Friday’s Feature: Your Influence on Your Impression of Anime

When starting a new anime (or any story really) there are certain things that draw particular viewers and certain elements that will push some viewers away. However, I think a lot of how I feel about an anime has to do with my attitude when I sit down to watch it.

Generally I approach a new anime (or a new book or film or game) with a genuine curiosity and an optimistic outlook. This could be really good. It might do something different. Maybe I’ll really like these characters. By approaching it this way I generally find that if there is anything in a story that I can possibly like I will latch onto it and generally speaking I enjoy stories far more because of it. Even if it isn’t the most amazing thing ever (or even just ordinarily good) I can still find something to enjoy.

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However, there are some days and some ideas that push me out of this frame of mind. When that happens my mind is being incredibly pessimistic about what I’m going to watch. Wow, this is going to suck. Could that character be any more of a cliché? How is that an idea for a story? And generally speaking when I approach an anime in that frame of mind I amazingly usually find a reason to drop it.

But is that really any fair judge of the shows I am watching? There have been plenty of anime that I’ve started when I haven’t been in a receptive frame of mind that I’ve either dropped or put to the side. Regardless, I usually give them a second chance somewhere down the line and the number of times I’ve ended up really enjoying a show that I initially dropped has convinced me that it is how I approach a lot of things that makes the difference, but not always. Sometimes I go in expecting to like or dislike something and find that the show manages to overturn those expectations.

Some examples from my viewing experiences from 2016.

First Love Monster – Trust Your Instincts

Right from reading the synopsis of this show I was pretty convinced that this was going to be absolute rubbish. High school girl falls in love with a boy in primary school? What could be wrong about that? So I watched an episode and as expected was less than thrilled by it (okay, I kind of hated it). But, I later wondered if maybe I was just being overly critical or harsh so I actually went and watched it a second time (sometimes I really wonder why I do these things to myself). The second viewing of the first episode convinced me that it wouldn’t matter what mindset I approached this anime with, it wasn’t going to work for me. The subject matter and the ‘humour’ just ground against me and there was no way I was going to enjoy it.

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Sakamoto Desu Ga – Don’t Judge The Book By Its Cover

This one I was interested in from the synopsis and then the fact that it wasn’t released on Crunchyroll in Australia made me curious because of course as soon as you restrict access to something people want to watch it. Then I got to read lots of really positive write ups about this show. That said, I was on the fence because it was essentially a one note comedy focussed anime which most definitely doesn’t fit into my usual kind of thing.

When I finally found access to this (through Hanabee) I was still kind of torn between curiosity and the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t going to be overly impressed with the show. Anyway, Sakamoto was one of those pleasantly surprising shows. It wasn’t my thing and it wasn’t brilliant but it was bright and kind of funny and engaging. Plus they managed to push different scenarios to a point where even the most mundane set-up was kind of interesting. I ended up watching 8 episodes of the show and then I didn’t actually drop it, I just got busy with other things and while I’d enjoyed it enough I had no compelling reason to go back.

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Seisen Cerberus – Betrayed By Own Expectations

It’s a fantasy with swords, magic, dragons, an orphaned protagonist and everything else you could need to make something fairly generic but half-decent. With just a little effort you could even be good. This was an anime that the synopsis had sold me on this show. I’d have watched it even if it barely scraped mediocre. But, I won’t watch something that fails to make even that benchmark and after a couple of episodes of hating every character and the delivery of the fairly bland story I walked away.

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My Hero Academia – Overturning Expectations

I actually didn’t start watching My Hero Academia until many weeks into its airing season because I did not want to watch another generic show about high school students with super powers (Quirks sorry, better nail that terminology because what else will distinguish these things). How wrong I was. Okay, it is a show about high school students with super powers and I’d be lying if I said the story did anything overly original so that part of my initial impression was kind of right. What my initial thoughts overlooked was just how much heart the show managed to inject into the story and the characters. I’ve said before that almost any story can be good or bad depending on delivery and while My Hero Academia isn’t exactly going to go up on my all time favourite list of anime it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch. Probably more so because I went in expecting to be underwhelmed and it managed to get me on board anyway.

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Big Order – Bait and Switch

Right from episode one this show had its issues but it had some great energy and there were enough interesting things happening to convince me that this was going to be worth watching. The synopsis had intrigued me, the characters in the first episode were intriguing enough even if those final scenes of episode 1 did throw up some warning flags for how this show was going to treat the female cast members, and it was fun to look at. It was my favourite first episode of its season.

