Autumn 2011 – Mid-Season Review

One of my favorite things about blogging is making a list of all the anime I’m watching and putting them in order according to score and ranking.  It’s a fairly unscientific and messy process but it helps sort out my thoughts and impressions of every anime and helps me visualize which ones are my favorites and which ones are simply ‘alright’.  And it’s always fun to match these lists up with all the others, especially when there are major discrepancies between our favorites (and I’m fairly certain no one else has the same top anime as I do, so this ought to be fun).  With about half the Autumn anime season already over, now is the best time to create such a list and have my Mid-Season Review for Autumn 2011!

Without a doubt, this has been the best season of 2011 for anime.  No questions asked, this season has been phenomenal from top to bottom.  At the beginning of the season, there were several strong and entertaining anime that I had to drop or put on hold because I don’t have the time to watch everything I wanted.  I haven’t really experienced that before.  I think many share my feelings about the overall strength of this season, too, from comments I’ve seen out there.  But this season hasn’t been perfect by any means either.   Most of the shows are all missing something that’s keeping them from breaking into the 9+ range of points.  Regardless, every anime still has potential to climb in the rankings, so don’t be surprised to see the scores be higher at the end of the season than they are now.

The season’s general feel has been sequel-ishs and ‘let’s compare it to Anime X’ but those really aren’t feelings, so let’s go with entertaining.  There are several impressive comedies out there, including ones I’m not actively watching like Ben-To or Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai but I know a bunch of people are enjoying.  I’m actually surprised at how solid the humor is in shows that aren’t necessarily comedies which has made it one of the most amusing seasons in recent memory.  And there is also has a strong sense of mystery, too, with Mawaru Penguindrum, Persona 4, and UN-Go (and Phi-Brain, too, I guess) all keeping things interesting each week with their stories.  I think the drama is a little weak after it picked in the Spring but it has picked up in recent weeks with shows now finishing their introductions and getting into the heart of their stories.  It’s always hard to gauge a season only six weeks in and, for many shows, only five episodes in, but it’s a logical checkpoint since this is about the halfway point for most anime.  I expect there to be a lot of fluctuation with the scores and rankings this season and for the jumble of anime in the middle of my list to shuffle quite radically before the final review of the season.  Should be fun to see which shows climb to the top between now and the end of Decemeber.

The order listed below is in the order that I’d rank them now along with their numerical score (between 10-5).  Also is included who my favorite character is from each show since they all deserve some recognition for being so awesome all the time.  The best Art, Characters, Entertainment, Sound, and Story are included, too, because I’m an elitist like that and need to point out how subjective I am over details like those.  There are also some minor spoilers (don’t know for sure since this is just copy/pasted from all my previous reviews), so if you haven’t watched a show and don’t want it to be spoiled, then I hope you are well prepared because there’s no way you can’t be spoiled, it’s just the way the world works these days.  Sorry.

Shinryaku!? Ika Musume S2 – 9

Favorite Character: Ika Musume

Brain Off – Yup, this is the best anime of the season.  It’s just flawless in everything it wants to be and everything it does which is why it’s standing at the top.  Ika Musume is a simple, charming comedy with whimsical characters placed in a delightful and colorful ocean-side setting, a refreshing concept that remains continuous throughout the entire franchise.  It manages each episode smoothly with its pacing and humor and always finds some way to stay innovative with each new skit, always fresh and unique each time.  The comedy in each skit might not be hilarious every time but I do find myself with more smiles and laughs after each episode than any other comedy this year.  Easily the most Entertaining anime of the season.  The characters are all fun, even if some can be a little tedious from time to time.  The art style is bright, vivid, and colorful and the character designs are cute and not sexualized, surprising considering it’s an almost all-female cast (and a girl who seemingly wears a bikini every day, too!)  The series does lack direction and progress which is why some people have reservations about this anime but I’m not concerned in about those things in an anime like this.  Adding those ingredients would change what the anime wants to be and what it does best.  Ika Musume is a simple comedy and as long as it remains so, it’ll continue to be one of my all-time favorite comedies.

