course there’s always a chance the next episode will disappoint you and episodes 5 and 6, in which SAO turns into a melodramatic detective series, are examples of such unfortunate ill-performed episodes. The human interactions in SAO are the meat of the series and like the episodes they too are a hit or miss matter. You might be sad when one character dies or not care at all for any of them. Kirito is a nice character that excels at being polite and helping everyone. In other words, his actions are appropriate if not very dazzling or surprising.
Sword Art Online doesn’t look that good. The character designs are bland (Kirito wears a black coat covering his entire body. His friend Asuna wears a white robe that covers her entire body) and the animation during the battles is surprisingly limited. It almost feels like we are watching SAO playing on a game console, and when the fights get too crowded the frame rate goes down. There’s also no music to note off, something people who’ve seen other MMORPG series will sourly miss here. At any rate Sword Art Online is a good enough action series to keep me watching for now. Nothing about it amazed me but nothing about it appalled me either. Just like Muv Luv it has a lot of room for improvement, but unlike Muv Luve SAO seems like it eventually will hit that sweet spot.
Status: Still watching.
Oda Nobuna No Yabou (The Ambition of Oda Nobuna)
Sagara Yoshiharu suddenly finds himself smack in the middle of Japan’s warring states period. As he gets up he realizes he’s in the middle of a fight and instinctively tries to protect a young woman who appears before him. As it turns out that woman is Oda Nobuna – Oda Nobunaga in female form!
Initially Nobuna doesn’t believe Yoshiharu has arrived from the future but his future-reading ability soon bears fruit and Nobuna becomes aware of his value. He is than promoted to be one of her advisors. Yoshiharu decides to use his knowledge of the warring states period to help Nobuna conquer Japan and unite it under her flag. Needless to say they’ll need to fend off the opposing warlord, all of which are also young woman.
There is something really wrong in Oda Nobuna No Yabou’s reasoning. The series begins by explaining that due to the incompetence or lack of male offspring the women have inherited most of the lands and are now warlords. The notion that each and every respectful household didn’t have a male son in a time when polygamy was the norm is quite funny. Of course, in the warring states period women couldn’t even become samurai so the notion of them being warlords is all the more hilarious. To top it off most of the girls in this show have superhuman powers that allow them to beat every man whatsoever. And that’s not all that’s funny here. Yoshiharu is not basing his knowledge on the history he learned at school. He is basing it on his experience playing visual novels and strategy games like Oda Nobunaga No Yabou. As such while the serious does rely on some true facts one shouldn’t take it very seriously. Of course the highlight of the story is the well-known fact that in reality Oda Nobunaga never did manage to unite Japan. It was one of his warlords – Toyotomi Hideyoshi – that united Japan. Nubunaga was betrayed and killed. Yoshiharu knows that and tries to make whatever he can to aid Nobuna in her ambition. As a result not all things turn out the way they did in reality, which in turn makes things a little more interesting. The series’ humor doesn’t pass on Yoshiharu. In a hilarious twist to the old harem genre Yoshiharu manages to attract many girls to him. The catch? These are all kindergarten age girls, none of which falls under his definition of “Japan’s most beautiful girl”. It should be noted that for a show in which 90% of the crew is female there is very little fan service in Oda Nobuna no Yabou.
One of the more confusing aspects of the show is the number of characters. Each episode introduces about five new characters, making it extremely hard to remember most of them. By the 7th episode I only remember the names of Yoshiharu, Nobuna, Hanbei and Goemon. The rest of the characters (including generals, warlords, soldiers, advisors and nobles) are all important but because there are so many of them I can’t keep track of their names, ranks or jobs.
Luckily Oda Nobuna No Yabou sounds and looks good so I can at least enjoy how the characters look even if I can’t remember who they actually are. The first few episodes deal with Nobuna’s forces being stuck in a strategic dilemma that forces them to stay in place. With a little help from Yoshiharu Nobuna manages to subdue her opposition near her own province and press forward toward the capital of Kyoto. I won’t spoil what happens in the following episodes, but the series is clearly advancing to that critical state in which Nobuna’s life will inevitable come to an end. That is, if Yoshiharu doesn’t find a way to change the course of history.
Status: Still watching.
Three girls and two boys who are all part of their high school’s literature club discover one day that their souls randomly switch bodies with each other. This strange phenomena only appears to be happening between those five members. Soon afterwards a strange man who calls himself Fuusen Kazura appears before them and explains that he chose them to be guinea pigs in his little experiment. The body switching will be random and uncontrolled. It will only stop when Kazura is “entertained enough”.
Kokoro Connect takes body switching into new grounds. It goes the extra mile to shows that being randomly transferred into another human being’s body is very uncomfortable and unnerving. It then delves into the psychological impacts that follow such a predicament. The plot centers on the literature club members: Aoki Yoshifumi, Kiriyama Yui, Nagase Iori, Yaegashi Taichi and Inaba Himeko (god she has a terrible family name!). As they can’t do anything to counter the random body switching they try to at least keep calm and wait for it to pass. It is here that the series’ emphasis on phycology comes into place. One of the characters finds it hard to accept this condition and gradually loses her sanity. After a few body switching the group discover one of them had been carrying a phobia that she had been hiding from them. Usually the group manages to push forward and work things out using their individual logic and group mentality. However, one of the episodes present an unresolvable problem, one that forces them to make a terribly hard choice.
Introducing Kokoro Connect as a series about body switching wouldn’t be very accurate. The series has the word Kokoro (“heart”) in it, not body. As it turns out in the later episodes another condition that effects the group’s actions, rather than their physical bodies, is brought into effect. I’ve really saved the best for last here. Kokoro Connect is so different and so much more intelligent than any other series I’m reviewing this season. It’s not an action series and it’s not a comedy. It’s a psychological drama – something unusual that rarely appears in anime form. It is simple at heart, but very much effective and surprising. I highly recommend you watch it.
Status: Still watching, with very high expectations.
That’s it for this halfway point. Since I dropped Humanity Has Declined I’ll be picking up a new show instead. If you have a series you’d like to recommend me to watch do write a comment. I’ll see you again at the end of the season.