Analyzing An Anime Season: Winter 2014

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Time for a new project. Laying out a bunch of seasonal rankings. With all the strong/weak season debates that have been going on, I’ve been thinking about making a ranking page for that particular category. Yearly stuff is awesome too, but I have this urge to dig deeper into the anime timeline hierarchy. That and I’m too lazy to write anything more original at the moment.

After some thinking, I decided Landon’s old “best of decade” format would be the best way to showcase a season’s quality. Thought about Cara’s, but A) That’s just a yearly list except categorized by seasons, so I can’t get very descriptive with it B) I don’t usually enjoy enough anime a season to do a top 5/10 for one. Not really a fan of having to take another format from Mecha-Guignol, but if it works, it works. I’ll be listing my three favorite shows (or as close to a top 3 as I can get) from each season and describe why they’re my favorites. I’ll also be including a shortlist of standout anime from that season, so don’t get all steamed at me if I didn’t spotlight your favorite anime. Girls Und Panzer is a decent show and all – at least from what I can remember – but I personally felt it wasn’t as good as that season’s other output. Now, starting with Winter 2014 might not be the greatest idea, especially considering most of you guys already read my previous write-up on it and know what’s going to be on here. But whatever. I’ve wanted to go into more detail regarding those shows anyways.

As for how far back I’ll go? Hm, well anything past 2010 is pretty iffy. Fansubs prior to then weren’t all that great so we couldn’t watch anime as seasonally as we wanted to despite Crunchyroll’s old “we’ll showcase any anime” policy, and the current generation of anime fans/bloggers were pretty much defined starting at the turn of the decade in my opinion. But you never know. Very much doubtful I’ll do anything pre-2007. I wasn’t keeping up with current running anime until that year and it’s a bit of a hassle to research seasons that I wasn’t participating in that far back.

There will be no movies or OVAs on here. I’m including shorts since they’re just really short serialized stuff, but I’ve been convinced sometime ago that the former two do not count towards a season’s quality. Also, I will not be including sequels unless it differentiates enough from its previous incarnations enough to actually talk about (in a good way). I find them to be a cheap indicator of anything quality-wise.

Besides, I don’t think I liked any of the anime movies or OVAs that came out this season. Short Peace might have been it, but I’m having trouble finding subs for it. Also, I think only Silver Spon II was noticeable, sequel-wise (let’s pretend the sequel that added a pink-haired girl to the mix doesn’t exist, okay?)

Stuff That Didn’t Quite Make The Top of the Season

Pupipo!

The setup is simple. Girls can see spirits and gets bullied because she’s the only who can and acts weird because of it. We’ve seen this sort of stuff before – Natsume’s Book of Friends and Paranorman being some of the most recent examples – so there’s nothing differentiating it too much from the pack besides the ghostly visual style and the fact that the entire series is less than thirty minutes long.

The difference is that Pupipo actually takes the concept even further into completely unexpected directions. Stuff like Paranorman is all about the supernatural coming into our world and the parents being forced to believe the boy who cried wolf. Pupipo is about said boy, or girl in this case, going to the supernatural world and experiencing revelations through those adventures. Accompanying her adventure is a little ghost pet that people actually can see named Po-chan, and the one girl who does believe her. In that sense, it’s more like Neverending Story except said protagonist is really involved in the strange world (and we pretend the sequels don’t exist). And the reasoning behind why she has to go into those worlds is pretty damn grim for what I assumed would be light-hearted fluff. For example, the reason that the man girl, Wakaba, has to go into a strange world at first is because her friend dies. That’s right. She flat-out dies after getting hit by a truck and Wakaba has to go retrieve her soul before it gets taken away by the spirit train in order to revive her. Imagine what Kanon would have been like if Yuuichi had to go into a spirit world to save his aunt’s soul after she got hit by that car, or when Makoto was regressing and he had to go to some supernatural fox world where they walk on two feet and surf on hover boards from Eureka Seven? That might have been fun.

Speaking of Key stuff, I loved how the finale involved the characters going into the light orb world from Clannad in order to, um, boost a boy’s confidence (?) – I can’t remember the actual reasoning behind the last arc. And instead of sheep and cryptic talking from a moe girl, we get flying bird creatures and monsters who are apparently into nerdy girls. The overall conclusion is a little sappily convenient for my taste, but I smiled all the same. More proof that shorts are the future when they can tell a better heart-warming story in one full episode whereas most of them can’t even manage that for two seasons.

Witchcraft Works

Production-wise, Witchcraft Works is JC Staff on top of their game. Some of the CG is clunky, but otherwise this show delivers on visual spectacle with a lot of attention to detail in terms of action and comedy. Not quite sure if it matches Milky Holmes’ creative animation, but it’s at least close.

