Anime Open Season: Summer 2015

Enjoying the fall 2015 season of anime so far? Need a show or two to fill in the slots of series you dropped? Here are a few series from this past season that you might to consider picking up — or a couple that you should knock off the backlog.

This is a new feature that will hopefully continue with future installments, so there may be a few adjustments in the format here and there until it takes a more solid shape. For now, these are series that were completed in viewing. That’s right, even the bad ones! And about that; instead offering a standard rating (really, people, they mean nothing!), this format will have categories that are straightforward impressions, yet, subjective enough for the reader to make up their own judgement — and to suppress impulses to call out others to kill themselves for not liking a certain cartoon show (hooray!). Series will be sliced up as: 1. personally recommended, 2. recommended if it sounds up your alley, and, finally, 3. not recommended but, hey, there are people out there into this stuff, so go nuts. So, let’s dig in! Starting with…

Make time for this ~idolnotes Golden Egg~

Seiyu’s Life!

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There were only a couple people I noticed who regularly mentioned this one. I would have missed it myself if I didn’t check back to to see what aired for the summer. I’m glad I did, ’cause this is a series that I enjoyed in more ways than I would have anticipated (from studio Gonzo, no less!).

The series starts with Futaba Ichinose, a young woman who wants to break into the profession of voice acting. She appears nervous, almost squeamish, while getting familiar with the world of being a seiyuu, but she’s determined and believes she has what it takes. For the viewers who are also uninitiated, there are also informative bits shared about what a voice actor does, who they work with (e.g. directors, managers), studio etiquette along with the highly intense gratitude to their seiyuu seniors, and even explaining the differences between voice acting in anime, games, novels and foreign films.

All of that was interesting, but what pulled me in more was how much of a hard life a seiyuu can have for just trying to break into the industry. The struggles and sacrifices of a novice entertainer is a familiar one we’ve all heard; the whole rags to riches bit. That’s basically the story here, with Japanese customs on top. Having part-time work on side to (barely) support yourself, getting your role cut, seeing your friends get a role you were aiming for, doing all you can to fight for your dreams only to have your utilities shut off. What got my waterworks going was when one aspiring seiyuu was about to text her inquiring dad back home about how scared and hopeless she was, but erases her text crying for help then writes back how she was fine instead. There are a few hollow parts, as well. Parts where things are solved in anime fashion where understanding and optimism is just too strong to overcome some challenges. Despite that, the series stays grounded enough and keeps progressing before it can reach nonsensical levels.

These snippets of a seiyuu life were originally from a doujin manga series by veteran seiyuu Masumi Asano. Seeing events unfold, both joyous and disheartening, from someone actually in the profession give it more personal and intimate perspective. If Asano didn’t retell her own experiences for the story, I’d imagine she might have heard them from her seiyuu friends, as quite a few notable actors made cameos as themselves, offering words of wisdom for the young actors discovering their own voice. It’s not all doom and gloom. The series is still carries a whimsical attitude that’s brought through towards the end of the series. The seiyuu trio are suddenly asked to become an idol unit once their radio show has gained enough of an audience — it’s just unfortunate that the internet audience doesn’t always transcend to a live audience for a public performance debut; the anime even explains how they make seating arrangements and even have staff take a seat to make the venue look fuller. Earphones (the name of the trio unit) still makes the best out of embarrassing moments, and that’s what really pulls me into the series. When it seems like anything that can go wrong does go wrong, the characters find some way to persevere. Will they reach their dreams of soaring in the sky with the seiyuu stars? That’s up to you to see, and I hope that you would.

I’m not sure if I’ll hand out the prestigious title of golden egg to an anime series for each season, but this is an anime series that I felt was so well down that it reminded me why I watch so much anime in the first place. It’s not a fantastic fantasy with action scenes and magic or about making mundane school life interesting with romance thrown on top to make it look complete. It’s about the roller coaster consequences of when you choose to follow your ambitions. That’s something I can appreciate seeing in anime and it only comes around only so often.

Top  of the crop

Himouto! Umaru-chan

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This was a pretty easy guess for what seasoned anime fans would latch on to, because it has a premise that they can relate to — well, halfway there, maybe. The title character is a role model for all of society; intelligent, kind, and does just about everything with grace. That only applies while she’s actually interacting with society, of course. At home, where she lives with her older brother (who tries to instill some sense of responsibility into her), she couldn’t be more contrasting to her public personality. Lazy, constantly snacking on junk food, up all night gaming, and she shrinks herself into chibi form for emphasis. What a brat!