So I entered this anime looking for the good and found plenty of things to enjoy and then it showed us episode 2. Okay, I’m concerned but still optimistic. Episode 3… We can still save this. Episode 4… Nope. I actually continued through to the end but this was a case where even looking for the positive wasn’t enough to save the show from its own short comings.

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Well that’s my ramble done for the week but I’m interested in knowing how you approach most anime and whether you’ve ever had to take another look at something and whether you’ve changed your mind about an anime.

 

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Reflections on Anime in 2016 – The Best and The Worst of the Year (in my opinion)

It’s the first day of the year so let’s look back at the year that was. I know that at the end of Summer I did my first reflection post looking back at the anime I’d watched and  I purposefully left D Gray Man and Sailor Moon Crystal 3 off the lists because nostalgia was strong with those two. But now we are at the end of the year and I’m not playing nice anymore. I’m giving my lists of top 10 best and worst for 2016 and finally the results from the reader’s poll.

My rules:

  • I need to have watched the whole series (or as much as has aired in 2016 – I know some of these are continuing on).
  • My judgement is entirely based on the entertainment I got out of watching the anime.
  • Feel free to suggest your own top 10 best or worst in the comments.

Starting from the best.

  1. Yuri on Ice
  2. D Gray Man Hallow
  3. Natsume Yuujinchou
  4. Assassination Classroom 2nd Season
  5. Snow White with the Red Hair Season 2
  6. March Comes in Like a Lion
  7. My Hero Academia
  8. Alderamin on the Sky
  9. Erased
  10. Sailor Moon Crystal 3

Yeah, I can’t believe it either but Yuri on Ice actually edged out D Gray Man Hallow on anime I enjoyed watching. Neither anime is perfect (and I’ll happily admit to the flaws in both) but when it came to pure enjoyment I couldn’t beat either of these and in terms of the anime I’ll rewatch the most from this year, these 2 are the top picks. So why Yuri over D Gray Man? D Gray Man Hallow always had the advantage of nostalgia, but if I take that away, while I would have still enjoyed Hallow (assuming it made sense) it wouldn’t have been as enjoyable as the viewing experience for Yuri. In terms of the anime I sat waiting to the minute for the episode release, Yuri on Ice definitely won out.

However, for everything you enjoy there is a show that you watch and wonder why. Once again, I know there are worse anime out there, but these are the anime I watched all the way through and really wonder why.

Starting from the worst.

  1. Taboo Tattoo
  2. Big Order
  3. Lost Village
  4. Hitorinoshita
  5. Divine Gate
  6. Dimension W
  7. Nazotokine
  8. Norn 9
  9. Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle
  10. Bloodivores

What was pleasantly surprising was how few of the Autumn season found their way onto this list. Mostly the shows I watched in Autumn were more boring than terrible (though I did avoid a few shows that I knew were going to end up in this category so they didn’t count on the having watched them criteria).

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The Reader’s Poll

I was surprised by some of the results and not surprised by others. Probably the biggest issue is there were only 54 votes total so from a data point of view this probably isn’t the most valid survey. Anyway…

  1. Yuri on Ice (7 votes)
  2. Assassination Classroom 2 (6 votes)
  3. Mob Psycho 100 (6 votes)
  4. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (5 votes)
  5. Bungo Stray Dogs (3 votes)
  6. Erased (3 votes)
  7. March Comes in Like a Lion (3 votes)
  8. Kiss Him Not Me (3 votes)
  9. Flip Flappers (3 votes)
  10. Grimgar of Fantasy of Ash (3 votes)

With that I say goodbye to 2016 and welcome in 2017 for a whole new year of watching anime.

By the way, over the next 4 weeks my Tuesday’s Top 5 post is going to do a recap of 2016. Top 5 Female Characters of 2016 is up first, followed by Top 5 Male Characters of 2016, Top 5 Visually Interesting Anime of 2016 and finally Top 5 Opening Themes of 2016. Then I will move on to something different but I felt January was a great time to recap the previous year.

Over to you: Which anime was your favourite or most hated from 2016?

Friday’s Feature -Poor Pacing

Poor pacing isn’t a new problem by any means; ask anyone who has watched Dragon Ball Z or Bleach about battles that just don’t ever seem to end. However, both the Spring and Summer seasons in 2016 have given us new examples of shows that manage to kill interest with pacing issues so I thought I’d touch on it briefly this week.

