Winter 2012 – Mid-Season Review

The midway point in a season is about the fairest time to evaluate an anime since each show has had ample time to introduce its characters, establish its story, differentiate itself from the rest, and show enough to allow us to form proper judgment.  Each show has had time to work out its kinks and oddities, too, as well as reveal its true self after spectacular or sluggish beginnings.  Now that the Winter Anime season is well past its midway point, it’s time to take a moment and see how the anime we love and watch this season are performing and how they compare to each other.

The 2012 Winter Anime season has been solid with many fantastic anime but it does not enjoy any real blockbusters or distinguished shows that define a season and remain fondly in our memories for years to come.  What it lacks for prominent and universally celebrated anime, however, the season does make up for it with a list of notable anime with high production values, excellent stories, and lovable characters.  Perhaps the best feature of this season has been the number of pleasant surprises, including shows like Mouretsu Pirates, Rinne no Lagrange, and Daily Lives of High School Boys, all well above my preliminary expectations.  Doesn’t mean a few anime have underperformed but the impression from this season is more positive than negative.  Many of the anime this season have shown more quality than originally anticipated, either in story, characters, and/or animation, and several others are entertaining or amusing to watch.  But the most surprising about this season has been the sheer excellence in music this season, leading the way with Persona 4 the Animation, Thermae Romae, Rinne no Lagrange, Mouretsu Pirates, and Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam.  Music, soundtracks, and the likes are usually subjects I tend to steer away from due to my absence of knowledge and difficulty describing my taste and thoughts on it but this season has been the most impressive since as long as I remember.  The four listed all have many outstanding tracks that both have excellent melodies and do incredible jobs creating the environment or intensifying the emotions.  Even anime not listed above have wonderful soundtracks and several opening and ending sequences are gorgeous.  And the good thing about the music and soundtracks in anime is that they rarely change in quality across the season, unlike every other facet of the show, so the season should continue to be a gift to our ears.  Because of these, the Winter Anime season has been delightful and continues to be solid from start to midway point.

The order of anime listed below is in the order that I’d rank them now from best/favorite/top to worst/least favorite/bottom along with their numerical score (between 10-5).  With each anime is a short review with a bit on what I’d like to see or how the anime could improve and also my favorite character in each anime.  And like all other reviews here, there is recognition for the best Art, Characters, Entertainment, Sound, and Story this season.  With that taken care of, let’s proceed to the 2012 Winter Mid-Season Review!

Persona 4 the Animation – 9

Favorite Character: Naoto Shirogane

Review – Persona 4 earns the top spot this season, including the highest score, due to its two strengths: its versatile and its consistently good.  Persona 4 is able to perform any genre excellently from comedy and slice-of-life, to mystery and adventure, to horror and drama.  It’s not common to see an anime able to do so many different styles of story.  Even more impressive is that each style is done extremely well and lead to amusing, stimulating, or inspiring episodes.  All the characters are well defined and developed but still possess amusing quirks to keep the entertaining side of the anime alive and well.  And now that the full cast is assembled, I have no doubt this is the best set of Characters for this anime season.  Though the animation and artwork varies from adequate to depressing (the only knock on the anime), the soundtrack is amazing and the setting, split between a town in rural Japan and that mysterious realm, is terrific.  It really has been a wonderful anime to watch and I’m excited to finally see what the conclusion is like to the story.

What would raise the score? Some comedy first then a great ending that wraps up everything and leaves the audience satisfied.