Usually, characters with this slacker attitude are pain in the ass to watch, but with this being Anime Land where cute reigns supreme, it works, naturally. I suppose there is good reason for that. The production quality is consistently good as well as the pacing, and the characters stay fresh with their fun personalities the voice actors bring out. Umaru is charming, even when she has her tantrum moments. Yotsuba has those moments, too, and she’s still adorable. That’s the formula that makes the series work. Umaru goes about her day, taking part in self-indulgent activities, something interests her or goes wrong, she wines and her big bro comes to help, she cheers and smiles, sunrise, sunset. She’s childish in every way possible, and that includes the innocence. She thinks she’s getting what she wants until she has a moment of reflection, then remembers what means the most to her. Underneath her hamster hoodie is someone who genuinely cares about her close friends and older brother.

The only drawback is that what I just laid out is all the show has to offer. No major developments or plot points. It’s pretty much I Love Lucy if Lucy were an otaku and Ricky was her older bro; bickering at each other and then having an “Ooh, Ricky/Onii-chan!” moment before the credits roll. She’s has impulses that are less than desirable, but her joyful and carefree nature is what makes us smile at the end of the day, and look forward to the next.

Miss Monochrome – The Animation – 2

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Miss Monochrome is an odd character. She’s an android that’s purpose is unclear, has been around a “long time,” and somehow accumulated 19,300,000,000 yen (apox. $161,003,688.00). Monochrome wakes up from a dream of an apparent dying girl. She wakes up and sees an idol on TV that closely resembles this dream girl, then decides to also become an idol in pursuit of her. Then she promptly loses her fortune when her maid volunteers to be her manager and makes out with the dough. All in the span of four minutes — since the episodes in the first season lasted only that long.

The first season was Miss Monochrome doing idol work, such as climbing the highest mountain (on Mars), having a handshake event (while she’s a cashier at her job) and the like. It’s like if Amelia Bedelia quit her job as a maid and tried her hand at becoming an idol. Frustrated that her fruits of idol labor isn’t giving her fame, Monochrome eventually realizes an important thing; she isn’t an idol.

Season 2 starts with Monochrome with her putting aside the idol notoriety work and starts being productive into actually becoming an idol. She sets the goal to make an album, have a backup group, and gear up for a tour for her (eventual) fans. A lot of the humor carries over from the previous season, only now Monochrome seems to have developed a sense of sarcasm, or at least exaggerate as a way of being humorous. This causes a lot of missteps with promoter Yayoi who’s incredibly capable of following Monochrome’s suggestions, but also clumsy by acting out on them. Filling a stadium with tens of thousands of fans for an idol’s debut tour is quite ambitious, but if Yayoi can be convinced it’s a good idea she can do it!

The episodes are also lengthened by a few more minutes (7:50), so we get a little more of Miss Monochrome and the developments of her misadventures. This expands the series by making them more than gag shorts, but keeps it at bay from being filled with boring nonsense and just enjoy the silly nonsense. The whole android/robot-being-human thing has been done in so many different ways, ranging from the serious to downright nutty. Miss Monochrome definitely pushes itself into the latter, but they use her android abilities more as a compliment to the humor than use it as a crutch for every possible joke they can think of. I’m grateful they didn’t exploit the android shtick to Small Wonder levels.

Plus, it’s just funny to see Monochrome’s constant deadpan expression doing anything. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air in an industry that requires idols to have a big reaction to anything just sort of gasping at the designs on the carpet floor.

By the way, if you enjoyed this series, you might also want to give Not Quite Human 2 a look.

Non Non Biyori Repeat

I remember Non Non Biyori being described by someone as “the cutest show about a dying town.”Those words were scratching at the back of my skull for the duration of the season. The show isn’t dire in any way, but it’s hard to not notice when you see the core cast of characters all in different grades using the same classroom.

Non Non Biyori isn’t overly somber, though, as the series is a slice-of-life about children going about their country life (unless you do live in the boonies and think it really sucks, but I don’t know. I live in the suburbs). I have family that live in a small city with a population of 7,000. Because they’re mostly surrounded by trees, rivers and cows meandering in fields than people up and about, they tell me time just “slows down” compared to when they lived where I’m at. I don’t know the population size of the village in the series (which it really may as well be a ghost town whenever the characters are around), but this feeling is applied here as well.