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That said, pacing is as subjective as every other element in entertainment. Slow can be really good when done well and fast paced doesn’t always equal exciting. So what am I defining as poor pacing? Essentially anytime you are watching the clock instead of the episode and wondering when it’s all going to wrap up or when you feel like you just got whip lash from trying to follow all the plot changes that just got thrown at you.

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Let’s start with Flying Witch. This is supposed to a slow, slice of life. It’s character driven rather than plot driven (which is probably a good thing given in the episodes I watched other than a witch moves in with relatives who aren’t witches I didn’t really pick up much of a plot). So, slow paced is fine, right? And for some people, Flying Witch was a relaxing and enjoyable watch. For me it was fingers tapping, pausing to go get something to eat or drink, clicking over to other websites, and generally getting frustrated because none of the characters ever seemed to do anything. I get that pacing is subjective but Flying Witch was like trying to admire the formation of mountains in real time (okay, probably not the best analogy ever but I really didn’t want to go with paint drying because underneath the slowness of it there was something actually quite wonderful in Flying Witch).

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Secondly, The Asterisk War and Food Wars. Let’s take them both simultaneously because they both did more or less the same thing and both of them nearly threw me from their audience in the process. They set up a school situation with our protagonist being the underdog/fish-out-of-water and yet super strong at their respective trade. We spend most of season one in minor challenges, making friends and meeting potential rivals and it’s all kind of enjoyable fun. Then a tournament is announced and our protagonist will just happen to end up in it. Season 1 ends with the tournament just getting underway. Annoying, but sure.

Season 2 picks up with the tournament in full swing and then continues to make us watch match after match with very little diversion in between. Gone are the cute encounters between characters, a sense of a world outside of the arena, a sense of time period. Episode after episode of repetitive battles. Then the tournament ends, before the end of season 2. And instead of offering any kind of resolution to season 2, both felt the need to introduce a new challenge and then stop (although Food Wars kind of gave the second challenge an ending). It’s aggravating to the audience and you constantly wonder why you are still bothering to watch. Sure there are great characters in both and both protagonists have an ultimate goal and perhaps what they are doing will help them get there, but in the meantime we’re all just watching them go through the motions. Have we never heard of a montage to compress a period of time? Sure, the animators get to show off some impressive battle effects (either with weapons or food depending on the show) but the plot and characters stall. For most of an entire season.

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Last ones I want to touch on (but not the last to have pacing issues) are Big Order and Taboo Tattoo. These don’t know what they are doing in terms of pace. They rush over essential plot points (the few plot point there are) and then dwell on totally unnecessary things (fan service, sadistic characterisation, moping). It’s frankly a mess and neither the plot nor the characters come out of it unscathed. The sad thing is that both shows could have been reasonable even without major plot or character changes just by pacing them appropriately (they still wouldn’t have been good but they could have been far more watchable than they were).

Other shows in Spring and Summer that made me wonder about their pacing include Days, Orange, Bungou Stray Dogs, Kiznaiver and Super Lovers.

So far we’ve only seen the first half of most of the Autumn shows but I dropped Occult;Nine in episode 1 because of the pacing (and just being unable to care about where any of the introduced characters were going) and I’ve found Izetta increasingly frustrating in the way it is rushing forward over what feels like should be far more important plot points.

So now over to you. Which shows do you think suffer from pacing issues?

Big Order Series Review

Overview:

This anime has a very promising write up, telling us the story begins after the world has ended. A world where a fairy named Daisy grants wishes (or orders) to people and because of this there is conflict. We follow Eiji as he tries to live a normal life after causing a ‘great destruction’ but soon gets swept up in events beyond his control.

My earlier thoughts on this series can be read here.

Review:

I’m going to try to keep this brief because I’m really not the ranting sort (okay, that’s a lie but we’ll move on). Let me make my position clear. This show is terrible. From start to finish it is just a complete and utter mess of a narrative.

And yet, even after proclaiming that I’d dropped it, I continued to watch week to week and actually watched to the end of the show. To keep it as simple as possible I’m just going to do a simple positive and negative list.

Positives:

  • It is short. At 10 episodes this wouldn’t even take an afternoon to watch from start to finish. And that’s probably all the time it is worth.
  • Some of the powers and visuals are kind of cool. Inconsistent and horribly used (wait that’s a negative), but cool.
  • Fast pace. Much like it being short, the pace at which this races around makes a lot of the nonsense tolerable.
  • It doesn’t seem to want to be taken seriously. While this show does not go in the so bad it is good category, it actually is saved by the fact that it seemed to realise it was rubbish as well and just kind of embraced that.