What would raise the score? Continuing with the great humor, no more of these random breaks every week, and some consistency with some animation/art work.

Mawaru Penguindrum – 9

Favorite Character: Sahei Natsume (Grandfather of Masako and Mario)

Brain On – Penguindrum continues to be a phenomenal anime.  Everything it does is impressive from its art style, to its comedy, to its drama, to its overwhelming symbolism.  Whatever direction the Story is going, with all these loose elements all pointing toward the same thing, it’s the best of the season.  It plays with the tension so effortlessly to keep the audience excited and manipulates the mystery in such a way you know what’s going on (but you really don’t), it’s no surprise we all desire more from Penguindrum.  What began as a wacky comedy about searching for a Penguindrum has turned itself in a serious anime about fate, revenge, saviors, and rotten families.  And while the tone has changed, the comedy still remains to help lighten the mood when needed.  The ending is sure to be amazing but I’m not quite sure what it will even cover at this point.  Hell, I don’t even know why we have a penguin theme besides them all being cute and wildly amusing.  The one fault I have with this anime is the characters.  I have no faults on the way they’ve grown, what their actions are or their reasons but I just can’t find I really like.  I’m not rooting for anyone to win anymore except Himari but she’s not even aware of what is going on.  I guess everyone still has time to improve their characters before the finale and I hope they do, but for right now, it’s my one drawback for this breathtaking anime.

What would raise the score? I want to like Kanba and Shoma as people before the finale and hope for a happy ending.  Also, a return of Sahei Natsume would be amazing.

Persona 4 the Animation – 9

Favorite Character: Chie Satonaka

Brain On – Not sure if this is a surprise or not but I’m loving Persona 4.  The anime has done an excellent job of easing in the newcomers to the series (myself) while still making a highly entertaining and thought-provoking anime.  The cast of Characters are the best this season and the dynamic between Yosuke and Chie is outstanding and always worth watching.  All the characters are well designed from both a visual and personality perspective and are all solid in their contributions to the story.  The comedy has been incredible, probably the best outside of Ika Musume and Working!! this season and it hasn’t diminished the somber and serious mood of the murder mysteries meaning the series knows how and when to work in the laughs.  Been happy the story and the pacing so far, especially since it is hard to compress an entire video game into a two-season anime.  The animation has been decent but the fights, where the animation is needed the most, have come out adept, thorough, and a pleasure visually.  The Sound is easily the best of the season, a tag-team effort by the wonderful seiyuu and the illustrious soundtrack.  Not only does the background music match each scene perfectly but I love the music and find each track to listen to on its own.  I do feel that the setting is a little underused at this point but it’s difficult now when they have to establish all the characters, their Personas, work on the story, and add in a little fun.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of it later when the anime has more time for such inessential details but it’d make me happier.  I’m not sure exactly where the anime is going since I haven’t played the game but I’m sure this will end up being one of the top animes of the season with how it has started.

What would raise the score? More Chie, Naoto, and Aika!!! Continuing its current pace with the story and characters, working in some more comedy, and having some more of those tremendous fights.

Working’!! – 8

Favorite Character: Jun Sato

Brain Off – Working’!! has been solid this season, coming back for a second season with tons of laughs and much higher production values than before.  The artwork and animation is noticeably improved in every category this time around which has given the anime a more refined and detailed appearance.  It hasn’t helped out with the laughs but this season of Working is much nicer to watch.  The comedy itself has been exceptional, second only to Ika Musume this season, and is the main reason for the high ranking compared to all the other deserving anime this season.  Each episode is always trying something new yet always being full of great jokes.  The wacky cast of characters continues to work well together (talking about the comedy here, not actual work in the restaurant) and I’ve grown fond of more of the cast, too, particularly Inami who I distinctly remembering I didn’t like in the first season (didn’t think her androphobia/punching jokes were really that funny).  She’s now my second favorite female, mainly thanks to the way her character is used now and how she reacts to things.  The anime has introduced a bunch of new characters this season which is fine (some have been funny) but I wish they’d work on the minor characters they established in the first season more like Maya (the glasses-wearing waitress/my favorite female) and Takanashi’s family again.  There are some faults with this anime, though, and those lie with its “romance”.  The reason it’s in quotes is because these elements look like romance but they really aren’t.  Romance has progress and emotion.  The “romance” in Working is just there to for more comedy and for there to be stories to certain episodes.  There is no reason to think that Takanashi and Inami will end up together or Sato and Yachiyo will end up together, ever, with the way the anime plays out these relationships.  It actually bothers me the anime attempts to have romance when all it really does is use it as fodder for its comedy.  But other than that, Working’!! has been extremely successful this season.

