We’re roughly at the half-way point in most of this Summer’s anime, so let’s take a moment to reflect on how the first half of this season has been. I’ve been following 10 shows that started this season (not counting the 3-4 minute shows either) and have continued with 5 from the Spring meaning this will be a rather enormous review. But to begin, some thoughts on how the entire season has done including a common complaint across the board.
The first half of the Summer anime season has been a mixed bag. Several shows are above my initial expectations and have been continuously improving since the first episode while other shows have underperformed and leave me wondering what went wrong. Art and animation have been excellent across most shows, creating outstanding anime that are enjoyable to watch. If only the same could be said for the stories or plots this season. If there’s one common element among all the anime this season, it has been the weakness of the stories, and it is a severe problem.
Thankfully, not all anime are overwhelmed by this disease that has infected so many anime this season but it’s hard to ignore when a majority are suffering through this issue. It’s almost seems like the stories in anime nowadays are afterthoughts. The priority these days seems to be cute girls, brilliant animation, and prominent seiyuu, so allocating the entire studio budget to those elements over good scripting and scenario writing shouldn’t be surprising. Anime this season have writhed through non-existent plots (Dantalian no Shoka), dreadful execution (Ao no Exorcist), haphazard episodic content (Ikoku Meiro no Croisée, Idolmaster) or seem incredibly incoherent and distasteful (Blood-C). That’s already a third of shows this season. And if you take out the comedy anime (shows like Nichijou, Nekogami Yaoyorozu, and Baka Test II which survive just fine without central storylines because they’re not telling stories like the former list) it’s almost HALF the shows this season. Completely unacceptable. Other anime have slipped in the story department, too, but nothing to the point where they need to be called-out in a manner such as this. Although if the season continues as the present pace then I wouldn’t be surprised to include many more by the time the season review is up. Hopefully this trend reverses itself before the end of the season, and it usually does, but it’s gotten to the point where it almost seems intentional by the studios to create an anime with a substandard (at best) plot covered up by stellar animation and skilled voicing. Let’s hope they all can find a cure for this epidemic before the start of the Autumn anime season.
And with that said, onto the good stuff.
The 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 always seems to reveal a weakness of mine in every show. The best Art, Characters, Entertainment, Sound, and Story are included to show off my favoritism for the various anime this season. There are also some minor spoilers (don’t know for sure since I’m writing this first), so if you haven’t watched a show and don’t want it to be spoiled, then simply jump over that section or read it, get spoiled, and then forget about it.
Steins;Gate – 9
Favorite Character: Kurisu Makise
Brain On – Steins;Gate has regained the top spot after the first Moeka episode (episode 19). The anime recaptured that enthusiasm, intrigue, and energy that makes this series so enjoyable and entertaining. And beyond that, the story has made several rollercoaster-like twists and turns, keeping the audience enchanted with what’s going on and what could happen next. But maybe the best aspect of Steins;Gate are the Characters which are, without a doubt, the best of the season. Each one has an authentic feel about them, with their problems and interactions, as well as an excellent seiyuu behind them giving the cast raw and believable emotions. The music, too, has been incredible, adding to the atmosphere of each scene. It’s no surprise that this should also has the best Sound of the season, too. The show has had some lulls lately, especially after Suzuha left, but it seems to have picked up some vigor and should lead to an impressive finale.
What would raise the score? Maintain this excitement and pace until the end and it’s a 10.
Usagi Drop – 9
Favorite Character: Daikichi Kawachi
Brain Off – It’s rare to get an anime with so many realistic themes, like starting a family, raising a child, and struggling to balance a work and home life, but that is where Usagi Drop excels. It’s a Story that I easily was hooked on and have loved it ever since. The drama is constructed finely throughout the episodes and has led to significant events (such as meeting Masako) and character development (such as Daikichi realizing details about himself and others). If that weren’t good enough, the humor keeps the show entertaining and light-hearted. The characters feel lifelike with how they interact around each other but the scenes never really get boring. It has been a tremendous anime all-around and I’m looking forward to see what will happen every week.
What would raise the score? With the way it’s going, it’s almost guaranteed to end up a 10 before the season is over.