Negatives:

  • Eiji is a horrible excuse for a character. That probably doesn’t need much more explanation. The more they explain his motives and the more we see him react to things, the less consistent, sensible or likeable he seems.
  • Rin is a horrible excuse for a character. Her ridiculous fascination for revenge, the way she interacts with Eiji, her being shunted to comic relief for half the series before being painted into the cliché of traitor before being painted into the worse cliche of girl who stands by her guy even when it is entirely pointless and let’s be honest, he wasn’t her guy so why does she even care? Wow, I hated Rin’s character.
  • Sena is a horrible excuse for a character (I’m just going to end that line of thinking there – all of the characters fail to stand on their own merit when you look at their motives and actions).
  • The plot undermines itself and twists and turns and runs frantically here and there and glosses over plot points before finally babbling at you in the hope that if they say it fast enough you won’t notice it’s rubbish. When even the set-up villain of the show says he knew it was foolish, you have to wonder who they were trying to convince.
  • The ending. It is such a cheap way to resolve all of the conflicts. I’m not going any further into this but it is akin to having the whole series actually be a bad dream.
  • Excessive fan service and not even fan service done well or in an interesting way. Just the usual bath scenes and bouncing breasts all covered by glorious rays of light that come from nowhere. These scenes aren’t sexy or engaging, they are just there because I guess they decided they needed something.

Okay, seriously my biggest problem with Big Order is wasted potential. If they had slowed it down and actually dealt with Eiji as a person, the set up for this show could have led to a really interesting story. However, they wanted to show us powers and people with powers fighting and the occasional naked girl so that’s what they did. Which means you get the occasional fun moment or interesting sequence but it is surrounded by muck in every direction.

I’m sure there are some Big Order fans out there who will rush to defend this series, but having made it to the end, I really think I should have stuck by my original decision to drop this.

 

Big Order Episode 10

Review:

And not with a bang but with a whimper this show staggers into the forgettable recesses of time. Will do a full series review but let’s be honet, this final episode cannot stand on its own merit. It has none. Let’s just throw everything and anything around and then we’ll conveniently remember we reduced our protagonist’s power so we’ll just return it and everything will be fine. Seriously? That’s worse than a random power up some MC’s get because, let’s face it, in this case he could have gotten that power back at any point and the rest of the show could have ceased to exist.

Big Order can be watched on Crunchyroll.

Big Order Episode 9

Review:

It’s actually a shame that with only one episode left to go, Big Order finally found some actual coherence. Also a shame that despite the last two episodes making sense in their own right, the series as a whole is still a non-sensical mess. Finally, it’s a shame that at this point all of the characters are equally unlikable and to be perfectly honest, Gennai’s vision for the future of the world doesn’t seem that objectionable when contrasted with what Eiji, our protagonist, seems to want, which is to suffer. I’m never in a million years going to recommend this show to anyone, but I honestly quite enjoyed this episode and am curious as to how next week will end.

Big Order is available on Crunchyroll.

Big Order Episode 8

Review:

Severed limbs, girls eating way too much food, and plots gone awry; Big Order episode 8 does little to resolve the overall issues of the series in terms of pacing, characterisation or coherence. That said, it kind of feels like we have an actual villain to face off against with a reasonably straight-forward goal, though it seems to have been plucked at random from the things villains do in fantasy novels barrel. Seriously, using Ley Lines to create a natural whatever coil and somehow use the public’s hatred of Eiji to achieve some goal that is as yet really unspecified but sounds kind of bad?

Let’s be honest, if you’ve watched 8 episodes of this show, you will probably watch it through to the end at this point. If you haven’t started watching, I strongly recommend you don’t because at this point there is little to nothing to recommend this show except the occasional interesting bit of background music.

Big Order is available on Crunchyroll.

Spring Overview Week 9

Week 9 has come and gone and I am definitely starting to feel a growing sense of impatience for next season. There are just too many shows this Spring that could disappear and I probably wouldn’t even notice. Those into slice of life, there are actually quite a few sweet titles out at the moment, but unfortunately it isn’t one of my favourite genres and none of the ones out managed to entice me to sticking them out.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the season below.

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I Must Keep Watching

The titles haven’t changed but the order has. For the first time this season Sailor Moon Crystal is not occupying my top spot of things I have to watch.