Nisemonogatari – 8

Favorite Character: Hitagi Senjougahara

Review – Though the anime is far from what I expected, an anime that follows the Araragi sisters around rather than another adventure behind the eyes and mind of their older brother, Koyomi, Nisemonogatari is quite an impressive anime in terms of its cast, art, and setting.  The former cast of Bakemonogatari is back and doing much better than ever in that anime, especially with the inclusion of the Araragi sisters are actual characters now rather than one-liners who dotted the original series.  The cast seems more alive and interesting now but that could be because their curses are disseminated and they have completed their introductions.  The artwork is spectacular, especially the use of shot selection, lighting, and color, and the way each scene is shot is pure eye candy.  And the setting, which through the artwork appears unusual to phenomenal, is another inspiring trait from this anime, showing an urban landscape of Japan only populated by these select few characters and the unique places they hang out at.  Where the series lost points is primarly due to the storytelling which seems to have been forcefully removed from the anime or just completely forgotten all together.  The pacing, direction, and substance of Karen Bee has been unpleasant, especially since it felt like the anime had to stop not only for all the characters to be reintroduced but for them to partake in ecchi scenes that were completely hit or miss (yes, I enjoyed a few of them but then again you knew I like smut).  At least it seems like the anime has moved on from this juvenile-phase but it tainted the current arc and thusly sits where it currently does.

What would raise the score? More focus on the sisters, their stories, and less meaningless fanservice.

Mouretsu Pirates – 8

Favorite Character: Marika Katou

Review – At first, I thought Mouretsu Pirates would be a simple anime to relieve my itch for a good space anime and nothing more.  Boy, was I wrong about that.  Mouretsu Pirates not only is a satisfying space anime, one I’ve been longing to watch for a few seasons now, but it is one of the best anime of the season, most notably for its dynamic main character, its attention to detail, and its overall quality.  Marika is a sensible character, ideal for a lead in any anime, who thinks rationally, is courteous to others, and is knowledgeable about their career and the world they live in.  Not only that but all the other characters feel like real people save for some certain behaviors but the cast to date has been enjoyable.  The attention to detail, especially those around spacecraft, their operations, and their sailing, have been some of the most talked about and celebrated aspects of this anime.  Though it has slowed the story considerably, it shows the care and thought put into this anime.  Plus with these scenes out of the way, the rest should be open for more pirating adventures or other hard sci-fi details should the series warrant further explanation.  So far, this has had the best Story of any anime this season and I can’t wait to see what happens next to Marika and her crew.  The quality in this anime, ranging from art, animation, music, and storytelling, are all magnificent.  Perhaps my favorite from this category is the setting and the way piracy is integrated into this world.  The sets, including the interior of the spaceships and the hometown of Marika are also pleasant, especially since I feel we’ll be seeing these areas quite frequently.  And the lack of fanservice, especially with a style like this, is always a plus.

What would raise the score? More pirating, more adventures, more appropriate sci-fi stuff, and more fun!

Thermae Romae – 8

Favorite Character: Lucius Modestus

Favorite Moment: Anytime Lucius overreacted to anything.

Review – What gives Thermae Romae such a high score and high ranking are not due to its artwork or story, which are satisfactory at best, but for its charm and its entertainment.  What made Thermae Romae enjoyable to watch was how absurd it was sometimes but how everything had a purpose, especially considering the historical aspects of each episode.  Storytelling was excellent throughout, beginning each episode with a problem or inconvenience in ancient Rome, a quick excursion to modern Japan where Lucius would gather ideas or become inspired, then his return home where he’d put together his plans and improve his home of Rome.  Though episodes were formulaic, each one had impeccable attention to historical detail and related it to a modern Japanese equivalent and all related about the theme of bathing, hygiene, or water.  Not only that but each episode was entertaining, especially the comical aspects like Lucius’s reactions and thought process.  Not only that but Thermae Romae had my favorite Sound of the season, not only with its glorious soundtrack (classical music is a weakness of mine) but the voice acting was brilliant, essentially bringing all of Lucius’s emotions and feelings to life despite the best efforts of the art to keep everything still and boring.  Yes, the artwork had its limitations and the absence of animation was regrettable, but it did possess a charm for the series that made it unique.  Really wish there was more of this anime but sadly there is not.  The live-action movie will be released this Spring which might be worth checking out if you were a fan of this anime.

Chihayafuru – 8

Favorite Character: Taichi Mashima

Review – Chihayafuru is an anime that is impressive in everything it does.  Not only that but it is incredibly versatile and is able to pull off drama like no other anime this season.  It’s able to take the card game, karuta, and infuse so many different stories, ideas, themes, and emotions into each game and give the players something new each time the play.  But the drama, either in low or high tension, is always masterful and makes each match entertaining, not tiresome, to watch.  Probably due to the amount of emotion that goes into each character, through art and voice work, that makes each match special to watch.  The cast of Chihayafuru has grown on me since the beginning and I’ve begun to enjoy the company of Nishida and Tsutomu more, especially in the recent high school tournament matches.  The art has always been good in the anime, especially the details in the traditional Japanese clothing that Kanade loves and the animation when the players seem to abuse the cards with their agile or powerful hands.  I’m waiting to see how the anime finishes before raising its score but this is one of the best shoujo anime I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this end up near the top of the season when I do my final review at the end of March.