Favorite Character: Safu
Brain On – No.6 is the best show no one (or hardly anyone) is talking about. The strongest point of No.6 has been the two lead characters, Shion and Nezumi, and their constant disparity between each other. They are always holding opposing views and argue with each other, usually in knowledgeable (yet naïve) discourse rather than brute force, yet they remain together. It’s nice to see a bond between characters endure such hardship in an anime when they usually shatter at the thought of differing ideas. The story has picked up with Safu’s involvement in matters, the wasp syndrome, and how Shion and Nezumi want to address the problems at hand. And the whole dystopian, ultramodern backdrop is my favorite of the season. The setting of No.6 is wonderfully done, especially with the vast differences scene on either side of the giant wall and the characters that inhabit these geographies. The one nitpick I have with the series is that it seems content with people discussing their ideas rather than through action, even though anime depend on action and motion. Hasn’t been terrible, by any means, but a little less than what I would like.
What would raise the score? Some action, destruction, chaos, and some resolve between Shion and the other important characters (Nezumi, Safu, and his mother).
Favorite Character: Kanba Takakura
Brain Off – I know that I love Penguindrum. Without a doubt, it’s the most Entertaining anime of the season with all pleasant mix of action and comedy keeping every scene and episode as engaging as the last. The anime knows how to satisfy the audience and it does so through brilliant scripting, awesome artwork, and vivacious characters. The cast of Penguindrum has been dazzling, especially the penguins, with how they react and perform in the various stressful or hilarious situations. Ringo is probably the most versatile female character this season, performing beyond expectations in both comedy and drama. Vivid colors and masterful artwork keep the anime pleasurable to our eyes, especially in the home and during the transformation sequence. And the art style also looks unique, too, which is why I feel it has the best Art of the season, too. I am a little bit concerned with the story, seeing as there has been little explanation thus far on the events but we’re getting details slowly and surely. I’m certain there will be more than a few twists in the story before everything is over, so maybe I should just be patient, enjoy the show, and wait for the plot to show up when it was decided to show up.
What would raise the score? A bit more clarity on the story and characters to go along with this exceptional entertainment.
Favorite Character: Kotetsu T. Kaburagi
Brain On – The summer half of Tiger & Bunny seems to be content with only focusing on the title characters, Tiger and Barnaby, rather than including the cast they developed in the first half. No matter, Tiger and Barnaby are the two best characters of the show. The story has recreated itself surrounding the murder of Barnaby’s parents but with some new details, which is a pleasant but humdrum turn of events. I expected more focus on Tiger, especially with his powers, and Kaede but maybe we’ll get that later. This anime also has a habit of over-performing and under-performing on episodes and even within episodes. Some scenes will have wonderful execution and storytelling only to be followed by scenes where the characters are irrational or fall back into one of their character flaws. Regardless, the show is always entertaining and the conclusion should be satisfying, especially with these unexpected turn-of-events.
What would raise the score? A meaningful twist and message to the story rather than some clichéd or textbook conclusion. And some inclusion of the other heroes, too.
Favorite Character: Hugh Anthony Disward
Brain On – The reason Dantalian no Shoka has such a ‘high’ grade, even after that story rant, is because I don’t hate the episodic content like most others have voiced. I’m still in the camp that wants a central plot line for the anime because everything is all disconnected and there has been no real character development. But each episode has been interesting and has appealed to me and my interests, so I really don’t share the same opinions as many others. It also helps with the skillful artwork and above-average animation during action sequences. Huey and Dalian have chemistry between each other, which is another positive for this anime. And having the story take place in this setting, English following the Great War, is a huge plus in my mind. The cast has been smaller than I had hoped and the lack of a story is concerning, especially since I feel the episodic content will eventually bore me at some point. There is hope that a central storyline will appear with the few other characters we’ve been hinted at in the opening sequence though, so I pray they make their debut quickly before this fine anime begins to decay.
What would raise the score? I don’t mind the episodic content as much as others but I would greatly appreciate a central storyline about now. That and less tsundere Dalian.
Favorite Character: Mayu
Brain Off – Easily, EASILY, the biggest and most pleasing surprise of the season. Comedies like this, full of nonsense and fun, have a special place in my heart, so I’ve been more than impressed with Nekogami Yaoyorozu so far. What sustains comedies like this are the characters and how they work with each other. The cast does an excellent job of reading each other and playing off that which lead to some hilarious situations and impressive gags. The show has yet to do something completely unforgettable but it’s been very pleasing and entertaining thus far. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this anime continue to climb up the rankings before it eventually hits its conclusion.
What would raise the score? Keep the laughs coming. That’s really all it needs.
