Mid-Season Review – Winter 2011

Figured with the halfway point in most shows being reached or surpassed, that I’d provide a concise review of each show I’m watching this Winter.  Their order listed below is in the order that I’d rank them now along with their numerical score (between 10-5).  I’ll also toss out my favorite character of each series, too, since that’s always fun.  Oh, and the best Art, Characters, Entertainment, Sound, and Story.  There are also some minor spoilers, so if you haven’t watched everything yet, just mind your eyes and skip those sections.

First, a general statement: this season has been pretty mediocre.  Of the 10 shows I’m watching, only one has been consistently stimulating.  Many series have declined since the first couple episodes but they’re still watchable and seem to be building toward something worthwhile in the end.  What’s kept many shows afloat is the amusing cast of characters this season which makes up for the lack of story progress that’s plagued many shows this season.  Still, many of these shows are struggling to perform their way out of the Big Top of Mediocrity.  They need to showcase their ability as an anime and become something more than a show forgotten after this season.

And with that, onto the reviews.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 9

Favorite Character: Madoka Kaname

Brain Off – Puella Magi Madoka Magica has been the best this season, thanks to its vibrant cast of cute schoolgirls and the hellish world exist in.  The girls each bring something different to the series, which enables the show to spotlight their individual hardships and realities.  Aside from the versatility of the characters, the storytelling is stellar and has allowed most of the world to remain a mystery with steady answers to our unasked questions.  The art style, the use of colors and light, and the battle animation all have been outstanding, easily the best Art of the season.  The music and voices seem to draw me into their world, enhancing the brawls and enriching the emotion the girls express in every scene.  So Madoka gets my vote for the best Sound, too. The only reason Madoka is not a 10 is because I rarely rate anything a 10 before the finale.  I’m certain Madoka will be a 10 in the end.  Also, aren’t the girls’ skirts kinda really short?

What would raise the score? Just keep up the good work

Star Driver – 9

Favorite Character: Mami Yano (Undine or that brown-haired girl who fishes)

Brain On – One of the reasons why I enjoy Star Driver so much is the cast of characters.  Everyone in the Glittering Crux has split personalities, from their routine, comedic school lifestyles to their flamboyant, serious scheming personas.  The characters have done a wonderful job conducting themselves so differently in these two settings, it is fun to watch.  The characters outside the organization are amusing to watch, too.  Definitely my favorite set of Characters this season.  I’m not sure where the story is going, but it’s building up to something.  The fights have gotten a little too regular and tedious and I’m actually more interested in Takuto’s and Wako’s stories and Glittering Crux’s true motives more than anything else.  Strange to be more interested in the story than the fights in this mecha anime but whatever.

What would raise the score? Involve the whole cast in a tremendous finale.

Kimi ni Todoke Season 2 – 8

Favorite Character: Ryu Sanada

Brain On – Kimi ni Todoke returned for a second season, much to my delight.  Hurrah! More progress and romance!  It seems, however, that the relationship between Sawako and Kazehaya has taken a few steps back and stagnated.  Still, I enjoy seeing Sawako and Kazehaya face their hardships, even after countless misunderstandings and missed opportunities.  You’d think after going through this kind of relationship that someone would be consumed by despair and just give up.  But they both persevere and that will make the end much more rewarding.  Still, I’d like to see some progress in their relationship as these misunderstandings have gotten way too dominate in the series.  There has yet to be any progress this season between Kazehaya and Sawako, which is why I’m turning my attention to Chizuru and Ryu.

What would raise the score? Add some progress between both relationships.

To Aru Majutsu no Index – 8

Favorite Character: Kuroko Shirai

Brain Off – To Aru Majutsu no Index II has been entertaining but probably because I only pay attention to the action on the screen, the comical characters and their situations, and the fanservice instead of the disconnected stories and direction the series is going in.  If I did, I probably wouldn’t rate Index II as the best Entertaining show of the season.  Yeah, I do pay attention to the stories of each individual arc, but they seem so distant from each other that I have a hard time figuring out what the overall plotline of the series is.  I guess I could pick up the Light Novels but the stories aren’t what attracted me to Index in the first place.  It was the onscreen action, the fights, and the way Kuroko acts around everyone (Index Kuroko > Railgun Kuroko), that’s what I like.  That enough keeps me satisfied with Index II.

What would raise the score? Have a series of larger-than-life fights and show more Kuroko.

Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko) – 8

Favorite Character: Chizuru Sarashina

Brain On – Wandering Son is certainly the most artsy anime this season, both in style and story.  The style is stunning and matches the source material in a very complimenting manner.  The story deals with several middle school kids trying to figure out their emotions and feelings, all while trying to satisfy their own ambitions and facing challenges along the way.  While the story doesn’t pique my interests, the storytelling is exceptional, as you feel the tension building up despite it not appearing on the screen.  The storytelling has done an impressive job building up the emotions of the characters into each scene, even if it doesn’t show on their faces.  So this gets my vote for the best Story of the season.  I’m hoping that, after the Romeo and Juilet play, there’s less of a focus on crossdressing and more on the kids relationships and interactions with each other.

What would raise the score? More relationships, less crossdressing.

Level E – 8

Favorite Character: Prince

Brain Off – Easily the best comedy of the season, even if every episode isn’t comical.  The gags in the series have been sidesplitting and left me on the floor numerous times.  And with comedy as my favorite genre, this series puts a smile on my face.  The problems with this series, if I look hard enough and I have, is the lack of screentime for the Prince.  Instead of focusing on the humans being puppets for the Prince to play with, I’d like to see him do these things in person rather than floating in space.  What made the first part of the series great were his reactions to situations and interactions with the various characters of the town.  I’m hoping to see the Prince do things in person more, but the series has been great, even with him stuck up in space.

What would raise the score? Prince’s presence… in person… perfect!

Fractale – 8

Favorite Character: Nessa

Brain On – There is potential in Fractale to slide up and down this list more than any other series.  With its fantastic setting untouched, I’m hoping that there’ll be some exploration and adventure soon, along with discovery and understanding of the Fractale system and perhaps some self-discovery and understanding for Clain himself.  Still, this series has been a bit disappointing, with its novel themes like doppels going largely ignored in the whole first half the series.  I’m holding out hope for Fractale since I can see it improving greatly once Clain and Nessa leave the terrorist organization (and Enri’s constant ‘ecchiness’), but until then, I guess we’ll have to wait.  Perhaps then we can begin to see some journeying.

What would raise the score? Some exploration and adventure would be nice.

Freezing – 7

Favorite Character: Ganessa Roland

Brain Off – What’s nice about Freezing is that there’s guaranteed to be senseless hostility and fanservice in each episode.  The series certainly is entertaining to watch and I’m thrilled to see blood in a fighting show.  Nevertheless, Freezing has declined since the first few episodes.  Freezing has an appealing cast of characters, each with their own motivations, skill sets, Volt Weapons, and panties, who seem to disappear as soon as their episode is over.  It seems the show wants to only focus on Satellizer, Rana, and Kazuya with its limited air-time, but I’d still like to see all the girls have some screentime, even if it’s not fighting.  I have a feeling my wish will be fulfilled at the end of the series when a Nova attacks requiring all the girls to cooperate with each other and take down the colossal monster.

What would raise the score? The entire cast having more screentime and not just fighting.  Maybe a giant, school-wide BBQ is in order.

Yumekui Merry – 7

Favorite Character: Chaser John Doe

Brain Off – I remember proclaiming Yumekui Merry as my third favorite series of the season (so not including Star Driver and Index II then) back after watching the fourth episode.  While I enjoy Yumekui Merry for its action, comedy, and mystery, the characters have lost their spark and have become shells of their former selves.  Yumeji and his friends just don’t seem animated enough; they just talk and want to be friends with everyone.  Merry is the only source of conflict and story, which makes the rest of the cast suffer as a result.  I still am happy with the diversity of the Dream Demons and the mystery that’s being developed, so that’s a plus.

What would raise the score? Chaser John Doe and his catgirls.  Oh please, bring them back for more than 1 episode!

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? – 7

Favorite Character: Haruna

Brain Off – While it’s the last on my list, Zombie is far from a bad show.  The humor has been great in Zombie, sitting only behind Level E in that respect, and the action has been eye-opening.  The entertainment value is high in a series like this, with well-placed gags and a fun mystery developing.  What has doomed Zombie this season are the characters.  Ayumu’s male friend, Orito, is the definition of what’s wrong with male support in anime like these.  He has absolutely no value or substance in the series and only make stale otaku-centric humor that, even with a laugh track, wouldn’t get laughs.  I’m hoping there’ll be some development for Haruna and Sera soon, especially if their personality changes as a result.  I don’t care much for Haruna’s tsundere habits and I dislike Sera’s constant scorn toward Ayumu.

What would raise the score? The death of Orito.

So yeah, this season is full of 8s and 7s, which is actually averages out to a pretty normal season, just more is bunched in the middle.  Most other seasons have a couple 9s and 6s, so this season could be considered better than most since I’m enjoying every show.  Still, outside of Madoka, the season has been pretty mediocre.  With any luck, these shows can improve their score if they do what I like/hope for and have finales that are nothing short of breathtaking.

Also, and this is after the fact, the expressions of the characters in each picture might reflect their reaction to the rankings.  Maybe I should do that again next time.

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