What would raise the score? Keep up the current pace, this is an amazing anime.

Rinne no Lagrange – 8

Favorite Character: Fin E Ld Si Laffinty (Lan)

Review – Easily the biggest surprise of the season and an anime I wanted to drop after watching the first episode (a webrip) on New Year’s Day.  Rinne no Lagrange has done nothing but impress me since its first episode with its fun cast of characters, beautiful artwork and animation, and surprisingly decent story.  Madoka and Lan are both tremendous characters: Madoka for her energy, enthusiasm, friendliness and slight stupidity and Lan for her companionship, thoughtfulness, and enchanting appearance.  The mecha in this anime, among other details, are brilliantly animated and this is easily the best animation and artwork I’ve seen from a Xebec anime (also Production I.G).  The most remarkable from the mecha are not their appearances which are spectacular on their own but rather their kinetics especially when they transform from plane-to-human shapes and when they fight each other in the various styles.  The setting is probably my favorite, a tropical paradise with not too much school, exciting mecha, and a taste of space and distant planets added in to keep it somewhat enigmatic.  Rinne no Lagrange possesses my favorite of the original soundtracks this season and has the most tracks that I find enjoyable and meaningful to the anime.  The fanservice is okay but it would be better without.  Kinda curious to see where the anime will go from here but I’m expecting the anime to cool down a bit until the story comes back in full force again.

What would raise the score? More seriousness, more mecha battles, and less yuri undertones.

Daily Lives of High School Boys – 8

Favorite Character: Ringo

Review – Originally, I was unimpressed with the promo episodes of Daily Lives of High School Boys but was intrigued enough to watch an episode when the anime came out.  Consider myself elated that the anime turned out to be much more amusing, hilarious, and entertaining than those few short skits the anime produced (which turned out to be the worst skits of the actual anime… guess they didn’t want to waste their best material on those shorts).  Comedies like Daily Lives of High School Boys are sensational because they know how comedy works and how to perform comedy at its highest level.  Sure, comedy anime do end up being judged by taste and this isn’t my favorite style of comedy but I appreciate the humor in virtually every scene, even in the uncommon chance when I am not laughing.  Easily the most Entertaining anime of the season.  The cast really doesn’t stand out all that much besides the main trio but it could be because they’re not cute anime girls and I tend to ignore men in anime unless they make a lasting or positive impression.  And in comedies, it’s hard to find males that do that (besides the main trio).  The one negative about this anime is that some skits are designed to only build up to a single punchline at the end and usually those are the ones I don’t care for.  They end up consuming a lot of time for something that ends up as a ‘meh’.  Fortunately, these are infrequent but they’re enough to keep the anime a bit lower than its potential.

What would raise the score? More skits with jokes spread throughout.

Kill Me Baby – 7

Favorite Character: Sonya

Review – Kill Me Baby isn’t terribly striking with its comedy, though at times I have found myself laughing as hard at this as any other anime, but its charm comes through its adorable chibi-esque art style.  Just the way these characters are drawn, how they act, and the adventures they find themselves in is captivating in its cuteness.  It’s almost bewitching or mesmerizing at times, especially when all of the characters are having a good time (which unfortunately is never).  The anime is incredibly simple, which works for it at times, but can often be a disadvantage, especially when the humor just isn’t working.  The 4-koma style of comedy is incredibly rough and often transitions between jokes are painfully obvious but as long as the humor makes me laugh, its style isn’t a burden.  The cast is tiny but works with the chemistry between the characters and the energy behind Yasuna is enough to drive every skit and all the comedy there is.  Still, there’s just something missing from this anime that isn’t the comedy, the characters, or the loveable art style that just keeps the anime from becoming more memorable or enjoyable.  And because it’s so minimal, I’m having trouble figuring out what is missing from this anime that would make it improve.