Favorite Character: Nako Oshimizu
Brain On – The progress on Nako has been phenomenal. I remember at the start of the series hating her because she was just another cookie-cutter shy stereotype but her development and self-confidence, not to mention her sincere kindness and upbeat attitude, really changed my personality of her. She’s now my favorite character of the series, something I never would’ve fathomed at the beginning of the series. The shift in setting from the inn to the school was not as bad as I expected, especially since we saw some development (finally) for Minko. Should be fun when we get to Ohana’s story, especially with Ko, but that will need to wait until near the finale (or whenever the festival is). Seems the other staff has had their roles reduced and the anime has taken away the focus of working hard for customers at the inn in favor of developing the girls. The employment and business aspect of running the inn was something I liked but seeing as Ohana never really ‘grew’ from this work, I guess it’s inevitable to look somewhere else for Ohana to finally mature and turn this ‘slice-of-life’ anime into a ‘coming-of-age’ one. At least that’s what I’ve always hoped.
What would raise the score? I want something significant to happen to Ohana before the end so we have an episode or two where we see her mature and more of an adult.
Favorite Character: Mio Naganohara
Brain Off – Nichijou has really improved since the last time I reviewed it. The comedy has grown into something more where it can play off older jokes for even more laughs. And the cast doesn’t feel as ballooned as it once did, especially with Nano joining the trio at school now and fewer scenes with minor characters. Some of the special segments, like “Like Love” and “Short Thoughts” are nice ways to break up the comedy by giving us a chance to calm down before the next joke but with some diverse and pleasing scenes. Don’t really find the Professor or Sakamoto all that amusing anymore, which is a shame, but maybe that’s because Nano’s role has been reduced there with her addition to Yukko, Mio, and Mai. There’s still room for improvement, since this anime retains that ‘hit-or-miss’ feel but it’s better than before and has been constantly improving.
What would raise the score? It’s been more hit than miss lately, so preserving this trend should help.
Favorite Character: Alice Blanche
Brain Off – Another anime where the strength lies in its setting, although it feels somewhat inaccurate. Paris is much too clean and disease-free in Ikoku Meiro no Croisée than what I’d expect from a historical anime. And remember, this is following the Franco-Prussian War, so there should be some social unease or unrest within the city (which is why the capital moved from Paris to Versailles following their defeat). Nevertheless, the anime has been decent. The artwork is divine, doing justice to the scenic cityscape that is the City of Lights, but the animation of the characters feels only adequate. Characters like Yune and Alice really are all the show needs, with Yune exploring new cultures and customs and Alice providing instant comedy and energy to make things lively and interesting. The episodic stories is not what I was hoping for but it really hasn’t harmed the series as we do see Yune and Claude learn and grow together. A central plot with the Gallery closing and Yune helping to save it feels inevitable but there has been little progress in that direction. And I’d be welcome to see that happen soon, especially since there’s been zero ‘real’ conflict in the anime thus far and I’d love to see how Alice and Yune would react to the Gallery going under.
What would raise the score? More ‘getting-to-know-you’ than ‘slice-of-life’ would be good or some sort of real conflict that lasts more than an episode.
Favorite Character: Souichi Nishimura (Ironman)
Brain Off – Something feels missing in this season of BakaTest; it doesn’t pack quite the punch as the first season did. That’s not the say this season hasn’t been funny because it has, but there was something the first season had that this one doesn’t. Not sure what it is but maybe I’ll find out before the season is over. The charm of the characters has remained and the jokes are still hysterical, so it’s not that. Some of the regular gags, especially those by Himeji and Shimada, have become tiresome having been repeated too frequently to remain funny. I’ve never really liked any of the female cast of BakaTest and always felt it was their role to set up the guys for all the jokes and humor. That and they provided ‘almost-fanservice’ which some find funny but not me. I’m glad this anime is still hilarious but I expected more out of season. Maybe I just set really high expectations for this anime but it seems to be a drop-off from the first season.
What would raise the score? Some of the recurring jokes from previous season have become stale, so changing the delivery or making slight variations would help. And more scenes with the guys only.
