Spring 2014 in Review (Part 3/3)

TWWK: Disappointed in how our reviewers have graded the spring 2014 anime season thus far?  While Kaze and Japesland have generally been down on the series they’ve written about the past two days, it seems they may have saved the best for last, as they review some of the series they were highest on for this past anime season.  Read on to see their concluding post as Japesland and Kaze review Mekaku City Actors, One Week Friends, The World is Still Beautiful, the latest seasons of Mushi-shi and Tonari no Seki-kun, and the conclusion of Nisekoi.

Mekakucity Actors
Mekakucity Actors

Japesland – [6/10]

Yeah, so what happened exactly? I watched all twelve episodes and I’m confused. And not a good confused like you get after watching through Serial Experiments Lain. A “I feel like this story wasn’t that complicated but I still don’t know what happened” kind of confused. As an enormous fan of Jin’s two IA Vocaloid albums that inspired all of the Kagerou Project entries and an enormous fan of Shaft (the animation studio of the anime adaptation), I was frankly expecting this to score at least a 9/10 and be anime of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I still greatly enjoyed Mekakucity Actors, thanks to some wonderful art design and “interesting” animation (some was great, some was, we’ll go with “unique”…), re-recorded versions of some of my favorite songs, and some interesting characters, but, man… I have a hard time recommending it to anyone. Perhaps if it had had twice the number of episodes, I wouldn’t feel so poorly about how it was executed, but it’s hard to say, really. I just want to know what the heck was going on… is that so much to ask?

Kaze – [6/10]

I was a bit wary going into this, knowing very little about Kagerou Project, and songs getting anime adaptations do not have a good history. Although as a random note, I still want my Jun Maeda-Nagi album anime adaptation. It started out fairly confusing but as each episode progressed, it became clear that the characters were all connected via the eye powers and the mysterious “monster,” that was often alluded to. Like Japes, while I’m not as big on Vocaloid-related things, I was pleasantly surprised to see IA’s Fantasy Forest animated as it is one of my favorites. However, while the plot slowly came together, the animation certainly went in “interesting” directions (okay, I’ll say, it was bad. SHAFT spending too much money on Madoka S2 and where’s that Kizu?). Around episode 10, I was quite intrigued but then the finale fell flat. It seems there were a lot of things one can piece together, especially with knowledge of the source material, but even then, too much happened with not enough foreshadow. I did, however, love Kana Asumi and Mai Nakahara’s performances here as Ene and Ayano, respectively. I can definitely see why people don’t like this, but I can also see why KagePro fans would like it.

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Spring 2014 in Review (Part 2/3)

TWWK: Yesterday, Japesland and Kaze provided their thoughts on some of this past season’s series (Note that Japesland didn’t give any of the shows he reviewed more than a 4/10!  Tough grader.).  Today, the two start dissecting spring 2014 anime series that they both watched.  On tap today: Brynhildr in the Darkness, Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to, The Irregular at Magic High School, Is the Order a Rabbit?, The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, and the Little Busters!: EX OVA. Come back tomorrow to see our bloggers complete their series reviews.

Brynhildr in the Darkness
Gokukoku no Brynhildr

Kaze – [4/10]

I had heard Brynhildr was pretty bad, and coming from the same author as Elfen Lied, I wasn’t expecting much. I was expecting it to be bad, but oh did it manage to prove me wrong and be even worse than I imagined. It started out a little interesting, but let’s be honest, most things are best at their initial premise. It quickly became something akin to a supernatural girl harem as each new girl was introduced and subsequently joined the party after eye-rolling drama. The plot was a mess as they threw hints toward “something” and in the end, decided to add in several extra plot twists and magic coincidences that I was actually amazed at how bad it was. I was going to give it a 3, but then I watched the finale, and it got even worse, that it reached the level of true comedy. That horrible, ridiculous, nonsensical…thing… made me feel like it was actually worth my time watching just to laugh at how absurd it got so fast. 4/10. That was one amazing ending.

Japesland – [3/10]

Brynhildr was a very unfortunate addition to this anime season. Like Kaze, I’m also not a terribly huge fan of Elfen Lied, but I know so many people who love either the manga, anime, or both, that I felt another entry from the same author had the potential to be something great. The first few episodes were not fantastic, to be sure, but they were at least average and promised for some great plot twists in the future (for this reason, toward the beginning, I recommended the series to a friend of mine who absolutely adores Elfen Lied). That went downhill quickly, though, and by the last episode it was obvious that they had not received the go-ahead to produce any more seasons and they had to wrap up the series within a few episodes. Solution: Consolidate 80+ chapters of manga in about two or so episodes. Needless to say, pretty awful.