As for the show itself, whilst the whole role-reversal thing is cool and all, I personally think Witchcraft Works is a great self-aware take on the whole magical girlfriend story in general. We’ve seen self-awareness in most recent anime as of late and how they don’t really do anything with said awareness other than to be the equivalent of a Seltzerburg film – looking at you, KoreZombie – but Witchcraft actually uses said awareness to its advantage to the point that it feels like what would happen if Prince Baka from Level E wrote Shakugan no Shana. Every time the show starts to go on the generic predictable path, it pulls the rug under you with the most hilarious anticlimactic outcome you can think of it. Even the finale, which would usually annoy me in another anime, is played for laughs. I’ve had some people question to me why this show can get away with that whilst Zero no Tsukaima can’t. Well that’s because it’s hard to take a show as comedic farce when it’s dealing out anti-war messages left and right, and it’s hard to take a show as comedy in general when the only joke the show has is to be voyeuristic.

On top of that, the cast is an ecletic bunch of psychotic misfits – mostly female, but the show never really pays that fact much attention to that detail, which is refreshing – who have some of the best magical pets ever. Penguins? A crocodile dressed as a gangster? The llama who always has a shit-eating grin on his face? They’re not exactly Kyuubey, but they’re pretty damn cool in regards to how they’re just there. The main two are a little bland, but it never gets in the way of the jokes, kind of like Jerry on Seinfeld. Plus, the supporting cast is so numerous and they take up so much screen time that you most likely won’t have time to pay attention to how boring the mains are anyways. I love how they’re all pretty much like Vamp from Astro Fighter Sunred in that when they’re not busy trying to fight the main two, they’re off being comedically irrelevant in their own spare time.

All in all, this show was one of the best surprises I’ve ever seen in anime, mostly for being the antithesis of what JC Staff magical girlfriend shows usually are. Not sure if I want to see them actually go in that direction because then it’d just be another annoying fad, but it’s nice to see this sort of thing every once in a while.

Also, that ending song is the best. I love how every time a new character is introduced, they’re added to the ending so it goes from plain to really energetic.

The Absolute Best of the Season

Space Dandy

After watching the first half on its own, I can see why Space Dandy was chosen to air on Cartoon Network even before its original Japanese showing. It was practically made for that channel, being Johnny Bravo in space and all.

I think the show is funny. But even when it’s not producing the laughs, there’s so much creativity being put into every episode that I can’t help but be entranced by it, similar to CN shows like Regular Show and Adventure Time, or older stuff like Dexter’s Laboratory. And just like those shows, every episode follows a simple formula with occasional once-offs and not. Said formula for this show is that Dandy and his crew go to a strange planet, mostly in order to catch a rare alien. They experience the planet’s strange customs/nature. It all builds up to some kind of baffling conclusion. At least one of the characters die by the end – even in the ones where you don’t see them die, you can make some pretty good assumptions regarding how they don’t make it. They return in the next episode like nothing ever happened with no explanation or acknowledgement of what happened in the previous episode whatsoever. Comedy gold right there.

Not to mention, as a huge movie guy, I love the tributes to old films like how the zombie one tributes George Romero and the one where Meow visits his home goes all Groundhog Day on us. It’s kind of like Sengoku Collection in that regard, only centered on the most unlucky ladies’ man in the universe. And the people dying, of course.

Dandy itself isn’t quite as good as either Regular Show or Adventure Time since the two beat it in terms of creativity, likable characters, and integrating some actual plot into the shenanigans, but I definitely say it rivals or even surpasses most of the other current cartoons on the channel. I’m glad that it exists and look forward to the second half come summer.

Other Noticeable Stuff

D-Frag, Robot Girls Z, Tonari no Seki-kun, Hoozuki no Reitetsu, World Conquest: Zvezda Plot, Noragami…for some reason. I dropped it on the second episode and from what I read, it went nowhere interesting afterwards. No idea why it’s so well-liked.

2 responses to “Analyzing An Anime Season: Winter 2014

  1. Noragami? Eh… it was pretty. That’s pretty much about it. I followed through with it and I think it was nothing but an honest, run-of-the-mill shounen fighting with some nice visuals and some questionable morals.

  2. Not so keen on Space Dandy. Nice visuals – but the characters are an overbearing weakness. I don’t expect development, but for a comedy they seem colorless and underwritten. Especially Meow and Team Rocket.

    I think it mostly succeeds as a zany adventure – though hardly rip-roaringly so – but really falls short on the punch line.