Favorite Character: Yukio Okumura
Brain Off – What happened here? Ao no Exorcist was really entertaining, with satisfying comedy and electrifying action, but it’s dropped off recently. What’s worse is that the cause of it is the story and its suddenly poor execution. The fights have been drastically reduced to include standard shounen-style speeches about ‘friendship’ and whatnot. It’s starting to turn from a good shounen anime into a bad one with fights that are horribly predictable or end prematurely. Seriously, that fight with Amaimon should’ve lasted the entire episode rather than ending in ~5 minutes and then going back to boring school bullshit. We could’ve had an stimulating and sensational battle at hand but no, it’s clear the story doesn’t have its priorities in order reducing that whole build up to a huge tease. The animation seems to have dropped off in this anime but not to the same degree as the story. I’m starting to enjoy more of the cast, like Izumo and Shura, but it doesn’t make up for these recent faults.
What would raise the score? Rather than how to raise the score, this will be how to prevent your score from falling further: Improve your storytelling and eliminate all of those fights where the protagonist beats the villain in one hit.
Favorite Character: Utao Kuga
Brain Off – I never thought I’d get this far in Kamisama Dolls after the first episode but I’m still here and enjoying the show. The art seemed subpar at first but it grew on me, especially with those facial expressions that are both comical and effective. Haven’t been too impressed with the cast, the story, or the fighting, but it’s enough to keep me interested every episode. The show has picked up in recent weeks, especially with the setting moving to the village over the city (yay!), and I expect it to continue that way until the anime reaches its finale. I think I started watching this anime for the comedy but I’m staying for the story, especially with the doll living under the village in Amaterasu. I’m hoping the action reinvents itself because the last fight between the dolls showed there was potential despite it being rather mundane.
What would raise the score? Some interesting resolve and conclusion to the story would do nicely. Oh, and more of those hilarious facial expressions.
Favorite Character: Makoto Kikuchi
Brain Off – For a show created with mainly the fans in mind, Idolmaster hasn’t been terrible or unwatchable, although that’s only my opinion on it as an outsider to the series. I expected great things from the singing and dancing (choreography and animation) and was disappointed until the sixth episode when they finally put together what I was hoping to see all season. I always hope to see more Makoto, she being another reason why I am watching this anime, since I find her singing voice extremely charming and remarkable from various Idolmaster game clips on the internet. I’ve also warmed up to other cast members like Chihaya and Takane but most of the cast is still extremely one-dimensional and annoying. The story has been extremely episodic but I never expected there to be a story to begin with, so that’s not really a negative. The show has had ample opportunity for some intelligence, teaching the girls about the business aspect about being an idol and helping them learn and grow as people, but it always turns to generic anime comedy or meaningless inspiration to overcome a minor obstacle. I wish there were more meaningful character development and realism to this anime but this isn’t the kinda anime where you get stuff like that. Instead you get a bunch of moe girls running around, goofing off, and having fun. I’m glad Chihaya is serious and disheartened as she’s the only one who gives contrast to the cast.
What would raise the score? Some intelligence and conflict. I want to see some jealousy or competitiveness come out of the idols and for them to get in a fight and hate each other over how others are succeeding. Oh, and more Makoto. She’s awesome.
Favorite Character: Saya Kisaragi (but only when she’s kicking ass)
Brain On – This show ranks in the upper half of this season in terms of art, music, and setting. And in terms of action, it’s near the top with all those meticulously choreographed fight sequences with beautiful animation, unbroken tension, and satisfying gore. This is what I expected from a CLAMP and Production I.G collaboration. But the story and the characters are what make this the biggest disappointment of the season. The scenes at the school have been an absolute waste with progress so slow most would hardly recognize it. And the scenes of Saya walking to school and singing served no purpose other than to kill time. All the fights are arbitrary, with no connection to anything. The plot is just an incoherent mess. The characters aren’t much better. This is the most uninteresting and shallow of a cast as I’ve seen (and yes, it’s much worse than any other this season). They look and feel uninspiring and are devoid of any emotion. I would’ve dropped had I never known CLAMP and Production I.G were associated with this and that’s the only reason I continue to watch it. I’m confident the anime will get better but I question myself as to whether it will be worth it in the end or not.
What would raise the score? Immediately eliminating all the scenes at the school and replacing them with fight scenes. Just constant fight scenes. That would be perfect.
And that brings us to the end of the Summer 2011 Mid-Season Review. I expect there to be some flux for the shows on either end of the spectrum, with Steins;Gate and Usagi Drop rising up to 10s and maybe Ao no Exorcist falling to a 6 and Blood-C to a 5. I feel the middle will stay the same, especially since comedies rarely change scores. Should be interesting to see which shows raise the highest and which ones drop the most between now and the end. And hopefully there is some all-around improvement in each anime’s story and storytelling since I don’t want to rewrite a new rant before the season is over.