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Free! – Eternal Summer, Episode 1: Rin Matsuoka, the True Believer

The second season of Free! arrived with a splash yesterday (hardy har har), helping to launch a new season of anime.  No less than a phenomenon, at least among American anime fans, the first season ended with hopes and anticipation of the second, but after so many months of waiting, I think the series snuck up on a lot of Free! aficionados.  But by day’s end, however, my Tumblr dashboard was packed full of Free! related posts (and by almost an equal amount of “There’s so much Free! I can’t stand it” posts).

Free! Eternal Summer

Art by ぐる (Pixiv ID 35786668)

This season looks like it won’t disappoint either.  A storyline is set (further competition and consideration of the future for the seniors), a new rival arrives, and the same manic energy returns.  We also see a continuing growth of the characters, most emphatically for Rin.  If you remember, he was a tortured, angry youth for most of last season before Haru and the rest helped to show him a sight he’d never seen before.  The finale ended with Rin apparently moving on and transforming into someone more confident and kinder, reclaiming the compassionate and friendly personality that marked him in his youth.

What interested me most about the first episode in Eternal Summer, then, was just how far Rin has come in such a short time.

Early in the episode, we note that Haru has grown a teensy bit, though outwardly he’s just the same.  The rest of the Iwatobi High School group remains largely the same (all had their “growth” moments in season one or, in Nagisa’s case, had no real development at all).  But Rin – Rin has changed completely: He greets his old friends; he gives Haru a high five at the end of their race (instead of marching away sullen); he treats his kohai, Nitori, like a brother; and most telling of all, he transitions responsibly into the role of captain.

Rin’s growth reminded me that in real life, transformation isn’t something to be taken for granted.

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Spring 2014 in Review (Part 1/3)

TWWK: Maybe because Japanese anime seasons are like nature’s seasons, four per year, they seem to fly by, with current ones ending before we know it and new ones beginning almost too soon.  It was the same with this spring season, which is quickly coming to a close.  As with the winter anime, two of our writers are ruminating on the season that was and giving their thoughts on it.  Today, Kaze and Japesland reflect back and review on series that only one or the other watched.  In parts two and three of their spring 2014 anime review, our anime aficionados will discuss and debate the series that they both watched.

So without further to do…

Kaze:

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – [7/10]
JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken Stardust Crusaders

I marathoned the first season (parts 1+2) shortly before spring season began in anticipation for Stardust Crusaders. I was well aware of the series for years but never got into it as the length was intimidating. Having greatly enjoyed it so far, I was excited to see how part 3 would progress. While at the moment, it hasn’t been as exciting as previous parts as it has basically been “monster of the week” type progression, the fight scenes are still interesting as they are more tactical based than power based, and the animation has been superb. And since the season has been confirmed as 4 cours, there is still plenty of time for it to really get rolling.

Knights of Sidonia – [6/10]
Sidonia no Kishi

Knights of Sidonia ended up being one of the better shows this season. Its sci-fi, from photosynthesizing humans to the mysterious aliens Gauna, was quite brilliant, as one would expect from Nihei, the author of Biomega and Blame. The CG was annoying and difficult to get used to, however. Also, while I enjoyed the show, the series suffered from being 1 cour in length – it was too short for any major developments to happen and also avoided jumping ahead to any exciting or plot-driven points, leaving viewers feeling like nothing really happened. But it seems that complaint may be unfair as a second season is already in the works, and I suspect the show will improve with a more overarching plot. Read the rest of this entry

Be Witnesses In Judea, and Samaria, and in All of the Cons

“Christianity” and “anime convention” don’t often synchronize too well.  You may immediately think of protestors at FanimeCon or at other conventions, telling guests that they’d better turn from manga to the Bible or else they’ll find themselves in danger of hellfire (I wonder what they think of a book that’s both manga and Bible?).  Or if you visited Katsucon several years ago, you might remember the odd mix of cosplayers and conservative Christians both booking the same venue.

Fortunately, groups of Christians, particularly Christian otaku, are starting to build bridges, hopefully changing opinions about what Christianity is and who Christians are.  At Fanime this year, for instance, a group held prayer meetings as a peaceful opposition to the louder assembly protesting in the name of Christ.  I’ve tried to do something similar by holding a panel on Christianity and anime at IKKiCON.  And I’m not the only one hosting such panels.