What would raise the score? Less of that “romance”, more Sato and Soma and more scenes with Maya or Takanashi’s family.

Chihayafuru – 8

Favorite Character: Chihaya Ayase

Brain On – I wasn’t expecting Chihayafuru to be this good but it is this good.  In fact, it’s been great so far in just about every way.  My biggest concern was about how karuta would be used in this anime, fearful it’d eat up a lot of screentime for meaningless drama and weak tension, but the card game has been a secondary device to the friendships of Chihaya, Taichi, and Wataya.  In fact, karuta is used more as a constant theme rather than a necessary focus which has relieved me of this concern and has been very pleasing.  And it’s not just a card game like we saw in episode 6 with Kanade’s character introducing us to some Japanese history and her love for traditional Japanese attire.  So a big plus there with how karuta is being used.  The characters have been marvelous, especially Chihaya with all her love and energy being expressed through her actions and on her face.  Taichi has been rational and intelligent throughout the series which has made him my favorite male and while I don’t like Wataya, I have no complaints about his role in the drama, karuta, and the dynamic between all the characters.  The artwork is gorgeous, illustrating every vivid detail imaginable and utilizing light and color in every scene.  The drama has been extremely effective thus far and the way the relationships are slowly being strained has kept me interested in what will happen to the main trio.  And again, like the four anime previous, the comedy has been impressive and I enjoy laughing when the show wants me to.  I do worry that this anime will end up with a standard shoujo romance ending or a “we’re all friends” ending but as long as the storytelling remains at this high level each week, then I don’t foresee Chihayafuru losing points or rank this season.

What would raise the score? Continue working your magic with your characters and karuta and conclude with an original or meaningful romantic ending.

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki) – 8

Favorite Character: Yuno Gasai

Brain On – I’m not taking Future Diary as seriously as some (which is why it might be rank lower for me than most) but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying this anime because I am.  Future Diary has a unique mixture of action, horror, romance, and comedy that makes every episode a blast from start to finish.  The anime never disappoints with each episode, be it the intense action, the subtle comedy, or whatever unpredictable event the series decides to surprise us with.  I’m really enjoying the relationship between Yukiteru and Yuno, turning out to be one of the most interesting romances I’ve ever seen and the cast has been remarkable with so many insane characters.  The writing is magnificent and the direction the anime is taking with its story will certainly make for an electrifying and bloody anime.  Perhaps my favorite part is how the anime manipulates the tension, often inserting humor in places where it doesn’t belong or being light-hearted when it so desires.  I appreciate Future Diary doing this to know it’s not entirely serious and absorbed in itself, that it is having a little fun with the audience and letting us have a good time.  But that still doesn’t excuse the series from its flaws.  For one, I’ve never really liked the whole ‘death game’ scenario and I don’t think I ever will.  Even if this is the best one I’ve seen, it’s still something I have trouble accepting.  They are artificial as a device to make everyone fight each other or for there to be superfluous drama to unfold.  The diaries I don’t mind since they had a bunch of innovation to the fights (actually I find them to be one of my favorite parts of the anime) but this being the overall story is a bit of a downer.  I also have trouble with easy these characters die.  The three deaths so far all were interesting in how they’ve been killed but the actual fatal blows haven’t really been rewarding.  With this level of gore, I expected more than a dart to a scroll of paper to kill someone after two episodes.  But at least the whole scene was exciting, innovative, and in the end, redeeming of the actual death.