That’s thanks to the attention to the surroundings and scenery. You can almost feel the soft breeze when you see the wheat fields, the quiet water streams by the side of a dirt road. The scenery is gentle, yet, bursting with vibrant green grass and trees. Even the mountains in the distance appear like little green mounds. The production really wanted you to feel at peace while the characters sing ceremony songs at school or trying to get a signal on their cellphone.

The village of Asahigaoka may be declining of people, but with so much greenery around there is no shortage of life. Thinking more about it, nature itself almost feels like it’s part of the cast. The characters even hold events such as moon-viewing and flower viewing party — I’m sure it’s fun for the kids, but man, getting loaded while checking out flowers? Count me in! Stargazing, fireflies, fireworks, fishing, jumping into rivers, this all brings nature to the forefront of the series in subtle ways. Being a grade school kid in a village it would be impossible to not embrace nature. I took a particular interest in the lighting of the sun. Sunbeams are pretty, but the sun seemed to be really bright even in dark settings, like during the rain or even the evening. Does all of these romanticize nature a bit? Certainly, especially seeing how nature nearly wiped out a small fishing village in Japan during the tsunami in 2011. I’ve always had a great appreciation for nature, and I was glad this series captured it in the way it did. It’s easy to forget that while living with the conveniences offered in a city, but nature has a funny way to humble us sometimes and it’ll be here long after we’re not. That’s my guess, anyway.

I know I didn’t explain much about the actual characters, but I felt taking a focus on something else just as fun and important to the series. If you must know one thing, though, Natsumi is a bit of a tomboy and she is adorable.

SCHOOL-LIVE!

You are not ready
You are not ready

I wrestled with giving this series top nods. Personally, I have some reservations with School-Live on a couple different levels, and an important detail raised having read the manga (which I read while the series was airing, but I’ll leave that choice up to you).

For one, it’s a series that you really can’t explain much past the first episode without spoiling pretty much everything that follows afterwards– and perhaps even saying that much might deal you some disservice. I went into the show naked, not knowing what to expect. It started as a pretty standard school-life anime fare. That was fine. I can kick back with a cold one and watch cute-girls-doing-cute-things. There is cuteness to be had, certainly as the show progresses, but …fuck. That’s all I’ll say as far as the premise. Anyone who speaks more of it is softening the blow for you, and you deserve to nearly gulp your drink when you realize what’s in store, like what I did.

Once you do realize what’s happening, you’ll think, “Oh, this is kind of like (insert the most recent titles in the genre).” You might be right. There are at least a couple other anime series and even live action films that I could draw comparisons to with School-Live. That’s an easy way to lose sight of what this series and those other properties are doing, though. If you’ve seen this series already then you know where I’m getting at. What I like about School-Live is that they keep the progression of the story focused even in a familiar situation and setting. That’s what impresses me most with properties that take on this sort of story. I am an unapologetic fan of this genre, so I like to think I’ve been watching long enough to grasp a good one right away. Even if you’re not an avid fan like me, I think if you give a chance you’ll find a good story here, too.

One last note, and again it’s up to you with how you want to take it. The anime does a decent job following what the manga laid out. The events and situations are the same, but there’s a fair amount of times of how it’s handled differently by the characters. This doesn’t affect the outcome much at all, except for involving two characters (one being the protagonist). I feel the anime served itself well, but knowing how much detail the manga adds to one factor of a character that has everyone curious what’s going with her can change your perspective dramatically. I don’t have a problem with it too much, because having read the manga where the story goes further along I can tell you this detail isn’t brought up again. Also, I think the anime address this situation fine where it shouldn’t linger in the back of the viewer’s mind much at all. The anime last scene is a nod to the anime, as well. Really, the manga and anime fill in some details for each other to the point of they become companion pieces, even though they’re telling the same story. If you enjoy either one I recommend thinking about checking out the other.


Give and Take

MY Love STORY!!

The first season was a bit intense for a love story. Not in a dramatic, daytime soap opera sort of way. More in a way of seeing a big, burly dude jump out a window from a building on fire. More than that, it was a nice change of pace from the usual romance series. I’ve never seen a protagonist as humble as Takeo, so it was pleasant seeing Yamato genuinely fall for him despite Takeo trying to fight against it.