  1. My Hero Academia
  2. Assassination Classroom
  3. Sailor Moon Crystal

The bottom line is, while Sailor Moon is in no danger of being dropped, this week’s episode when judged on its own merits wasn’t as good and Assassination Classroom or My Hero Academia (my reviews on My Hero Academia should catch up with the show shortly).

These are the three shows I must keep watching but that in itself is telling. One’s a remake, the other is a season 2 of an ongoing show.

The only show I’ve actually picked up this season and fallen in love with is My Hero Academia and even then, unless the ending really nails it, there is definite danger that it could slip into the “That was cute” category of things I enjoyed at the time but don’t think about after. I’m hoping that’s not the case given how clever some of the developments have been but there’s no real guarantee that this is going to end well, or even end at all.

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Still On My Radar

I definitely liked Shonen Maid more this week and Asterisk has finally slipped into Not Dropped but Close territory as it butchered the grand finale in terms of any kind of partnership between Ayato and Julis.

  1. Shonen Maid
  2. Bungo Stray Dogs
  3. Kiznaiver

I speculated last week that Kiznaiver might move up to the I Must Keep Watching zone but now I take that back. It isn’t terrible but the few moments of brilliance it has are surrounded by a lot of muck and to be honest it just isn’t finding a stable narrative in amongst the gimmicks. Bungo Stray Dogs however delivered a reasonably impressive episode (captivating enough that I kept persisting in watching it even as I had to continually pause, wait, play with the occasional page reload in order to finish the episode).

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Not Dropped But Close

  1. The Asterisk War
  2.  Twin Star Exorcists
  3. Super Lovers
  4. Joker Game
  5. The Lost Village

The Asterisk War has fallen here and that is not a good sign for its future given how little I liked the start of season one. While for awhile I was moderately enjoying the show, now I’m just feeling a little tired of the ‘we love Ayato’ party that just keeps going on to the detriment of Julis’ character.

Twin Star Exorcists continues to be watchable but I’m not sure I’m staying long term. Super Lovers and Joker Game are both watchable and engaging in small doses but if someone asked me for an anime to watch I wouldn’t recommend either one. The Lost Village is just here because it’s a mystery and unfortunately I can’t turn to the last page because it isn’t a book. I guess I’ll just have to watch and see. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Dropped

  1. Rinne
  2. Tanaka-Kun is Always Listless
  3. Big Order
  4. Flying Witch
  5. Hundred
  6. Cerberus
  7. Re:Zero
  8. Endride

Last week I hoped that would be the end of dropping but I have finally let Rinne go. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch anymore but I won’t be reviewing with any kind of regularity. To be honest, Big Order should move back up to the previous category because I’ve still watched it every week even after ‘dropping it’ and I’ve continued to review. Morbid curiosity maybe, or maybe it is a better show than I’ve given it credit for.

Where are you up to this season and what are you anticipating?

Big Order Episode 7

Review:

How does a show become this much of a mess in only 7 episodes? You can’t trust anything anybody says – and not in a clever or subversive way. It’s more that it feels like the writers just keep changing their minds about what actually happened so make random statements and then have to rush around clarifying with details that just make no sense. What was the point of the flashback? All I really got from it was that Hiiragi has pretty much always been a bit of a space case and really shouldn’t be in charge of anything, but we already figured that out.

Oh, and somehow Sena has developed an actual personality besides loving her brother. Sure. Why not?

Big Order is available on Crunchyroll, though I strongly don’t recommend beginning this series if you haven’t already subjected yourself to it. Why haven’t I dropped it? Because it isn’t boring me it’s just annoying me. I can put up with mess so long as it is interesting and Big Order does manage to come up with new and fascinating bizareness each week.

Big Order Episode 6

Review:

So I know I said I was going to drop this and just stop reviewing it, but then I went and watched episode 6 anyway. I’m going to give Big Order credit for finally giving us an episode that didn’t feel the need to flip-flop between directions continuously. We stayed pretty much with Eiji and Iyo and watched them take on a ridiculous challenge for no real reason other than to make the title of the episode make sense. Eiji is still a dense fool and Iyo is perplexing in her pursuit of him. And those in it for fan service will probably curse the mysterious beams of sunlight that seem to penetrate even underground caves.

The story is still not good but this episode actually isn’t bad. I think this show is just going to string me along until the very end.

Big Order is available on Crunchyroll.