This weekend, my friend Michael, editor of the God and Games blog, will be hosting a panel at Florida SuperCon entitled, “Spirituality in Video Games and Anime.”  He’ll dive into the way religion is used in games and anime, and specifically how it’s often used without any deeper context than for plot development in media developed in Japan.  I definitely encourage you to attend if you’re going to the convention:

Florida SuperCon
Spirituality in Video Games and Anime
July 5, 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Room D233 (Panel Room D)

Also this weekend, a Christian group will be attending a different convention – Anime Expo 2014.  Jesus Otaku, a group that bills itself as a “group of of otaku sharing that God loves people just the way they are,” will have a booth at the convention.  You’re also likely to see their members in cosplay at the con – consider checking out their excellent Instagram account, where they often display group members’ cosplay photos.

And finally, as a personal mention, one of my very favorite artists, turtlequeen, will be at table C42 in the artist alley at the convention.  While she’s not doing anything specifically “Christian,” turtlequeen is a Christian artist who I featured here long ago when I used to post Christian anime-style fanart.  Also note that she and I are working a long-gestating project that I hope we’ll finish up before too long!

With so much happening, this weekend feels almost like a culmination of Christian projects at large anime conventions, and in a sense, it may be.  But more significantly, I think it’s a picture of where things are headed and a predictor of things to come, and if that’s true, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of the grace and love Jesus taught us, and less Pharisaical admonishment, coming from those who are vocal about faith as they go out among the otaku.

MekakuCity Actors Episodes 11 and 12: Moon-Viewing Recital and Summertime Record

Endings are important, so it’s no surprise that I watched the last two episodes of MekakuCity Actors with a little more trepidation than usual. I was hopeful, though: I had thoroughly enjoyed the non-linear storytelling of previous episodes, and there were many helpful explanations. Although it wasn’t perfect, MekakuCity Actors has done nothing but strengthen my love for the Kagerou Project, which seems to have formerly been rather weak in retrospect.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously. But If you want a non-spoilerific opinion on the anime as a whole, scroll down to the final paragraph]

Episode 11: Moon-Viewing Recital

I knew from the moment I saw his black Route XX hoodie that something was up.

I knew from the moment I saw his black Route XX hoodie that something was up.

Yeah, in those other routes, nothing ever went well for anyone.

Yeah, in those other routes, nothing ever went well for anyone.

YOU HAD ONE JOB SHINTARO

YOU HAD ONE JOB SHINTARO

It’s night, and a red moon in the shape of an eye shines. Shintaro wakes up in his room, finding that he suddenly remembers everything. Through Shintarou’s conversation with one of Azami’s snakes, we learn that seeing Ayano’s photo triggered his own eye-power, Retaining Eyes, which causes him to remember everything, including tragic memories from alternate timelines. If you remember, in Kagerou Days (Ep. 4), every time Hiyori dies, the scenario is reset. This has actually been happening for a long time, except with the entire plotline. (The exact start time is unknown, but it’s hinted that it’s before the characters were born). The snake asks him what he intends to do, and in response, Shintaro repeats the scene from an alternate timeline called Route XX in which he stabbed himself with a pair of scissors.

Because Kido never made anything worse. Ever.

Because Kido never made anything worse. Ever.

We now interrupt the regular plotline for a Zombie Apocalypse

We now interrupt the regular plotline for a Zombie Apocalypse

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Something More: Butt Attack Punisher Christian Magical Girl

Spiritual-related posts have been sparse the last few weeks, and it’s the same for this one as well, but I do have a few interesting articles to link you to.

D.M. Dutcher laments the lack of entertainment written for Christians, though he saw a glimpse of what might have been in a few scenes of Butt Attack Punisher Girl Gautaman. That was before it all went downhill.  Here’s his description of that OVA’s plot [Cacao, put down the shovel!]:

Mari is a Christian who is about to attend the Perfect Religion Academy, a place where the religious members of tomorrow are trained. She befriends Saori, a Hindu girl who becomes her roomate. Unfortunately she gets kidnapped by the evil Black Buddha cult, and there’s only one way she can get her back.

As she prays for help, none other than Buddha appears. He gives her a sacred sumo belt that turns her into said Gautaman. Now she has to use her butt to defeat the evil Black Buddha cult, the members of which include an evil newspaper deliveryman, a sumo wrestler wearing a Darth Vader mask, six very ugly freshmen, a panty-exposing samurai, and more…

Rob’s compares the love of Livius and Nike have for each other in The World is Still Beautiful to that of Jesus for us, illustrating it with the parable of the lost sheep. [Christian Anime Review]

As part of the Something More series of posts, each week Beneath the Tangles links to writings about anime and manga that involve religion and spirituality.  If you’ve written such a piece or know of one, please email TWWK if you’d like it included. 