I don’t want to say the honeymoon is over by the second season, but the spark is definitely gone. Now that the couple are an item, it just feels like the story now is just trying to throw whatever it can to complicate things for them just to make things exciting. Takeo’s best friend’s sister fall for him, and to be fair it started as a childhood affection (she’s a few years older, so well she was well through puberty, little Takeo was still in grade school, which is kind of creepy, but that could just be me). I can forgive shoehorning that one little predictable  element, but then it happens again two more times. One of a classmate of Takeo’s and one of a co-worker of Yamato’s. This just doesn’t compliment the seemingly genuine romantic buildup from the first season. On top of that, these little love-interests are done in a humdrum way, maybe a short confrontation where the characters shout a little bit, but settles matters in a manner of minutes.

Other episodes have Takeo and Yamato take the back seat, and those deliver mixed results. A friend of Takeo’s (who has only appeared in a handful of scenes by this point) tries to get a girlfriend for a Christmas party and that ends as quickly as it stars. Takeo’s mother gets more scenes until she gives birth, and that’s over and done with, too. The most interesting development of this season is seeing a meek girl finally land a date with pretty-boy Sunakawa, who previously turned down every girl who asked him out. This part felt like a nice throwback to the previous season with Takeo and Yamato, but even this only lasts two episodes. It was good while lasted, though.

Wagnaria!!3

Third season of the part-time kids at the family restaurant Wagnaria. This was something I was looking forward to watching when I first heard it was coming back. What made Wagnaria a fun watch was that even with all the quirks the characters had it still managed to offer a sense of progression. Sota helping Mahiru overcoming her androphobia by dressing in skirts, Yachiyo’s obliviousness to Jun’s romantic interest (and her katana that scares the crap out of the patrons). Meanwhile, you had the other characters go about their awkward ways, and it was fun!

This season, starting with the first episode, things just start to fall flat. You see all the familiar faces, and they all get a fair amount of screen time. It’s just that I feel a lot of the charm the series oozed dried up.

One reason why is that a few of the running gags got wrapped up and it was done with very little, if any, excitement. Take Yamada’s story as being a runaway. When she finally reunites with her family she pushes away a little bit as expected, but it just wraps up without much to show for it. Suddenly, Yamada’s mother just sits in the background, serving as an aid to Yamada’s quips. Same thing with Jun confessing to Yayoichi, it just happens. Ooto meets his wife. Popura is, well, Popura. Her insecurities about being vertically-challenged is also dealt with quietly. There isn’t a lot of drama happening, or even build up. We knew they were coming, yet, when it happens the whole event deflates and they move on.

While the gags are dead and buried, there just isn’t a lot of fun things happening, anyway. I’m not sure if the series itself is wrapping up, but certainly feels that way, and maybe it’s time to do so if this is what we get. It was five years ago when the anime premiered, and a lot can change. I wonder if those responsible for writing out what happens just got tired, ’cause these great characters didn’t have a lot to do. Twelve episodes is a lot to invest time in for a beloved series that just doesn’t have a payoff, but seeing how this is perhaps the swan song of the series, get some closure if you’re a dedicated fan. If not, start this season with the last five or six episodes, then await the apparent hour-long special that’s coming sometime before the year is over.

For everyone else, just watch this:

 

For the birds

Gate

Fantasy series are such a hard sell. You’d think they would go wild with the characters or epic with their stories, and perhaps there are a few out there, but even now fantasy series don’t try differentiate from each other.

As the series started it seemed Gate would take a more grounded approach when a portal opens in modern Japan that leads into a medieval-esque world, monsters and all. You follow military officer Youji Itami through the portal and right into a dragon tearing villages up. Then suddenly, the JSDF gets involved in aiding a city being attacked by bandits, which was almost like watching an anime Black Hawk Down. I was really hoping more of that, but things quickly slowed down once the JSDF pretty much have to deal with the refugees of this fantasy world.

A fantasy world of dragons, elves, mages, even cat-girls, and the story decides to bring in politics as the boogeyman to the forefront. This would have been interesting to see unfold, as there are hints of commentary on how the Japanese military handles foreign affairs such as refugees, but it’s all done so half-assed. There isn’t even enough here to enjoy the characters as they’re not given any urgent purpose to be around all the time, so they just appear to hang out around Youji. For characters from a medieval setting they don’t seem too much interested in the modern world other than Youji.