What would raise the score? Purpose between the characters killing each other and more gratifying deaths.  And more of that comedy, this show has a great sense of humor.

UN-Go – 8

Favorite Character: Inga (male form)

Brain On – UN-Go is the most underrated and underappreciated anime of the season, at least based on the level of discussion and reception it’s gotten.  The series has steadily improved from the first episode and have formed an interesting trio with Yuuki, Inga, and Kazamori.  The actual mysteries each episode are progressively stimulating which leads to fine episodic content but it’s the worldbuilding going on in the background that’s what has mesmerized me.  Each episode has two stories its telling, the apparent one with the mystery-of-the-week and the second one exploring this peculiar and thorough world.  The only one that makes sense from start to finish is the mystery but the second story is there each week, just obscure tidbits that individually aren’t all that significant.  But when you start piecing these elements together, you begin to paint a grand picture that is the true story behind UN-Go.  While each week you watch Yuuki and Inga solve a mystery at breakneck pacing, you’re also solving your own puzzle of trying to understand what this world is.  It’s not the most interesting mystery out there, in fact Yuuki and Inga aren’t interested in solving it, but it’s one that we can try to figure out ourselves while watching this anime.  I’m sure most out there won’t even attempt to do this but for a person who loves settings like I do, I find this to be a hidden gift within this complex series.  At least that’s the way I see it and why I love the writing and storytelling here.  I’m very happy with the entire cast and the addition of Kazamori to the detective duo and I enjoy how Rie and Yuuki interact.  There are a few tracks I like, particularly that upbeat guitar one when they’re revealing the truth, but the ending theme is unbelievable and the opening theme isn’t bad either.  And that’s about it for the good.  The art and animation is decent at best and often scenes are very plain to look at.  The mysteries in each episode are poorly paced, never giving us a chance to digest the information as we get it, but at least they’re interesting to watch.  The anime would greatly benefit being 48-minute episodes instead giving us more time on each mystery and adding in more detail but the series is only 11 episodes long, so it’s just not enough time allotted.  Still, it’s a flaw in the series that lessens my enjoyment with the anime.

What would raise the score? More details on the world and some idea of what the overall plot will be with Yuuki, Inga, Rie, and her father.

Guilty Crown – 8

Favorite Character: Gai Tsutsugami

Brain On – Definitely lower than I expected but the score shows it’s not bad anime.  Guilty Crown’s Art and animation are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in a TV anime series.  Even if it has dropped off recently, these two aspects are legendary and deserve celebration.  The way the series employs lighting and coloring is breathtaking and the motions of the characters, mecha, and whatever else are all fluid and elegant.  I’m fond of the character designs, too, and happy the quality never diminishes when the characters are put through scenes of high animation or awkward shots.  The characters are a diverse bunch in my evaluation with some ranking highly (Gai, Ayase, Segai), some steadily improving (Shu, Tsugumi) and some remaining banal and boring (Inori, all the villains but Segai).  The action has been satisfying with its variety of mecha and fighting but it only seems to be great when Shu has some void weapon on him.  The setting is a cliché but it’s always sometime I’ve enjoyed, so that’s a positive for me.  But most of the other clichés aren’t.  The whole scenario is tired and overused with the suddenly girlfriend with magic powers and male lead joining resistance force and leading it to its victory.  It’s just lazy writing, even if they try to add in some twists to make it more original or lead us down a different path than expected.  But that’s still not the worst part about the series.  That would be the lack of logic in the series.  The military does so many things that are irrational that you just have to sit there in disbelief and shake your head.  And the good guys do it, too, but not as much.  Did the vaccine for the Apocalypse Virus wipe out common sense?  I’m guessing it did since there’s no other explanation for why everyone is so stupid in this anime.  The fanservice hasn’t bothered me like it has most people but it hasn’t done anything to help the series either, just being free tits and ass for no reason.

What would raise the score? An infusion of intelligence and logic, Shu to continue improving as a character and for Inori to start, and some more dazzling action scenes.

Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam – 8

Favorite Character: Fam Fan Fan

Brain Off – This season of Last Exile has been great but it just doesn’t have the magic that the first series had, even when it retains countless elements from its predecessor.  The setting of Last Exile is spectacular and imaginative, easily the best of the season.  It has that mesh of fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction that come together to give Last Exile a unique and unmatched feel across anime.  The CGI is exceptional and the flights are displayed beautifully helping you feel like you’re in the middle of the action on a vanship of your own.  There are several lovable characters from the previous series returning to this one like Dio, Tatiana, and Alis, but the new cast has done well, too.  Fam is a compassionate, confident, and talented vanship pilot who enjoys adventures and going skyfishing (capturing warships and selling the goods).  Millia has been fine as a damsel in distress and I’m eager to see what she can do.  Giselle has been decent as a sidekick for Fam but her character has yet to be explored, so it’s hard to judge her this early.  The story seems to indicate another war is going on and it seems easier to follow than the first anime but we know to expect many aerial maneuvers in the story before getting to the central plot.  All of that should do enough to explain the score of an 8 but the series has a few flaws which is why it ranks near the bottom of this season.  One, I’m not as charmed with the physics and details of vanships in this series like I loved from the first.  They seem to fly less like airplanes and more like science-fiction hovercrafts.   They do things that vanships from the first series could only dream of doing.  Navigators (like Giselle) are all but useless now, hardly ever modifying a course and never monitoring the levels of the vanship.  Additionally, there just isn’t a whole lot of detail on the mechanics, maintenance, and care for the vanships.  There is no emotional attachment to them either which is a bit unsettling since we know how much Claus and Lavie loved their vanship.  Two, the animation and art in some areas are pretty lousy while other areas are stunning.  I’d be happy with some more consistency throughout each episode.  And three, while I don’t mind the fanservice so far, it does feel out of place in this series.  I feel it will get to the point soon where it starts detracting from the series if we continue to see Fam in her bloomers as a focus of a shot every episode.  If those three things can be fixed or reversed, you can expect Last Exile to change course and make a steady climb up the rankings before the season is over.

What would raise the score? More Goat Doll.  That’s all this series needs and that’s Goat Doll.  How I love that little thing.

The iDOLM@STER – 6

Favorite Character: Makoto Kikuchi

Brain Off – I often wonder how much higher this anime would be if it centered solely around Makoto, who I need not remind you is my favorite character and the main reason I continue to watch this anime.  And I do wonder if I’d even watch it without her glorious presence, too.  Well, it’s not like I hate this anime or anything, in fact there isn’t anything about that I should hate, but the series just doesn’t do a whole lot for me.  This anime is a show that highlights the idols doing something random each week and solving a minor problem, usually a cliché one at that, too.    But most episodes aren’t boring; they are actually pretty fun.  The comedy in Idolmaster isn’t noteworthy but it there are a few laughs each episode which is sufficient.  The singing and dancing are the strong points of this series and both are done wonderfully with awesome vocals and impressive animation.  And I continue to grow fonder of the cast each week, even the ones I hated initially have grown more tolerable.  But this anime lacks substance and direction, even after they’ve established an enemy and have been dealing with them each week.  There is nothing remarkable about Idolmaster but it isn’t a terrible anime that should be avoided.  Now, going back to my thoughts at the beginning of this section, I think I’d be thrilled with a Makoto-centered anime but I doubt there’d be much plot/meaning behind it.  Would maybe be a 7 if that were the case.  And if Makoto weren’t in it (the dread!), well, I probably would still watch the anime but then there’d be no one for me to obsess about every week.  Probably would score the same just marginally lower if that were the case.

What would raise the score? More Makoto.  Makoto is the best there is.  Just have the series focus on her the entire time.  That’d be amazing.