What would raise the score? Not sure what but maybe better comedy?  Better delivery?  Different settings?  Don’t know…

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki) – 7

Favorite Character: Mur Mur

Review – Future Diary has cooled on me considerably over this Winter season.  What’s hurting this anime more than anything else is that its novelty has worn out and the story and characters that remain are only slightly entertaining.  I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed any arcs since the Sacred Eye on near the beginning of the series and all the villains since then have been mediocre to quite irritating.  Yuno’s superhuman strength and cunning abilities sometimes are a bit awkward, especially considering some of the feats she’s able to pull off and knowing that Yuki will survive all these ordeals, though we don’t know how, is a bit of a drag.  And sometimes the story needs to suspend logic or reason at times, either through poor execution or faults in the story, just to get the characters over whatever challenge they’re facing.  Still, the anime is entertaining to watch and I’m interested to see where it goes, just I’m not as excited now as I was at the beginning of the season.  The artwork has been sufficient this time around and I’m enjoying the development Yuki has gone through recently but it’s not enough to prevent the score and ranking of this anime from dropping this season.

What would raise the score? Better villains, better storytelling, more logic, a coherent finish, and Yuki to finally man-up and kick-ass.

Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam – 7

Favorite Character: Millia il Velch Cutrettola Turan

Review – Although the score and ranking are still lower, Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam has improved over the Winter and is primed to advance depending on how its final quarter performs.  The story seems to be advancing in an acceptable direction, with the world seemingly turning on the true villains, and the war has progressed at an interesting pace, especially with the battle between Exiles and the destruction of Glacies.  Millia’s character has been consistently good while Fam’s has been equally annoying but the way the rest of the cast has developed has been generally positive for the series, especially seeing Sara struggle with the weight of her nation, the war, and her goddess-like mother on her fragile shoulders.  I’ll be interesting to see how the story ends up but I am pleased with the progress it has made and the direction its heading.  The music, setting, and artwork are still exceptional and I’m looking forward to seeing what role all the characters from the original Last Exile play in the finale of this anime.  There are just certain aspects of this series that I wished were never included but they’ve taken a backseat to more important matters.

What would raise the score? Please have an ending that I can enjoy that isn’t about sky pirates or Grand Race or anything that Fam likes or wants.

Guilty Crown – 7

Favorite Character: Dan Eagleman

Review – Guilty Crown has become a mess.  The story is beyond confused on whatever direction its going or what it wants to tell and  it has fumbled around with its characters too much to make them fascinating or enjoyable.  Still, the anime manages to be entertaining from time to time, though it’s not its intended purpose, and the action is fun to watch, especially with its outstanding style of art and animation.  Yes, while the story and characters continue to take full attention for this anime and do so in a negative light, the Art is still the best this season, even over the likes of Nisemonogatari and Another, especially through its use of lighting, its consistency and flow through animated scenes, and its number of highly detailed animated sequences.  Yes, it is subjective compared to Nisemonogatari and Another since they do have higher quality still and backgrounds but those anime lack the kinetics, motion, and aesthetics that are truly deserving of having the best art (which includes animation) for the season.  But unlike those anime, Guilty Crown has committed numerous errors in its most vital parts, its story and characters, and has continued to fall in score and rankings.

What would raise the score? Just dump everything and make a few good episodes with a new story and new characters and call it good.