Also, for some reason, there are moments in the anime that plainly points out that Youji is an otaku (he was headed towards a doujin convention when the portal unleashed Roman solider hell in Shibuya in the first episode), but even that doesn’t lend to much of a purpose. There were different directions Gate could have taken as it lays out different pieces to tell a dramatic story, but it ends up being just as lost as the peasants who lost their homes from war and dragon attacks. If you a series about an otaku dude who steps into a fantasy world and is on the short leash from the government, give Outbreak Company a watch. It manages to have a lot more fun with its setting while also being more exciting in the action scenes.

Million Doll

If a series about a blogger and a dude who likes one particular idol probably a little too much sounds like a good premise for a show to you, then you are damn optimistic. I know I was!

What you have here (which isn’t much in the first place with episodes being four minutes each) isn’t bad, but horribly bland and a bit awkward by how it’s executed. There are underground idols, or idols who haven’t made a major debut yet, that one internet blogger and a crazed dedicated idol fan try to do what they can so that  these promising idols can go major. That’s where things get off in the wrong foot, because tying the blogger and fan into it makes it feel like they’re shoehorning a device that isn’t really necessary.

Seeing the lone idol and trio idol unit trying to make it on their own can, and is, interesting on its own. The blogger supposedly is so popular that all she has to do is write about any idol on her site and they’re off to stardom. When does that ever happen? If they could have made this like a reverse Death Note, then maybe there would be something to play with here, but it just doesn’t fit into what actually works.

As for the die-hard fan, there could have been some development if things progressed past the absurd. The reason why the fanatic is here is because the blogger, massive internet powers and all, spread word on the idol the fanatic adored and enjoyed the intimate interactions with her — but never having a nourishing relationship with, like as an actual friend, no, no, no. Just being a fan with benefits, so when this one idol finally does manage to make a major debut, the fanatic thinks she was whisked away by the hands of the blogger, so now to get even he seeks a new, underground idol to help support …in his own terms. Hoo boy. This, also, could have been made into something with substance, perhaps in the vain of Perfect Blue. A look into the almost occult-like mindset that a few fanatics take their idol worship is something I’ve been waiting for; someone brave enough to explore in the anime platform, but I can understand that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The dude just came across to me as one of those holy-than-thou otaku, and screw those people.

What could have worked is if they axed a few parts and then just focused on developing on either the fan and the idol of his interest, or just the idol group going through the ropes in industry. The series actually does a good job with pacing and the direction holds what is there together, or at least what the budget couldn’t. There is some discipline here, almost to where it seemed to resemble White Album. It just falls short reaching any climax for there to be any resemblance of a payoff.

Wakakozake

Live to eat, eat to live. This show is aimed towards the latter group. This was pretty clear when I came across the buzz brewing from viewers while the series was airing. For some reason, I’m not in that group. I can appreciate the exquisiteness of a Red Bull and admire the delicacy of a pineapple pizza from Domino’s, but that’s about the extent of expertise of fine dining.

Murasaki Wakako is your typical office worker during the day, but once she clocks out and gets on the streets, ready to slay a beast inside her called hunger, boy, watch out! That probably sounds more extraordinary than what the show is actually presenting. The real star of the show are the dishes featured for Wakako’s meal. You can almost feel the heat from the fried chicken, or the explosion of flavors in your mouth from goya chanpuru. Wakako describes potato salad in ways that you feel like you were touching the feet of a god — with oolong tea on hand.

This series felt a lot like those NHK World specials where they dive into a relatively unknown restaurant, somewhere off the beaten path, and observe every intricate detail of a dish. If you get sucked into programs like that, or spend  a good part of your day on those traveling chef shows on Food Network, this has a good chance of appealing to you, especially if you’re curious about Japanese dishes. Perhaps it’ll give you a an idea or two the next time you visit you local sushi diner. Personally, and I know this goes for a few other folks, there just might not be enough to satiate your hunger for a fulling series that offers more than placing pretty dishes in front of you. As short as the episodes are, even if you are intrigued by food, this series might only serve as an appetizer. It’s charming and cool as a cucumber for some folks, but if you’re being served a plate you didn’t ask for, send it back to the chef.


 

Phew! Well, that’s about all I watched, and I know I missed a few, but them’s the brakes for me. And I know what you’re thinkin’! There’s a certain idol series that I left out. I got something thoughts on that, to be sure, and I can tell you now, sometimes an ending can make or break your entire impression of certain series. Stay tuned.