Witch Hunts and the Modern Day Mekaku City Monster

Mekaku City Actors is pretty much all I ask for from an anime – it’s engaging, stylish, fun, has a plethora of terrific characters, and features some connections to religion, too.  The story of the monster, which began as a bookended theatrical piece for early episodes and was later revealed to be a significant part of the plot, demonstrates these religious ideas most significantly.  But it’s the not the symbolism, overdone in anime, that stuck out to me – it was the projection of how people have historically gone on witch hunts in the name of religion.

In college, one of my history courses focused on the witch hunt in Europe.  They of course occurred in the U.S. as well.  Recent episodes of Mekaku City Actors made me wonder if they happened in Japan, too.  Certainly, they occurred there for individuals other than witches (persecution of Christians comes to minds), as they did in the U.S.

Azami Kagepro

Art by きらげら (Pixiv ID 44146031)

Although the Christian community in the U.S. thankfully doesn’t harangue and persecute individuals with the same religious historic religious fervor (barring a few notable exceptions), we do still attack others with words, dirty looks, and protests.  Who are the witches of today – the workers at Planned Parenthood?  Homosexual and transgender advocates?  Some other groups?

Whatever the group is, they all have this commonality – the individuals within these camps are often dehumanized by Christians and others.  As with those in Mekaku City Actors who physically hunted Azami, and later Shion and Marry, we have a tendency to categorize people and see them solely by characteristics that we use to define them.  We forget that each of us is unique – that we have different circumstances and experiences, and that people are more than a caricature.  They are not part of that group; they are real people with real stories. Read the rest of this entry

Untangled: Wandering Son and Perspectives on LGBT Issues

From the very beginning, I intended this blog to be a place, a destination, a home, rather than simply a source about anime and our unique perspectives on it.  As such, we welcome your thoughts and questions not only through the comments page, but through the Ask the Staff button on the top of the menu.  And we’ve been blessed by some engaging questions submitted through that tab.

Last week, we received the following email (video and image added) from Zoe in regards to a post I wrote a couple of years back entitled, “Hourou Musuko and Loving the Sinner, But Hating the Sin”:

I recently watched ‘Wandering Son’ an anime that truly hit me in a number of ways. I’m a transgender woman so it was very relevant to me.

Wandering Son

Art by めの (Pixiv ID 9047230)

Lauren Orsini recommended that I read Beneath the Tangles posts on it as she found them very interesting. As she mention it less than hour ago I decided to hunt down the posts to read over the next few years. I like reading about different perspectives as it find it both interesting and insightful. I like to know how other people see a topic or issue, so I’m glad you’ve written on the series.

I’m on the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” post. I wanted to suggest watching a very good and interesting youtube video that my dear friend who is a Methodist minister suggested it to her friends on facebook. Just another perspective that while you very well my not agree with it, I think you’ll find the Minister Tony Campolo’s take on it. The video is just over 5 minutes long.

Take care and thank you for these very interesting post that let me see the subject from another perspective. As I mentioned, I so appreciate seeing things from the perspective of others. Read the rest of this entry

One Week Friends: Stranger Than Your Empathy

For such a humble little show, I’ve been surprised at how One Week Friends has kept me at baited breath all season long.  I’ve been anticipating that the bottom would fall out, that we would have some big climax, though I wasn’t sure if it would feel contrived or if there would be genuine drama involved.  Episodes 10 and 11 have proven the latter to be true, as the series won’t emphasize “Will Hase keep trying when Kaori completely forgets everything?” so much.  Instead, there’s something deeper being explored – and it’s focused on Hase as much as on Kaori.

My biggest complaint about One Week Friends has been in regards to how selfish Hase has acted (though it’s also what I’ve related to most).  But when painful drama for Kaori shakes out in the course of episodes 9 and 10, Hase does almost a complete 180, finally moving the focus off of his own frustrations and his crush on Kaori toward really trying to care for her as a friend would.  A transformation is taking place, one I solely hoped to see in the show, but wasn’t sure would come to fruition.

Kaori Fujimiya Yuki Hase

Art by とおなおと (Pixiv ID 44174046)

Up until now, Hase has been surprisingly self-absorbed.  While Kaori deals with the pain of starting over, week in and week out, Hase has been stressing about whether he can get her to become closer to him so that they can have a “special” relationship.  It took a confrontation between Kaori and her elementary school friends for Hase to snap out of his selfish shell.  His dialogue shifts in episode 11 – it’s hardly about his feelings toward Kaori (he only discusses these feelings in the episode when someone else brings them up) and all about her needs.

Hase is now empathizing with Kaori.  Before, she was almost a project he was working on – can I turn this girl not only into someone that can become friendly, but someone who will love me?  Now, Hase is considering her emotions and her hurt, and he’s trying to find a way to prevent her from suffering more pain.

In a sense, he’s moved from being “in love” to actually “loving” her.*

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