Tamayura ~hitotose~ – 6

Favorite Character: Watarou Dougou (that crazy teacher from the second episode)

Brain Off – I’ve been less than thrilled with Tamayura ~hitotose~ but this isn’t an anime I’ve grown to hate… yet.  The setting is extremely beautiful and full of detail but I feel that it’s misused in this anime.  It’s being shown and the girls love each place they visit but it’s never adequately explored for what it is and there is a general lack of detail with the places the girls go.  Instead, the anime focuses on the main cast of four girls doing standard anime schoolgirl stuff but with special attention to their oddities.  It hasn’t really made for any interesting stories or events but it’s nice to see them enjoy each area differently.  I just wish the episodes would focus on the situations at hand instead of being all about the girls.  It has led to some pretty mild episodes, particularly since the girls aren’t all that great to begin with.  I do find Norie annoying which is strange since I almost always love energetic characters.  But her focus is always on Kou and I’ve never thought it was funny or meaningful so it’s just dead space each time she goes off on that every episode.  I also don’t like Kou for enabling her.  Fu is alright, I’ve grown to like Maon now (after her whistling episode) and Kaoru is my favorite since she’s never stupid, so at least I like three of four, but they’re all pretty basic at this point and not inspiring or captivating.  The art work is great, especially when drawing the serene backgrounds but the animation is pretty basic and there isn’t a whole lot of motion going on.  And the themes of the anime, mainly food and photography at this point, don’t really mix in well with the content of each episode unless it’s about those items specifically.  Instead, it’s Fu randomly grabbing her camera, snapping the picture and then drawing in photography to the situation to make a connection.  Meh.  I initially found interest in this anime when I heard that it was an original story done by the director of Aria but I can’t help but notice he missed the entire point of what made Aria such a legendary and cherished anime.  Aria was about exploring the world, meeting interesting people, interacting with friends, and achieving a dream.  I feel that Tamayura has attempted all these things but has ended them unsuccessfully and been content with showing anime schoolgirls do anime schoolgirl things.  I have no intention of dropping this anime or delaying it, but I do hope things pick up soon.

What would raise the score? Explore the world, show off the details, and break the group of four for some individual screentime and development.

Like I said before, these rankings are fluid and there will be some pretty big changes depending on how each anime goes in the second half of the season.  I’m pretty confident the bookends, that is the first two and the last two will be in the same places when the season ends but they may switch places and/or have different scores.  The middle is just a free-for-all now and while I have a soft spot for all of them, some of these great shows will have to end up being 7th, 8th, and 9th this season.  Hopefully it’s not because they’re not as good as the rest but that those that hold the highest rankings are there because they’re outstanding and outperforming.  This second half will be quite amazing and I’m excited to see what every anime does to wrap up this wonderful year.

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  1. #1 by Joojoobees on November 14, 2011 - 7:16 PM

    I completely agree that this has been an awesome season. It helps to have truly amazing shows like Penguin Drum and Chihayafuru, but the other factor is that the “average” shows are also pretty good! For example, I wouldn’t put Mirai Nikki as a personal fave, but I have to say it has some interesting things going for it, such as Yuno and a plot loaded with twists.

    • #2 by avvesione on November 17, 2011 - 9:33 AM

      I had a really tough time sorting out the middle shows this season from 4-9 but I think it’s pretty accurate with how I feel about the shows this season. It’s been an amazing season so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a quite a few of these shows end up as 9s and a couple being 10s. Definitely the best season of the year.

  2. #3 by southfrikanse on November 21, 2011 - 2:13 PM

    Actually there is a website that can help you to compile your anime list: myanimelist [dot] net

    It’s actually a great site in order to track your anime viewer collection. If you want you can check mine: myanimelist [dot] net/animelist/southafrikanse

    By the way, what do you think about Bakuman (season 2)? It’s funny that you didn’t mention it in you list. Definitely worth watching :D

    • #4 by avvesione on November 21, 2011 - 4:46 PM

      Yup, I love myanimelist and have an account there, too. One a season is over, I take my scores from here and put them on that list, so that list has all the anime I’ve been watching since 2006 and some from the late 90s, early 00s as well. Thanks for mentioning that since I should put that up somewhere…

      Also, I never finished the first season of Bakuman (stopped around episode 12) and never picked it back up. I did enjoy the first season and dropped it due to lack of free time and I’ve heard good things about it, so it might be worthwhile to finish the first season and catch up with the second one sometime. Just when I have more free time lol.

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