Another – 7

Favorite Character: Aya Ayano

Review – Another seems to be a respectable horror anime with an intriguing and absorbing mystery and a cast of engaging characters but to get everything to work is just a bit much.  There is just too much suspension of disbelief to make this anime work the way it wants to.  First off, how is the school not shut down if students continue to die every year?  I just can’t get over that fact that for all these years, the school continues to operate and people still attend it when there’s numerous deaths each year.  Second, the curse has to make up rules so that it works properly, by magically manipulating the school records and changing everyone’s memories for a certain specific duration of time.  How about no, your anime shouldn’t have to explain “oh and this is how the curse gets around that easy piece of logic”.  Besides that, the art work is absolutely elegant and among my favorite this season.  The setting, another town in rural Japan, is astonishing, especially how it’s able to create that small-town community feel after just a few episodes.  I’ve enjoyed wrapping my head around the mystery besides the two aforementioned points (and there are a few I’m not mentioning that also aggravate me) and am excited to see how everything is solved and what happens to Kouichi and Misaki.  The cast of characters, although steadily decreasing, has been enjoyable and I really, really hope my favorite character doesn’t die (but I fully expect her to near the end).  The music is okay and it does a fine job of creating the haunting or uneasy atmosphere but it’s just not pleasant to listen to.  And probably the most renounced aspect of the anime, the gory deaths, are directed nicely and make for interesting scenes.  And for someone like me who detests gore and the likes, that means the anime is doing a damn good job with these scenes.

What would raise the score? Don’t kill Aya Ayano!  Also, improve the mystery so that it actually makes sense and doesn’t have all these random rules.

BRAVE10 – 6

Favorite Character: Masumune Date

Review – Though Brave 10 is the bottom anime for this season, it never has been the worst anime of the season.  Other anime have dipped below this one from time to time but the reason it remains here at the bottom is that is never really has done anything special, unlike all the other anime around it.  The main reason I wanted to watch Brave 10 was I had a craving for a samurai anime and figured this would be able to satisfy that desire, which for the most part it has.  But besides that, there’s nothing special with this anime.  The setting is decent enough for me to continue to watch it but it doesn’t feel rich or detailed as I was hoping but rather a backdrop so the characters can wield swords and other fanciful weaponry.  The cast is surprisingly effective, each character has a good personality and works well with each other, but they’re not enough to make the story, something about Isanami’s treasured jewelry being sought after by all of Japan or something, more interesting.  The artwork has been ordinary but brings its best when action sequences are occurring.  The music fits the feudal Japan style but is hardly worth mentioning besides that.  Can’t say I care terribly for this anime but will continue to watch it since I’ve been longing for a samurai anime.

What would raise the score? More detail and attention to the setting, more interesting and less gimmicky samurai battles, and improved comedy.

And that’s it for the mid-season review.  I fully expect that between now and the end of the season that many of the anime will shuffle in their rankings and most will improve their scores.  Many of the anime this season are solid and about equal right now but that will change over the next few weeks when more anime have time to prove their worth and see how their stories or styles develop.  I’m not sure if there will be any 10s this season, the first for me since I started blogging, but Persona 4 and Nisemonogatari show the most potential to achieve that feat.  And last season, UN-Go was nowhere near a 10 but ended up being that mainly from the way how the second half ended, so watch out for any anime that begins to impress during this time of the year.  I’m also expecting Chihayafuru and Last Exile to rise the most between now and the end of the winter season since both were two-season anime that have improved since the start of the winter season.  Not sure which anime will fall between now and then to compensate for this rise but it will be interesting to see what Rinne no Lagrange will do now that its introductions are through.  It will be interesting to see how each anime performs during the second half of the season since that’s when anime get more serious and put more attention and effort into their characters and stories.  It will definitely be exciting to watch.

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  1. #1 by Joojoobees on February 20, 2012 - 11:42 AM

    I tried, but just could not get into Brave 10. I do like fantasy, and I do like samurai, but I just hate fake battles in a “martial arts” show. I really have a lot of respect for people who manage to learn real martial arts (including swordsmanship), and I think that human bodies engaged in real martial arts is a fascinating subject for artistic treatment (as good as any dance production, or any other sport), and so when I see BS “power” moves it makes me angry. It is like going into a botanical garden and seeing that they thought flowers weren’t good enough, so they replaced all the real plants with neon sculptures.

    • #2 by avvesione on February 21, 2012 - 10:26 PM

      Thanks for the comment, glad to hear about your thoughts on Brave 10. Even without the super powered battles, it isn’t much of an anime but I’ve always been drawn to these super powered battles and that might be a reason why I continue to watch this anime. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy realistic battles, too, but for very different purposes. These types of battles I see as pure entertainment and the variety of styles keeps each fight fresh, innovative, and exciting. Plus using these powers means people can be defeated without dying or being bound by the laws of physics and biology. In fact, some of my favorite anime employ these techniques like Darker than Black, Katanagatari, Needless, and Utawarerumono. But really this comes down to personal taste on the matter but at least you’re not missing anything with Brave 10. Would be interested to see if there are any shows like that you did like though.

  2. #3 by Zammael on February 20, 2012 - 8:55 PM

    Well said, Joojoobees.

    Here are my mini reviews:

    Mirai Nikki: B+
    The direction is picking up the pace in recent episodes (up to 2.5 manga chapters per) but the execution is somewhat off in certain spots, lending it an incredulous, cheesy air.

    Chihayafuru: A-
    Awesome end to that Fall tournament. The Karuta Club grows together in victory & defeat, and it seems like Chihaya is finally growing up.

    Nisemonogatari: A
    I cannot find a fault with this show — it keeps the flame of Bakemonogatari alive, but with a bigger budget and amps up the spectacle with better animation/background art and sophisticated fan-service.

    Another: B-
    So far it’s growing on me with its painstaking execution. Perhaps horror is the wrong genre, and the wrong perspective to see it with.

    BRAVE10: D+
    Silly jackass writing. Haven’t dropped it yet for reasons unknown to myself.

    Rinne no Lagrange: C+
    Almost blew its credit with that pandering episode – up till then it was building to a solid resolution, and then that idiotic explosion of magical flowers….?

    Daily Lives of High School Boys: A-
    Takes me back to the heyday of American sitcoms with consistent gags and sharp humor.

    Mouretsu Pirates: A-
    Hard scifi masquerading as Space Opera at its finest.

    Thermae Romae: B
    Amazing premise, deserves more episodes!

    Dropped:

    Last Exile
    Great steampunk ruined by a dumbass MC.

    Guilty Crown:
    One guilty pleasure is enough.

    • #4 by avvesione on February 21, 2012 - 10:37 PM

      Thanks for posting your mini-review. Glad to see your opinions on all the shows, especially since this seems like the biggest season for you since we started talking. I’ll try to reply to each comment:

      Mirai Nikki: Glad to hear things are picking up. I kinda like the cheesiness but only when done properly (which isn’t much anymore).

      Chihayafuru: Really enjoyed the tournament, too, perhaps my favorite part of the series yet.

      Nisemonogatari: I’ve really enjoyed the better animation and artwork but it doesn’t have that same spark as Bakemono for me which is why it isn’t the top spot. Still, really impressed with it and enjoyed the series greatly.

      Another: Same, I don’t care for the horror at all in Another and wish it were more of a mystery (with fewer of these random rules to make it work).

      Brave10: Just mindless fun, I guess, either that or you have a crush on one of the cast members =P

      Rinne no Lagrange: I’m interested to see what role those flowers play and why everyone from space hates these Vox mecha (besides the legend of course).

      Daily Lives of High School Boys: Yeah, really surprised with the level and style of comedy here. Really loving this anime.

      Mouretsu Pirates: Really enjoying the hard sci-fi aspects of the anime but it’d be better if they were more consistent with animation/presentation of it. Hearing noises in space and stuff is always a fault. But yeah, really impressed with the attention to detail it’s going with.

      Thermae Romae: I really wish it weren’t 6 mini episodes and were a full length anime instead but I worry the novelty of it might wear off. Also curious how people would like it if an anime of that art style continued for a full season or thereabouts.

      Last Exile: Yeah, Millia should’ve been the MC, would’ve been better. Actually, Claus and Lavie shouldn’ve been the MC, would’ve been SO MUCH better.

      Guilty Crown: I don’t blame you but it has some merits.

      Thanks for writing all your opinions down, glad to hear you’re enjoying the season and watching a ton of great anime!

  3. #5 by Detetiv on February 22, 2012 - 5:13 AM

    Another is sounding like any of the Higarashi series

    • #6 by avvesione on February 22, 2012 - 5:56 PM

      Huh… now that you mention it…

      • #7 by Detetiv on February 22, 2012 - 6:10 PM

        Aya’s one of those murdering girls & the main guy is the one trying to figure out the whole thing while trying to stay alive.

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